Families of two murdered British soldiers have paid an emotional visit to the town where they died to unveil a memorial honouring their loved ones.
Relatives of sappers Patrick Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23, thanked the people of Antrim for remembering the Royal Engineers in such a “wonderful and extraordinary” way as they attended a dedication ceremony held on the third anniversary of their deaths at the hands of dissident republican terrorists.
The young soldiers from 38 Engineer Regiment were gunned down in March 2009 by a Real IRA gang outside Antrim’s Massereene Army barracks as they collected a pizza delivery hours before they were due to deploy to Afghanistan.
Only one man has been convicted of the murders and after the memorial event family members expressed doubts whether they would ever get full justice.
Sapper Quinsey’s mother Pamela Brankin and sister Jaime joined Sapper Azimkar’s parents Mehmet Azimkar and Geraldine Ferguson and his brother James as the engraved black stone bearing the soldiers’ names was uncovered beside the town’s cenotaph during a solemn ceremony.
Around 500 people braved snow and sleet to attend the dedication and an earlier inter-denominational church service.
Sapper Azimkar’s mother said the knowledge local people still cared about her son was a great source of comfort.
“It’s a very difficult day because it’s the third anniversary but coming here today, seeing this incredible commemoration, is extraordinary really, it’s beyond belief,” she said afterwards.
“This is definitely of great comfort because even after we are gone, all of us are gone, their memories will live on and of course that is very special.”
Jaime Quinsey thanked all those who had come to pay tribute to her brother.
“Each year has been very difficult but this year coming here, seeing how much all these people care – coming out in this weather – it’s just made this day so much easier and the following years,” she said.
“It makes me so proud of my brother and Patrick for what they did, being in the Army.
“It’s wonderful to see how much Ireland cares.”
Driving sleet that poured down on the relatives as they were led by a lone piper from All Saints Parish Church through the town centre to the cenotaph in Market Square gave way to spring sunshine as the dedication began.
The crowd that was huddled beneath umbrellas emerged as Antrim Mayor Paul Michael gave an address, followed by prayers and readings from both Catholic and Protestant clergy. A piper played from high above on the walls of Antrim castle before a minute’s silence.
After the stone was unveiled and the families laid a wreath at the cenotaph, Sapper Azimkar’s mother and Jaime Quinsey both spoke to the crowd. Applause rang out around the square as they concluded.
An inscription carved on the memorial on behalf of both families read: “Our greatest hope is a commitment to unity and peace in defiance of the prejudice of a few.”
Sapper Quinsey, from Birmingham, and Sapper Azimkar, from London, were dressed in their desert fatigues and were within hours of leaving the base when they were shot dead.
Two other soldiers and two pizza delivery drivers were injured in the gun attack.
Co Londonderry man Brian Shivers, 46, was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being found guilty of the murders in January this year. The terminally ill cystic fibrosis sufferer is expected to die in jail within four or five years.
Shivers’ co-accused, high-profile republican Colin Duffy, 44, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was acquitted of the murder charges in a six-week non-jury trial at Antrim Crown Court.
Police are still hunting members of the gang who carried out the shooting.
Today both families had different perspectives on whether they will ever get full justice.
“I personally don’t think we ever will,” said Jaime Quinsey.
“But it just brings great comfort to know the people care so much and that to me, it’s not justice, but it helps a lot.”
Geraldine Ferguson said the family did not know if they would get justice, but they keep hoping.
“We hope we might get justice one day, we don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see.
“But the fact that so many people actually care is a massive consolation - they don’t need to and they do,” she said.