Mourners bid sad farewell to slain prison officer and 'totally devoted' family man
In bitter cold, under a weak sun over 1,000 thronged the Presbyterian church, writes KATHY SHERIDAN
MORE THAN 1,000 mourners thronged Molesworth Presbyterian Church and adjoining hall in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, yesterday, for the funeral of David Black, the 52-year-old the prison officer murdered on his way to work in Maghaberry Prison, last Thursday. He was the first prison officer to be murdered in nearly 20 years.
In the bitter cold, under a weak November sun, hundreds of serving and retired colleagues gathered outside the 177-year-old church. Some spoke quietly of the ongoing threat faced by many, of the tight security still maintained around their homes. To a man, they expressed no confidence that the chief suspect would be brought to justice – “he’s too well protected”, said one cryptically.
But security was low-key and the atmosphere kindly. Earlier up to 30 PSNI officers with sniffer dogs had combed the church buildings and surrounding area.
As Minister for Justice Alan Shatter walked into the church with his northern counterpart, David Ford, a 40-strong colour party from the Prison Service awaited the hearse a few hundred yards away. The coffin, draped with the Union Jack and Mr Black’s navy prison service hat and gloves alongside a single cream rose, was borne aloft by his colleagues. As a piper played The Bells of Dunblane, his widow Yvonne and children Kyle (21) and Kyra (17) followed it to the church steps, where the pallbearers handed the coffin back to the family.
Led by Kyle, they bore his coffin into the church of which he had been a devout member, a space unadorned but for the Presbyterian symbol of the burning bush above the pulpit.
The hour-long service included addresses from Presbyterian Moderator Dr Roy Patton, from the Rev Tom Greer, minister of Molesworth Presbyterian church and from a Maghaberry chaplain, the Rev Rodney Cameron. There were also contributions from Kyle and Kyra, from Jim Slaine, a cousin of Mr Black, and from work colleague Derek Preston.
They portrayed an honourable, happy, decent man, who was never less than respectful and compassionate to his prison charges, one who liked a bit of banter and loved his ham and tomato sandwiches as well as Manchester United.
Kyra, described as his “princess”, recited a self-written poem to her father – “you’re not just my Daddy but forever, my special hero . . . ”. She became too upset to finish it.
Kyle talked wistfully but clearly of “that wee man with the big smile and the bigger heart . . . Today we are so proud of Daddy’s principles and honesty. One time in his life he felt so let down by the people he expected to stand by him because of the truth. And they didn’t. But they know who they are here today”.
In loving tones, he described a “totally devoted” family man, a “true gentleman, always happy and with a smile for everyone”, a true and loyal friend through thick and thin, a man who called a spade a spade, but was always “very fair”.
“It didn’t matter what religion, race or background you came from, Daddy gave everybody a chance. That has been evident over the last few days. Even prisoners that Daddy cared for showed their support”.