Turning Unimaginable Tragedy into Opportunity

Peace Centre Founder Wendy Parry OBE reflects on how the death of her son in the IRA bombing of Warrington Town Centre in 1993, led to her becoming a campaigner for peace and reconciliation.

The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre, Warrington

International Women’s Day 2022: Edge Hill University and the Institute for Social Responsibility present four women who had greatness ‘thrust upon them’, to become accidental campaigners, activists and politicians. Stemming from tragedy, abuse, or happenstance we look the impact these women have made, and what we can learn from them. In this blog piece we learn how Wendy Parry OBE turned tragedy into opportunity for peace and reconciliation.

Wendy Parry OBE

People may say that losing a child is the worst thing any parent can go through, well take it from me, it’s true!

The day the Irish Republican Army (IRA) came to Warrington is etched in my mind in every little detail and it’s a day that changed our family life forever. 

On March 20th, 1993, our day started as any other Saturday. Our children were going off to meet their friends and then going into town to buy Mother’s Day cards which was the following day, Colin and I were going to Manchester to see my parents.  Little did we know that a very cold but lovely sunny spring morning would turn into a nightmare which felt like it would never end.    

We didn’t have the radio on when we drove home from my parents and only found out what had happened in Warrington town centre when we saw the neighbours discussing what they had heard on the news. We ran into the house and started ringing our children’s friends to see if Dominic, Tim, and Abbi were there. Dominic and Abbi were fine, but Tim was still in town and his friend’s grandmother told me that they had been caught up in the bombing and had been taken to Warrington hospital. We drove to the hospital and spent what seemed like hours trying to find Tim.

Tim Parry

Tim was stood next to the bin which exploded and took the full force of the bomb. We didn’t think he would survive the night, but he did, and the next 5 days on a life support machine. On the Wednesday morning, after more tests, the doctor told us there was no hope for Tim and we should think about turning off his support. The doctors’ words were hard to process but it was even harder to imagine turning off Tim’s support and losing him forever. On March 25th we all said our goodbyes and our happy family of 5 became 4.

Thankfully, we have never experienced anger, perhaps because we knew it would not help our family and it would never bring Tim back to us, so we spent the next 18 months trying to keep our family life as normal as we could for the sake of our other two children. The last thing we wanted was for their lives to be ruined by Tim’s death and for them to be distracted from their education by the incessant media attention that the bombing attracted.

It was 2 years after the bombing that we set up a charity in Tim’s name, and the other little boy who died on the day of the bombing, which we called The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation. Seven years after the bombing we opened a Peace Centre in Warrington, also named after the boys.

What makes people do the things they do is not always clear. In our case, I think it was just instinct; to do something in the boys’ names to ensure they would be remembered for something good, rather than something evil. However, I could never have imagined setting up a charity, or appearing on TV or meeting the Royal Family and senior Politicians; but doing all these things was the catalyst to keeping our son’s name alive.

We have always looked forward and tried to do things to make a brighter future by helping to make people’s lives better.  

All the Foundation’s work is based around conflict resolution.  Our portfolio of projects, resources, and services have three core components: prevention, resolution, and response.

In prevention we seek to stop violence before it starts, however when conflict does arise, we seek its resolution through dialogue and action without resorting to violence, but when violent conflict does occur, we are there to respond, and to help those affected to cope and recover. Our aim is to break the cycle of violence.

Despite all of this – I see my biggest achievement as keeping Tim‘s name alive. He could so easily have been just another statistic on the body count of those killed in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.

Many thousands of people have been helped by the Foundation’s work, and we are grateful that our efforts have been recognised.

My husband and I have both received an OBE and the prestigious Rotary International Award for ‘World Understanding and Peace’ in Japan in 2004.  Needless to say, these awards motivate us to go on and do more which eases the burning desire to have what we can’t have…our son back home.

I hope our legacy will be that we kept going no matter what was put in our way and no matter how many people thought we wouldn’t succeed.  I hope that when we are no long around, the Peace Centre will continue to carry Tim’s name and he will be remembered as the young boy who made a difference.  

How do we Respond to Terror?

Travis D. Frain

Its been nearly five years since I joined Edge Hill University, studying for a BA in History with Politics. My time as a student was far from orthodox, as in March 2017 I was part of a group of politics students involved in the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge whilst on a university trip down to London.

A lot has changed since then; wanting to learn more about the events that had led to my involvement, I decided to enrol with Lancaster University on a Military History. The experience broadened my understand of  many issues, principally the need for better understanding of extremism, and for us to better support those affected by acts of terror.

Survivors of terrorism can require support across an array of areas. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Immediate medical, and ongoing physical and mental health treatment
  • Expert, legal and financial issues
  • Assistance with the media
  • Enquiries, inquests, and concurrent court action
  • Threats from conspiracy theorists or intimidation from extremists

Our pressure group Survivors Against Terror interviewed nearly 300 British victims of terrorism in 2018 with revelatory results.

76% identified mental health services as inadequate, 52% identified a lack of financial support, and 38% highlighted insufficient legal support.

Perhaps unsurprisingly 84% of interviewees identified family or friends, and 56% identified survivors of other terror attacks as their primary provider of support; only 5% identified the State.

I’m proud that Edge Hill University has taken the initiative on this by organising last week’s ‘Victims of Terrorism and State Responses’ Conference at which I was privileged to present. This is an example of how we can all begin to better understand these issues.

The requirement to better understand and respond to these needs is incumbent on us all, because as terror attacks, whilst rare, show little sign of diminishing; and so there will always be victims of terrorism.

By proactively investing in support before an attack occurs we can foster resilience within our communities against terrorism, and seek to prevent future attacks from occurring in the first place.

We can succeed in making the necessary changes and improving things for future victims.

Travis D. Frain, Survivors Against Terror Support Group.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

4 years on from the Manchester Arena Attack

Figen Murray

On 22 May 2017, my life changed forever. My son, Martyn, was 29 years old at the time and looking forward to seeing Ariana Grande in concert at the Manchester Arena.

Soon after 10.30pm that night we heard the news that an explosion had taken place at the Manchester Arena.  Martyn was among the 22 lives that would never return home that night due to a terrorist attack.

The news of his death shook our family to the core. He was such a pillar in our lives and his kindness and generosity had touched so many people. I can never fully process why the attackers would want to take away the precious life of my son along with those of all the other victims.

The inquiry into the bombing is now underway.

Last year I came face to face with the bomber’s brother as he was sentenced to 55 years in prison at the Old Bailey.

I am now in the final stages of completing my masters in counterterrorism, and the consultation for Martyn’s Law is moving ahead. This new proposed legislation I hope will keep even more people safe at public venues.

Martyn’s Law would apply to any place or space to which the public have access. For small venues this may require just minimal measures to be changed or added, e.g. a better back entrance lock or identifying a safe exit route for customers and staff in the event of an attack. Bigger venues with a greater footfall will require a more holistic approach. Martyn’s Law aims to be proportionate and would consists of 5 requirements for publicly accessible locations:

  • Staff to be given free online training
  • Vulnerability assessments should be conducted inside and outside the venue
  • Mitigation of the risks identified during vulnerability assessments should be undertaken
  • A counter-terrorism action plan should be put in place
  • Local authorities should be required to plan for the threat of terrorism

The consultation ends 2nd July 2021 when it will be evaluated by the government in terms of both qualitative and quantitative analysis.   This will take some time and hopefully will proceed to the next stage before becoming a reality to keep us all much safer in the future.

Of course we must always remember that the decision by an individual to engage in a terrorist act caused this atrocity – but we can always look for ways to make it more difficult for those who make the decision to act in this way.

Figen Murray is a peace campaigner and speaker at tomorrow’s Victims of Terrorism Conference, hosted by Edge Hill University. Click here for more information and to register.

Photo: bethlouisetwist

Who Compensates Victims of Terror? The Northern Ireland Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme

Professor Emeritus Clive Walker QC (Hon), Christiane Rabenstein

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1998 over 3,000 people died.

It is also estimated that more than 40,000 people suffered both physical and psychological injuries, and many of those still live with permanent disablement.

Yet, relatively few instances of loss have been compensated by tort law, and so most victims of terrorism must have recourse to programmes of state aid and compensation.

While the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was relatively silent about ‘legacy victims’, in subsequent years, various remedies have been proposed and either discarded or applied. Some have been grand in conception, but the most workable have been adapted from a myriad of mundane pre-existing processes, including criminal process, inquiries, and inquests.

In that light, the latest attempt to afford justice to victims of terrorism is the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme introduced under the Victims’ Payments Regulations 2020, which involves a new scheme, not of the ‘grand’ category but also not pre-existing, for the payment of pensions to persons severely injured in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The Regulations which came into force in January 2020 set out the entitlement to victims’ payments, the amount and determination of such payments and establish the Victims’ Payments Board which will be responsible for determining who is entitled to payments in respect of an injury caused by a Troubles-related incident. After a number of delays, the Scheme is expected to open for applications from 31st August 2021. 

Unlikely to reach the giddy heights of the billions of dollars paid to the 9/11 victims, it might at least provide those who are still living, with some recompense. We discuss this scheme and its potential outcomes at the upcoming Victims of Terrorism Conference, hosted by Edge Hill University on 2nd July 2021. Click here for more information and to register.

Professor Clive Walker is Emeritus Professor of Law at University of Leeds.

Christiane Rabenstein is a Legal Adviser at PNLD, the Police National Legal Database, and co-author of Blackstone’s Counter-Terrorism Handbook

Photo by Jordan on Unsplash

Appropriate Response: Who are the Victims in a Terrorist Attack?

Terry O’Hara

Three questions:

  1. Is it worse to be a victim of terrorism than any other violent crime?
  2. What is so different about being a victim or survivor of terrorism?
  3. Should the state response for victims of terrorism be different to that for other crime?

Founded by Colin and Wendy Parry, the parents of 12-year-old Tim, who was killed, along with 3-year-old Johnathan Ball, in IRA bomb attack on Warrington Town Centre in 1993, Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, seeks answers to these questions.

Over the years, the Peace Foundation has become a leading international Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution organisation and has provided support for victims and survivors of terrorism. So what have we learned?

Is it worse to be a victim of terrorism than any other violent crime? From speaking to many people, I do not think anyone who has been directly or indirectly impacted by terrorism would say that their experience was especially ‘worse’ than that of a victim of any other violent crime, but it is different in many ways. Each victim’s experience (and this is true any crime) is unique but victims of terrorism face additional challenges. For example, they may find themselves in the midst of a global conflict they had no previous part of. A media storm blows up around them that takes no heed of their wellbeing, privacy, or other needs. Their names may be brought up to further political causes they may not agree with and so on.

What is so different about being a victim or survivor of terrorism? When an act of terrorism is carried out, generally speaking, the victims were not the focus. Society at large, a way of life, all of ‘us’ – were the target. Individual victims become almost incidental, and emerge as footnotes in their own story. This adds to the feeling of being out of control of events and overwhelmed by the tragedy. Fortunately, despite the current threat levels, terrorism in GB is rare and the chances of any of us being affected by terrorism are vanishingly small, but this compounds the feeling of isolation and that nobody understands what they have been through.

Should the state response for victims of terrorism be different? One argument is that, as society at large, was the target, the state has an additional responsibility to the victims and survivors. This is a national, not a local issue. If someone visiting Sunderland from Somerset, Strabane, Stornoway, or Swansea, was injured in a terrorist attack, which local authority or Police and Crime Commissioner should be responsible for the aftercare? In short, the answer is a combination of local and national services. People need quality and timely support that meets their needs and is delivered locally but nationally coordinated and funded in a sustainable way that recognises the need for continuity and recognises the long-term needs of victims and survivors of terrorism.

We will discuss these and related issues at the Victims of Terrorism and State Responses online conference on Friday July 2nd where we will look at how the criminal justice system accommodates and assists the victims of terrorism. To join us and for more information about this event on Friday please visit the event webpage.

Terry O’Hara, manages the ‘Survivors Assistance Network’ (SAN) at the Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation in Warrington.

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash