Friday, November 20, 2009
Justice for the Holland Family
November 20th 09
Justice for the Holland family
Last week Harry Holland's wife Pauline and family, their legal representative and myself, met with the British Attorney General and the acting Director of the PPS in the north, in the Bar Library in Belfast. It was the first ever meeting of its kind.
It arose because of serious concerns by the family – which this Blog shares – about the way in which the PPS handled the murder case that resulted from the arrest and charging of three people for the murder of Harry Holland near his home on Tuesday 11th September 2007.
Harry was a very popular local figure. His small greengrocers shop had a collection of boxes for progressive causes scattered throughout the shelves of fruit and vegetables. Posters publicising Irish language events were flanked by anti-Iraq war material.
Harry was always good for a bit of debate. There was more politicised sense in his shop than in the British Parliament, or in Government Buildings in Dublin for that matter.
Harry also did odd jobs for neighbours. He paved our back yard for example. And he could sing the blues in sean nós style. I recall one particularly good session at our street party during the Féile. Bob Dylan was Harry’s poet laureate.
Harry’s murder left his family deeply traumatised and evoked public revulsion throughout the community, especially in west Belfast. In response many people came forward with information and evidence to support an effective police investigation and the arrest and conviction of his killers.
Four people were implicated. Three were subsequently charged with murder.
Then last May the Public Prosecution Service withdrew the murder charge against two of the three when the third Stephen McKee pleaded guilty to the murder. The charges against the other two were reduced significantly to the lesser charges of affray and criminal assault.
One walked free from court on two years probation while the third Patrick Crossan was sentenced to four years. He was released several months ago and is back in custody again on charges relating to death driving.
The family were understandably outraged and the community is angry.
In July I wrote to the British Attorney General on behalf of Harry’s family. I asked her to review the sentences of the accused and refer them to the Court of Appeal. She refused.
However, the British Attorney General did agree to a meeting. The family put a compelling case, particularly around the issue of the reduction of sentences and the failure by the PPS to provide them with all of the necessary documentation following the court case.
The PPS apologised to the family for not explaining their decisions adequately and for failing to provide the necessary documentation, but by the end of the meeting the family had still not received an adequate explanation around the reduction in sentences.
The British Attorney General and PPS agreed to reflect on the points put to them by the family and to come back to them.
They also accepted the need for greater transparency within the judicial system and in particular how it engages with victims and their families. However, the judicial system still has a long way to go to answer the concerns of Harry’s family and the community.
Death of Eleanor Kasrils
Eleanor Kasrils was a life long activist in the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe, as well as member of the Communist Party of South Africa. She died last week at the age of 73.
Eleanor became politically active following the Sharpville Massacre in 1960 in which the apartheid South African police killed 69 protestors and wounded almost 200 more. Following that Eleanor joined the South African Congress of Democrats, as well as Umkhonto we Sizwe. She became a target for the Apartheid regime and was the second white woman to be arrested. She escaped and went into exile where she worked for ANC President Oliver Tambo.
They were difficult and dangerous times. Many of her comrades and friends were killed or spent long years in prison.
Eleanor returned to South Africa in 1993 at a time when the South African peace process was moving forward rapidly and the experience and dedication of activists such as Eleanor were badly needed.
Both Eleanor and her husband Ronnie – who was Minister of Intelligence in the post apartheid South African government - were keenly interested in and supportive of the struggle in Ireland. At pivotal points in the peace process they travelled to Ireland to address public and private meetings of republican activists and to outline the ANC’s approach to their peace process.
In 2005 Eleanor and Ronnie came to Ireland as guests of Sinn Féin as we gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of our party. And they returned again in 2007 and were present when the political institutions were re-established with Sinn Féin as part of the government Executive.
News of her death came as a shock. Her loss to the South African people is immeasurable. She was one of its many heroines. To Ronnie Bridgette and Christopher and Andrew my deepest sympathy and that of my comrades in Sinn Féin.
Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire ar a h-anam.