Scotchy was convicted for killing RUC member John Proctor in an IRA operation in South Derry in 1981 some months after the death on hunger strike of iconic South Derry republican activist Frank Hughes. Tensions were at a premium that year and as the months wore on the conflict assumed an even more bitter intensity than it had already been infused with. The death of John Proctor took place against such a backdrop.
It had always struck me as one of the IRA’s most pitiless killings in the course of its entire campaign. The RUC man was shot dead, having just left The Mid Ulster Hospital where he had visited his wife and newly born son. I recall the morning my own daughter was born in 2001, making my way down the Grosvenor Road to cross the busy West Link, more road conscious than I was normally given to. That powerful urge to be alive for my daughter must have been present in the mind of John Proctor, and because he was in the enemy camp there seems no reason to lack empathy for his family or acknowledge what both he and they were denied.
While knowing absolutely nothing about the circumstances I had no reason to believe Scotchy was responsible, and having sat through part of his trial in a British court in Belfast two years ago, I feel I have no more reason to be convinced that he was. The thing stank from beginning to end and not merely of cigarette butts. As a senior legal figure commented shortly after the verdict – justice is something to be got in brothels, courts are where you go to get screwed.
Immediately after the trial concluded, courtesy of the judge announcing he would reserve judgement, we both went on the “swally” in a city centre pub. We discussed the case against him which looked anything but robust – indeed it had been thrown out earlier but was revisited by somebody determined to get a result no matter how - but we knew it was a Northern court where the rule of law was a euphemism for the law of Kenneth Diplock.
Lord Diplock as he was widely referred to, was secretary to the highly secretive British wartime Executive Committee – “Torture Central.” The perfidious ethos that guided him then, he remained faithful to throughout his reactionary career. The spin put on Diplock Courts, which denied the accused any right to be tried by jury, was that they were to prevent juror/witness intimidation. Their real purpose was to secure convictions on the basis of a statement alone no matter what police violence or skulduggery might be used to extract it. While neither police violence nor a confession figured in this case, the point is that Diplock courts were never put in place to deliver just outcomes, but to secure verdicts suitable to the police.
Since the handing down of the life sentence it has been impossible not to be cognisant of the retributive motive that underlies some demands for justice. Not all victims are satisfied with obtaining what they regard as the truth alone. Some clearly want revenge although we are not supposed to point that out, but rather merely acquiesce in the idealised construct of the victim.
When Seamus Kearney was sent down John Proctor’s widow, June McMullan said “we welcomed the verdict. Now we can move on with our lives."
Moving on with her life is something that has thus far remained elusive to Mrs McMullan. Whether unable or unwilling to settle for the truth she claims to have secured through prosecution, she has been determined on seeing Seamus Kearney further punished.
This was first made manifest when she expressed satisfaction that “we’ll have our Christmas dinner and he won’t.” I recall thinking how wrong she was about that. Seamus would have his Christmas dinner, just not at home. At the time the thought occurred to me that here we were going through this ridiculously prohibitive prosecutorial process on the pretence of securing more truth when it was a means of guaranteeing less, and for what? So that Scotchy Kearney could go without a bit of turkey or at least have it served up in a jail canteen rather than at home.
It would be gratuitously insensitive to belittle loss of the magnitude June McMullan sustained: human, fatuous and genuine all at the same time, her turkey comment nevertheless served to trivialise the issue while sketching a somewhat more nuanced hue into the motivational tapestry that is victimhood.
This year June McMullan delivered a petition signed by three thousand people urging the Justice Minister:
to stop individuals convicted of terrorist-related offences committed before 1998 from being granted day release any time during their subsequent two-year sentence.
Maybe there was solace of a sort to be derived from this initiative but there was no escaping the whiff of pettiness that accompanied it.
Perhaps what June McMullan really wants was revealed during comments she made in response to an announcement of a second inquest into the deaths of eight IRA volunteers at Loughall in 1987. "we would have saved a lot more money if a bullet had been put in him instead of wasting all of this money on this court case."
An unvarnished honesty for which she can hardly be condemned. No pious pretence about vengeance being the last thing in her mind. Yet, for advocating considerably less Dee Fennell was charged by the PSNI and remanded in custody. June McMullan can advocate extra judicial execution - don’t bring people to court, just kill them and spare everybody the cost and bother – and the cops will not caution her because it is permissible to advocate murder to the sound of state trumpets.
Sort of what fuelled the conflict to begin with.