Blast victim accepts George Medal from Queen

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The Independent Online

A police officer confined to a wheelchair as a result of an IRA mortar bomb attack has received the George Cross from the Queen on behalf of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Constable Paul Slaine received the medal at a ceremony in Hillsborough Castle, Co Down in recognition of the bravery of the force during 30 years of violence.

He was injured in 1992 when a remote-controlled mortar was fired at an RUC patrol in Newry.

A colleague, 34-year-old constable Colleen McMurray, died in hospital not long after the attack.

The injured officer, still a serving policeman, was part of a three-person team representing the force at today's ceremony at a rainy Hillsborough Castle.

He was joined by Assistant Chief Constable Bill Stewart, the longest serving chief officer in the force, and Constable Susan Wright, who joined RUC on April 2.

Approximately 1,500 RUC officers and their families watched the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh honour the force at the ceremony.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and the Lord Lieutenant of Co Down, William J Hall, were among the guests who welcomed the royal couple, who were on a one-day visit to the Province.

As they arrived in the main garden of Hillsborough Castle, they were accompanied by RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan and his deputy, Colin Cramphorn.

The RUC band played the National Anthem before the presentation of the George Cross to Constable Slaine.

The force joins a prestigious list of previous George Cross recipients including the people of Malta, honoured in 1942 for their bravery during air bombardments by the Nazis.

However, the decision to include it among the recipients has caused some controversy, with the Government preparing to implement policing reform proposals which will change the name, symbols and structure of the force.

Unionist politicians, members of the RUC and the relatives of officers killed during the Troubles are angry at the proposal to change the name to the Police Service for Northern Ireland in a bid to encourage more Catholics and nationalists to join.

Some unionist politicians have expressed concern that the award of the George Cross is an attempt to damp down anger about the proposed changes.

Republicans have also condemned the award of the medal, describing it as "offensive" to members of their community who they say are not represented in the force.

Sinn Fein was staging a protest in Londonderry against the ceremony.

Security was tight around the village of Hillsborough today in the run-up to the Queen and Prince Philip's arrival.

They were also due to attend a reception for representatives of Northern Ireland's rural community at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society in the Balmoral area of Belfast.