On July 20th 1982, Michael Pedersen was a Household Cavalry sergeant, taking part in the Changing of the Guard procession in London’s Hyde Park. That morning, at 10:40am, a remote-controlled nail bomb was detonated. Four of Pedersen’s comrades, along with seven of their horses, were killed by the blast. Pedersen survived and in the years that followed became a national celebrity.
However, thirty years later, in September 2012, the formerly proud soldier was a broken man. In a desperate act, having separated from his wife, Pederson stabbed his two young children to death before taking his own life. He had been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The long aftermath of the Hyde Park bombing had been as brutally destructive as the event itself.
The man believed to be responsible for the attack, John Downey, walked free from the Old Bailey last month. Why? Due to an assurance – given in error – that he could not be prosecuted. Downey’s lawyers stated that he could not face trial as he was one of a vast number of IRA suspects who had been provided with an indisputable guarantee that they were no longer wanted by any UK police force. The ongoing appeasement of the IRA is a process which has caused much controversy.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, orchestrated by Tony Blair’s government, was signed by Sinn Féin on the condition that all 187 IRA fugitives, who were still influential in the wider republican movement, would be granted amnesty. Blair’s government agreed so that to maintain ‘a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.’
However, given that amongst the complex provisions set out by The Agreement there is a mutual commitment to equality and human rights, where did the victims’ families feature in the decision to grant ‘get out of jail free cards’ to suspected terrorists? In light of Downey’s release, Peter Hain, Northern Ireland Secretary under Blair, has stated that allowing ‘on-the-runs’ to go free was all part of the peace deal, and that the conclusion of bitter conflict is always incredibly difficult.
To many it seems perverse that the rights of an IRA fugitive were considered, by the British government, to be more important than the soldiers who were murdered in 1982. Yet pacification in Ireland is shown consistently to be a balance of cost and benefit – historic and painful compromises are felt on both sides.
Since Good Friday 1998, the situation in Northern Ireland has improved considerably – it cannot be allowed for The Agreement to be unpicked. But the families of those who perished at Hyde Park, and in other IRA campaigns, must have their questions answered. Those who endured the horrendous horrors of the past are at least owed that.