Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Devlin murder - a mother's fight for justice

Penny Holloway
Penny Holloway has become a high profile knife crime campaigner

Penny Holloway's life changed forever on a summer night in 2005, when her 15-year-old son Thomas Devlin was stabbed to death just yards from their home after going out to buy sweets.

The schoolboy's death initially caused shock and outrage across Northern Ireland.

But during her subsequent four-and-a-half year campaign for justice, the grieving mother would found herself challenging the Public Prosecution Service, the Irish government and a working-class loyalist community which she accused of "harbouring" her son's killers.

A year into the murder investigation, police revealed they had taken more than 900 statements and searched more than 60 properties, but still did not have enough evidence to charge anyone with the murder.

Loyalist protest

In total, detectives arrested nine people, one of whom was former UVF killer and high profile PUP politician Billy Hutchinson, who was detained on suspicion of withholding information about the murder in 2007.

One of the protesters
A group of protesters gathered outside Antrim police station

His arrest sparked a loyalist protest outside Antrim police station, where demonstrators accused the PSNI of "political policing".

He was released without charge.

Two months earlier, Mr Hutchinson had accused Ms Holloway of "demonising" the Mount Vernon community, referring to the loyalist estate near the scene of the murder, where one of the suspects lived.

His comments came after Thomas' parents wrote to the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to protest against a 4,000 euros grant which the Irish government had awarded to the Mount Vernon Community Development Forum, of which Mr Hutchinson was a member.

Ms Holloway said: "We wrote to [Mr Ahern] because we felt the taoiseach was legitimising the actions of some of the people in Mount Vernon, who are hiding, protecting and harbouring Thomas's killers."

PPS pressure

On the third anniversary of Thomas' murder, Ms Holloway claimed the PPS was "failing the people of Northern Ireland" by being softer on knife crime than its English counterpart, the Crown Prosecution Service.

Billy Hutchinson is among those being questioned
Billy Hutchinson was arrested on suspicion of withholding information

She made a formal request to have an independent QC from England carry out a review of the PPS' decision not to bring murder charges against those suspected of killing her son.

She said the police had worked hard on the murder investigation, and claimed that detectives were also unhappy with the PPS' direction in the case.

At that stage, Nigel Brown had already been charged with an assault on Thomas' friend Jonathan McKee - a charge which Ms Holloway described as "very light".

She said the charge, which Brown later admitted, clearly placed him at the scene of the murder and she argued that the PPS needed to follow the English system where everyone involved in a murder would be held responsible for it.

Knife crime campaign

Ms Holloway also raised the matter in a meeting with the Northern Ireland Security Minister Paul Goggins.

For their part, the PPS said that they had met with the family on a number of occasions to discuss the case.

When charges were finally brought against Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown, their lawyers went to court to argue that the case should not go to trial, but a judge disagreed and ruled that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to decide if the pair were guilty or not.

Thomas Devlin
The schoolboy's family have set up a trust fund in his memory

In the years since her son's death, Penny Holloway has campaigned against knife crime and her family has also set up a trust fund in memory of the schoolboy.

The main objective of the Thomas Devlin Fund is to raise "public awareness of the effects and impact of gratuitous violence against young people".

The trust plans to dispense bursaries and scholarships to young people until 2066, which it says reflects the "notional duration of Thomas' natural life".

On the front of the Trust's website there is a message from broadcaster Eammon Holmes, who knows the family.

"Thomas's death must provide a line in the sand, let his young life be the last one to be taken so senselessly," he wrote.

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