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Jeanitta McCabe (r) with Paul Casey of the WAVE Trauma Centre. Jeanitta McCabe

Woman who witnessed father being shot by IRA denied Troubles' scheme, despite mother being accepted

Jeanitta McCabe and her father who was shot has been denied the payment, but her mother’s application was successful.

A WOMAN WHO witnessed her father being shot by the IRA in her Co Down home has been unsuccessful in her appeal to be eligible for a payment scheme for victims of the Troubles.

Jeanitta McCabe was 10 years old when she witnessed her father Peter McCabe being shot multiple times in her family home in Newry in 1990.

While both she and her father have been turned down for the Troubles Permanent Disabilities Payment (TPDP) scheme, her mother has been successful with her application to the same scheme.

The Scheme provides payments to those living with physical or psychological injuries sustained in Troubles-related incidents.

However, it was deemed that when it comes to Jeanitta McCabe and her father’s application to the scheme, the incident does not count as a “Troubles-related incident”.

A Troubles-related incident (TRI) is described as one that took place “on or after midnight on 1 January 1966 but before 11:59 pm on 12 April 2010”.

It is further described as “an incident involving an act of violence or force carried out in Ireland, the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe for a reason related to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland or to political or sectarian hostility between people there”.

Peter McCabe had been convicted of a number of offences at the time, including for petty theft and driving offences.

The Victim’s Payment Board stated that while the attack was carried out by a paramilitary organisation, it couldn’t conclude that it “related to political hostility”.

Jeanitta’s original application to the scheme was turned down last year and she went on to appeal this decision.

However, in the lead-up to her appeal she received a letter which explained that her mother was successful in her application regarding the same incident.

The letter, seen by The Journal, stated that Jeanitta’s mother has “suffered significant psychological injuries” and is “entitled to Victims’ Payments in respect of injury caused by a Troubles-related incident”. 

Jeanitta told The Journal: “At that point, our solicitor who was overseeing our appeal contacted the Victim’s Payment Board (VPB) which determines applications and said, ‘you have clearly made a mistake here, we would wish that you rectify that immediately’.

“They replied, ‘any dispute you may have, we will deal with this when we get to the appeal’.

“Our interpretation of the reason why we were going in front of the panel was for them to apologise to us for reaching the wrong conclusion the first time and they wanted to give us an opportunity, face to face, to speak to them on behalf of the mistake that they have made.

“But that wasn’t the case at all. When we got to the appeal, it was a very hostile situation. We were told that we would be given a decision at the end of the day, whether we were successful in the case being a TRI.”

SDLP MLA for Newry Justin McNulty told The Journal that it’s “impossible to understand how the Victims’ Payment Board could rule that the brutal shooting of Peter McCabe in the presence of his loved ones in their own home and the subsequent impact on his family was not Troubles related”.

He has called on the VPB to “explain their reasons for refusing Ms McCabe’s application when it is clear that her father’s shooting has had a huge influence on her life and left her with challenges which she struggles with to this day”.

McNulty added: “Multiple victims have detailed being retraumatised by the process involved with the Scheme, citing everything from lengthy delays to being forced to relive the worst experiences of their lives.

“Many of the people applying to this scheme are elderly or vulnerable and we should be making it as easy for them as possible to access the payments they are entitled to, not leaving them wondering why they bothered putting themselves through this retraumatising process in the first place.”

Elsewhere, Jeanitta’s solicitor Kevin Winters told The Journal that there is “clearly an inconsistent and contradictory approach taken” given that her mother has been accepted to the scheme. 

Winters added: “The McCabe family suffered horrendously at the time of the incident anf for many years afterwards. Their trauma has been compounded by the outworkings of the Victims’ Payment applications.”

‘Confusing and upsetting’

Jeanitta and her father had their case heard at the same time because it related to the same incident and the evidence was largely the same.

“The meeting started and after an hour my father was extremely unwell, with his anxiety and nerves,” said Jeanitta.

“It was agreed that I would continue any questions they may have had in terms of how this affected him.

“So for another three and a half hours I was questioned about my father and how this had affected him.

“Before this meeting took place, my solicitor asked the VPB if it made the panel aware that my mother had received this payment and they said they had.

“But when it was asked at the end of the meeting if the panel was aware of this, none of the three people on the panel were aware of it.

“From the offset, this whole thing has been a disaster. It’s very confusing and it’s very upsetting.

“The evidence was put before the VPB and we can’t ignore the evidence and the ‘Unsung Hero’ book because that evidence is the only evidence to date that gives us any insight as to what happened and why it happened.”

‘Unsung Hero’

Peter Keeley is a former British agent who is alleged to have infiltrated the IRA using the pseudonym Kevin Fulton.

He has written a book titled Unsung Hero in which he claims to have worked undercover in the IRA as a British agent.

The book also includes a description of the shooting of Peter McCabe in 1990.

In its ruling, which has been viewed by The Journal, the Victim’s Payment Board states: “Despite the attack being carried out by a paramilitary organisation, when taking into account the applicant’s extensive criminal record, it could not be concluded on the balance of probabilities that the attack was carried out for a reason related to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland or for a reason related to political or sectarian hostility between people in Northern Ireland, rather it was punishment for engagement in anti-social behaviour.”

The panel further stated that it “placed no reliance on the book [Unsung Hero] in regards to its considerations as to the reason for the incident”.

The panel said this was due to “some inconsistencies with the appellant’s account of the incident”.

Jeanitta told The Journal: “The panel said the most likely reason for the attack was some form of vigilante retribution, perpetrated by the PIRA against my father within his own home.

“My father can be scrutinised about petty crimes like driving offenses, petty thefts in non-dwelling premises. I’m just so agitated by the whole thing.”

She noted that Keeley described the incident in his book as a “punishment shooting” and while there are similarities between his account and that of the McCabe family, there are some slight differences.

“Because we don’t agree with Keeley’s words in the book in its entirety, the VPB then said the books are not official evidence, because we aren’t agreeing with all of it,” said Jeanitta. 

In Keeley’s book, he writes of the incident: “The next recipient of IRA justice was a thief… he was a small fry petty crook. Clearly this was another personal vendetta, a score to be settled or a reputation to be upheld – all under the veneer of IRA ‘housekeeping’.”

Keeley then details how Peter McCabe was told “you have 24 hours to get out of Ireland” but then adds: “A few days later, the injustice of this particular punishment shooting was confirmed.

“Out of the blue, the IRA reversed the expulsion order against him.”

The police did not attend to the scene and it was presumed that a neighbour called for an ambulance after hearing the gunshots.

The phone lines to his house were cut and the keys to Peter McCabe’s van were also taken.

This taking of the keys was referenced in Keeley’s book, where he writes: “’We want the keys to your van, that’s all,’ said one of the masked men.”

A PSNI report of the incident, requested by the VPB and seen by The Journal, also makes reference to the keys being “demanded”.

Jeanitta told The Journal that her father does not recall giving a statement to the police.

In a statement to The Journal, a PSNI spokesperson said “it would be inappropriate to comment while legal proceedings remain ongoing”.

Jeanitta’s legal representative pointed to the stolen keys as another reason why this incident was Troubles-related.

It was argued that vans were being used in IRA attacks at the time of the incident and that while no one “other than the gunman knows why this act was carried out”, they “came seeking the keys of the van”. 

In a Victim’s Payment Board document viewed by The Journal, it is asked if Peter McCabe “ever made any enquiry about why the incident happened”.

The document states: “He responded that people gave opinions, he was from a large family and there was a stigma about being shot, with people saying to his children ‘Your Daddy is a tout’.”

Jeanitta told The Journal: “While the VPB accept that the IRA committed this attack, they fixate on a reason as to why the incident might have happened.

“I don’t know where or what angle they’re coming from. It’s as though they are condoning that there was a reason why this happened.

“My mother witnessed an attempted murder on her husband in front of her kids and she’s entitled to this payment.

“The man who took the bullet, he’s not entitled, and the 10 year old child who put an application in, she’s not entitled.

“Every avenue that I turn down to get justice, I seem to hit a brick wall at every turn.”

Jeanitta also claimed that during the appeal, she was asked: “Did you not go and ask the IRA why they shot you?”

“It’s just extremely offensive,” said Jeanitta.

“Why would you think it would be acceptable to go to someone who attempted to murder you and ask them, ‘why did you do that?’

Following the shooting in 1990, Jeanitta and her family fled Ireland

At one point during the appeal process, Peter McCabe was asked “if there was a reason for the documented ongoing fear of the paramilitaries”.

The VPB document states that Jeanitta responded: “Because it was so unfounded. He doesn’t know why someone would do it to him. He doesn’t know why it happened in the first place so it could happen again.”

Speaking to The Journal, Jeanitta said: “This whole scheme was supposed to be victim-centred, but it’s never been.

“They needed a list of all the addresses during the five years when we were effectively on the run. 

“That included service stations, B&Bs, relative’s floors, what was the necessity for that question?

“Did they really have the manpower to check all of these service station cameras or what was the relevance to re-traumatise us and go back through that?”

Recently, it’s been proposed that bereavement payments made to relatives of people killed during the Troubles should include those who were in paramilitaries.

“So a 10 year old child who in her own home witnesses a TRI is not entitled to this scheme, but we’ll give it to the families of the paramilitaries,” remarked Jeanitta.

“It’s just ludicrous from start to finish and it’s retraumatisation.

“I received my decision on 19 December and I do not know how I escaped hospital treatment over Christmas because it stretched me to the end of my tether with my mental health.”

‘There’s no end of the road’

Jeanitta suffers from fibromyalgia, which she said is worsened by the stress of the incident she witnessed in 1990, and also suffers from PTSD.

The scheme states that the “assessed degree of disablement must be expressed as a percentage between 0 and 100, where the higher the score, the higher the degree of disablement”.

The assessed degree of disablement must be above 14% for a victim to be deemed eligible for payment from the scheme, and Jeanitta was scored at 28% before being deemed ineligible because it wasn’t a TRI.

“Once again, here we were thinking for once that somebody was going to acknowledge the harm that was done to my family,” said Jeanitta.

“And yet again, we’re being beat around the head with ‘why did this happen? This didn’t happen for nothing’.”

She told The Journal that the issue is “now in the courts and a judicial review was issued to the VPB”.

“There’s no end of the road here, not for me,” said Jeanitta.

“I don’t care how many doors they want to close, they’ll knock me down but I’ll get back up.

“The VPB is not fit for purpose, and they are causing victims more harm.”

The Victims’ Payment Board, which was established to determine applications under the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment scheme, was approached for comment by The Journal but said it is “unable to comment on individual cases”.