Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Profile of a brave lady - Mrs Mary Marley

Mary Marley was born Mary Sorely. She has 3 siblings and she was married to Michael Cassidy who was a Prison Officer murdered by the Provisional IRA on the 16th APRIL 1979. Mary has three children and three grandchildren.

Mary was one of the widows who complained to the Prison Officers’ Association many years ago about the lack of representation the families of murdered Officers had received following the publication of the report by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in 1998 called ‘‘We Will Remember Them”. Thanks to the campaigning of widows like Mary, the Prison Service Trust (PST) was established in 2002 by Jane Kennedy, then Minister of State. Prior to that there was no support for the families of murdered Prison Officers. Many staff also had life changing injuries inflicted upon them by terrorists here In Northern Ireland. Mary has been a stalwart supporter of the PST in that she addressed the annual conference of the Prison Officers’ Association in Southport on the 14th May 2019 with up to 400 delegates from across the UK in attendance. This is Mary’s speech to them…..

“Mr Chairman, NEC, and conference, my name is Mary Marley, the widow of Michael Cassidy who was murdered by the provisional IRA on the 16th April

1979 as we came out of church where we were attending his sister’s wedding. We had one child with us aged 3 and our other child aged 10 months old was at home at the time of his father’s murder. My husband was holding my daughters’ hand as we came out of church to walk the short distance to the car park when a white van pulled up beside us and a gunman jumped out and attempted to shoot Michael. Michael pushed the gun away from himself and in the struggle, he was shot and he fell to the ground and our daughter fell with him (as Michael was still holding her hand). Then another gunman jumped out of the van and shot Michael twice in the head as he lay on the ground with our daughter beside him. The two gunmen then jumped into the van and made their escape. No one has ever been caught for the murder of my husband. I was shocked. I was in hysterics, my 3-year-old daughter was screaming, it was a horrendous experience that we will take to our grave. I thought - here I am, 30 years old with my husband, lying dead in front of me, my daughter was screaming about her daddy and my 10-month-old son was waiting back at home. He will be wanting his daddy. How can I tell him his daddy was dead and wouldn’t be coming home? Conference, it is very hard for me to explain to you what I was feeling at that time of Michael’s murder, I was so shocked, bewildered, numb, lifeless, I thought how am I going to go on? Michael’s funeral was an extremely difficult time for all the family but we got through it with the help of family and friends. The most difficult period at the time was having to tell my son that his daddy would not be home again and my daughter kept crying looking for her daddy and kept asking - why did these bad men shoot my daddy? She kept complaining about the burning on her arms (we now know the reason for the burning on her arms it was because she was so close to the bullets and the resin coming of them that killed her daddy). Conference, as you all know we all have an inner strength that helps us when we have to deal with a crisis in our life and I had to rely on that inner strength to get me through, I had a family to provide for, I needed to pick myself and get on with it. At the time of Michael’s Murder, the POA in Northern Ireland was not as active as it is today therefore, I did not have its support. I had to deal with Michael’s murder on my own. Yes, I got compensation from the Northern Ireland Office, yes I got the pension from Michaels employer -the Northern Ireland Prison Service - this was not adequate to compensate me and my family for the loss of a great husband and a father. As I stated previously we all have an inner strength to go on and I used that inner strength to get me through the horrific murder of my husband and the consequences of that.

The Prison Service Trust has been the catalyst that has brought us all together under one umbrella so therefore no one in future should be alone or feel isolated. What the Prison Service Trust does for serving staff, widows and medical retired clients is remarkable. Since I become a client of the Trust I have made so many friends and I no longer feel isolated. Conference, I want to tell you about a special woman that I met as a result of the POA agreeing to meet with the widows of murdered Officers. Her name is Mabel Hempton, a female Prison Officer who was seriously injured along with 3 other Officers as they left Armagh Prison on their way to lunch on the 19th April 1979. In that attack on Prison Officers their colleague Agnes Wallace was murdered and it was only 3 days after the murder of my husband.

After talking to Mabel, I realised that while I lost my husband and the father of my children, I should not be complaining when you consider what Mabel had gone through as result of the attack on her, she was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, never had the opportunity to marry and raise a family of her own and has to live on medication the rest of her life to ease the pain she is suffering from as the result of the attack on her. Mabel was inspirational to us all in fact I was delighted to be informed that the POA had created an award called the Mabel Hempton bravery award in recognition of her courage and her determination to overcome her injuries.

This award is given out at annual conference each year to those members that have shown bravery over the past year. Unfortunately Mabel has passed away. The Prison Service Trust wanted to recognise the contribution that Mabel had made to the establishment of the Prison Service Trust so it created an education bursary award worth £1000 called the Mabel Hempton Education Bursary. It is awarded to a student of a widow or medically retired client who is attending university and who is paying tuition fees. This award is made each year. Mabel was a Director of the Prison Service Trust, I want to pay tribute to the Board of Directors of the Prison Service Trust who give their time freely to administrate the Trust. They attend Board meetings once a month and they visit clients when required. Some of them accompany clients on their social outings and they make no claim for expenses to do so. Since the Trust was established, they have managed to obtain over £4 million pounds from the Northern Ireland Prison Service on funding for the Prison Service Trust and all this money has been spent on clients of the Trust. Without their dedication and commitment I don’t believe it would have been possible.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the POA for its support for the Prison Service Trust and long may it continue as we are one family and we need each other to progress in this life.

Mr Chairman, NEC and Conference

Thank you”

Mary, you addressed the Prison Officers Association Annual conference in Southport in May 2019 that was a very courageous thing to do. What gave you the motivation to do this?

I was very nervous that day but I felt there was too much negativity being spread around about the Prison Service Trust which was untrue. As I have benefited so much from the PST, I felt it was a chance for me to voice my views and let people know first-hand what the PST is doing for its clients who are widows and ex Prison Officers and the support the PST is providing is second to none.

Mary in your opinion what’s the greatest benefit the PST has made to you and your family over the years?

The PST has made a massive impact on myself and my children’s lives - they are like our extended family. The PST is an organisation that I know I can rely on for confidential advice and at any time of the day or night on all matters that effect my everyday life. Through the PST I have made a massive friendship network. Socialising and doing classes ran by the PST gives myself and other clients the opportunity to support each other.