Page last updated at 08:56 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Murdered law lecturer remembered

Queen's University in 1983
Edgar Graham was murdered at Queen's University in Belfast

By Johnny Caldwell
BBC News

Even against the bloody backdrop of the early 1980s in Northern Ireland, the murder of Queen's University law lecturer and Ulster Unionist assembly member Edgar Graham 25 years ago remains shocking.

A short distance from his office at University Square, the 29-year-old, who was also a barrister, was shot dead from behind by two IRA gunmen on December 7 1983.

His unmasked killers blended in with students as they made their way to and from lectures at the Belfast university.

No-one has ever been convicted of the murder, however, two former students were later given suspended sentences for withholding information.

Former Stormont Environment Minister Dermot Nesbitt, then an accountancy lecturer at Queen's, was walking beside Edgar Graham when he was gunned down.

Edgar Graham
No-one has been convicted of Edgar Graham's murder

"I never really talk about that day, but its events of that are still very vivid - my left shoulder was against his right and it was just over like that."

Mr Graham was shot several times in the back of the head. A passing doctor, who also worked at the university, tried in vain to resuscitate him.

"This, the 25th anniversary of Edgar's murder, is again a time for the Graham family - I just happened to be there when it happened," said Mr Nesbitt.

"We were the only elected unionist representatives on the Queen's staff at the time. I was a councillor and Edgar was an assembly member and you were aware, given the times we were living in, of the environment in which you worked.

"It was very open and timetables with information about when and where you taught were widely available."

Dermott Nesbitt
Dermot Nesbitt has returned to academic life at Queen's

It is understood the IRA used information gleaned from a university timetable to pinpoint Mr Graham's movement ahead of his murder.

Three weeks earlier, the south Belfast representative had told the Northern Ireland Assembly he had information that the IRA had asked loyalist paramilitaries to help them kill a leading Ulster Unionist - he is believed to have been referring to himself.

"I'm actually back working at Queen's, having left the Assembly, and pass where it happened on a regular basis. I still know the exact spot," said Dermot Nesbitt.

"I don't think, in fact I'm certain, that Edgar's killers didn't know it was me - the only other elected unionist representative working at Queen's - who was walking beside him."

Coroner James Elliot described Edgar Graham as a "brilliant lecturer and scholar".

Among the staff, we felt it was important to mark this particular anniversary
Professor Colin Harvey, QUB

"No doubt his skill and advocacy were a great thorn in the flesh of some people who did not agree with his views and who tragically did not feel fit to meet him in a democratic forum.

"Instead, they chose to terminate his life in a cowardly fashion."

On Friday, Professor John McEldowney of the University of Warwick will give a lecture in memory of Edgar Graham at Queen's University.

"Among the staff, we felt it was important to mark this particular anniversary," said the head of Queen's law school, Professor Colin Harvey.

"Professor McEldowney was a visiting lecturer at the time of the murder and would have worked alongside Edgar. He's also a Queen's graduate.

"Most of our current students would not have been born until several years later and will have known nothing of the conflict here, but we've had considerable interest in the lecture."

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