‘You can still see the truth even if you are fed on lies and deceit’

Michael English.
Michael English.

Michael English reflects on the 1981 death of his son, Gary, and his 37 year battle for justice.

Every week, Michael English visits the graves of the two sons he lost during the Troubles.

Gary English.

Gary English.

“I lost a lot when I lost my two eldest sons but I have come to terms with that,” he says. “Life goes on.”

“However, what I can’t come to terms with is the injustice... It eats at you. Injustice is something you can see, you can touch, you can know. It haunts me.”

Michael’s eldest son, Gary (19), was killed along with another Derry youth, Jim Brown (17), when they were struck by a British Army Land Rover outside Derry’s St Eugene’s Cathedral in April 1981.

While Jim Brown was killed instantly, Gary English died when the Land Rover reversed over him after he was initially injured.

The funeral of Gary English in April 1981. Charles English, who was to die four years later, is pictured (front left) carrying his brother's coffin.

The funeral of Gary English in April 1981. Charles English, who was to die four years later, is pictured (front left) carrying his brother's coffin.

Four years later, Gary English’s brother, IRA man, Charles English (21), died during an attack on police in Derry. Mr English said his older son joined the IRA in response to Gary’s death.

Michael English, a father of seven from Derry’s Bogside, has spent the past four decades battling to establish the truth of what happened that terrible evening in April 1981. It has been, say those close to him, a sometimes “agonising journey”.

Michael’s fortitude and courage is chronicled in a new report published today by the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre which focuses on Gary English’s death.

It includes in-depth interviews with Michael, conducted earlier this year as part of the Recovery of Living Memory Archive (RoLMA), as well as a series of fact files which provide guidance on some of the key issues that arose from the (failed) prosecution of two British soldiers, the subsequent inquest and the final “frustrating” engagement with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

Almost forty years on from his son’s death, Michael acknowledges that prosecutions are unlikely.

“I don’t seek revenge,” he insists, “but I do want people to know the truth.”

Looking back on Gary’s death and the effect it had on his family, Michael says it had a “numbing” effect on all of them.

“I was in an emotional maelstrom. I don’t think any of us ever felt normal again. It was a question of, ‘Let’s not go there, it’s too painful’”.

“From then on, I was on a crusade for truth and justice for Gary. The family largely left that to me. I did not want them to bear that burden. Gary’s death left a huge gaping hole in the family circle. Even though I had six other children, life was never ever the same again”.

The experience of fighting for the truth about Gary’s death has, says Michael, made him a “connoisseur of the truth and of lies”.

“You can see the truth even if you are fed on lies and deceit by those who are supposed to stand for the law and democracy,” he says. “I can get no-one to challenge the law now. I have to live with that but I still ask myself, ‘How can this happen?’

“I know I am never going to get the truth, acknowledged in public, by the state that killed my son. It’s just not going to happen. People have come together and decided that I will be denied the truth.”

Michael feels he is able to keep a lid on his anger - most of the time.

“I have learned to manage

my sense of injustice. The most important achievement I can make now - now that I have accepted that I may never get an apology let alone justice and the truth from the courts for Gary - is that as many people as possible know about what happened to me and to my family and what was done to us by the law.

“It is a burden I carry and will carry for the remainder of my life but, at this point, I’ve lived with it for so long that it’s part of my psyche.”

The new report is available to read in full on the Pat Finucane Centre website.