The victim: 'They won't get me': PC's last words to his wife

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The Independent Online

Constable Stephen Carroll brushed off his wife's fears with a characteristic smile. "Don't worry about me. I'll be grand. They won't get me," he insisted.

Releasing him from her hug, Kate Carroll watched her husband walk out of the door of their bungalow in a quiet cul-de-sac and head off to work. Despite her fears over the murder of two young British soldiers that weekend in Antrim, she had no way of knowing the terrible significance of those last few moments together.

Hours later, PC Carroll, a 48-year-old grandfather, was with colleagues when they received a call from a lady who had a brick thrown through her window. The officers were aware of the potential for a trap – in the past 18 months fellow policemen had been the target of 21 attacks. Mindful of the security threat, they "stood off for a sensible period of time", said the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, before moving in.

Their two cars soon pulled up outside the woman's house in Linsmore Manor, a neat row of homes in Craigavon, Co Armagh. As PC Carroll prepared to step out of a silver Skoda, a killer on a grassy bank nearby fired two shots. A bullet passed through the back window and struck the officer in the head, a fatal wound that would earn him a place in history as the first member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – formed in 2001 – to be murdered by terrorists.

As she waited for her husband's call to say he was on his way home, Mrs Carroll received a knock on the door from officers sent to break the news that her spouse had been killed by the Continuity IRA. "A good husband has been taken away from me, and my life has been destroyed," she said. "And for what? A piece of land that my husband is only going to get six feet of. These people have just taken my life as well."

Described by friends as a "jolly and positive person", PC Carroll was a sports fanatic and former decathlete. Just two years from retirement, he had been studying part-time for a sports science degree and had hoped to go into coaching after leaving the police.

Yesterday his wife, a teacher at a local college, and her 37-year-old son, Shaun, struggled to come to terms with the loss of a beloved husband and stepfather, helped by the community of Banbridge, a neighbourhood that had been held up by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as a model of tolerance.

Canon Liam Stevenson, who comforted family members at their home, said: "They had plans and dreams for the future and now all those are just blown apart."