Seven years after the blockade of a north Belfast primary school by unionist paramilitaries, the mother of one former student has taken her legal challenge over the handling of the 12-week Holy Cross protest to Britain’s highest court.
The House of Lords will hear the case of the mother known as ‘E’ whose daughter attended Holy Cross Primary School through the police-enforced ‘corridor of hate’ which made headlines around the world in the autumn of 2001.
In scenes mirroring the US civil rights movement, Catholic families were subjected to the greatest levels of abuse, intimidation and violence as they were required to walk to school through an unchallenged loyalist mob.
Lawyers representing the mother will argue police handling of the blockade and the failure of the then RUC police chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan to properly protect parents and children during the so-called “protest” was a breech of the Human Rights Act.
The case is being taken to the House of Lords after the appeal court rejected claims of police negligence.
Holy Cross parish priest Fr Aidan Troy, who accompanied the children on the route to school each day during the protest, will travel to Westminster to give a submission on behalf of the mother.
At the time of the dispute ‘E’’s daughter was seven-years-old and a primary three pupil at the Ardoyne school.
She says her child suffered considerably and is still receiving counselling as a result of the weeks of intimidation. Spit, urine, excrement, stones, bottles and blast bombs hurled at the young families during the ordeal, as well as the most outrageous verbal abuse.
“In the end I had to move home and leave north Belfast altogether because of death threats, my child’s personality completely changed, she is still getting help because of that,” she said.
“While this happened seven years ago I feel it’s still very relevant today.
“I was told that I was going to get a bullet in my head while an RUC man stood listening and yet no arrests were made.
“The RUC didn’t protect us and some mornings actually kept us waiting at the bottom of the road to give the loyalists a chance to get out of bed and assemble,” she claimed.
“Children were spat on, urine thrown over them and on the third morning a pipe bomb thrown at us.
“They held up pornographic images and shouted filthy abuse and all the while the RUC in riot gear stood with their guns facing us, treating the children as the aggressors rather than the protesters.
“I would be hopeful that the House of Lords would uphold our case but if not I’m willing to take this all the way to Europe as what happened at Holy Cross is something that should never be allowed to happen again.”
Fearghal Shiels of Madden and Finucane solicitors, who is representing the mother at the House of Lords appeal, said the case challenged the RUC decision to police the walk to school as though it were a “contentious parade”.
“The RUC erected large screens on the Ardoyne Road, but rather than utilise those screens to protect children, they in fact physically exposed them to a relentless onslaught of sectarian violence from protesters, committing serious criminal offences in full view of police.
“The RUC have never advanced any explanation for its actions, which have resulted in long-term psychological damage to the children,” said Mr Shiels.