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25 September 2012

Let us remember the dead of the RUC

A memorial to four dead RUC officers
A memorial to four dead officers in Scarva, Co. Down (Photo: CAIN)

There was a vigil this morning on the Hattersley estate in Greater Manchester where Constables Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were murdered a week ago. And quite right, too.

But I can’t be alone in feeling uneasy that in all the media coverage of this tragedy, while there have been many references to other police killed on duty in Britain, hardly anything has been said about the carnage experienced by the Northern Irish police.

Just to remind ourselves. Between 1969 and 1998, 304 men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and one from its successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, were murdered by paramilitaries. Most murderers were republicans but several were loyalists.

They are remembered in Constabulary Heroes 1826-2011, a book compiled by Sam Trotter, one of three generations of serving policemen.

The first victim, a Protestant, Victor Arbuckle, was shot by the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force in October 1969, ironically when he was trying to quell a loyalist mob rioting about the proposed disarming of the RUC. The last, a Catholic, Stephen Carroll, was ambushed by the Catholic Continuity IRA in March 2009.

Six women were among the dead. Mildred Harrison (26), married with two children, was blown up in 1975 by a UVF bomb as she passed a Catholic-owned bar. Linda Baggley (19), whose policeman father had been killed nearby two years previously, was on a patrol in 1976 when she was shot point blank by the IRA. In 1985, Ivy Kelly (29) and Rosemary McGookin (27), both married, were two of the nine officers killed in a mortar attack on Newry police station. Three months later, Tracy Doak (21), who was engaged to a policeman, was blown up by a 1,000 lb IRA bomb when driving a car escorting a van carrying a £2 million delivery for banks. In 1992, Colleen McMurray (34), married, was in a patrol car when it was hit by an IRA mortar.

All these police officers left bereaved relatives and colleagues, and the thousands who were injured, maimed and traumatised were a living testimony to a cruel campaign against a force that saved Northern Ireland from outright civil war. When a police officer is killed, we should try to remember those that went before. As John Hewitt wrote in "Neither an elegy nor a manifesto:

Bear in mind these dead:
I can find no plainer words.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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