Monday, October 19, 2009

Its Unlikeliest Legacy

This story from the British Telegraph features MVFHR member Jo Berry, whose father, a member of Parliament, was killed in 1984 by a bomb planted by the IRA. In 2000, Jo met with Pat Magee, the man responsible for the bombing.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

'My first impression of him was that he was very polite, very quietly spoken, small, with a beard and glasses. He didn't conform to my idea of what a terrorist should look like at all. He seemed almost academic."

Jo Berry's memory of coming face to face with Patrick Magee, the Provisional IRA bomber who killed her father, Sir Anthony Berry, is delivered in a low, trance-like voice as though she is back, apprehensive and amazed, in the secret location near Dublin where they met nine years ago. She'd repeatedly been told that Magee didn't want to meet her: he wasn't interested in being understood by the middle-class daughter of a Tory toff. Then, one day when she was in the middle of making vegetable soup, there was a call from a go-between with instructions for a rendezvous. She took the ferry to Ireland and launched into a strange, unorthodox friendship.

Sir Anthony, MP for Southgate, was one of the five people who died when the Grand Hotel, Brighton, was ripped apart on October 12, 1984, the last day of the Conservative Party conference. He was 59 and had six children. Magee, who had planted the bomb behind the bath panel in Room 629 three weeks earlier, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment. But his co-criminals in the plot to wipe out Margaret Thatcher and most of her Cabinet were never traced. With no warning to the victims' relatives, Magee was released under the Good Friday Agreement in 1999, after 14 years.

Jo, 52, a first cousin of Diana, Princess of Wales, says she knew early on that if she was going to overcome bitterness it might mean confronting the bomber. She started to make regular trips to Ireland to try to understand the conflict from both sides – without telling family or friends. Meeting Magee seemed the logical, if extreme, extension of her need to make sense of it. "It was much more than me and my father. I felt I was part of a war." As the 25th anniversary of the bomb approaches, the permanency of the bond forged between victim and bomber is its unlikeliest legacy.

"My expectation on that day," she says, "was that he would explain his political position – which I was used to hearing – and I would talk about what it meant to lose my wonderful father. And that would be that. There would be no point in meeting again. It couldn't go anywhere. Once would have been enough."

But it wasn't. They spent three highly-charged hours together. "After an hour and a half, he stopped talking," she recalls. "There was a moment of silence. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. 'I don't know who I am any more', he said. 'I don't know what to say. I've never met anyone like you, with so much dignity. What can I do to help? I want to hear your anger. I want to hear your pain.'

"His face got softer. At that point, I wanted to run. It was so much more than I'd bargained for. I didn't know where it would take me. A voice inside me was saying: you should not be talking to the man who killed your father. It's wrong. wrong, wrong. There was a feeling of betrayal. But part of me wanted this to make a difference. It seemed to be positive. I stayed. As soon as I got home, I wanted to go back for more. It was part of my healing to hear his story and reach an understanding of why he chose violence."

No comments: