14 February 2006

Face to face with a killer

Belfast Telegraph

Brave widow confronts loyalist killer Michael Stone, the man who murdered her husband

By Jane Bell
14 February 2006

Graveyard killer Michael Stone has had a tense and emotional face-to-face encounter with the brave widow of a man he murdered 18 years ago.

The painful meeting was overseen by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who headed South Africa's post- apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Stone was convicted of gunning down Catholic Dermot Hackett, a 37-year- old bread delivery man, as he made his way to work.

Stone repeated his claim that Mr Hackett had allegedly been identified as a member of the IRA in security files, a claim his family fiercely denies.

Mr Hackett's widow Sylvia broke down and wept during the confrontation as she asked Stone why he had carried out the horrific killing.

After Stone remarked that his victim did not see his grandchildren grow up, the killer then said he had not seen three of his own grandchildren.

Needled by the hint of self-pity, Mrs Hackett said: "That was your choice. It was not Dermie's choice. You had yours, he did not have his."

The moving exchange is part of a remarkable series of six controversial meetings, called Facing The Truth, between victims and perpetrators from the Troubles.

In them, a number of men of violence meet those they have irreparably damaged, hear their heart-rending stories and acknowledge the pain they have caused.

The series was filmed by BBC NI and will be screened on BBC2 soon.

Archbishop Tutu said the series was one of the most important things he had ever been involved in and felt that it offered a way forward.

The programme will have its critics, though, for giving a voice to a convicted killer.

Stone was released from the Maze prison, where he was serving life sentences for six murders and five attempted murders, in 2000, as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Asked during filming if he could claim justification for his actions, Stone replied: "At that time, and, as I said, the circumstances and the fact that I was willing, would have been willing, to take a man's life, it would have been justified. It's regrettable."

He also tells the family how he "de-humanised" his victims to make it possible to kill them.

"I don't seek sorrow or redemption. I have my political beliefs. They are in the past. You can become jaded throughout the years."

And he said that he felt his notoriety was a "terrible burden".

Executive producer Jeremy Adams said: "At the end of it, the participants all said it has been a worthwhile, even helpful, experience."

He added: "It has been a life-changing event for all of us who took part."

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