THE time span of 35 years, a distance of 7,000, and a new life in the Philippines with his third wife and only son have failed to dull the pain of the losing his beloved Christine in the notorious La Mon massacre for Terry Lockhart.
That’s why the former Richhill man is backing the call for a ‘Finacune-style review’ into the massacre of 12 people and the injury of 30 others, when an IRA firebomb turned the Irish Collie Club annual dinner into an inferno, 35 years ago on Sunday past.
Former country singer Terry’s first wife Christine (then 32) - who was the only County Armagh victim of the shocking atrocity - was disabled, having lost a leg through cancer, and who was unable to escape the flames that roared around her.
The fateful date was February 17, 1978, and as Terry (70) and his Filipino wife Sheelagh marked the 35th anniversary of Christine’s death - and the sixth birthday of their son Dylan (born on the 29th anniversary of Christine’s murder) - by giving their full backing to the review call by the Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW).
Portadown man Bertie Campbell, from the UHRW, said the group had been denied access to intelligence documents, adding that Lorenz de Silva, who carried out the Finucane report, was given access to such papers. In a statement, the Watch added, “Surviving victims and the relatives of those murdered call for a new investigation process to be set up and ensure that the truth is revealed. They ask Theresa Villers (NI Secretary of State) to appoint a legal expert to conduct an independent review into the question of possible state involvement in protecting members of the IRA members responsible for the massacre.”
It was reported last year that former double agent Denis Donaldson was suspected of involvement in La Mon - he was outed in 2005 as a double agent by Sinn Fein and shot dead in a remote County Donegal farmhouse last year.
The latest charges follow the what Mr Lockhart, this time year, called the “utter shambles” of the police files into the atrocity going missing.
Mr Lockhart re-married a Filipino woman - a union that did not work out - and he then found his way back to the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. He had a life-changing moment when he discovered a street child lying dead in a gateway in Manila. He set up an orphanage in 1991, and an average of 25 children have lived there, cared for by Terry, Sheelagh and staff.
Terry was singing at a ‘gig’ in Dungannon that fateful night, and arrived home to be told of the tragedy. He reasoned - tragically and rightly - that Christine had little chance of getting out of the inferno. “The insensitivity of the authorities shocked me from the start,” Terry recalled. “The loss of Christine was shattering, and I never got over it. She was a keen member of the Collie Club. I earned my living at singing and had to honour my commitment in Dungannon.
“I went to the morgue in Belfast to identify Christine, and my great friend Roy Craig went with me. Roy told me to wait and he would identify Christine. When he came back to me he said, ‘Terry you don’t want to go in there, remember Christine as she was’. She had been horribly burned, and I took his advice, and I thank God every day that I did.”
The initial offer of compensation by the NIO to the families was “a paltry £90 which they increased to a take-it-or-leave it £240”. He added, “That’s how they valued our loved ones, so I thought the best thing to do was get out of Northern Ireland..”
Terry would like to see more people convicted for the atrocity, with only one man having been convicted and jailed. “I would like to see them all hanging because what they did was an absolute massacre,” said Mr Lockhart. “The loss of Christine was shattering, and I never got over it.”
He added that the passage of time and the distance from the Philippines to Northern Ireland had done little to erase the trauma of the terrible night 35 years ago.
“I call my project in the Philippines ‘Christine’s Children’ and something positive has emerged from her death,” he said. “I know that she would have given this her blessing. She was simply a good woman.”
The project is invariably short of funds, and anyone wanting to support ‘Christine’s Children’ should contact fundraising coordinator Raymond McLeod of 4 Queen Street, Lurgan.