Family fight to ensure Steven is not another statistic

Steven Colwell (extreme left) before his death in April 2006

Steven Colwell (extreme left) before his death in April 2006

TO THOSE who did not know him Steven Colwell could just become another statistic.

But to his family the death of the 23 year-old was a traumatic event that they are still struggling to come to terms with six years later.

Steven had only been released from prison a few months before his death after serving time for helping a friend to escape from police custody while under arrest.

Neil Colwell freely admits that his brother was not a saint.

But he also points to a short but tragic life in which Steven had to endure family pain at the loss of a sister in a road accident before he was born; the loss of both parents at a young age and brain damage from a sectarian assault.

“We lost our mother when Steven was nine years of age,” he says.

“Then my dad died in 2004.

“Steven grew up without a mother in the house.

“Our mother was very badly ill, she was a chronic asthmatic and she was in hospital most of her adult life.”

Another sister was killed in a road traffic accident.

“Steven just didn’t have a proper upbringing because my father was an alcoholic, after my mum died and he lost his daughter.

“He was a feral child, that’s the way we referred to him as.

“He didn’t have a father figure in the house to keep him chastised.”

He says his family profoundly opposed Steven’s involvement in car crime:

“We lost a young sister aged 7 in a road traffic accident and the effect that had on our family and still on me today, it will never be erased from my memory, because I was with her.

“We know what damage car crime can do. It’s unacceptable, it’s a scourge on the community and no one, no one has the right to steal vehicles.

“It’s just not acceptable.

“But unfortunately Steven got into that habit and he lost his life that day by driving a stolen vehicle.”

Recalling how he had been at home with his family on Easter Sunday 2006 when he was informed by a neighbour that Steven had been involved in an incident with police, he said:

“I had been in the house with my wife and a friend had rapped the door and said that her son and Steven had been involved in an incident with the police and that one of the two of them had been shot dead.

“That was seven hours after the shooting.

“I had just heard on the news that a suspected dissident had been shot dead running away from the vehicle.”

Neil Colwell

Neil Colwell

Neil Colwell said that he initially tried telephoning around police stations in Co Down and Belfast to find out what had happened to his brother.

Some hours after the shooting he received a call from the Police Ombudsman’s office. Initially they refused to tell him what had happened to his brother.

“I said I need to know – don’t be coming out to my house.

“I need to know. I would appreciate it if you could let me know, is he dead?

“He said: “Yes, your brother’s dead.”

Neil Colwell admits that coming from a loyalist background his family initially had reservations about co-operating with the Police Ombudsman.

“Protestants and loyalists never dealt in human rights.

“We always seen it was the nationalist side of the community had the upper hand there, that they had more experience in dealing it and that the loyalist/unionist tradition had never opposed state violence.

“We never saw state violence really on our side of the community.”

But he says that he feels that he has been let down by many within his own community who have failed to question the events surrounding the shooting of his brother.

“Various politicians from my local community, they said they would back us up.

“They just failed my family; they let us down; they refused to answer phone calls, emails because they knew there was a possible chance that this officer could face a murder charge.

“That’s why I then had to approach members of the opposite community.

“Which for some members of my family was hard to accept. But unfortunately if you’re looking justice in this community it doesn’t matter who you approach, you endeavour to find out the truth?

“I would approach anyone and speak to anyone if they can find out what happened to my brother that day and as to why he lost his life.”