KATE HOEY: Victims wanted answers from Blair and want justice

Kate Hoey
Kate Hoey

Around 2am on Tuesday Phyllis Carrothers rose from her bed after a few hours sleep.

At 3.15am she was collected by Stephen Gault and they left Enniskillen in the snow to drive to the airport.

Along with Kenny Donaldson, the spokesman for Innocent Victims United (IVU) and a few others she boarded the Easyjet ‘red eye’ Flight to Stansted and then travelled to Westminster and Parliament.

She had made the long journey to be there to listen to ex Prime Minister Tony Blair give evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s inquiry into ‘On the Runs’. Blair had resisted the polite letters sent by our Chairman Lawrence Robertson MP requesting his presence.

It was only after we served a formal summons and a conversation with the Speaker that he agreed.

The representatives of victim groups and individual victims had one purpose. They wanted to see the Prime Minister under whose term of office most of these letters had been issued being held answerable for his actions. His excuse that he originally gave for not attending our inquiry had been that he had told Justice Hallett everything and we should read her report.

This was not acceptable to the Committee. The Hallett inquiry was held in secret. The NI Affairs committee is in full glare of television and the public and crucially victims know every question and answer that takes place. Four weeks ago I wrote in the News Letter that Mr Blair must still be made to answer for historical decisions that continue to have consequences and that only those who have some thing to hide fear scrutiny.

Mrs Carrothers had met Tony Blair before. She was part of the RUC George Cross widows and parents who came in 2005 to lobby over the ‘Amnesty Bill’ which was at an early stage in the Commons.

Her husband Dougie was a part time member of the RUC reserve and had been killed by an under-car booby trap bomb outside their home in May 1991. She recalls Mr Blair being visibly moved when she showed photographs of her husband with their three children. The Bill was withdrawn a short time later when IRA/Sinn Fein withdrew their support refusing to allow the security forces inclusion.

Mrs Carrothers told the committee of her disbelief when she heard the news on television about the letters. “I just felt utterly betrayed by the top politician in the land-the Prime Minister of the then Government. These letters were being sent out from 2001 — we had the meeting in 2005 and i just feel deep hurt and trampled upon.”

As well as IVU and Willy Frazer from FAIR, victims from many of the mainland atrocities were present on Tuesday — Hyde Park, Birmingham,Harrods and Canary Wharf.

In the room which myself and Oliver Colvile MP had booked for them as a base whilst awaiting Blair’s arrival they mingled. The need for support for GB victims was discussed. Not everyone feels that Colin Parry speaks for them.

All of us including the media present were struck by their determination and unity in their demand for Justice. The security was intense — bags taken from them,body searches and sniffer dogs. I found it quite shocking that these courageous victims were treated as if they were the terrorists all because of Tony Blair’s presence. Their dignity throughout was remarkable. Even the police were embarrassed.

Phyllis Carrothers arrived back at her home in Fermanagh at 11.30pm. Was it worthwhile, I asked her? “Yes,” she said, “I had some satisfaction from seeing him being questioned robustly and at least he gave a kind of apology which no one else has. But we still have been sacrificed whilst The IRA got what they wanted. I hope the committee will condemn the secrecy.”

Tony Blair left as he arrived surrounded by minders. There was no recognition for Mrs Carrothers sitting behind him. But then he has world peace conferences to attend and his legacy to defend. Mrs Carrothers was just a victim.

• Kate Hoey is Labour MP for Vauxhall