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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 12:11 GMT
Face to face with the past
By John O'Kane and Janette Ballard
Producers of Facing the Truth

Victims and perpetrators of Northern Ireland's conflict have been brought together for the first time in the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu for a BBC series. The producers of the series reveal what it was like to witness the encounters.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In the late autumn of last year, Archbishop Tutu spent a week with us at Ballywalter House in Northern Ireland.

We recorded six meetings, one each day, in which he brokered unprecedented dialogue between those responsible for violence and those who suffered at the hands of violence in the Northern Ireland conflict.

The BBC Northern Ireland production began months earlier when executive producer, Jeremy Adams, flew to Cape Town to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu to talk about the idea.

The project was not to be an import of the South African model or an "official process" for Northern Ireland.

The programmes instead reflect what the Nobel Laureate said was one of the most powerful things to come out of their truth and reconciliation experience, when victims and perpetrators told each other their stories face to face.

Long journey

We invited two people to join us and assist Archbishop Tutu as he facilitated the encounters.

Fergal Keane
BBC special correspondent, Fergal Keane, presents the series
Donna Hicks of Harvard University, widely experienced in conflict resolution dialogue, and Lesley Bilinda whose husband was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and who went on a journey to try to find his killers and learn the truth about his death.

Most importantly, we had a duty of care to the contributors.

We consulted with psychologist and trauma counsellor Nomfundo Walaza, former director of the South African Trauma Centre for victims of violence and torture.

Programme 1: Saturday 4 March 19:50 GMT
Programme 2: Sunday 5 March 20:00 GMT
Programme 3: Monday 6 March 21:00 GMT
She was present before, during and after the meetings and there was also professional local support available.

At the end of the week of filming, BBC special correspondent, Fergal Keane, who presents the series interviewed the Archbishop.

Archbishop Tutu told him:

"We had some extraordinary moments in the week or so that we were here where it was like something divine had intervened, and it was exhausting, but eminently exhilarating."

We were all moved by what we had witnessed.

All the contributors, both victims and perpetrators, had chosen to come because they wanted to engage with each other, and they had all shown great courage and dignity throughout the meetings.

Fergal Keane interviewed everyone after their meetings had taken place. All the participants said that it had been a worthwhile, even helpful experience.

Taking a chance

In the first programme, a former Southampton police officer who was shot and nearly killed in 1974 meets the man who pulled the trigger.

Clifford Burrage, a former British soldier who shot and killed 22-year-old Michael McLarnon, meets Mary McLarnon, the sister of Michael McLarnon
Mary McLarnon talks face to face with Clifford Burrage
And Clifford Burrage, a former British soldier who shot and killed 22-year-old Michael McLarnon, meets Mary McLarnon, the sister of Michael McLarnon.

After the meeting, Mary McLarnon told Fergal Keane:

"It was unbelievable to think that there'd be a day when you could get the chance to be heard... and I thought, well, today I've got the chance and I'm taking the chance. And I hope it will make a way for other people."

Clifford Burrage was also interviewed by Fergal Keane:

"Before I went in I got a little bit of butterflies in my tummy," he said.

"But when I actually went into the room I was then just really calm. It was roughly as I expected the whole thing to be.

"But I didn't necessarily expect the truth to come out as easily as it did really, and us to be able to put facts together and to come to kind of a conclusion that helped Mary and a conclusion that, I don't know if it helps me, but I've got to face up to it."

More than half the murders from the Northern Ireland conflict remain unsolved.

"Life sentence"

In programme two, none of the victims have seen anyone convicted for the violence that brought agony to their lives. They meet men who killed for the same organisation responsible for the murders of their loved ones.

Sylvia and Roddy Hackett meet Michael Stone
Sylvia and Roddy Hackett meet Michael Stone
The third and final programme includes a meeting between former loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone and Sylvia and Roddy Hackett, the widow and brother of a man he is convicted of murdering.

Michael Stone became notorious when television cameras captured his gun and grenade attack on mourners at an IRA funeral in Milltown cemetery in 1988 killing three people.

When questioned by police about the attack, Stone confessed to another three murders including that of Dermot Hackett. Stone claims that Mr Hackett was an IRA man, but the family have always denied that.

After the meeting, Fergal Keane asked Sylvia whether she now thought it was the right thing for her to come to meet Michael Stone. Sylvia said she had waited a long time for this day and it had given her a "little bit of healing".

"It's been like a life sentence for me and the girls.

"This was something I just had to do. To show him I'm not just this bitter woman who everybody thinks I'm going to be.

"I do feel sorry for him. But it was my way of showing I'm a Christian."

Facing the Truth, a three-part series, will be broadcast on BBC Two, starting Saturday, 4 March, 1950 GMT.

Sylvia Hackett meets her husband's killer, Michael Stone

Family meet killer in new series
14 Feb 06 |  Northern Ireland
The Go-Between
27 Feb 06 |  Magazine


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