‘JOHN NON SI E’ UCCISO’
Suzanne Breen ripercorre con la madre e la sorella di John Brady, la vita del veterano repubblicano rivenuto cadavere nella stazione di polizia di Strand Road a Derry
Riportiamo il brano di un articolo firmato da Suzanne Breen per il Sunday Tribune, in cui riporta le dichiarazioni della madre e della sorella Lorna, al ritorno a casa di John Brady, in una bara
“Mio figlio non si è ucciso. Non avrebbe dato alla polizia questa soddisfazione, non avrebbe dato loro modo di sconfiggerlo”, dichiara Margaret Brady. ” E lui mi amava troppo per mettere fine alla propria vita. Sapeva che mi avrebbe distrutto”.
Siamo nel salotto di una casa di Strabane. Al piano di sopra John, il figlio di Margaret, giace in una bara. Indossa una t-shirt da calcio – il suo amato Liverpool. Ma i simboli dell’altra sua passione sono tutti intorno. Un tricolore avvolge il suo corpo. Sopra, i suoi guanti neri e il basco.
John Brady è stato rinvenuto, lo scorso week end, impiccato con i lacci delle sue scarpe nella stazione di polizia di Strand Road a Derry. Aveva 40 anni. Trascorse quasi metà della sua vita in carcere. I primi anni per reati repubblicani, compreso l’omicidio di un ufficiale di polizia. Gli ultimi 5 anni sono stati di internamento effettivo, sostiene la sua famiglia. Brady era stato incarcerato per nulla.
Un piccolo gruppo di sostenitori ha combattuto una lunga campagna, senza sostegno politico, per ottenerne il rilascio. Alla fine ha avuto successo. Brady avrebbe dovuto essere scarcerato defitivamente il prossimo mese. Aveva iniziato a far ritorno a casa nei fine settimana sulla parola.
Poi venerdì 2 ottobre è stato arrestato. E’ stato interrogato per aver assalito e minacciato di morte suo cognato, nella mattina di quel giorno, cosa che John ha negato. La polizia lo ha trattenuto per tutta la notte ed era pronta a presentare formale accusa. John non avrebbe potuto quindi sopportare di trascorrere ancora un lungo periodo in prigione o lo scorso sabato è successo qualcosa di più sinistro nella caserma di Strand Road?
All’inizio nessuno riteneva che Brady avrebbe potuto essersi suicidato. “Il suicidio era un gesto lontano da lui” dichiara Paddy Brown, un amico molto vicino.
La casa si sta affollando di persone che vogliono partecipare al funerale. Non solo provenienti dal nord: ci sono repubblicani di Dublino, Cork, Kildare, Limerick e Monaghan. Circa 100 persone in fila fuori in un’amaramente fredda notte, per entrare in casa. Donne si adoperano a offrire panini e te caldo.
Qualcuno dice al Sunday Tribune: “Venite di sopra”. Superiamo una dozzina di uomini e donne in camicia bianca, cravatta e pantaloni neri che stazionano nel pianerottolo e nell’ingresso. “Aspetti quì un minuto, signore”, viene detto al nostro fotografo. Siamo entrati quindi nella camera da letto dove giace Brady. Un crocifisso sopra la bara, un tricolore con l’arpa a lato.
Quattro uomini con il passamontagna, giacca da combattimento, pantaloni neri e stavali, stanno di guardia. Due hanno pistole calibro 32; uno ha un fucile AK-47. La stanza dice molto a proposito delle complessità del Nord. L’aspro mondo paramilitare viene ammorbidito dall’umanità della vita repubblicana quotidiana – le tende del Liverpool e i paralumi comprati da Brady durante i permessi. In mezzo alle candele e alle rose rosse, Margaret ha messo le cartoline che il figlio gli ha spedito dalla prigione. Una ritrae un orso. “Mi manchi, non riesco a sopportare di esserti lontano”.
Margaret inizia a piangere: “Ho aspettato così tanto il suo ritorno a casa, ma non dentro ad una bara. Se fosse rimasto ucciso in azione, non mi sarei lamentata. Morire in una stazione di polizia senza aver fatto nulla di sbagliato, è diverso”.
(I Brady) sono una famiglia molto repubblicana. Lora, la sorella di John, afferma: “Mio padre fu prigioniero dell’IRA a Portlaoise negli anni ’80. John, crescendo, è diventato come un padre per me. Quando avevo 6 anni, mi portò a vedere Babbo Natale. Non molti quattordicenni lo avrebbero fatto per la loro sorellina”.
Brady aderì all’IRA a 16 anni, ricorda la madre: “Mi disse, ‘Se mi vuoi bene, me lo lascerai fare’. E lo feci. Il repubblicanesimo nasce in te”. Brady venne condannato all’ergastolo per l’omicidio di David Black, poliziotto della RUC, nel 1989. Suo fratello Ben e sua madre vennero accusati di omissione di informazioni.
“E’ difficile per una madre stare tra i suoi figli in tribunale”, dice Margaret. “Ma John mi disse, ‘Tieni la testa alta mamma’ e così ho fatto e fui orgogliosa dei miei figli”. Ben venne condannato a 4 anni; Margaret a due, con sospensione della pena.
John Brady venne rilasciato anticipatamente in base agli accordi del Good Friday Agreement del 1998. Entrò a far parte del Sinn Fein da cui rimase subito deluso, accusando la leadership di ‘essersi venduta’.
Entrò nel Real IRA.
Nel 2003, fu arrestato dalla polizia insieme a due donne, nei pressi del confine con il Donegal. Nell’auto furono rinvenute alcune pistole. Il trio venne arrestato ma poi il caso venne lasciato cadere.
Il Real IRA affermò che ciò accadde per proteggere un informatore di cui loro conoscevano il nome.
Le due donne furono rilasciate, ma non Brady. “La sua precedente licenza di rilascio anticipato venne revocata” afferma Lorna. “Ma il suo caso giunse dinnanzi alla Life Sentence Review Commission che sembrava ben disposta. Poi, improvvisamente, John venne accusato del tentato omicidio di un soldato a Tyrone nel 2002, sulla base di tracce di DNA a basso numero di copie.
“Dopo che questo genere di prova venne screditata durante il processo per la strage di Omagh, il caso contro John venne abbandonato. Ancora una volta, senza che su John pendesse una qualsiasi accusa, non lo rilasciarono dalla prigione di Maghaberry”. Non era mai depresso, racconta la madre: “Non era gravoso fargli visita. Gli altri visitatori piangerebbero se dovessero lasciare prigionieri che sono demoralizzati. A noi non accadeva mai perchè John era sempre sorridente”.
Frustrato per essere trattenuto in carcere senza accusa, Brady chiese all’organizzazione a sostegno dei prigionieri del Real IRA (IRPWA) di toglierlo dalla lista dei Pows. Poi chiese di essere trasferito dall’ala dei prigionieri repubblicani a quella dei criminali comuni. “Tagliò tutti i legami con il movimento repubblicano” sostiene Marian Price del 32 County Soereignty Movement. “Non aveva altra scelta perchè le autorità avrebbero usato qualsiasi mezzo pur di tenerlo in prigione. E comprensibilmente voleva uscire e tornare ad una vita normale”.
Nelle ultime 5 settimane, a Brady era stato concesso la libera uscita sulla parola durante i fine settimana e sarebbe stato rilasciato definitivamente il mese prossimo. “La mia guerra è finita” disse agli amici di Strabane. Restava di fede repubblicana ma credeva ormai che la ‘lotta armata’ non era la vita da seguire. Poi il week end scorso, si trovò invischiato in una diatriba familiare.
La sorella maggiore di Brady, Martina, è sposata con il vignettista satirico John Kennedy i cui lavori vengono pubblicati dal Mirror e da altre testate negli USA. Kennedy è conosciuto per le sue politiche radicali ed alcune delle sue illustrazioni sono state oggetto di critica da parte dal Police Service of Northern Ireland.
‘John didn’t kill himself’ (Sunday Tribune)
Republican prisoner John Brady had a row with his brother-in-law while on weekend parole. He ended up hanging from his laces in a PSNI cell. His family don’t believe it was suicide.
Suzanne Breen reports
Margaret and Lorna Brady, flanked by two Real IRA guards, at the wake for John Brady, who died last Saturday in police custody
‘My son didn’t kill himself. He wouldn’t have given the police that pleasure, he wouldn’t have let them beat him,” says Margaret Brady. “And he loved me far too much to end his own life. He knew that would have destroyed me.”
We’re in the living room of a terraced house in Strabane. Upstairs, Margaret’s son John lies in a coffin. He’s wearing a football shirt – his beloved Liverpool. But the emblems of his other passion are all around. A Tricolour drapes the body. His black gloves and beret sit on top.
John Brady was found hanging by his laces in Derry’s Strand Road police station last weekend. He was 40 years old. He’d spent almost half his life in jail. The early years were for republican offences, including the murder of a policeman. The last five years were effectively internment, his family say. Brady had been convicted of nothing.
A small group of supporters had fought a long campaign, with no mainstream political support, to have him freed. Finally, they succeeded. Brady was to be released permanently next month. He had started weekend parole.
Then on Friday 2 October, he was arrested. He was questioned about assaulting and threatening to kill his brother-in-law earlier that day, which he denied. Police held him overnight and were about to charge him. So could John Brady not face another long stretch in prison or did something more sinister happen last Saturday in Strand Road barracks?
At the wake, nobody believes Brady killed himself. “Suicide would have been alien to him,” says close friend Paddy Brown.
The house is overflowing with mourners. Not just Northerners: republicans from Dublin, Cork, Kildare, Limerick, and Monaghan are there. Around 100 people queue outside on a bitterly cold night to enter the wake house. Women serve them sandwiches and tea.
‘I waited so long for him to come home’
“Come upstairs,” someone tells the Sunday Tribune. We pass a dozen men and women in white shirts, black ties and trousers in the hall and landing. “Wait here a minute sir,” our photographer is asked. And then we enter the bedroom where Brady lies, a crucifix above the coffin, a Tricolour harp-shaped wreath at the side.
Four men in balaclavas, combat jackets, black trousers and boots stand guard. Two hold .32 handguns; one an AK47. The room says so much about the North’s complexities. The harsh paramilitary world softened by the humanity of a republican’s everyday life – the Liverpool curtains and light-shade Brady bought while on parole. Amidst the burning candles and red roses, Margaret has placed cards her son sent from prison. One shows a picture of a bear. ‘Missing you, just can’t bear it when we’re apart,’ it says.
Margaret starts crying: “I waited so long for him to come home but not in a coffin. Had John been killed on active service, I wouldn’t have complained. To die in a police station when he’d done nothing wrong is different.”
They’re a strongly republican family, John Brady’s sister Lorna says. “My father was an IRA prisoner in Portlaoise in the 1980s. Growing up, John was like a daddy to me. When I was six, he took me to see Santa. Not many 14-year-old boys would do that for their kid sister.”
Brady joined the IRA at 16, his mother recalls: “He said to me, ‘If you love me, you’ll let me’. And I did. Republicanism is born into you.” Brady was jailed for life for murdering RUC man David Black in 1989. His brother Ben and his mother were charged with withholding information.
“It’s hard as a mother to stand between your two sons in the dock,” Margaret says. “But John said, ‘Hold your head up high mum’, and I did and I was proud of my sons.” Ben received four years imprisonment; Margaret, a two-year suspended sentence.
John Brady was freed on an early release licence under the 1998 Belfast agreement. He joined Sinn Féin but became disillusioned, accusing the leadership of “selling-out”. He joined the Real IRA.
In 2003, he was arrested with two women by the PSNI near the Donegal border. Guns were recovered from the car. The trio were charged but the case was later dropped. The Real IRA claim this was to protect an informer whose identity they know.
The two women were freed from jail but not Brady. “His early release licence was revoked,” says Lorna. “But his case went before the Life Sentence Review Commission and it looked very positive. Then, out of the blue, he was charged on low copy DNA evidence with trying to kill a soldier in Tyrone in 2002.
“After low copy DNA was discredited in the Omagh bomb trial, the case against John was dropped. Once again, he faced no charges yet they wouldn’t let him out of Maghaberry jail.” He was never depressed, his mother says: “It wasn’t hard visiting him. Other visitors would cry as they left prisoners who were feeling low. Never us because John was always smiling.”
Frustrated that he remained in jail without charge, Brady asked the welfare group for Real IRA prisoners to take him off their list. Then, he requested to be transferred from the republican to the ordinary criminal wing. “He cut all ties with the republican movement,” says Marian Price of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. “He’d no other choice because the authorities were using everything to keep him in jail. And he understandably wanted to get out and lead a normal life.”
For the past five weeks, Brady had been granted weekend parole and was to be permanently freed next month. “My war is over,” he told friends in Strabane. He remained a political republican but believed ‘armed struggle’ wasn’t the way forward. Then last weekend, he became entangled in a family dispute.
Brady’s older sister Martina is married to political cartoonist John Kennedy who has had work published in the Mirror and US publications. Kennedy is known for his radical politics and some cartoons have been critical of the PSNI.
The Kennedys and the Bradys fell out two years ago. Margaret Brady claims she hadn’t been allowed to see her grandchildren. Even presents and cards were returned.
Around 3pm on Friday 2 October, John Brady was collecting a friend’s children from Strabane’s Barrack Street school.
An argument developed with John Kennedy who was collecting his child. Afterwards, Brady immediately informed those in charge of his prison pre-release scheme about the incident and offered to return to jail, his family claim.
He was reportedly told to contact the PSNI with details of the altercation. Brady’s family say he rang police who asked if he wanted to lodge a complaint about John Kennedy. Brady said no but asked for the incident to be logged.
At 8.30pm the PSNI arrested Brady. John Kennedy had reportedly made a complaint. “My brother phoned me twice from the barracks,” says Lorna. “He was in good form. I went to Strand Road on Saturday afternoon with a change of clothes for him. I sat there for two hours but wasn’t allowed to see him.”
Brady’s solicitor, John Finucane, arrived at Strand Road at 9.30am. He found his client was his usual relaxed self. He was wearing a Liverpool shirt. Being a Man United man, Finucane joked had he known Brady’s team, he’d not have come.
Finucane believed police didn’t have the evidence to charge Brady, who denied assaulting or threatening to kill Kennedy. Brady said he’d three witnesses supporting his account of the altercation. He gave police their contact details. Although Brady had been under arrest for almost 20 hours, he was questioned for just 42 minutes.
At 4pm, Finucane was informed his client was to be charged. He didn’t detect any panic in Brady. As a solicitor he’d learned to read, through changes in their demeanour or expression, if somebody is vulnerable. At 4.35pm, Finucane left Brady in the legal consultation room and went to talk to police.
He was away 15 minutes, 20 at most. When he returned, he found Brady hanging by his trainer laces from the window. He called out to police. Paramedics tried to revive Brady but it was too late.
Finucane has serious questions about why Brady was arrested in the first place. He believes had a complaint been made about anyone else, they would simply have been asked to visit a police station at an agreed date, not arrested in that manner. He also believes Brady was being charged before the investigative process was adequately followed through. The young solicitor, whose father Pat was murdered in 1989, broke the news to the Bradys. “John Finucane rang and said he needed to see me,” Lorna says. “I met him in the Asda supermarket carpark and he told me my brother was dead.”
On hearing of her son’s death, Margaret Brady took down photographs of her daughter Martina – John Kennedy’s wife – from her home. Although those of the three Kennedy grandchildren remain on display.
“I’ll pray for my daughter every day of my life but I’ll never speak to her again,” Margaret says. “In the republican world, you involve the police only for rape or child abuse. You certainly don’t complain about prisoners on licence. Her father would be turning in his grave.”
Margaret asked an intermediary to tell the Kennedys, who live only 100 yards from her, that it would be best if they left Strabane. “It wasn’t vindictiveness. Feelings were running high. I was worried what locals might do. I’d three grandchildren I love in the house and I wanted them safe.”
Left the North
The Kennedys have reportedly left the North. The Sunday Tribune contacted John Kennedy by email for comment but received no reply. But the main questions concern John Brady’s treatment in Strand Row.
The family want to know why he was still wearing his trainers and why police didn’t immediately return him to his cell when Finucane left the legal consultation room.
Derry republican Gary Donnelly has been questioned many times in Strand Road: “Every time you’re brought in, you must remove your shoes, belt, and jewellery. I’ve even been asked to remove the drawstring from tracksuit bottoms.
“It’s standard procedure so a prisoner can’t harm themselves or a cop. Why didn’t this happen to John? And it’s bizarre that he was left alone in the legal consultation room, one of the only spots in the barracks without a camera. Every time my solicitor has left the consultation room, the cops have thrown me back in a cell.”
The PSNI is tougher in Derry, with its strong dissident presence, than in other parts of the North, Donnelly says. He has been assaulted several times by police.
Ex-INLA prisoner Willie Gallagher knew Brady well. “I saw John last week and he was as upbeat as ever. He was hoping to move to Donegal when he got permanently released because he said the PSNI would never give him peace in the North. He was planning computer classes. I don’t believe he killed himself. But, even if he did, the PSNI drove him over the edge and as an organisation, are responsible for his death.”
The Bradys have no faith in the Police Ombudsman’s investigation into the matter. While John Brady’s war was over, ironically his death has increased republican feeling.
In the front windows of republican homes in Strabane, the ‘Free John Brady’ posters, erected years ago, remain. Now they’re joined by black flags. And on the walls, there’s fresh graffiti: ‘John Brady is free. RIP Chara.’