‘My brother died in the street in front of my dad. I cannot forgive’

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They say that time heals but it hasn’t for Portadown man Brian Beattie whose brother Paul was murdered in Portadown 43 years ago.

His murder was the first in Portadown in 40 years - and the first in the town as a result of the Troubles.

But, beyond the facts and the statistics lies the personal tragedy and sorrow of a bereaved family, and lives changed irrevocably.

Brian, who has never before spoken publicly about his brother’s death, says he cannot forgive or forget, especially as his brother’s killer was never caught.

The now 60-year-old was just 18 when his elder brother was gunned down. There were also two sisters, Rosalynde (16) and Tracey (9). The boys had been extremely close, and not just in age. The pair slept in the same double bed in their Castle Avenue home and Brian had just joined Paul in the food processing factory where he worked.

He remembers them going over the fields “looking for birds’ nests and fogging orchards”.

Paul was also a keen pigeon fancier, keeping the birds in a loft at the back of the house, and had been due to get married to a Lurgan girl the following year.

The night of the murder is etched in Paul’s memory. He said, “I was in bed and my sister Rosalynde came running in, hysterical, and said ‘Paul’s dead’.

“I went downstairs and my mum was crying and a neighbour was holding her in her arms.

“I always remember my dad coming home later on. He was wearing Hush Puppies and there was blood on them.”

He added, “Paul was with my dad, Davey, when he was shot. They had been walking a neighbour home to Churchill Park. There was a group of four or five of them and one of them shot Paul. He ran back to my daddy and said ‘I’m hit’. The first bullet was in his heart.

“Then they shot him in the thigh. He died in the street in front of my dad. My dad told them, ‘You have killed my son’. One of them said, ‘He is not f---ing dead’. They turned him over and he was dead and they ran.”

Brian recalls “hundreds of wreaths” and people paying their condolences in the days after the murder.

But he also remembers returning to work the day after the funeral. He said, “My dad thought that was the best way to cope with it. He never spoke about what happened, and there was no counselling or help in those days.”

His mother Winnie’s way of dealing with what had happened was to visit Portadown Police Station every week, if not more often, to talk to the detective in charge and see how the case was progressing.

Said Brian, “My mother thought it was punishment for them (the culprits) to be always looking over their shoulder, but I have always wanted the person who did it to be caught and brought before the courts.”

Brian suffered from terrible nightmares and flashbacks for years and, like the rest of the family, had to cope with seeing suspects “still walking the streets”.

A year after the murder, the Beattie family moved out of Castle Avenue and into Brownstown. Explained Brian, “My dad was scared of something happening to me.”

In fact, after Paul’s murder, dozens of families moved out of mixed estates, like Churchill, marking the beginning of segregated housing estates in the town.

Brian’s mum died aged just 51 - her health had never been good and it deteriorated after Paul’s murder - while his dad died five years ago, aged 80.

He had refrained from speaking about the murder while they were alive as his dad, in particular, never wished to discuss it.

Although Brian did move on with his life - he got married and works with the same company - he admits he is still bitter. “I can’t let it go. It wouldn’t be right for my brother if I did,” he said.

“If he had died from an illness it would be easier to accept but the way he was taken out of this world, no.

“When I saw the story on the news about the ‘on the run’ letters, it really got to me, the realisation that there wasn’t going to be any justice.”

It was this and the findings of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report, which Brian describes as “gut-wrenching”, which spurred him to speak out about the murder for the first time.

The report, which Brian was given a copy of 18 months ago, concluded that there isn’t enough evidence for the investigation to progress any further.

Brian was also horrified to learn, from reading the document, that Paul’s clothing, which he believes was potential vital evidence, had been destroyed and that lead residue had been found on the hands and jacket of one of the men questioned.

He said, “The people who did it have got off scot free. There is no closure, no justice. I feel let down by the system.

“Paul had no interest in politics or religion. He wasn’t in the Orange Order or any kind of group. He was just into his pigeons and going out.”

Brian is only too aware that the chances of his brother’s murderer being caught at this stage are slim, but he still clings to the hope that somebody somewhere might know something and pass that information on to the police.

“Paul’s killing is something we have to live with, “he said. “But it’s very hard, even after all these years.

“There was a lot of tension in the town in the days leading up to Paul’s murder, but after that the place just exploded.”

Asked if he had ever considered leaving Portadown, he vigorously shook his head. “It’s my home and I could never leave Paul,” he said. “He’s buried at Seagoe and I visit his grave every week.”