The father of one of the teenagers who was with schoolboy Thomas Devlin on the night he was murdered by loyalists has spoken for the first time about the events of 15 years ago that changed the lives of three families forever.
Thomas was stabbed to death in a sectarian attack just 400 yards from the front door of his north Belfast home on August 10, 2005. The 15-year-old suffered at least nine knife wounds to his face, chest and abdomen.
His friend, Jonathan McKee, was also attacked and stabbed in the stomach. A third friend, Fintan Maguire, managed to escape by climbing over a fence.
The brutal stabbing was initially described as “random” and a sectarian motive for the murder was denied -- despite the fact that three known loyalists were soon in custody in connection with the killing. Thomas’s parents, Penny Holloway and Jim Devlin, campaigned for justice for their child, but it was not until five years later when two men were finally convicted of the murder.
Gary Taylor was ordered to serve a minimum 30 years in prison, and Nigel Brown was jailed for at least 22 years for his part in the murder. During a failed appeal in 2012, Brown’s defence argued that the loyalist paramilitary UVF had warned him against co-operating with the PSNI investigation. His conviction was upheld.
Fintan Maguire’s father recalled recently the horrific events of that night. He remembers waking from his sleep to find his then 16-year-old son, telling him that he and his friends had been attacked and the PSNI were downstairs.
“When I went to bed at 10pm, he and his friends were playing video games in the back bedroom”, Mr Maguire recalls.
The three schoolboys left the home at 10.45pm and walked to an all-night garage to buy crisps and lemonade (but into what was considered by some loyalists to be their territory).
“On Somerton Road, by the homes of bishops, doctors and judges, two men attacked from behind”, said Mr Maguire. “One of the three shouted ‘run’ but already another was being hit on the head with a wooden club and was on his knees. My son and the other friend attempted to climb the fence of a school but the friend was too slow and was punched and stabbed as he fell to the ground.”
A doctor living close by was called to give assistance at the scene before the ambulance arrived, and took Thomas and his injured friend to hospital, and Fintan Maguire went home.
“At 2.30am, two police Landrovers parked up in front of the house. My son was out of bed first and had opened the door to the police as I arrive in the hallway,” Mr Maguire recalled. “They asked the same questions and I stopped them, explaining these questions had been answered.
“At this point they awkwardly suggested that one boy’s parents were outside and would like a word and now I realised the main purpose for their call”.
Mr Maguire said that despite their sons being friends, this was his first meeting with Thomas’s parents. Penny Holloway asked, “could they speak to me alone”.
“With him (Fintan) in the hallway and the door closed, her husband paced around a coffee table as she calmly told me her son was dead. The paramedics and the hospital did what they could. He was stabbed nine times in the back and on one occasion the knife had punctured his heart. He was 15 years old.
“I was only able to struggle a few senseless pathetic words of consolation. I was disarmed by her dignity and the rationalisation of her thoughts at this most tragic of moments.
“For all her strength she cannot tell my son, could I please do this for her. It was genuine, kind, considerate and warm”.
By the time the two men responsible were brought to court Fintan Maguire was 21 years old. He attended the trial along with Thomas’s parents and bravely spoke to the media outside the court.
However, back in 2005 Terry Maguire remembers breaking the news to his “confused” teenage son.
“I needed to get him to speak, speak about his feelings; his pain but 16 year old boys do not do this easily.
“Today, fifteen years on from the murder and ten years on from successful convictions, hard won, the shock and horror of that night still lives with me.
“Penny Holloway said that night that as a family we had been “very lucky indeed” and as the years pass, how lucky we were becomes clearer.
“For Thomas Devlin there was nothing more; a young life extinguished long before its great potential could be fully realised.”