Lisburn fun run bomb: Survivor tells how IRA has caused her 30 years of suffering

A woman who survived an IRA bomb attack that claimed the lives of six soldiers has said she can’t forgive those responsible for the atrocity which “ruined” her life.

On the 30th anniversary of the Lisburn fun run attack, Moira woman Andrea Brown has spoken out about how she has been left with severe mental and physical health problems as a result of the murderous blast.

Andrea Brown with a photograph of her late father, RUC Sergeant Eric Brown, who was murdered by the IRA in January 1983

Andrea Brown with a photograph of her late father, RUC Sergeant Eric Brown, who was murdered by the IRA in January 1983

Thousands of people had just completed a half marathon and charity fun run in the town on Wednesday, June 15, 1988 when the booby trap bomb went off at Market Place at around 9pm.

The off-duty soldiers had just completed their runs and were setting off to return to barracks when the 7lb under-vehicle device ripped through their van. Four were killed instantly and the other two died a short time later.

A number of civilians who had been at the fun run, and others who were in nearby shops, were injured when the no-warning bomb exploded.

Andrea, who was in a bridal shop at Market Place looking for bridesmaids dresses when the bomb detonated, was among those hurt.

The mangled wreckage of the van the six soldiers had been travelling in when the IRA bomb went off

The mangled wreckage of the van the six soldiers had been travelling in when the IRA bomb went off

Her mother, sisters, fiancé’s sisters and mother-in-law to be, who were also in the shop at the time, were lucky to escape with only minor injuries.

“There were no seats left so I was sitting on the floor of the shop,” she explained.

“The force of the bomb lifted me into the air and I landed on a mahogany writing bureau and then down onto the concrete floor.”

The then 18-year-old hairdressing student suffered spine, neck and leg injuries, which changed her life dramatically, having a devastating impact on her physical and mental health.

Andrea Brown, then aged 18, is helped into an ambulance moments after the blast

Andrea Brown, then aged 18, is helped into an ambulance moments after the blast

After undergoing weeks of treatment at Musgrave Park Hospital, Andrea bravely did her best to get on with life, despite her injuries, and went ahead with her wedding three months later.

She recalls having to remove her neck brace for the service and wedding photographs.

“I spent three years on-and-off in Musgrave Park Hospital. I basically had to learn how to walk again,” she said.

Andrea’s physical health deteriorated in the years that followed and she eventually lost the use of her left leg.

Sergeant Michael James Winkler was one of the six victims

Sergeant Michael James Winkler was one of the six victims

“There were days I’d have woken up and wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed because the pain was so bad,” she recalled.

“There were days I was able to be a mother and days when my daughter had to be a carer.”

Unable to work and feeling guilty that she was “a burden” to her family, Andrea’s mental health began to suffer, to the point she was considering taking her own life and required psychiatric treatment.

The horrific events of the fun run bombing, and the IRA murder of her 40-year-old father, RUC Sgt Eric Brown in January 1983, had left her with post traumatic stress disorder – a condition she wasn’t diagnosed with until years later.

She said the mental effects of those horrific events have been “far worse than the physical ones”.

“It is an awful way to live. It dictates everything in your life. I’m not living life, I am just existing,” she added.

Thirty years after the bomb attack, Andrea has no clear memory of the day of the blast, but still has nightmares and flashbacks, often triggered by certain sounds and smells.

The 48-year-old mother and grandmother’s health problems are now so acute that she relies on a carer coming to her home four times a day, and for the past eight years has needed a wheelchair to get around.

She says the IRA attack in June 1988, and the murder of her father five years earlier, “ruined” her life.

“I’m past the anger stage, but I can’t forgive. But then again the way I look at it now forgiveness isn’t mine to give.

“These people have never asked for forgiveness, and you can only forgive someone who is sorry for what they’ve done.

“To me the IRA and Sinn Fein are not sorry for what happened.”

Andrea doesn’t think anyone will ever be prosecuted for the Market Place attack and believes the money being spent on legacy investigations could be better spent elsewhere.

“I think the money could be used to help victims rather than chasing dreams,” she said.

“They (republicans) are calling for investigations into this, that and the other thing. That’s fine and police and soldiers have to be held accountable. But when they did the historical inquiry investigation into my dad’s murder they arrested a guy, brought him in and he didn’t have to open his mouth. It’s not fair. Even if someone is convicted at this stage they’re only likely to serve two years anyway.

“I have lived now 30 years of pain and suffering – physical and mental. My whole family has been affected. There is just no justice.”

SIX DEAD SOLDIERS WERE ALL BASED IN LONDONDERRY

Six young soldiers lost their lives when the no-warning bomb exploded underneath their unmarked Ford Transit van as they left the half marathon and fun run in Lisburn town centre to return to base.

The men murdered in the IRA attack were all based at Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry. They were:

• Sergeant Michael James Winkler, 31, Royal Corps of Signals, from Llanelli.

• Corporal Ian Metcalfe, 36, Green Howards, a father-of-two from Bradford.

• Lance Corporal William J Paterson, 22, Royal Corps of Signals, from Glasgow.

• Lance Corporal Graham P Lambie, 22, Royal Corps of Signals, from Aldershot.

• Lance Corporal Derek W Green, 20, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, from St Helens.

• Signalman Mark Clavey, 24, Royal Corps of Signals, from Ipswich.

The barbaric attack was widely condemned by church leaders and politicians, including then secretary of state Tom King, who described it as a “horrific act of brutality” and “a terrible loss of young men’s lives”.

“That terrorism is a vile and destructive thing was shown all too clearly by this latest horrific event,” he said.

Lisburn’s mayor at the time, councillor William Bleakes, branded the attack “diabolical” and “an act of wanton savagery”.

Then DUP leader Ian Paisley said he was “numbed and outraged” by the murders and called for the reintroduction of the death penalty.