‘THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG. SOMETHING MISSING. SOMETHING JUST NOT RIGHT.’ – JACKIE KENNEDY
JACKIE Kennedy was a man of music. A good oul’ chanter, a singer from the Market area in Belfast. I’m thinking about him now. Have been: since the latest in a long line of security-related storms broke again this week over the notorious and shameful Sean Graham bookie’s shop murders perpetrated by the outlawed UFF way back 27 years ago this month. Indeed, I flicked back through the archives to what big Ivan Little wrote in the Belfast Telegraph about that merciless atrocity in which five people were brutally assassinated in a hail of 46 bullets fired in just 20 seconds by two silent assassins using a high-powed rifle and a handgun. The big fella was recalling in the article how he was based at the nearby UTV headquarters on the lower Ormeau Road at the time and was the first reporter there, accompanied by his cameraman. In his BT recollection, he wrote: “one of the first victims to emerge from the mayhem was quite clearly a child. “I later learned he was James Kennedy, who was just 15. “His father later called at UTV to ask me to stop using the pictures of his son because the family had been told James might have been breathing his last as he was wheeled past the camera.” That was that fateful day of February 5th, 1992. That was the day young James Kennedy died, and the music died for his father, Jackie Kennedy. I know. I got to know Jackie reasonably well. He was a decent man who imbibed a pint of stout and still placed a punt at the bookies. But never again at Sean Graham’s pitch on the corner of Hatfield Street. Instead, he would head in the other direction from his home, into town, into Bittles Bar in Victoria Street in the city centre. Which is where I made his acquaintance many years ago. We shared many conversations over those years, covering many subjects.
Jackie rarely talked about what amounted to the obscene sectarian slaughter in Sean Graham’s. It was only when it spiked in the news headlines, as it has done again, that the subject would be inevitably broached between us. I use the word ‘inevitably’, because we would talk from both professional and personal perspectives. Me as the reporter, he as the father of James. And when we did talk, there was always a sense of emptiness, a void that seemed to seep deep into his very soul, in Jackie. Grief, certainly. Fond remembrance of a loved and loving son, sure. The loss of a wife whose death, he felt, had been brought about too early by the lingering consequence of losing her oh-so young and innocent boy, and in such a savage way.
But that emptiness, that void, in Jackie… It inevitably – and there’s that word again – came down to the same thing. He wasn’t a bitter man. But he always thought – believed, a step way even beyond suspected – that there was something missing. It was like a sixth sense. “There’s something wrong, big McDowell,” he’d say. “There’s something missing. There’s something that’s just not right about all of this.” ‘All of this’ covered, of course, could the police or the Army have done more to prevent the bookie shop bloodletting, and why weren’t the evil UFF perpetrators ever caught? Was there a cover-up? Was there, as Sinn Féin are now – again and typically clarion-calling – ‘collision’? Jackie Campbell himself never coached it in those terms in his conversations with me. ‘Something missing’. ‘Something wrong’. ‘Something just not right.’ Those words echoed from the grave as the latest storm broke over the bookie shop murders in the last few days: the PSNI putting their hands up and confessing that ‘significant and sensitive information’ had not been disclosed to the Police Ombudsman’s Office because of ‘human error’ in researching archive files. I say ‘echoed from the grave’ because Jackie, father of young James, is now dead, having passed on not so long ago. So he hasn’t survived to see what that once missing, now found, ‘significant and sensitive information’ may be when it is finally made public.
Will the ‘significant’ part disclose what is already well known, but which has never officially been confirmed: that UFF/UDA godfathers Joe ‘Chinky’ Bratty and Raymond ‘Snowy’ Elder masterminded the massacre? Will the ‘sensitive’ part explain why, having been identified by eyewitness as one of the two assassins, and having been stopped by police in what they suspected was the second getaway car less than 24 hours after the atrocity, charges against Elder were dramatically dropped in November 1992, just ten months after the multiple murders? Or that Bratty was suspected of having been at a car auction attempting to buy a getaway car for use after the massacre? Or could the ‘significance’ and ‘sensitivity’ of the apparently newly uncovered ‘information’ be that Bratty, or Elder, or indeed both, we’re touts (informers)? Of course, both Bratty and Elder aren’t around to corroborate, or indeed deny, anything that eventually comes out of the latest revelation. Both were assassinated by the PIRA on the same Ormeau Road just half a mile up from where the bookie’s shop still sits on July 31st, 1994.
But back to Jackie Kennedy. He was an intelligent and articulate man. He read newspapers, avidly. And he was also apt to sit in the corner snug in John Bittles’ bar using newspapers for two other purposes. Pen, or pencil, in hand, perusing the racing pages and picking out horses he hoped would be winners that day and doing the crosswords is ‘seismic’. Perhaps that same word will eventually apply to the ‘significant and sensitive information’ now, eventually, unearthed by the PSNI with regard to that fateful day of February 5th, 1992, when young James Kennedy, and four other innocent victims of the UFF/UDA, all breathed their last. And perhaps the instinct and intuition Jackie Kennedy held to his last breath will at least prove both apt and accurate. Not just that, in his own words: “something’s missing. Something wrong. Something’s just not right.” But that something more than that, something seismic really did occur. Both in the act of the multiple murder, the massacre, itself. And in the lingering and damning failure to bring the silent assassins, or those UFF/UDA ogres who plotted with and aided and abetted them, to justice. Perhaps the rectification of what the PSNI are now calling a ‘human error’ can be recifified now. And 27 long years after the day the music died for his father, Jackie.
With many thanks to: Jim McDowell and The Sunday World for the original story.
Follow this link to find out more about the murder of young James Kennedy:https://belfastchildis.com/tag/james-kennedy/
Follow this link to find out more about Raymond ‘Snowy’ Elder: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Elder
Follow this link to find out more about Joe ‘Chinky’ Bratty: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Bratty
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