‘Jim was no drug dealer’... wife of man mur­dered out­side west Belfast school vows to de­fend him against ‘lies and ac­cu­sa­tions’


THE widow of a man mur­dered out­side a west Belfast school has strongly de­nied he was a drug dealer and has said lies are be­ing spread by peo­ple who did not know him.

Laura Done­gan pledged to “for­ever de­fend and stand up” for her hus­band Jim who was shot dead out­side St Mary’s Gram­mar School on the Glen Road on Tues­day.

Mr Done­gan was sit­ting in his car wait­ing to pick up his 13-year-old son when the lone gun­man struck. He was hit in the head and chest.

The 43-year-old fa­ther of three died in­stantly. The PSNI are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a mo­tive for the mur­der and have not ruled out dis­si­dent repub­li­can in­volve­ment.

Writ­ing on Face­book, Mrs Done­gan de­nied her hus­band was in­volved in any crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity and said he worked hard for ev­ery­thing he had.

She was re­spond­ing af­ter a friend of her hus­band’s chal­lenged those mak­ing the al­le­ga­tions to pro­duce ev­i­dence he was a drug dealer.

“I am glad there are peo­ple stand­ing up for my Jim,” Mrs Done­gan said. “All the lies and ac­cu­sa­tions are just off the scale.

“My Jim was not in­volved in any way with any crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

“I knew who my Jim was and he was noth­ing like that. He worked hard ev­ery­day.

“Maybe the peo­ple who are spreading the gos­sip and lies should try a day’s work, give them some­thing to do, rather than try to la­bel my hus­band.”

Mrs Done­gan added: “I will for­ever de­fend Jim and will al- ways stand up for him as I know who he was, they don’t and never will.”

Mr Done­gan’s friend said he had ques­tioned him on the drugs al­le­ga­tions and be­lieved his de­nials. “Jim to me was a fa­ther, a hus­band, and 100% a worker who loved nice things, not one bit or fact has been proven he was in­volved with drugs,” the west Belfast man wrote.

Mrs Done­gan was in a distressed state at the scene of the mur­der where she was com­forted by rel­a­tives on Tues­day.

Her hus­band’s son missed the as­sas­si­na­tion by sec­onds. Staff brought him back into school. Rel­a­tives say they fear he will never get over what hap­pened.

Mid-Ul­ster SDLP coun­cil­lor Denise Mullen, whose fa­ther De­nis was mur­dered by the UVF’s Gle­nanne gang at his home in the Moy in 1975, has said her heart goes out to the Done­gan fam­ily.

Ms Mullen said she knew what it was like to lose a par­ent in hor­rific cir­cum­stances. “The mur­der of Mr Done­gan brought back aw­ful me­mories for me,” she said.

“His son will have to live with his ex­pe­ri­ence for the rest of his life. Be­cause there is no magic out there, no mir­a­cle, or no cure that will take that away from you.

“There is no magic that will take the pic­ture of my daddy out of my head. It will haunt me for­ever.

“I’d like to reach out to that child. If the Done­gan fam­ily ever want to talk, I’m here to talk, lis­ten and help — if I can,” she said.

The lone gun­man, who wore a high vis­i­bil­ity jacket with the word ‘se­cu­rity’ on the back, fired eight times at Mr Done­gan in his parked Porsche Panam­era.

Teach­ers cov­ered the car with coats so ter­ri­fied chil­dren could not see in­side.

Coun­selling has been of­fered to chil­dren and staff who wit­nessed the at­tack.

The PSNI has re­leased CCTV footage of the gun­man walk­ing to the scene and then flee­ing. Two men ar­rested on Wed­nes­day by de­tec­tives have been re­leased un­con­di­tion­ally.

Known as ‘JD’, Mr Done­gan lived in the Lis­burn area with his fam­ily.

❝ I will for­ever de­fend Jim and will al­ways stand up for him as I know who he was ... they never will

‘I found my fa­ther dead on the doorstep ... all I had on was a nightie — it was soaked in his blood’

The bru­tal school gate mur­der of Jim Done­gan in Belfast this week was all the more shock­ing be­cause it was wit­nessed by his 13-year-old son, Cris. Here, Leona O’Neill speaks to two women who saw their fa­thers be­ing killed dur­ing the Trou­bles and hears how the pain never goes away

Fa­ther-of-two De­nis Mullen (36) was shot dead by the no­to­ri­ous Gle­nanne Gang at the front door of his Co Ty­rone fam­ily home on the night of Septem­ber 1, 1975.

His daugh­ter, Denise — just four years old at the time — sat by his side in a nightie soaked in her fa­ther’s blood for two hours be­fore neigh­bours were al­lowed to take her and her 13-month-old brother out of the house.

As she sat with her dead fa­ther on the freez­ing doorstep, Denise, now an SDLP coun­cil­lor with Mid-Ul­ster Dis­trict Coun­cil, heard his killers fire 13 shots at her mother, Olive, as she fled across fields to a neigh­bour’s house.

The mental im­ages of that ter­ri­fy­ing night are seared into Denise’s mem­ory —she still gets de­bil­i­tat­ing flash­backs 43 years later.

“I re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing about that night,” Denise says.

“I was in bed sleep­ing and I heard a lot of noise and got up. We lived in a bun­ga­low and I walked down the hall­way. I no­ticed clay balls slid­ing down the win­dow — that was how they got my daddy’s at­ten­tion and got him to come to the door.

“I was only four and, in my naivety, I re­mem­ber think­ing that my gold­fish would be okay, be­cause it was stay­ing with my aunt, Mary.

“A few steps more down the hall, I found my fa­ther lay­ing on the doorstep. It is a sight that will never leave me. He was dead. I sat down be­side my daddy. All I was wear­ing was my nightie. It was soon soaked in his blood.

“I re­mem­ber turn­ing around and see­ing mummy climb­ing out the kitchen win­dow. She ran across the fields to a neigh­bour’s house as the mur­der gang fired 13 bul­lets at her. I heard the shots, round af­ter round, ring out as she fled.

“I re­mem­ber the po­lice and Army ar­riv­ing. They said there was a bomb in the house, and they put up a cor­don and wouldn’t let any­one in. I saw the paramedics — six of them lined up against the am­bu­lance — and one of them waved to me from the cor­don as I sat with my daddy, but they couldn’t get to me.

“I re­mem­ber our neigh­bours, Maura and her hus­band, com­ing to the cor­don, scream­ing and beg­ging the po­lice to let her take me and my brother out of the house. The po­lice said no.

“No one was able to get near me. I just sat there be­side my daddy for two hours. My baby brother was asleep in his cot in­side the house.

“I re­mem­ber Sea­mus Mal­lon and my mummy’s brother com­ing to the cor­don. The RUC went to lift my daddy’s body, but I re­mem­ber, as clear as day, Sea­mus Mal­lon say­ing, ‘There’s no way you are lift­ing this man. He was the great­est man in Ire­land. We’ll be lift­ing him’.

“Daddy was a big man, but the two of them lifted him into the am­bu­lance to be taken to the morgue.

“My mother and I had to go to the morgue at South Ty­rone Hos­pi­tal. I re­mem­ber my mother leav­ing me out­side the room with my aunt, and me bang­ing on the doors scream­ing that I wanted to see my daddy.

“I don’t know why, but I had it in my head that it was a hos­pi­tal and that I was go­ing to go in there and see him there, alive and well, in a hos­pi­tal bed — that ev­ery­thing was all right. But that wasn’t to be.”

Denise says that she knows

what it is like to suf­fer the trauma of los­ing a par­ent in such a hor­rific way and of­fered the hand of friend­ship to the Done­gan fam­ily.

“The mur­der of Mr Done­gan brought back aw­ful me­mories for me,” she says.

“His son will have to live with his ex­pe­ri­ence for the rest of his life. Be­cause there is no magic out there, no mir­a­cle, or no cure that will take that away from you. There is no magic that will take the pic­ture of my daddy out of my head. It will haunt me for­ever.

“I’d like to reach out to that child. If the Done­gan fam­ily ever want to talk, I’m here to talk, lis­ten and help — if I can.”

Denise says that what she saw that night will never leave her. And the trauma she ex­pe­ri­enced im­pacted on her en­tire life, leav­ing her with se­vere PTSD.

“The im­ages of that night will haunt me for­ever,” she says. “I still live with the flash­backs and the night­mares. I could be any place and any time and the smell of sit­ting there for two hours in noth­ing but a night­dress cov­ered in my pre­cious fa­ther’s blood comes over me.

“My life, speech, en­tire ex­is­tence, comes to a stand­still un­til that passes. It can last just a sec­ond or two, or some­times a lit­tle longer. I wouldn’t wish this ex­pe­ri­ence on any­one.”

And she says the ex­pe­ri­ence was a thread through­out her child­hood and into her adult years.

“I was a very anx­ious child and very much a loner. I kept it all to my­self. I was very with­drawn and shied away from ev­ery­thing. I can re­mem­ber, in Pri­mary One, we were do­ing a pro­ject in class and pupils were talk­ing about their daddy’s job.

“And I re­mem­ber say­ing that my daddy was dead; that he had been shot.

“Af­ter the mur­der, we went to live in Eng­land for a while to get away from North­ern Ire­land. I re­mem­ber, in Pri­mary Two — I would have been about six — be­ing given pieces of wood to make some­thing arty. The rest of the class made toys, or lit­tle things. I made a ma­chine-gun and told the teacher that I wanted to go back to North­ern Ire­land to shoot the peo­ple who shot my daddy.

“I was given a right telling-off by my teacher and my mother was brought be­fore the prin­ci­pal. That is not nor­mal be­hav­iour for a child.

“As I was grow­ing up, when other chil­dren were play­ing in the street, I was go­ing home, look­ing af­ter my mother and my lit­tle brother, stand­ing up on a stool to do dishes, look­ing about food, lift­ing my mother’s pen­sion and pay­ing bills. My ed­u­ca­tion was re­ally, re­ally af­fected.

“I never got any coun­selling, un­til Fe­bru­ary of last year, af­ter I met the man con­nected to my fa­ther’s mur­der.

“Garfield Beattie served 16 years be­hind bars for his part in my fa­ther’s mur­der, which he said was part of his ini­ti­a­tion into the UVF.

“He told me that he was haunted by the fact that he made one big mis­take, he turned around and he saw me there, sit­ting there with my daddy on the doorstep.”

Louise Free­man (40), a teacher and a mother of four from Canada, wit­nessed her fa­ther be­ing blown up in an IRA car bomb in Ger­many in 1989. Lance Cor­po­ral Stephen Smith (31), an of­fi­cer in the 1st Royal Tank Reg­i­ment, was about to take his young fam­ily from their home in Hanover to a fair­ground as a spe­cial treat when a de­vice at­tached to the driver’s side of his car ex­ploded. The blast killed him in­stantly and gravely in­jured his wife Tina, his daugh­ter Louise, then 11, her two sis­ters Leanna (7) and Jade (18 months), and brother Lee (9).

Tina was badly in­jured. Baby Jade took the full im­pact of the blast and was se­verely burned with shrap­nel all over her body. Louise and her other sib­lings had shrap­nel em­bed­ded in their legs. They still live with the scars, both mental and phys­i­cal, of that day.

“My­self, Mum, Dad, my younger brother and sis­ters were all get­ting ready to go to a fair in Hanover,” she says. “It was rainy and it was just one of those week­day evenings. I don’t think my Mum wanted to go. It was a school night, but Dad said we should go and we were so ex­cited about it.

“We were all lined up on the path and wait­ing for Dad to open the door so we could climb into the car. My Mum was on one side and we were on the other. Dad opened the door and the bomb went off.

“I re­mem­ber the noise, the ring­ing in my ears, and the feel­ing of warm air. I re­mem­ber the sheer force of the air from the ex­plo­sion. It felt like be­ing on a roller­coaster — when you go down, that G-force feel­ing and the wind pushes back on you.

“When the ring­ing went I re­mem­ber the screams, and I re­mem­ber run­ning. We ran to get into the com­pound where we lived. I was only 11, I didn’t know what was go­ing on or where I was go­ing; nei­ther did the younger ones. I re­mem­ber look­ing around and see­ing that the car was on fire. Peo­ple were run­ning to­wards us.

“Jade was only 18 months old. She was run­ning around in a cir­cle be­side the car and her hair and clothes were on fire. She was burn­ing, she was scream­ing. We were all hit with shrap­nel. I ran to Jade and put her out.

“When I look back on it now it’s like it never hap­pened to me. It’s such a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t re­mem­ber a lot of where my Mum was at the time.

“I couldn’t see Dad. I re­mem­ber de­bris be­ing ev­ery­where, but I can’t re­mem­ber mak­ing out what was his body and what wasn’t any­more. My mind doesn’t al­low me to go there.

“We were so for­tu­nate that we didn’t die also. Most of the im­pact was on my Dad’s side.

“I re­mem­ber we were all sent to dif­fer­ent hospi­tals be­cause it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack. Even­tu­ally we all got back to­gether in the same hos­pi­tal and that is when we were told that our fa­ther had died. My Nan and Grandad, my Dad’s par­ents, ac­tu­ally saw it on the TV be­fore they were told in a phone call.

“We were told to ex­pect the worse when we vis­ited my Mum. Me and Lee were in wheel­chairs as we had shrap­nel in our legs. And Leanna had a stitch just be­low were her heart was, where shrap­nel had hit her. And Jade was pep­pered with shrap­nel and ban­daged from head to toe with the burns. We all still have shrap­nel in our legs and scars from that day, both mental and phys­i­cal.”

Louise says that she, as the eldest, is the only one of her sib­lings who re­mem­bers her fa­ther.

“I don’t re­mem­ber the last time I spoke to Dad, or the last words he said to me,” she says. “We were just all su­per-ex­cited about go­ing to the fair and bounc­ing around like kids do on the way to the car. The next thing our lives com­pletely changed.

“I have me­mories of him. He was a fun-lov­ing guy, a real jokester. He loved his job and he loved his fam­ily. He and Mum met and mar­ried as teenagers and had been to­gether ever since.

“I re­mem­ber my Dad say­ing things like ‘I love you’ and telling me sto­ries, and sit­ting on his lap. My brother and sis­ters don’t re­mem­ber that at all. I don’t know which is worse, hav­ing the bur­den of those me­mories or not hav­ing them at all.”

Louise says that the im­pact of the mur­der didn’t end on the day. She says it ripped her fam­ily apart and they all live with the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that ev­ery day.

“That was just the start of the down­fall of our fam­ily,” she says. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, you could say that the next 10 years of our lives were a con­se­quence of that day. My Mum wasn’t able to par­ent us. She had lost her hus­band, the love of her life. We lost my Mum that day as well as our Dad. She just couldn’t cope. She had nu­mer­ous break­downs. She had watched her hus­band die. It was very dif­fi­cult for her. She lived in fear, we lived in fear. Af­ter Dad’s mur­der we got death threats. They had set out to mur­der six of us and five of us lived. We lived in Army bar­racks and hospi­tals. We lost our home and our fam­i­lies. We had to move coun­tries. We had to move schools. Ev­ery­thing that you try and pro­vide to a child for sta­bil­ity, we never had any of that. One minute we were in Ger­many just liv­ing our lives, the next we were in a new coun­try we didn’t even know, with no sup­port.

“It was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. It still is. At the age of 16 my brother came to live with me, then my sis­ter did too. At 16 I was work­ing full-time and look­ing af­ter two chil­dren be­cause my Mum couldn’t. It has been a strug­gle. We have all made it, be­cause we are all here and we all have our fam­i­lies. But it wasn’t with­out tremen­dous con­se­quences.

“We carry this and have car­ried it for the last 30 years. They had tried to mur­der us. We have only just started talk­ing about it. We have lived with the fear that they are go­ing to come back. They did it, they weren’t suc­cess­ful and they are go­ing to try again. It is al­ways in the back of your mind.

“I don’t think I could stand in the same room as the peo­ple who did that to my Dad, to my fam­ily. You can’t jus­tify mur­der­ing an adult, re­gard­less of what they say about my Dad be­ing a tar­get be­cause he was in the Army. You def­i­nitely can’t jus­tify try­ing to mur­der four young chil­dren.”

‘We still have shrap­nel in our legs and scars from that day, both mental and phys­i­cal’

❝ We lost our mum that day as well as our dad

Jim Done­gan, who was mur­dered ashe sat in his car, and his wife Laura

Jim and Laura Done­gan wed two years ago. Left, the scene of the shoot­ing


Shock­ing mur­der: pupils of St Mary’s Chris­tian Broth­ers’ re­turn to school and pass the scene of the shoot­ing of James Done­gan (top right). Right, po­lice be­side Mr Done­gan’s car in west Belfast

Hap­pier times: Denise Mullen with her fam­ily and (left) the coun­cil­lor holds a wed­ding pho­to­graph of her par­ents

Clock­wise from left: Stephen Smith and wife Tina on their wed­ding day; Louise Free­m­anatherown wed­ding with (from left) sis­ter Jade, mum Tina and brother Lee; the scene of the 1989 car bomb in Ger­many that killed Lance Cor­po­ral Smith an­dleft­hiswife­and chil­dren se­ri­ously wounded

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