Sunday 4 December 2016

Eyewitnesses at Buncrana bring light to the darkness

Only the words of other human beings who were there can help us to fully make sense of tragedy

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Photo: North West Newspix
Photo: North West Newspix

It has become increasingly common in criminal trials to disparage eyewitness testimony as unreliable and prone to suggestion; but the real value of an observer of extraordinary events is not to remember every detail so much as to simply bear witness to what happened. If they are the only survivors, that role becomes even more urgent.

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The agony which befell Buncrana last Sunday, when five people lost their lives after their car slipped off the pier into the water, once again highlighted the importance of an eyewitness as a way of making sense of tragedy.

Had there been nobody around that day to see when the car went into the water, the deaths of five people would have been every bit as awful, but hearing from people who were there, who spoke to the people in the car before it sank, who can pass on their final words, and describe events as they spiralled out of control, made it seem all the more vivid and terrible.

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