John Collet was buried last week. He had been shot by the IRA. Few mourned his passing: Eamonn McCann reports on the cruel - but apparently popular - justice dispensed in the Bogside

AT FIRST SIGHT it was just another Ulster funeral, grim-faced men carrying the coffin of a victim of the IRA. But when John Collett was buried last week, few tears were shed.

In fact, many in Catholic Londonderry were openly pleased when Collett, aged 37, died in Altnagelvin hospital last Sunday.

On the previous Tuesday at around 8pm, an IRA unit used a sledgehammer to smash a way into his home in the Shantallow Estate on the northern edge of the city. Collett was seized, forced to lie on the ground and then shot at point-blank range in the back of both knees with a .38 magnum.

With the bones, tendons, muscles and arteries of both legs shattered, he crawled to the front door, gushing blood and screaming and hammering for help. By the time neighbours were alerted and an ambulance summoned, he was almost drained of blood. He died five days later.

In a statement admitting the shooting, the IRA accused Collett of having sexually abused a large number of young children on the nearby Carnhill Estate. This was true. Over a period of at least a year, Collett also abused members of his own family.

Most of his victims were girls, at least one as young as seven. On one occasion Collett raped a girl while a 13-year-old boy watched, and then urged the boy to rape her.

The boy is now in the care of social services, both for assessment and treatment and also for his own safety.

Almost all the children came from the square in Carnhill where the Collett children lived with their mother and her partner - she left Collett nine years ago after suffering numerous serious physical assaults by him as well as extreme mental pressure. However, Collett frequently visited his children in Carnhill.

Many of the families living on the square are distraught and have asked the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to transfer them to other areas. Others are demanding that Mrs Collett and her family move out, saying that their presence is a constant reminder of the damaging ordeal suffered by local children, some of whom are showing behavioural disorder and are being treated by the psychiatric services.

Support for the IRA action is widespread in Catholic areas, where Collett is spoken of as a sordid and malignant presence whose removal from the community, no matter by what means, is seen as wholly welcome. He became involved in terrorism through membership of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in the Eighties and served two-and-a-half years in prison on terrorism charges; he also received a suspended sentence for 'flashing' at children in 1982.

Collett's wife stood by him in 1982, when he agreed to undergo a programme of psychiatric treatment at Gransha mental hospital. She was already aware of his disturbed, violent nature. He had begun beating her up within six months of their marriage in 1977. She hoped that the medical treatment ordered by the court might 'straighten him out'. However, he dropped out of the programme after a month. There appears to have been no monitoring of his progress, or lack of it, by any agency of the court.

Their marriage effectively ended at that point, although the couple stayed together until late in 1983 when, after a particularly savage beating which left her in hospital with a fractured skull, Mrs Collett walked out, taking her three children. She obtained a formal separation in February 1984.

Now in her mid-thirties, she comes across as a remarkable woman, forthright and articulate and handling her situation with great courage and poise. She recognises that many of the families around her live in constant horror of what has happened to them.

She is hurt that she has lost her part-time job in a city-centre restaurant following phone calls protesting at her employment. She believes, as do others in the area, that her ex-husband had to be punished. But she does not think that the IRA had the right to do what they did, or that her home should be the focus of hatred.

The case first came to light in October, when the mother of one of the child victims approached Mrs Collett. The RUC and social services launched an investigation and the full extent of the abuse began to emerge.

The story became public at the beginning of this month when, with rumours already abounding, several people approached the Derry Journal, which led its 4 December edition with the headline 'RUC probe Carnhill sex abuse'. At the same time, Sinn Fein's office in the nearby Racecourse Road was 'inundated' with demands that something direct and drastic be done.

There were explicit demands for IRA action, equally explicitly rejected by senior republican figures in the area. The republican movement became central to the case because of the problem involved in policing areas like Carnhill and Shantallow. Voting figures suggest that the majority of people here are in the SDLP not the Sinn Fein camp. But since there is, effectively, no support at all for the RUC, even some SDLP supporters tend to look to the IRA when they want direct action against local criminality.

Given the fervour with which local people were demanding action, particularly as the flurry of statements being taken from local children began to reveal the horrifying role played by John Collett, it is fair to say that the republican movement might have lost support in the area had its armed wing not exacted retribution.

In many respects, cases like Collett's are tailor-made for the Provos, widespread horror and fear translating into acceptance of the IRA as enforcer of a communal morality. This has obvious attractions to the organisation, particularly if its violent tactics to advance the nationalist cause generally are being called into question.

In cases such as this, the IRA's base of support is broadened and its readiness to handle such morally charged issues - the targeting of drug dealers comes into the same category - while striking many as opportunism, is seen by Republicans as common political sense.

More generally, the savage satisfaction in the locality at the maiming and death of Collett reflects the brutalising effect of almost a quarter-century of violence.

Collett was one of 13 children, of whom two died in infancy, born in Springtown Camp, a scatter of disused corrugated tin huts on the outskirts of Londonderry which had been abandoned by US forces at the end of the Second World War and then squatted by families from the Bogside who had been denied homes because they were Catholics.

He spent his formative years in poverty and in appallingly crowded conditions - the hut had two makeshift bedrooms. As a child he was severely abused physically and quite possibly - because it was a common occurrence - sexually as well.

If there is a fragment of hope anywhere amid the debris, it lies in those like Mrs Collett who manage somehow to transcend their own suffering, to feel for everybody and blame nobody, and to believe in a better day coming. 'Everybody in this story is a victim,' she said.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices