IRA victim attacks definition of killings as political acts: David McKittrick reports on a letter that provides a glimpse of the lasting pain and grief suffered by thousands of bereaved families in Northern Ireland

THE Dublin-based Irish Times carried an unprecedented letter from a Belfast resident magistrate on Friday. It was addressed to the editor, but in effect was directed at the Republic's entire legal and political establishment.

It questioned the outcome of a recent case in which an alleged republican successfully appealed to the Dublin High Court against extradition to Britain for the murder of a soldier.

The magistrate, Tom Travers, argued that the Irish constitution helped to prevent extraditions from the South on the grounds that killings carried out by republicans were political acts, committed under the guise of upholding the

constitution's claim to Northern Ireland.

He went further, contending that the 'allegedly Christian' Republic's legal and political ethos tended to excuse murder. Mr Travers, a Catholic, wrote: 'In 1979, I went to Drogheda with my wife and two daughters to see the Holy Father. There we heard him say: 'Murder is murder and never let it be called by any other name.' We took comfort from his words.

'The great and the good of church, politics and the law murmured their approval. In this some were hypocritical because, as

future events were to show, they must, when they heard the Holy Father's words, have had mental reservations.

'These people, suffering from an obsession with the 'constitutional imperative of reintegration of the national territory', must in reality have believed that murder could be called by another name.'

It is practically unheard-of for a figure such as Mr Travers, a full- time serving magistrate, publicly to express views, especially such controversial views, on the legal and political affairs of another state. A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Court Service said it had no comment on the matter.

The letter was clearly written in a personal capacity: Mr Travers did not mention in it that he was a magistrate. But he did dwell on his own experience of violence. A decade ago, he was on his way home from Mass with his wife, Joan, and daughter Mary, a 22-year-old teacher, when they were confronted by two armed attackers. He survived, but his daughter died.

He wrote: 'Ten years ago, on 8 April 1984, my dear darling daughter, Mary, was murdered as she walked home from Mass with her mum and me. Mary's murder was carried out by members of an evil and brutal criminal organisation. Some of her killers were members of the murder machine, self-named Provisional IRA. At least one was a member of political Sinn Fein. Mary died, as she lived, gentle and full of grace, sweetness and love, and is now with God. May I say that on the day my lovely daughter was murdered her killer tried to murder my darling wife also.

'At that time Mary lay dying on her mum's breast, her gentle heart pouring its pure blood on to a dusty street in Belfast. The murderer's gun, which was pointed at my wife's head, misfired twice. Another gunman shot me six times. As he prepared to fire the first shot I saw the look of hatred on his face, a face I will never forget.'

The letter went on: 'While your constitution and laws may constrain your judiciary to hold that the killer was carrying out a political act, I can assure them that the hatred on that face came from the depths of Hell itself.

'No doubt the constitution and laws of the allegedly Christian Republic would prevent the extradition of Mary's murderer, if he were found within its boundaries. Murder would not then be called murder but would be called by another name. Mary's killers are regarded

as patriots; some even call them politicians.'

Two years later Mr Travers lived through a public ordeal at the trial of a man and a woman charged with his daughter's murder. He broke down in the witness box. Hardened reporters said at the time that it was the most upsetting courtroom spectacle they had witnessed.

The male defendant, who Mr Travers identified as his daughter's killer, walked free after the judge said there was a possibility the magistrate could have been mistaken. The woman, who was 19 at the time of the killing, was jailed for life.

Mr Travers returned to the bench in 1986. On Friday, he did not wish to elaborate on his letter, the words of which convey something of the intensity of his feelings of grief and loss.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map