Families organise ``State the Truth'' conference
BY LAURA FRIEL
On the night of her husband's killing, Betty Leonard was driving towards Derrylin from Lisnaskea when her car was overtaken by a number of RUC vehicles. Betty was stopped and detained by the RUC patrol. When she eventually reached her husband's butcher's shop it was in darkness and no one knew where he was. The next day Betty went with her sister to Kinawley RUC barracks and reported her husband missing.
At the barracks, the RUC ``reacted strangely'' and the two women left fearing the worst. The body of Louis Leonard was later discovered by his brother lying in a pool of blood in the freezer in the butcher's shop. He had been shot eight times at close range in the head and chest.
Last week, over 70 people attending a conference on state violence in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, heard the harrowing story of Louis Leonard's death first hand when his widow gave personal testimony of the tragedy which had been visited upon her family.
She described the continuous RUC and British army harassment, including death threats, which her husband and herself had been subjected to prior to the killing. She detailed many suspicious circumstances which led her to suspect crown force collusion in the killing.
A captain in the Welsh Guards and members of the RUC from Lisnaskea were spotted on numerous occasions watching the Leonard family's home. After the shooting, Betty Leonard was told by a senior RUC officer at Lisnaskea that the patrol which had detained her on the night of the killing did not exist.
The family have always believed that Louis was assassinated by British crown forces and have recently renewed their call for an independent public inquiry into the killing. Last week's conference, organised by the Fermanagh-based group Fírinne (Truth), gave the opportunity to many local people to describe their experiences of state violence.
nette Gilgunn described the ordeal of her two sons during interrogations in Castlereagh, one of whom, she said, ``never recovered''. Martin Sweeney outlined the reality of living under constant crown force harassment. Lorretta Gleeson described rearing a family against the backdrop of British occupation and Brenda McCabe gave a young person's perspective. ``It was powerful,'' said a member of the audience.
The conference was opened by Monsignor Raymond Murray, who highlighted the importance of personal testimonies as a way of establishing the truth and creating the kind of empathy necessary to challenge state violence.
Addressing the question ``can we make a difference,'' Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice cited the cases of Pat Finucane and of the Birmingham Six, where real results were only achieved after years of diligent work by relatives and supporters. Yes we can make a difference was Mark's message to the hall.
A spokesperson from Fírinne said the group's long term objective was to secure an acknowledgement from the British government that these events did really occur. The conference allowed people to gather their experiences together so that as victims they could begin the healing process.
``The message which is being promoted is that as victims and survivors of state violence we have somehow suffered less - that even the issue of victims does not follow the equality agenda. As relatives and people who have suffered, it is important to support each other, share experiences and help each other obtain accountability. It is also important to obtain a true record of our experiences for future generations and perhaps by coming together we can begin to do this.