Lives Remembered

Belfast man paralysed in loyalist attack became leading disability campaigner

Belfast-born Kevin Fitzpatrick was one of the UK’s leading experts on disability rights

KEVIN Fitzpatrick was 17 years old when two gunmen entered the off-licence where he had just begun a part-time job and opened fire.

It was 1973, a year when sectarian attacks by loyalists claimed dozens of lives.

The Belfast teenager was struck twice, with one of the bullets severing his spine. He would be left paralysed from the waist down for the rest of his life.

However, he did not let serious disability prevent him pursuing a successful career in academia.

Mr Fitzpatrick would also become one of Britain's leading experts on disability issues as well as powerful critic on TV, radio and in print of 'assisted suicide'.

He was born in 1956 in Pacific Avenue in north Belfast to GPO employee Samuel Fitzpatrick and his wife Margaret (nee Devlin), a nurse, and was educated at the Christian Brothers grammar school and St Malachy's College.

Following a long recuperation from the shooting, which happened at the Castle wine store across the road from his home, he began working as a social work assistant at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

However, he soon enrolled at Stirling University to study philosophy and won a scholarship to spend a year at the University of California, Berkeley.

After a PhD at Swansea University Mr Fitzpatrick taught full-time for more than a decade in its philosophy department, specialising in the esoteric works of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In 1997 he became head of policy and research at the Shaw Trust in Bristol, which helps people with disabilities find work and greater independence. He raised £2m there to support a Disability Action Centre.

He was appointed by the Labour government to the Disability Rights Commission, whose work reviewing legislation led to the 2006 Equality Act, which created the Equality and Human Rights Commission for England, Scotland and Wales.

In 2004 Mr Fitzpatrick set up his own consultancy, Inclusion21, offering training on anti-discrimination issues to companies, and he also lent his considerable campaigning skills to Not Dead Yet UK, a network of disabled people which speaks out against euthanisia.

In 2014 he was also appointed director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International and last year set up Hope Ireland to lobby on the issue in the Republic.

He also served as chair of Disability Wales, as a board member of Consumer Focus Wales, as chair of St David's Children's Society, an adoption agency, and he chaired the Welsh government's Adoption Expert Advisory Group.

He received the OBE in 2010.

Courteous and warm, Mr Fitzpatrick is remembered as a man of great principle, integrity and humanity.

Hope Ireland said he was a "tireless supporter of disability rights, an articulate and gifted advocate and a dear friend to all who knew him".

UK-based Care Not Killing said his life's work was to seek answers to a single question: "How can we as a society work to support and uphold the value of every person around us?"

Kevin Fitzpatrick died aged 59 of cancer on January 14 and is survived by his second wife Fabienne and his three children, Terence, Gerald and Susan, from his first marriage to Tess.

Lives Remembered