The parents of a North Belfast teenager who was shot dead by loyalists as he made his way home from a night out say their son could have been saved if the PSNI had adhered to their own guidelines on the night he was shot ten years ago this weekend.
John and Sharon Lawlor were speaking ahead of a Community Inquiry on Saturday that is set to reveal shocking information about the events leading up to his death and the flawed PSNI investigation into his killing.
The 19-year-old father-of-one was gunned down on July 22, 2002 as he made his way home from the Bellevue Arms to his home on the Whitewell Road.
He was the last Catholic killed in the Troubles and his death was one of the first to be investigated by the then new PSNI.
No-one has ever been brought to justice for Gerard’s murder, there has been no inquest into his death and the family’s wait for a Police Ombudsman report into the killing continues.
There were four different attempts to murder a Catholic in North Belfast in the hours leading up to Gerard’s killing and PSNI guidelines from that time state that during serious security events they would set up vehicle checkpoints in specific areas. One of those areas was just yards from where Gerard was killed.
“It was mob rule that night from 7.30pm and it was allowed to progress and it should have been clamped down much sooner,” said Gerard’s dad John. “It was unfortunate it was our lad but they didn’t stop till they got what they wanted, it could have been prevented. “We want the public to be aware of what has gone on since and this inquiry will give us a chance to do that.”
The inquiry, at St Enda’s GAA Club of which Gerard was a member, is also set to reveal a series of failings in the PSNI’s investigation into a killing that came less than a year after two other North Belfast teenagers – Gavin Brett and Danny McColgan – were killed.
“There were warnings there. Six months before it was Danny McColgan and six months before that it was Gavin Brett. The police should have been tightened up their act in the area and they didn’t,” said Sharon Lawlor.
John and Sharon said they will continue to pursue justice for their son until they can bring closure for themselves and future generations, including Gerard’s four brothers and his 11-year-old son Josh.
“Your kids are supposed to bury you, that’s the normal way life is supposed to go,” said John.
“Sharon and myself are both from Rathcoole, which was a mixed area then, and the most frustrating bit is that we lived through the Troubles unscathed and tried to raise the boys to respect religions and cultures and treat everyone with an open mind and open heart in the new era we were moving into post-conflict with the new PSNI – and then our son is shot. That’s where it is hard to take at times.”
Sharon says Josh is now starting to ask questions and she added that it’s vital for him to know that his dad’s loved ones did everything they could to get justice for him.
“Josh talks about him and asks questions. He loves sport and he doesn’t have his daddy to take him and that is very sad,” she said.
“We just want to be able to look at him in the eye and say we did what we could to try and find out who carried it out. We only have one police force and one rule of law and if that falls short we need to know why it fell short and who is responsible for it and take it from there.”
Jurists at Saturday’s inquiry are Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch, Gemma McKeown from the Committee for the Administration of Justice and Professor Bill Rolston from the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster.
The public event has been organised jointly by the Lawlor family and friends, Relatives for Justice and St Enda’s GAC.
The inquiry will take place on Saturday (July 21) at 12.30pm at St Enda’s GAC. All members of the public are welcome to attend.