Cathy McCauley goes right up to the face of her son Paul. She calls him ‘son’ and tells him his mammy is here to see him. There’s no medical proof to confirm that the 37-year-old hears or even recognises his mother. Doctors have told Cathy and Jim, Paul’s father, that he’s blind. But inside his room, it’s hard not to believe - and hope, that Paul knows who’s standing in front of him. You want to believe that, just like you want to believe that the human beings who almost kicked him to death in July 2006 would, if they saw the results of their attack, beg for forgiveness and accept whatever punishment awaited them.
The majority of those involved are still walking the streets and have never lost a minute of their lives after unleashing a merciless sectarian assault on Paul as he tidied up after a barbecue at a friend’s house on Chapel Road nine years ago. Paul has lost everything. The gash on the top of his head a visible reminder of the brutality he found himself on the receiving end of on that ill fated summer night,
He can move his eyes, a little. Cathy says he seems to focus on bright colours on scarves she’s wearing and at times, when his devoted mother speaks right into his ear, Paul seems to be trying to focus on her. On Wednesday, she’s wearing a bright blue scarf. Paul’s room is bright, with classical music playing on a small stereo. It’s filled with family photographs. One of Cathy’s own paintings hangs on the wall above his bed. A pretty stencil by his sister is on the wall alongside him and specially installed double doors mean that on good days, the room is flooded with light. On Wednesday afternoon, staff at the care home tell Cathy that Paul’s having a good day. She’s hoping for a smile. As Paul struggles, and occasionally coughs, she gently wipes his mouth and tells him she knows he’s in pain.
Jim McCauley says there are times as a father when watching that pain is unbearable.
“There are nights when he’s in pain, and you’d give anything if he’d die in your arms. We can’t do anything. We’re just onlookers,” he says.
Paul’s name crops up in the press from time to time. Most recently, when an unfeeling government department sent him a form to assess whether he was fit for work. His name also hit the headlines when it emerged that he is paying for his own care. And then of course on July 16, the anniversary of the vicious attack. But for his parents this is not a one or two day a year story. Every day of the year, from their home in Prehen, they make the journey to the Longfield Care Home to spend time with their son.
“There are days when he smiles, and then you come away with a smile,” says Cathy. “I talk to him about his childhood and what we used to do, and at times he’ll look up.”
Sometimes, Jim adds, there seems to be movement in Paul’s eyes which indicate a ‘yes’ if he’s asked certain questions.
“I take the papers in and read him the big headlines. I read them all three times. I try to make sure that he gets the written word.”
In the aftermath of the attack, doctors told Paul’s parents he would live for days. Then, as time moved on, the prognosis changed and he was given a predicted life span of ten to 15 years.
“He seems to be getting more chest infections and you know there will come a day when the antibiotics won’t work,” says Cathy.
“We’re waiting for our son to die, and everytime the phone rings early in the morning, or late in the evening, we think that’s what it is. That never goes away,” says Jim.
As well as living with the harsh reality of the state their son has been left in, Jim and Cathy also live with the reality that the perpetrators of the attack are still free to walk the streets. One man, Darryl Proctor, was convicted for his part in the assault. He is due for release in 2015. Proctor pleaded guilty to grevious bodily harm with intent and was part of the gang who carried out the indiscriminate violence. As yet, police have been unable to secure any further convictions, apparently struggling to turn intelligence into evidence.
Meanwhile, the McCauleys have found the strength in one another to get on with every day life.
They remain stoic and dignified, and determined to pursue the fight that their son cannot. Cathy recalls how in the days following the attack, she got her first taste of the fact that justice was a long way off.
“Just a few weeks after the attack I saw him (Proctor) in Portrush enjoying a day out,” says Cathy.
“I had to go home. I couldn’t believe it. He was out on bail after what he’d done to Paul and he was out enjoying himself. That made me feel sick,” says Cathy.
The McCauleys have since found themselves in the middle of the justice system, which Jim describes as ‘farcical.’
He’s had a meeting with Justice Minister David Ford about stiffer sentences for attacks like the one Paul was a victim of. The Independent Monitoring Commission has said the UDA was involved in the assault on the father-of-one.
“It is so frustrating,” says Jim. “People in the community know who did this. There was a big gang involved.
“This wasn’t an attack in a darkened alley. There were large numbers involved and it throws a big slight on people in positions of responsibility who could bring this information forward.”
Cathy McCauley holds dear the memories of her son from before his attack.
“When Paul was 14, he asked me what a Protestant was,” she says. “That’s how he was brought up. He didn’t have a bitter bone in his body. He was never confrontational. He was so quiet.
“Even talking about him in the past sense is strange. He’s there and he’s not there. That’s the reality of it. I dream all the time that he’s recovered. I have that dream very often,” she says.
The McCauleys want the law changed. Attempted murder and leaving someone in a vegetative state should, they say, carry a sentence of some equivalence. Closure is impossible, says Jim, until there are further convictions.
“If we could just see those who did this to Paul brought before the courts, that would help. There is progress in the investigation, although slow but we still feel there is a need for those with information to get it off their chests, and that’s many, many people.”
“Somebody knows something which could help us. We deserve, and Paul deserves, to see people pay for leaving him like this,”
And then she touches her son’s arm, gently. “You know we’re talking about you, don’t you son,” she smiles, and she searches, as she does everyday, for some kind of movement which might indicate that Paul hears her.