The 90-year-old mother of a Catholic schoolboy brutally beaten and shot dead by loyalists 50 years ago has told of how she strongly believes there was British state collusion in his killing.
Philip Rafferty was aged just 14 when he was abducted from a west Belfast street by the unionist paramilitary UDA, fifty years ago this week.
The teenager was badly beaten before he was brought to an isolated historical site on the outskirts of south Belfast, where he was shot dead.
After the savage murder, the same UDA gang returned to west Belfast to abduct a second teenager, who was also shot dead.
Philip’s mother-of-three, Maureen Rafferty is still haunted by thoughts of the cruel murder. Her worst fears came to pass when her son failed to return to their home after attending band practice.
Despite the passage of time Ms Rafferty clearly remembers how family and friends frantically searched in vain for her son the night he went missing.
Desperate for help, she went to a local RUC base to make a report. Interviewed this week by the Irish News, she remembered feeling that the RUC man she encountered was rude, adding that “he was more or less looking at his watch, (saying) ‘oh, it’s still early, you usually let them out to all hours’”.
Several hours later the same RUC man rang the doorbell of her home.
“He knelt down in front of me and he held my two hands and he said to me, ‘do you know what I’m going to tell you?’
“And here’s me, ‘yes, my son doesn’t go out late at night time, he has to be dead’. And he just looked at me and that was it, he said ‘yes, he was found dead’.”
Ms Rafferty and her husband Desmond, who at the time was recovering from ill health, were taken to identify Philip’s body.
“My husband was with me and I said to my neighbour ‘don’t be letting him go in here and see this’.
“But as soon as they opened one door….and I could see the slab with the sheet over it and I just froze solid and my husband just charged right through. They lifted the sheet off and I could see my husband bending down and kissing him and then I ran in.”
Ms Rafferty has vivid memories of what she saw.
“When he was laid out on the slab you could see where they had wiped his face and it had all dried in, the blood on his face. I bent down to kiss him and I knew as soon as I kissed him that his teeth were gone in the front.
“And I pulled the sheet back saying ‘what else did they do to you son?’ and they were taking me away and I could see that the blood was running down his boot. They must have been kicking at him.”
Ms Rafferty said she remains troubled with how her son was treated in his final minutes.
“I think what really worries me, and comes between me and my sleep, is the fact of how badly he was beaten,” she said.
The pensioner said that her family’s trauma was compounded when they attended Philip’s inquest.
“Where we were sitting I could see the policeman bringing Philip’s coat and it was just saturated with blood,” she said. “We were in a bad state just seeing this alone.”
She also revealed that at the inquest her family found that an eye witness watched on as her son was murdered.
“He saw this silver (Ford) Corsair car drive in and two (people) got out of the car and Philip stood upright and they took his coat off and they wrapped it around his head,” she said.
“He was shot once in the head and when he fell down they put another two bullets in his head.
“The (coroner) said that his nose had been broken, probably with the butt of the gun.
“Can you imagine? A child of this age - it’s terrible isn’t it?”
The killers used the same car to abduct a second tragic teenager the night Philip was killed.
Seventeen-year-old Gabriel Savage was with his 16-year-old girlfriend when he was taken from a taxi stand at the Busy Bee shopping complex. His body was found close to the loyalist Village area of south Belfast the following morning.
Ms Rafferty said the same vehicle had returned to west Belfast for a third time and attempted to kidnap two more teenagers.
Despite the heightened tensions across the north, Ms Rafferty said she was unable to locate any Crown Force patrols to alert them of her son’s disappearance the night he was abducted, and she believes there was collusion.
“You couldn’t tell me there wasn’t collusion here, because the road was cleared for a long time, and because I couldn’t find a soldier,” she said.
“They know the car and nothing was done about it. And it’s 50 years on and there’s still nothing done about it.”
Before Christmas Ms Rafferty and other relatives met former 26 County foreign minister Simon Coveney and raised concerns about the British government’s Legacy Bill, which includes an amnesty intended to protect the British forces.
Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice suggested that if the bill passes the Dublin government should take an international action to defend “all victims and their rights in this part of our jurisdiction”.
“Key to defending victims’ rights and ensuring that the courts and rule of law are protected would involve initiating an inter-state case directly to the European Court against the UK’s legacy Bill of Shame,” he said.