MARCH 20, 1993, started as just another routine Saturday. Colin and Wendy Parry took their car to Manchester to be repaired and their 12-year-old son Tim went shopping for an Everton strip with a friend.
Their lives were to change forever. It was the day 20 years ago when Northern Ireland’s Troubles literally exploded onto a street in mainland Britain as two IRA bombs blew up in Warrington’s main shopping area of Bridge Street.
This Saturday a civic ceremony will mark the 20th anniversary of the tragic event in which Tim Parry died of his fatal injuries, three-year-old Johnathan Ball was killed immediately and 54 people were injured.
Colin and Wendy first heard about the outrage when, on returning home in the late afternoon, neighbours told them about the bombing.
When they couldn’t find Tim, Colin and Wendy were accelerated into a parent’s worst nightmare.
Colin said: “Tim was not to be found. When we got to the hospital, I realised it was going to be bad when the surgeon came out to meet us.
“He described Bridge Street in Warrington where the two bombs went off as a being like a battlefield.
“Tim had gone there to buy some Everton shirts and the irony is he didn’t have enough money to do so.”
Astonishingly, the friend standing next to him only suffered from temporary deafness. Later he joined the Army and completed two tours in Afghanistan.
“Tim would have been here except he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Colin.
“If he’d been standing six inches away he’d have survived, but instead he suffered brain damage by catching the bomb blast full-square on.
“Five days later we were told ‘your son is not going to recover’, and we were asked for permission to switch off his life-support machine.
“Wendy couldn’t face being in the room, but I lay in bed alongside him when he died. I held him close and said my farewell and watched him stop breathing.
“I can only describe it as serenely awful. Within minutes he went from pink to blue. I can relive that second by second and ask where are you now?”
The Parrys channelled their grief and desire to understand why such outrages happen by setting up The Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, Warrington.
What makes it unique in Europe - if not the world is that it deals not only with the victims, but the perpetrators of extreme public violence.
Colin explained: “Once we decided to set up the charity inevitably there comes a point where you have to talk to these people.
“I felt obligated to meet Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness. I speak to him fairly frequently.
“He came over to a carol service in his capacity as Northern Ireland minister for education, not in his Sinn Fein hat. His office called us first.
“We said yes, as long as he met us. Wilf and Marie also met him at the Peace Centre. We’ve now met a lot of IRA and Loyalists and it’s difficult.
“We’re not ‘friends’ with either side, but just doing our work. If Osama Bin Laden had come knocking our door I’d have called him in.
“We’re proud that we’ve kept Tim and Johnathan’s names alive. The Centre will never be anything other than that.
“Tim’s older brother and younger sister have two children each and they know and ask about him.
“Altogether I feel we’ve created something very important. The charity started as a simple and modest youth exchange between Warrington, Belfast and Dublin. It was Wendy, rather than me, who thought we should do it on a bigger scale.
“I’m a typical lapsed Anglican. Sometimes I’m cynical about faith, but then some- thing in me wants, when my time comes to meet the people who meant most to you.
“It would be wonderful to see him again and hear him say, “Hey Dad, you and Mum didn’t do badly.”
l A civic event will take place in Bridge Street, Warrington, at noon - 12.45pm, with public viewing areas at Market Gate and Bridge Street.
There will be a community reflection event at The Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace Centre from 2pm.
Dad’s extraordinary courage and composure in the face of grief
Liverpool Post Editor Mark Thomas recalls witnessing Colin Parry’s remarkable bravery
IT was a moment of extraordinary courage and composure in the face of what must have been overwhelming grief.
Colin Parry sat behind a desk in the conference room at Walton Neurocentre, less than an hour after he had watched his 12 year-old son Tim’s life ebb away, and spoke quietly and calmly of their final moments together.
It was Thursday March 25, 1993, five days after an IRA bomb blast had ripped through Bridge Street, Warrington on a bustling Saturday afternoon, killing three year-old Johnathan Ball instantly and leaving Tim with injuries so severe that ambulance staff at first thought he too had died at the scene.
Instead he was taken to Warrington General Hospital, and on the Monday was transferred to the specialist unit at Walton.
Colin and his wife Wendy had kept vigil as their strong, athletic young son fought for life. Colin, a 37 year-old personnel officer, had kept the waiting journalists updated on Tim’s battle with remarkable eloquence and patience.
But this briefing was to be different. I was the only print reporter present, along with one TV crew, to represent the rest of the waiting media. We knew that Tim had just died. For once in my life I had no idea what I was going to ask. But in the end, questions were to be superfluous.
Colin, dressed in a checked, open-neck shirt, sat with Wendy to his left, clutching his hand as he spoke, needing no prompting question from us.
“I stayed with Tim when the machine was turned off. Wendy, my wife, I think rightly, didn’t, but I did.
“I’m so very pleased he passed away extremely quietly. The doctor did warn me certain things can happen when the machine is switched off, but he was a good lad.
“He just lay there and he quietly slipped away – most unlike himself because he was normally such a noisy, impudent chap.
“It wouldn’t have surprised me if he had sat up and shouted ‘Geronimo’ as he went.
“But he didn’t – he went ever so quietly and it was very peaceful. I have to say I was extremely moved.”
His voice wavered for the first time as he was asked if he felt anger for the IRA. But he said: “I honestly don’t. It’s not because I’m being magnanimous. I just feel loss for us, Wendy and myself.
“We produced a bloody good kid, one of three. He was a fine lad. The IRA...I have got no words for them.”
How he found the strength in himself to deliver those words so calmly and with such clarity I will never know.
These were not easy words to have to repeat back to my waiting colleagues outside. They were to appear, verbatim, on the front pages of every major newspaper in Britain the next morning.
I doubt that any parent reading them, then or now, has ever failed to be moved by their simple dignity and raw honesty.
His words in that room carried a power and a resonance with the nation that were to help turn this tragedy into a turning point, and a catalyst for the Northern Ireland peace process in which he was to play such a pivotal role.
Mo’s vital support
HAVING friends in high places is vital for the success of any campaign.
In 1998, as Colin and Wendy Parry conceived the idea of what became the Tim Parry and Johnathan (cor)Ball Peace Centre, in Warrington, it struck a chord at the top.
This was the year when the prime minister Tony Blair and Northern Ireland secretary of state Mo Mowlam signed the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement.
Her drive and frank speaking made an indelible impression on Colin and Wendy.
Colin recalls: "We met Mo Mowlam for the first time in early 1998.
"She later visited Warrington as guest at a Town Hall reception and we discussed the charity we formed.
"We fielded the idea of a Peace Centre and she immediately started asking about the cost and time- scale and we suggested about £1m and 12 months.
"She said, ‘F*** it, let’s do it in 12 weeks! Give me the names and phone numbers of people we need.’
"She was superb and lifted our fund-raising to an unbelievable level.
"She contacted people like Bill Clinton who gave a lot of money. I’m not cynical about politicians: ex-PM John Major has done a lot for us and Jack Straw, has been excellent.
"Mo got all the pledges we needed in 12 weeks. She drove the digger to cut the first sod to start building."