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Family demand justice for woman killed 40 years ago

Kathy O'Hare, May Hughes, Marie Fields and Michael McGuigan, the family of Margaret (Peggy) Hale. Picture by Mal McCann
Connla Young

THE family of a Catholic woman killed during a loyalist gun and bomb attack 40 years ago have spoken of their desire for justice.

Peggy Hale (32) died after an attack at McCann's Bar at Ballyhagan, near Loughgall, during a holiday home to Co Armagh.

Until now the heartbroken family has never spoken publicly about the day the mother-of-five was injured in an attack by the Glenanne Gang just hours before she was due to return to Scunthorpe where she lived with her Protestant husband Walter.

The notorious group included members of the RUC, UDR and UVF and is believed to have been responsible for up to 120 sectarian murders in the 1970s.

While the gun and bomb attack was carried out on September 4 1975, Peggy clung on to life until September 22.

As the 40th anniversary of the attack approaches, her sister May Hughes told how she was in McCann's with her sister and other family and friends when the killers struck.

“We were sitting at the door and it burst open and there were two men who were shooting,” she said.

A bomb was then thrown into the bar and the resulting blast was so strong it ripped the clothes from May's body.

Amid the panic inside the bar Peggy went in the opposite direction from most of the fleeing customers and ran straight into the deadly blast.

In total 12 people were injured.

Peggy was later pulled from the rubble by other survivors and taken to hospital where she died from her injuries 18 days later.

Her brother Mickey McGuigan said during her wake at her parents' home in Mountnorris her family was taunted by a British army patrol and days later his home was targeted in the loyalist Loughgilly area, near Markethill, forcing him and his young family to flee.

Mr McGuigan recalled how days before she was caught up in the gun and bomb attack Peggy vowed that she would not return to the north until the Troubles were over because of sectarian attacks in the area.

Another sister, Kathy O'Hare, revealed that her grief-stricken siblings were only able to talk to each other about their sister's death in recent years.

“Back then the dogs in the street told you it was the Glenanne Gang, that it was no strangers who did it,” she said.

“But you are only realising now that it was people you knew.”

She said the family would continue their fight for justice for their sister who they believe was a victim of collusion.

“I don't think we will ever get prosecutions although you would hope you would see it.

“We hope that there's a bit of justice for her and her children.”

In a report given to the family several years ago the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team identified two suspects in the McCann's Bar attack.

And although one of those men is believed to be dead, the family hopes the proposed Historical Investigations Unit - which will look at Troubles related deaths - will eventually help them find justice.

Ms Hale was brought up in what was then the mainly loyalist south Armagh hamlet of Mountnorris close to Glenanne, which gives its name to the notorious loyalist gang which was based there.

Neighbours of her family included former LVF leader Billy Wright who spent some of his childhood in the area.

Her brother Hugh even brought the youthful Wright to nearby Whitecross to play Gaelic football.

Wright went on to become one of the most notorious sectarian killers of the Troubles.

Lethal Allies author and Pat Finucane Centre spokeswoman Anne Cadwallader said Ms Hale's family were "considered 'collateral damage' by those with the British establishment".

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