The heart-broken mother of a young, innocent Maghera man, who was abducted and murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries, has spoken of her grief as she remembers her son on his 20th anniversary.
Today marks 20 years since Fergal McCusker (pictured) was shot dead by members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
The 28 year-old had been out socialising with friends on the fateful night.
He had parted company and was walking the short distance home around 1.30am when he was abducted and murdered in his home town.
His body was found dumped in an alleyway behind the Fairhill Youth Centre, beside St Mary’s Chapel and close to his family home.
It was claimed that at that time, his coldblooded killers had telephoned the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) at 3am to report that a man had been shot dead. But only when a local caretaker discovered his body at 9am, some six hours later, did the RUC finally move in and cordon off the area.
20 years on, no one has ever been held accountable for Fergal’s murder and his family have been repeatedly denied their rights to a full and open inquest.
Next weekend, the McCusker family, with the support of close friends, have organised a memorial event to mark Fergal’s 20th Anniversary.
In an emotional interview with his family, his mother Christine spoke of her anguish that she might not see justice for Fergal.
In the family home, where Fergal grew up with his two sisters and six brothers, his mother sits on the sofa surrounded by her three sons, James, Finbar and Christopher and her grandchildren Kirsty and Mark.
To her left, on the wall, a framed picture of Fergal’s smiling face looks down. The photograph, which was taken at his brother’s wedding, reminds his family of happier times before Fergal was so cruelly snatched from them.
The young football enthusiast had spent just over a year in Boston, where had played Gaelic football for Aidan McAnespie GFC. He had returned home to his mother’s delight but two weeks later he was gone forever.
Fondly remembering her second eldest son, Mrs McCusker told the County Derry Post: “Fergal was so full of life and fun. He lived for football and his family. He especially loved his nephews and nieces. He was so caring and thoughtful and was really hard working. He would have made someone a great husband but sadly he never got the chance.
“He played for Watty Grahams GAC and the Maghera Strollers, to Fergal, creed or class didn’t matter. He had friends from both sides of the community. He had a great personality, this was shown by the great numbers at his funeral,” she said.
The mother-of-nine went on to say: “Fergal had no interest in politics, he was just an innocent young man. He didn’t have a bad bone in his body. Another five minutes later and he would have been home and that is very hard to accept.”
The Maghera mum continued: “When a loved one is taken from you in such a cold and cruel way, I don’t think you can ever really get over that. Fergal’s murder will never ever leave me. You keep up appearances and keep going as best you can, but inside I am broken. If it wasn’t for my family and my faith, I wouldn’t be here. My family keep me going, especially the little ones.”
Tragically, the family are forced to walk past the spot were Fergal’s body was recovered every day.
As Mrs McCusker explained: “When I go to Mass or down to the shops, I have to walk past the youth club, the place where Fergal was found and it breaks my heart. It never goes out of my mind.”
In 2002, the family were dealt another shocking blow when Fergal’s father Jimmy passed away.
“When Jimmy passed away, that was a very difficult time for us all. I don’t think Jimmy really ever got over Fergal’s murder. His daddy died with a broken heart,” said Christine.
She continued: “It has been 20 years but no justice has been served for Fergal. I am 71 years-old and in my time, I don’t believe that the truth will ever be uncovered, Fergal will never get the justice he deserves and that breaks my heart.
“Time is no healer, it is still as raw for us today as they day it happened. Its special occasions that are the hardest - birthdays, weddings and Christmas. There are always two missing- Fergal and his daddy.”
Fergal’s youngest brother, Finbar told the County Derry Post that at the time of his brother’s murder,
some media outlets had reported that Fergal was some way involved with nationalist paramilitary groups.
“At that time, some of the press had tried to blacken Fergal’s name by saying that he was involved in something. One even said that he had been involved in transporting arms back from the States. All that was British propaganda. Fergal was completely innocent, he was not involved in anything. He was targeted purely because he was a catholic.
“The fact that Fergal’s body lay for over six hours without being removed was an insult to our family. It wasn’t like they didn’t know, the RUC got numerous calls but they said at the time they couldn’t attend because of the security threat,” said Finbar.
Finbar, who had also been out socialising in Maghera that night, said that there was no RUC officers present in the south Derry town that evening.
“Previously in the run up to Fergal’s murder there was a very high presence of RUC officers in town. There were checkpoints outside the GAC club, and further down the street. You couldn’t get moving, they were harassing everyone. Yet the night that Fergal was murdered there was not one officer to be seen. It was a total set-up. And that’s what makes us even more determined to get justice for Fergal and we will keep fighting until we get it. If they think we are going to disappear, they can think again,” he warned.
Fergal’s brother James added: “We are hoping that we will get justice for Fergal while mammy is still with us. To her, that is all that matters. Fergal has never had an inquest, over the past 20 years we have been met with holdup after holdup until any possibility of an inquest was blocked completely. As a family we have decided to make a stand now. It is now time for the truth, it is time for justice.
“We want to appeal to the local community to get behind us, particularly the younger generation, who may not be aware of the circumstances in which Fergal was taken from us and how our family has been treated over the past 20 years,” he said.
The memorial weekend will begin on Friday, January 26 with a candlelit vigil, which will take place outside Fairhill Youth Club. This will be followed by a silent procession to the Glen Centre, where a talk will be held detailing the nature of Fergal’s death and subsequent events.
It is understood that representatives from the McCusker family’s legal team, as well members from lobby group, ‘Relatives for Justice’ will be present.
The following day, Saturday, January 27, the annual Glen v Derry match will get underway at Watty Graham Park at 2.30pm. This will be followed by a presentation in the Glen Centre, Maghera.
In the evening, there will be live music from Martin Higgins and Folk ‘n’ Rogue.
“Please join us in renewed campaign for the truth to be finally uncovered, so we can get Fergal what he deserves - justice,” added James.
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