The trouble spot: Wall of silence at murder scene

In the town where Stephen Carroll died, incomprehension at the attack was mixed with fear of the perpetrators, while one suspect's stepfather denies his involvement.
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The Independent Online

The news that two men had been arrested in Craigavon last night left Eamonn Corrigan momentarily silent. He had been adamant that the killers were outsiders. His own community, he insisted, had long left behind the vicious violence of the Troubles. But in fact the suspects, one aged 37 and the other 17, were held by armed police just 300m from where PC Stephen Carroll was shot down on Monday.

The stepfather of the teenager was equally vehement in denying anyone local is involved. "This is wrong," he said of his stepson. "He is a bit wild but he had no part in this. The police have taken away things like laptops and books."

There was a sense of incomprehension in this small town in Co Armagh at being the place where a policemen had been murdered, the third member of the security forces killed in three days, and the sudden upsurge in lethal violence has led to the fear that Northern Ireland was again slipping into the shadow of gunmen.

One of those seized by armed police over the killing of 48-year-old Constable Stephen Carroll was 17. "He is just a boy; he wouldn't have been old enough to have been through the really bad times here," said Marie, in her 50s, a friend of Mr Corrigan. "Why would someone like that get involved in this kind of thing? I really did think all this was over; anyway, this is not that kind of place. "

Lismore Manor, in an afternoon of watery sunshine, was not the typical image of a place where the bloody conflict of Ulster is being reignited. The neatly spaced houses in a cul-de-sac running into a grassy knoll had neat gardens. Driveways were full of cars washed and maintained. Uniformed pupils were being brought back from school by their mothers.

Dolores Kelly, the local SDLP Assembly member, came to Lismore Manor and said: "A woman had a brick thrown through her window and rang the police. People are very bewildered about this. The vast majority just don't want it. It is in no way representative of the Irish people."

But it was here that PC Carroll became the first policemen to die in the hands of paramilitaries in 11 years. The shot that killed him came from the grassy knoll as he stepped out of his unmarked Skoda car to visit the elderly woman who had the brick thrown through her window.

Police say the distressed call made by the resident had been genuine. But it had also been a deadly trap to lure the policemen into the line of fire from a high vantage point.

Bouquets of flowers had been left underneath a lamp-post near where PC Carroll had fallen. But although the residents expressed regrets and condemned the killing, not one had heard or seen anything. They did not see the window being broken, they did not see the policemen arrive, they did not hear the shots, they did not see PC Carroll stagger to the ground.

The reason is fear. These people fear not only the return of the days of violence but the men who want that. One man, shutting his front door, said: "Believe me, one has got to be very careful in these times." A woman, hurrying by with her young daughter, shook her head. "I heard what the poor widow of the policeman said; it broke my heart. I don't want my children to go through what we went through. Are we going to get more of this? We probably are. But what can we do?"

Lismore Manor backs on to Drumbeg estate, a sprawl of grey social housing. There, 500 yards away, is graffiti on the wall praising the Continuity IRA, who had claimed responsibility for PC Carroll's death.

Brendan McConville, who used to be an education officer in the area, said: "They burnt down the police station here, they also burnt down the school. This was about 10, 12 years ago. We can't let those days come back. I am involved in a charity for handicapped kids, and all the parties, unionists and nationalists ,are backing it. Local people, Catholics and Protestants, are backing it. That is the future."

But there are echoes of the past all around Craigavon. The area had its share of violence before the Good Friday Agreement and since then there have been shootings in and around the town, and houses have suffered arson attacks.

Quarter of an hour's drive down the road is Portadown, the home of violent Protestant paramilitaries, a place of sectarian slayings and the setting for what used to be the yearly ritualised violence of the Drumcree march.

Two men, one tall and bearded, the other short and stocky, were standing on the pavement near Lismore Manor surveying the scene. They were, they said casually, from Portadown. What were they doing in Craigavon? "Just watching," the tall man said with a smile. "Just watching and waiting."