Italy honours victims of the 'years of lead': Relatives of those massacred in a station bombing 13 years ago are still fighting for justice, writes Fiona Leney in Bologna

FIVE DAYS after the car bombings of Milan and Rome the city of Bologna yesterday commemorated its own dead - the 85 victims of the bomb that destroyed the city's railway station on 2 August 1980.

Thousands filed silently through the city streets to the railway station. In a gesture of solidarity towns and cities from all over Italy sent their gonfalonieri, or flag-bearers.

Following them came ranks of red trade union banners and white standards bearing the place and dates of Italy's other outrages: Milan 1969, 16 dead; Brescia 1974, eight dead; a roll call of Italy's shame in the 'years of lead'.

Fear that last week's events in which five people died could be a prelude to a new campaign of terror was mixed with anger and pain that, more than a decade after the Bologna attack, its perpetrators are still at large. 'Justice and truth have made little headway in 13 years . . . there is no doubt in my mind that the forces that slaughtered the victims of Bologna were also behind last week's bombings,' says Torquato Secci, 80, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice as the head of the Association of Relatives of the Bologna Victims.

Mr Secci's son Sergio was 24 when he died in the rubble of the station waiting room. He had just started a promising career in film making and was on his way to sign a deal in northern Italy. 'He had missed his connection . . . otherwise he'd still be alive today,' his father says.

The youth of most of the victims was an additional obscenity. The Bologna blast had perhaps the clearest motive of all Italy's indiscriminate bombings. The city is a bastion of Communism a l'Italienne.

Thirteen people, four of them neo- fascists, were brought to trial for the bombing, Italy's worst terrorist massacre, in July 1988. Among them was Licio Gelli, the grandmaster of the illegal P2 Masonic Lodge, who was sentenced to seven years in jail for laying a trail of false evidence for investigators. The neo-fascists were given life sentences for the attack.

Two years later an appeal court overturned the verdicts on a procedural technicality and freed all 13. Gelli now lives in comfortable 'retirement' in Tuscany.

The bereaved families are pinning their hopes on a retrial, scheduled for 6 October. They have launched a publicity campaign in an attempt to exert pressure on the authorities to overturn the appeal verdict.

'If people expect us to resign ourselves to the truth never coming out, they are making a big mistake. We can never be resigned to the unjust death of our loved ones. The links between fascists and the secret services will one day have to be revealed. We want it to be at the trial,' says Mr Secci.

The cost of the 13-year legal battle has been put at 1bn lira, with much of the Association's funds raised by public subscription.

Among the crowd in the station's forecourt each August is a retired civil servant from Bath. Harry Mitchell is patiently explaining the proceedings to his mother. He says that contact with the other bereaved relatives has helped him and his wife, Shirley, cope with the loss of his daughter Catherine, killed with her boyfriend John Kolpinsky. Both were 22.

'They had just graduated and were doing the grand tour of Europe, and they thought they'd like to see the oldest university in the world,' he says. John's body was rapidly identified but there was a harrowing wait for news about Catherine. 'A few days before they went Catherine's watch broke and I lent her mine. That was how they finally identified her.'

Mr Mitchell has spent the last decade lobbying both Westminster and the European Parliament for the extradition to Italy of six neo-fascists who fled to the UK after the bombings. The most notorious of them, Roberto Fiore, still lives in London.

The tension in Bologna yesterday was palpable. The city, perhaps the ultimate symbol of the determination of Italy's terror victims to obtain justice, was saturated with police. Rooftop marksmen scanned the horizon as bodyguards propelled Italy's Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, through the throng to meet the relatives.

In the minute's silence on the stroke of 10.25, people stared at the jagged gash which has been glazed and incorporated into the side of the station waiting room next to platform one. It is a potent symbol - and not just for the people of Bologna.