By Shannon Haire (for Choosing the Green)
Sheena Fagan Campbell was an activist, a law student, and a rising star in the Sinn Féin hierarchy. She was a single mother in Belfast who was determined to provide for her young child and at the time of her murder, she was engaged to be married.
The young law students’ growing popularity in Republican circles brought her to the attention of the police, the British Army and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a deadly Loyalist paramilitary group. The UVF insisted that Campbell was a member of the IRA and 30 years ago this week, they executed her very publicly in a hotel bar in Belfast.
Sheena had noted an increase in attention in the weeks leading up to her assassination. She complained that she had been followed a few times and she was also being stopped and questioned at checkpoints more frequently.
The unwanted attention and police harassment began when she started going to court proceedings that were investigating the deaths of three IRA men who had died in suspicious circumstances at the hands of the police.
Sheena was a little intimidated but it never occurred to her that her actual life was in danger, even when her diaries and schedules were confiscated and copied during one of those stops.
As such she didn’t change anything about her routine and did not shy away from her favorite haunts, despite being stared at while she ate lunch, or being glared at by strangers on the street. She was a regular in the bar she was murdered in and stopped there every Friday night for a drink.
On the night she was assassinated, she felt comfortable sitting with her back to the door. She never saw her attacker coming.
The gunman ignored most of the crowd when he walked into the popular York Hotel pub. He walked directly up to Sheena’s table and shot her repeatedly from behind at close range. Her drinking companions were injured as well. Then he walked right back out the door.
The UVF issued a statement about the murder and said that their victim had been a member of the IRA, but that has always been rejected. Her loved ones insist that she was not involved in armed activity of any kind and her family likes to remember her as a regular, cheerful, brilliant young woman.
Her case is still officially open but the likelihood of it ever being solved grows dimmer every year. No suspects have ever been brought to trial and very little progress was made during the original half-hearted investigation.
Many of Sheena’s friends and family always thought that the police were involved in her death because they were reluctant to pursue any suspects and despite their heavy presence in the area, the killer got away.
Clearly the authorities had begun to see her as an enemy, given the heightened surveillance and harassment in the days leading up to her death.
When you put that together with the fact that she regularly attended proceedings that questioned police behavior and she was associated with Irish Nationalists and Republicans, it’s easy to see why some believe collusion was a factor in her death, and not just hers either.
Sheena Fagan Campbell was the seventeenth Sinn Féin member to be executed in the region and many of these assassinations remain unsolved to this day, including hers.