Most of us remember the 1982 Hyde Park bombing by the IRA: four lives were lost and it became a symbol of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But the shock and trauma for victims lasted long beyond 1982, and the Government’s lack of support for them has been a telling indicator of its willingness to prioritise political expediency over justice.
After a two-year battle, the victims have finally been granted legal aid. They now plan to bring civil action against John Downey, who denied murdering four soldiers and was granted an “On the Run” amnesty from criminal prosecution.
The challenge in their fight for justice, and for that matter other victims of terrorism we have supported, has not been the will and determination of the victims, the lawyers and their campaigners. Ironically, the largest challenge has been to get Government support. To achieve that, everyone involved had to be steadfast, determined and as resilient to terrorist propaganda as to government platitudes.
There is a general misconception that our Government is tough on terror and good at supporting victims. The confusion is caused by the excellence of our intelligence and security forces on the one hand and the ineptitude and hypocrisy of our politicians on the other. Having been at the heart of terror victims’ campaigns around the globe for over two decades, I can vouch that the UK government’s treatment of terrorism victims is relatively one of the worst in the world.
The Government leads the world league table in terms of media air time following any domestic terror event, declaring that “the victims will have our full support” and “we will turn over every stone to deliver justice”. It is also very adept at passing knee-jerk legislation, setting up inquiries that have no bite and creating feckless victims’ bodies and tsars. These tactics are a sticking plaster of appeasement. They fail, inevitably, to monitor or challenge Government actions. They also lack imagination and rarely go against the political grain. Once the headlines dwindle, the Government closes these doors and victims are left unsupported.
There are too many examples of this, but here are a few. The 1998 Omagh bomb families spent over a decade in pursuit of civil justice, legal aid and an inquiry. When we fought for legal aid, the Government kept refusing us, saying it was not in the public interest, that the case was “speculative” and that some victims were already above the threshold for compensation as they owned their own homes. After it was discovered the defendants had legal aid but the victims did not, the Government capitulated. This same attitude was seen years later during the Hyde Park families’ application for legal aid; we made five applications over two years.
Following the 7/7 bombing in London, victims travelled to Thailand for vital medical treatment after being denied access to the NHS, while the Department for Work and Pensions cruelly refused to provide some benefits, such as the one bomb victim that came to my law partner’s attention who had lost a limb and had her mobility vehicle taken away.