Outside the picturesque ancient church of St Wilfrid in Grappenhall, near Warrington, they paid their first and last respects yesterday at the funeral of Johnathan Ball, three, whose death in the IRA's Warrington bombings a week ago touched a nation.
Women with children Johnathan's age, schoolchildren, parents and workmen gazed at the cortege, the coffin almost hidden by flowers, including wreaths depicting teddy bears and toys, as it made its way along the cobbled street to the 800-year-old church.
The church bells tolled and there was a brief silence as friends and relatives of Johnathan carried the tiny white coffin into the church where not so long ago he had been baptised.
Johnathan's parents, Wilf and Marie, could hardly follow the coffin into church, their strength visibly draining away. They looked around at all these strangers, the cameras, the policemen on parade, the journalists, hardly seeming to notice any of them.
Inside the church there were more people they did not know but whose affection and concern was none the less tangible. Among them Gordon Wilson, the Irish senator who knows first hand what the family is enduring. He is soon to talk directly to the IRA, whose bombers claimed the life of his daughter Marie at Enniskillen.
He had asked the family if he could visit and be at Johnathan's funeral and they had welcomed him without a second thought. But they insisted they did not want politicians, from either London or Dublin, to be there.
Also among the mourners was Constable Mark Toker, the Cheshire policeman shot by an IRA gunman in Warrington when terrorists mounted an earlier attack on a gasometer.
The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Rev Michael Langrish, said that what had happened in Warrington was the 'deliberate and evil act of callous and utterly selfish women and men'. There could not be, he said, any possible moral, political or military justification whatever for the deaths and injuries that had been caused.
'There is merely the desperate and morally bankrupt act of people who, unable or unwilling to carry their argument by reason, persuasion or legitimate democratic means, will use even the most innocent of human lives to terrorise and to shock . . . .
'Those who call for IRA activists to be put up against a wall and shot without trial have fallen into the trap of using the weapons of the terrorists themselves. No, the anger I feel today - and I believe it is shared by many - is an anger born of righteousness: an anger born of a concern for what is right, just and true against evil, manipulation and lies.'
The bishop said the tragedy of Johnathan's death and that of the second victim to lose his life, Tim Parry, aged 12, had focused attention on so many other innocent deaths, men, women and children killed and maimed in the name of republicanism, loyalism, Irish unity or Ulster freedom. 'Enough is enough, it's time to lay down your arms,' he told the terrorists.
The service ended with the playing of Michael Jackson's song, Ben, the name of Johnathan's favourite teddy bear. As the boy's mother walked into the crisp midday air she collapsed, overcome with grief. Wilf Ball buried his face in his hands for a moment.
Gordon Wilson, surrounded by journalists, again said how he had been touched by Johnathan's death. 'Enough is enough. This really has to stop. There has to be another way. There has got to be a better way,' he said. With that the strangers walked slowly away, perhaps yesterday more in hope than anger.
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