Closure for Fusco family
Closure for Fusco family

A loyalist was jailed for life last week after being convicted of the sectarian murder in Belfast of cafe owner Alfredo Fusco in 1973.

Robert James Clarke, who had denied the killing the 53-year-old Italian Catholic, was convicted of murder and of possessing the two guns used in the attack, a sub-machine gun and a revolver.

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Clarke is likely to be released after two years in custody.

Mario Fusco was in court every day of the lengthy trial and for the first time came face to face with the man who killed his hard-working father in cold blood almost 40 years ago.

Mr Fusco said the conviction had brought some comfort to the family after almost four decades of grieving.

“My parents worked night and day for their family,” he said. “My father was robbed of seeing his grandchildren.”

“My mother and him could have enjoyed another 30 years together. Instead she had to watch while her husband was murdered. Clarke warned her to stop screaming or he’d kill her as well.

“A few years later she took a stroke. She was only in her fifties and there was no history of stroke in our family.”

Alfredo Fusco was born in Belfast in 1917, several years after his father Antonio emigrated to Ireland. As a young man Alfredo worked in his father’s York Street cafe. Following a bit of matchmaking by an aunt he was introduced to Antonietta Cafolla.

Antonietta was a Second World War refugee from the small village of Cassino.

She had lost three siblings in the war and lied to Ireland after her Italian birthplace was destroyed in the battle of Monte Cassino. The couple married a short time later and had four children, three sons and a daughter. The newlyweds took over the Fusco cafe and moved their family into the flat above the premises. For a while business thrived and the eatery was used by all sections of the community. However, after the Troubles broke out the family noticed a change in attitudes towards them in the predominantly Protestant area of north Belfast.

“There had been five Catholic families in York Road but by 1973 we were the only one,” Mr Fusco said.

“The previous October the shop had been attacked. All the windows were smashed and our car was burnt.

“My parents were worried and sent me and my brother to stay with relatives.”

The day his father was gunned down the then 14-year-old said he had a premonition that something “sinister” was about to happen.

Such was his feeling of dread, he rang the cafe and begged his parents to leave Belfast.

“There were rumours some thing was afoot and that had filtered down to me and my brother,” Mr Fusco said.

“I phoned and asked my father to come and stay with us. I just felt something sinister was going to happen.” Later that day the schoolboy was watching Match of the Day on TV when a newsflash came across the screen saying that a shop owner had been murdered.

“There were no more details than that but a short while later a cousin from Belfast knocked the door with the news that it was my father,” Mr Fusco said. The family never returned to the York Road shop and left their home with just a few pieces of furniture.

“My mother was left very depressed for many years.She was traumatised,” Mr Fusco said.

“She had survived the war and fled Italy to start a new life but found herself in another warzone.”

Clarke had previously served a life term for the murder of Margaret O’Neill and the attempted murder of four other people, including an infant, in a random sectarian attack on the New Lodge Road in 1975.

It is widely believed the UDA hitman may have been responsible for further killings.

On Monday he was found guilty of what Justice McLaughlin described as a “cold-blooded assassination”.

“lt was relief in a way that justice was finally done,” Mr Fusco said.

“I sat through every day of the trial and Clarke was like a statue, totally emotionless. There’s no remorse there.

“My father missed out in so much in life and my mother was left lonely and bereft with out him. Nothing can change but at least now we can now have some sort of closure.”

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