Monday, November 21, 2011

‘Not for me to judge IRA killers’ – clergy widow

On the 30th anniversary of the first Ulster MP to be killed in the Troubles,  the Rev Robert Bradford, his widow in a very rare press interview has said she will not judge his killers.

On Saturday November 14, 1981, the Rev Robert Bradford was meant to have been attending a funeral but instead he went as usual to his constituency surgery at a community centre in Finaghy.

Two IRA men dressed as workmen in paint-splattered overalls walked into the south Belfast community centre at Benmore Drive in Finaghy. They shouted “freeze” before shooting an attendant at the centre, 29-year-old Kenneth Campbell, dead.

A third terrorist armed with a sub machine-gun guarded the door while the other two gunmen fired several shots at the 40-year-old Methodist minister as he sat behind his desk. 

He died instantly.

A police bodyguard was pinned to the floor during the shooting but, according to Lost Lives, fired three shots at the gunmen as they fled the murder scene.

Speaking to the News Letter in a rare interview, Norah Bradford said the couple knew Mr Bradford was under a high level of threat. She said rarely a week went by without police coming to the door to inform them of another serious specific threat against him.

“There were threats here and threats there. They took them very seriously and gave us advice. There was a couple of times people came into the constituency centre that police felt may have been checking things out,” she said.

“Do you stop living your life? Do you allow them to stop you? When you are an MP you are there to serve the people. It defeats the purpose if you stop going out to see the people. On the day of the murder, Robert was meant to have been at a funeral. People could say if he had gone in time he wouldn’t have been killed, but there is no point in going there. You cannot change what has happened. If you put God in charge, it removes the fear.”

Mrs Bradford said her strong Christian faith has been key in coping with her husband’s death.

“For them (the killers) if you are walking around with that sort of thing on your conscience, it does not augur well for that person,” she said.

“It is not really part of us any more, everyone has to answer for their own life. They will have to answer to God. My life revolves around my faith. I don’t know people’s hearts. I can stand back from it all because there is a much bigger picture. The spiritual world is real. This is all temporary. When you look at the likes of earthquakes and tsunamis, everything we hold dear can go like that. So, what I feel is that it is for God to judge Robert’s killers, not me.”

Mr Bradford, who was originally from Limavady, met his future wife in 1964 at a Christian summer camp in Kilkeel.

The former nurse said she derives a great deal of pleasure these days from voluntary work with her church as well as spending time with her young grandchildren — the offspring of the couple’s daughter Claire, who was aged seven when her father was killed.

Mrs Bradford welcomes the current power-sharing arrangements at Stormont, saying if you live in the past you get stuck there.

“We have had to move on because so many people have been let out of jail. There has just been such a moving on in Ulster,” she said. “If you live in the past, you get stuck there.”

She says she was never remotely tempted to continue in politics herself but feels voting is very important.

“I believe very strongly in voting. If you leave the system to the bad guys, you end up getting the government you deserve,” she said. “I get quite cross with people who say you shouldn’t vote, because I know how important it was when we were trying to get Robert elected.”

Mrs Bradford said she does not vote along party lines but instead seeks to vote for the candidate whose policies she agrees with and who lives an honourable life.

With regard to the recent Irish presidential election, she said she was surprised at Martin McGuinness’s performance in the recent Irish presidential election.

“That was very interesting. I had thought they [SF] would have been more accepted down there,” she said.

Mrs Bradford also praised DUP leader Peter Robinson’s political journey to first minister with deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

“I think anyone who is prepared to change is a positive thing.”

Mrs Bradford says the Historical Enquiries Team has not contacted her with regard re-examining the murder of her husband. 

She said she’d welcome their help if it helped get to the truth of what happened.

She praised the work of the HET generally, saying: “I think its important to get to the truth in any situation.”

Mrs Bradford has written two books, the first A Sword Bathed in Heaven about her husband’s life and the second published last year Rainbow’s End about her faith.

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