Friday 15 December 2017

'Let me live in peace' - Young prison officer pleads with terrorists to live and let live

Police forensic experts examine the scene of an under-car bomb that exploded under a van and injured a prison officer in Belfast. Photo: Photopress
Police forensic experts examine the scene of an under-car bomb that exploded under a van and injured a prison officer in Belfast. Photo: Photopress

Nevin Farrell

A young prison officer has pleaded with dissident republicans to halt their campaign of murder and destruction, saying: "Let me live in peace".

The man, who is in his 20s, describes in stark detail (see panel below) what it is like to spend each day in the shadow of terror.

He has spoken out after the bomb attack on a 52-year-old colleague in east Belfast on Friday.

In a statement to the BBC dissident republican group - which call themselves the New IRA - said the officer was targeted because he was involved in training other guards at HMP Maghaberry, near Lisburn.

A spokesman said the officer was one of a number on a list of potential targets and the attack arose from a dispute over the treatment of dissident Republican inmates.

Last night, the PSNI said three men and one woman had been arrested in connection with the attack. They were being questioned at a Belfast police station.

The injured officer, a married father-of-three, remained in a stable condition in hospital yesterday.

Police fear there could be further attempts to kill and maim members of the security forces in the lead-up to the centenary of the Easter Rising.

PSNI and prison staff and members of the military have been told to take extra precautions, with senior officers warning more attacks are "highly likely".

In a letter to this newspaper, a prison officer describes the reality of living with the dissident threat.

The officer, who has asked to remain anonymous, says he just wants to live in peace and for his girlfriend to know he will come home safe at night.

Telling the dissidents he is speaking as "one human to another", he urges them to consider the consequences of their murderous actions.

He writes: "I am begging each and every one of you, from one human to another, live in peace.

"I am not asking you to become best friends with a policeman, prison officer or soldier, in fact, you don't even have to like us, just please let us live in peace, let our partners know we will come home each night.

"It's only a job to me, so I can pay my bills, hopefully one day own a house and live a life of satisfaction and contentment. I don't believe I am asking for much. I am a human just like you."

The writer describes how he tries to lead a normal life with his girlfriend. He tells of their plans to settle down, buy a house and raise a family.

But he describes how they are both gripped by the fear that he could be targeted next.

Recalling the moment he heard about Friday's attack, he adds: "My girlfriend looked at me and her face was filled with worry. I knew what she was thinking.

"My stomach was in bits, but I couldn't show her that I was worried, or she would worry further, so I reacted with the usual 'That will never happen to me', along with a few other phrases that were an attempt at calming her down. The truth is, that it could have been me.

"As a young girl who isn't even out of her teenage years, who has no interest in what happened during the Troubles and just lives her life enjoying each day as it comes, she will now spend her time constantly worrying about my safety.

"Will it happen to her boyfriend? Is it fair of me to make her live her life that way? Am I taking away the opportunity for her to live a life of contentment, knowing that every evening I will call her and have a chat about our day, or will one day she get a call to say that I have been blown up attempting to go and do my day's work?"

The officer ended his letter to the dissidents by saying: "I don't believe I am asking for much. I am a human just like you."

Friday's victim works in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre in Belfast.

He was driving along Hillsborough Drive, off the Woodstock Road in east Belfast, when the device partially detonated.

He suffered leg wounds and remains in hospital after surgery.

A Belfast Health Trust spokeswoman said yesterday the officer remained in a "stable" condition.

Finlay Spratt, head of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "My information is that he is recovering in hospital.

"He was to have undergone surgery on Saturday and we are hoping he makes a speedy recovery and gets back to full health.

"He was supposed to have been suffering from shrapnel injuries to his legs, face and arm.

"He is a good officer and does a lot of work in the community outside the prison service, a lot of voluntary work.

"I know him well, he is a lovely lad, very approachable, very attentive to his work, he works at the college, training new staff. He was very active in the prison service. His wife is up at the hospital today, instead of perhaps being out with her husband on Mother's Day. It brings a stark reminder to us all that these idiots (terrorists) are out there.

"What do they hope to achieve? They are just bringing misery on families and people that work in the prison service.

"I have spoken to the officer's wife after the attack on her husband and certainly she was badly shocked as one might expect, but she is coping well, the family is very strong."

The murder bid came just three weeks before republicans mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a landmark event in the battle for Irish independence from Britain.

The Prison Officers' Association said it fears a second murder bid is "imminent".

Last Friday, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin confirmed another attack was "highly likely".

"I believe that there are people within dissident republican groupings that want to mark this centenary by killing police officers, prison officers or soldiers," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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