"I wish this had never happened to you. The greatest Dad in the world"


THREE year old Joshua Johnston was oblivious to the true nature of the day. As the dark funeral limousine pulled up at the church he saw the photographers and reporters gathered outside. He waved, smiled, pulled funny faces and laughed from inside the car, innocently delighted with the media attention.

But his brother Louie, aged seven, understood. He wouldn't be seeing his father, Constable David Johnston, again. He expressed his feelings in childish handwriting in a note attached to a floral wreath. "I wish this had never happen to you. I wish it could be some one else. I am sorry this had happened to you. The greatest Dad in the world we love you," he wrote on behalf of himself and Joshua.

The children's mother, Mrs Angie Johnston, who should have been celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary, gathered the children around her protectively as they entered the church.

The overflow of hundreds of mourners outside St Columba's Presbyterian Church in Lisburn shivered in the cold and damp. Inside, the congregation sang The Lord is My Shepherd and Abide With Me as two Presbyterian ministers conducted the final service for RUC Reserve Constable David Johnston, gunned down by the IRA in Lurgan on Monday.

Outside of the family, the mourners were mainly police officers and officers' wives and husbands. A hushed group, conscious that in the calculated yet random way RUC officers are chosen for assassination, they could just as easily have been the victims, or the bereaved.

It is in the nature of such occasions that one minister will deliver - a homily with a political message while the other will focus on the humanity of the slain victim. The Presbyterian Moderator, the Rev Dr Sam Hutchinson, concentrated on the "cynical godfathers and callous gunman" and the "shattered dreams" of peace, while the local minister, the Rev Malcolm Scott, spoke of the man.

There is no way his body should be here today, murdered in the name of some false god," said Mr Scott. "Murder is one of the greatest evils and any cause which embraces it shows its deep corruption, shows it all the more clearly given the measure of peace we have had, troubled though it has been; shows it given the coldblooded calculation with which Mr David Johnston and Mr John Graham were killed."

Mr Scott said there was no prejudice in the heart of Constable Johnston "to wall off a section of humanity". The grief for the constable was being felt right across the community, among Protestants and Catholics alike.

It was a view attested to by the local parish priest, Canon Joseph Cunningham, who was among several Catholics attending the funeral service. "Catholics here were deeply shocked and hurt by the killings," he said.

After the service Constable Johnston's coffin, draped in the Union flag, was carried from the church. Mrs Angie Johnston still clutched her children to her side. At one stage she lifted Louie into her arms, tears streaming down his face. Little Joshua was quieter by then. The grief and the sombre atmosphere were having their impact. His innocence was in the first stage of being shattered.