Stephen Montgomery widow, 30 years after RUC man’s murder: You move on, but it’s still very raw

Stephen Montgomery, a young police constable, reacted with delight to news that he was going to be a father for a second time.

Monday, 28th January 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:18 pm
Stephen Montgomery was killed exactly three decades ago today
Stephen Montgomery was killed exactly three decades ago today

Nine days later he was dead and his widow was left to bring up the children alone.

Aged 26, he was murdered near a bar in Sion Mills by an attacker who threw a bomb onto his police vehicle, with revellers cheering on the carnage.

The killing was precisely 30 years ago today, and his widow Valerie has given a rare interview to the News Letter about his life, death, and how she has coped in the three decades since.

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The News Letter decided to look at their family’s case as part of a series of occasional news features on some of the thousands of ‘hidden’ anniversaries in the Province which never receive widespread attention.

Mrs Montgomery has only spoken to the media once, in 1990. She has never remarried.

She said Stephen was raised in south-east Belfast and they had first met on a night out in Fivemiletown, where she came from and where he was stationed. She was 20 at the time.

They married in 1985, moved to Omagh, and their first child – Julie – was born in October 1987.

Stephen “loved his job, loved his family, loved life” and was “very much a home person”, she said.

A member of Trinity Presbyterian in Omagh, though he worked “24/7” he was at church “any Sunday that he got off”.

On January 19, 1989, Valerie found out she was pregnant again, and they were both “delighted” by the news.

The book ‘Lost Lives’ records that on the day of his death, police went to investigate “a routine inquiry” at a disco in Sion Mills. While the vehicle was stopped a bomb was thrown from rooftop onto the vehicle’s roof, fatally injuring him.

The book says “as police and soldiers attempted to help the wounded they were jeered and laughed at by people leaving the disco who also threw stones and bottles”.

At around 2am, Valerie got a knock on the door from two police colleagues who broke the news.

She told the News Letter the disturbance at the bar had been “a set up – they staged the fight to get the police to come out”.

Her parents and siblings “helped me through the darkest of days and nights, which were many”; her sister in Belfast quit her job to stay with her. Police welfare officers also lent her a hand, and continue to do so today.

“How can you get your head round it?” she said.

“Nine days before it you find out that youse are going to have a second child. How do you tell a 15-month-old baby? The sad part of it is he never got to know he had a son.

“Stephen [their son] never got to know his father. Julie never really got to know her daddy. He never got to see them go to university, to graduate. And to this day I’m still on my own.

“Nobody has ever been brought to justice for it. That’s very hard to comprehend, so it is, to realise they’re still walking free.

“He would’ve been retired. He’d have had his 30 years done. Julie’s 31, and Stephen’s now 29.

“Coping with 30 years, it’s still almost as real today as the day it happened.

“You live life, you move on and you have to – for the children’s sake. But for me, it’s still very sore, raw. You were left without your husband, children were left without their father.

“I’ve had a lot of dark days, a lot of ups and downs.

“To mark Stephen’s anniversary will be very hard for us as a family.”

This is something she would do privately, she said.

Her overwhelming feeling after 30 years, she said, is this: “Who am I to judge? They have to meet their own maker. There’s only one man’ll judge you.

“They have to go to judgement day. That’s what you take your hope from, isn’t it? That one day their day will come. Believe you me – it comes to all of us, only they have a bigger burden to carry to Him.

“[Stephen’s] legacy will be his children. That’s the love we had – our children. To create two children together – nobody can ask for better love, can you?”