By Relatives for Justice
Sunday 24th February 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of Sean McParland.
A retired coal merchant, Sean was happily married to his wife Philomena, and was father to three daughters, Sinead, Aine, and Orla and his son Aidan.
Sean was shot at the home of his daughter Sinead and her husband Michael on the 17th February 1994 by UVF/RUC agents Mark Haddock and Gary Haggarty, whilst babysitting their four children, Michael, Christopher, Connor and Seaneen. He died in hospital one week later as a result of his injuries.
Sinead and Michael had moved to Skegoniel shortly before the attack. With their four young children, they spent time renovating and redecorating the new family home. In early January 1994, a piece of paper with the families address and details of who lived at the property was found by the police. The person who had this document was later charged and pleaded guilty to having information of use to terrorists.
Sinead recalls being advised of the threat by the RUC:
“The police told us that my family were under a death threat. They did not offer us any assistance other than telling us we were under threat. My husband went to speak to a CID officer at Antrim Road Police station. The officer was drunk when Michael spoke with him and treated the whole thing as a joke. He said we should check under our car but to ‘take it with a pinch of salt’. We were worried and felt that our safety was under threat and didn’t know what to do about it.”
Sean McParland was a good, kind man who was never the intended target of this attack. He had recently been released from hospital and was recovering from an operation for throat cancer. Thursday nights were Michael’s regular night off work, and most of the time the family would have been together at home. On the night of the attack, a friend of Michael’a had given him two tickets to a motor vehicle show at the Kings Hall and the couple decided to use them as a way of breaking up some of the tension they had been living with since learning of the death threat.
“Our decision to go was a spur of the moment thing and we asked my father to babysit. He enjoyed spending time with the grand kids and was happy to help.”
Sean McParland was watching a Disney film with his grandchildren when they heard a knock at the door. The eldest child, Michael went to the door and called out to see who it was. Relatives for Justice attended at court with the family, where Haggarty admitted that he replied “is Micky there? It’s your daddy’s friend.” When young Michael opened the door, Haggarty placed the gun at his head. As the four children ran off screaming, Haggarty described how Sean McParland ran at him from the dark in the living room, and how he shot Sean in the neck. Haggarty explained that Mr McParland had tried to grab the gun and point it upwards but stumbled. Haggarty tried to fire again, but the gun had jammed. At that point Mark Haddock entered the property with a shot gun and fired two shots.
Through Nuala O’Loans Operation Ballast report, the family came to learn that the police were advised by an informant that another informant had been involved in an attempt to attack the Monaghan family the day before Sean McParland was murdered. Through the guilty plea and sentencing of Gary Haggarty, we now know that this was Mark Haddock and that the two gunmen in this case were RUC informants Mark Haddock and Gary Haggarty. Other police/ UVF informants were involved in the targeting of the family and the setting up of the attack in the weeks leading up to it.
“It seemed incredible to me when I first learned of this that the police did not do more to protect us, such as advising us to leave our home or offering us extra security. I now know that the police were colluding with the UVF and that this affected my family along with multiple other families.”
“After going to the Motor show, we decided to go out for a few drinks. It was still early enough in the evening. We made our way towards home so that we could leave the car and go to the pub for a while. We stopped at a nearby shop to get the kids some sweets and a few beers for Sinead’s father. I remember thinking that it was a quiet night, with not many police about. As we were about to drive towards home, a police car came flying up the road past us. I knew it was our house which had been attacked.”
The couple arrived home to find the house cordoned off, and the police refusing to let them through. They watched Sean McParland, who was still alive, being taken from the house and placed in the ambulance. The couples nine-year-old son was being told to climb in the back of the ambulance with his grandfather. Sinead and Michael managed to push through the police presence and get to the children.
A week after the attack Sean died in hospital as a result of the injuries he had received.
The impact of the attack on the family, particularly Sinead and Michael’s children has been immense.
Sean’s widow, Philomena developed dementia quite quickly after Sean’s death. Sinead attributes this to the loneliness she experienced after the loss of Sean.
The murder of Sean McParland, and the obstacles placed in the way of his families’ pursuit for truth and accountability reveals how defective our current policing and justice system is for victims of the conflict.
The McParland/Monaghan family have engaged repeatedly and consistently with the Police Ombudsman, the Historical Enquiries Team, the PSNI, the PPS as well as the civil and criminal courts. Whilst each process has revealed some information, it has not provided the family with the accountability they need to recover from the events of the last 25 years nor have they been given the full truth of what took place.
It is 12 years since Nuala O’Loans report revealed the role of state agents and state employees in the murder of Mr McParland, and ten years since Gary Haggarty agreed to become an assisting offender. Yet Haggarty remains the only person to have accepted guilt in this case.
The family continue to wait on the PPS, who are reconsidering if they have sufficient evidence to prosecute his RUC Special Branch Handlers, those who enabled and resourced his killing of Sean McParland and numerous other victims and prevented investigation by other officers within the RUC CID.
Last week’s revelations that information had been withheld from the Police Ombudsman in a series of cases by the PSNI has further undermined any confidence the family and Relatives for Justice may have had in this protracted and thus far fruitless investigation. It was in relation to the cases concerning Mount Vernon UVF that the Police Ombudsman was first refused access to information, prompting the Ombudsman’s judicial review challenge. RFJ and the victims we work with look forward to much needed scrutiny around how the PSNI deal with disclosure in these cases.
“We want justice for my father and other families who have suffered what we have suffered. The British government and the Police cannot get away with setting people up to be murdered. We want the truth of who was responsible for the attack to come to light. The two gunmen were paid informers. Who encouraged, helped and authorized them to carry out the attack? These people should also be brought to justice. No police men have been charged for anything in relation to the attack upon my family. It is time the families get the truth and justice that they have been seeking.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family over the coming days as they gather to remember Sean McParland, a father, husband and grandfather, 25 years after his tragic death.