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Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Victims' pain as paramilitaries walk free

The corridors of the Maze Prison are emptying
It is a poignant week for the families of prison officers murdered during the Troubles with the final wave of paramilitary prisoners being freed from the Maze Prison.

The move, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, means the top-security jail will be soon be empty.

Twenty-nine prison officers were killed during the 30 years of violence and many others were injured.

Many lives were completely changed because of the IRA's campaign against the prison service.

One woman, Mabel Hempton, was left in a wheelchair after a gun and grenade attack on her and three colleagues outside Armagh prison in 1979.

Mabel Hempton
Mabel Hempton: Left in a wheelchair
Another officer, Agnes Wallace, was killed.

After being injured, Mabel moved house to escape the bad memories and malicious phone calls.

But she still remembers what life used to be like.

"I went to dances, I went to listen to groups. It was very enjoyable. I enjoyed going out," she said.

"I am very fond of Country and Western, listening to a group. But you disturb everybody if you go about with a wheelchair."

Pat Kerr
Pat Kerr: Shot dead
Six years later, Mabel's friend Pat Kerr, a senior officer in the Maze, was shot dead on his 37th birthday.

The attack happened as the father-of-three emerged from Mass in Armagh's St Patrick's Cathedral where, 14 years earlier, he had been married.

He was holding two of his children by the hand as he died.

Mr Kerr should have been at an uncle's funeral across the border, but ironically had stayed away because of security fears.

The prisoner releases do not affect these women directly, as no-one has ever been convicted for either attack.

However, difficult days still lie ahead for them.

Moira Kerr
Moira Kerr: Hard for victims
Mr Kerr's widow, Moira, said she preferred not to know who killed her husband.

"Then I don't have to live with the fact that they're inside doing time, with the court cases beforehand, or the scenario now of them getting out and knowing that they're going back to their families and live normal lives again, " she explained.

"I don't have that to cope with thankfully. But a lot of others do have to cope with it and I think it's going to be very, very difficult for them."

Moira voted for the 1998 agreement which brought about the prisoner releases, but Mabel voted against it.

Mabel said she felt that the paramilitaries had not completed their sentences but she was "still serving" hers.

"It's a life that I get very fed up with. You know.. the shaking...It gets to you," she said.

"There's days you can cope better than other days. But then you think of Agnes and if she had been left with her family, she would have only been too thankful."

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Brother's doubts over killer's release
24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Michael Stone: Notorious loyalist killer
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