For the first sixteen years of my life, I lived and grew up in an industrial town in north west England called Warrington. Today that town is all over the news, and not for very good reasons.
A little background. In 1993, the IRA detonated a series of bombs in the town. The first was at a disused gasworks, and injured no one- though a policeman was shot and injured by the terrorists. The second and third went off consecutively in the crowded town centre, injuring many and killing two young children: Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball.
Since that day, the attrocity has become part of the town’s mythology. Tim Parry’s parents set up a charitable trust to promote peace, I remember studying the bombings at school, the town’s two MPs wrote to Bill Clinton to ask him to stop American citizens funding the IRA- and a memorial “River of Life” fountain was built in the town centre, where the bombs went off.
But today the news is all over the media that the plaque from that fountain has been stolen. Residents are sadden and confused, and Tim Parry’s father has voiced his disgust. It’s a reaction I think is impossible to share.
This wasn’t an attack on the town, or on the memory of the event. It would almost be understandable if it were. But this was nothing ideological, it was simply that the plaque was bronze and could be sold for scrap. The Telegraph are reporting that it would have been worth £30.
The memory of an act of atrocity, the murder of two innocent children, and more importantly the dignified response of the town has been desecrated for the sake of £30.
I don’t want to believe that anyone from the town, that anyone who understood what it signified, could have done this. I don’t know who did, but I hope that they are caught and punished- not out of some desire for vengeance, but so that they can know what it is that they’ve stolen, what it signifies, and why it is important.
Something similar happened in Maidenhead a while back. A statue, erected as a memorial to three children who were killed on a school trip, was stolen from the town centre for its value as scrap. The entire community felt disgust and outrage, that the meaning behind the statue had been so disrespected.
Metal theft has been a growing problem for a while, but the theft of such items as Warrington’s plaque and the Maidenhead statue, not to mention war memorials around the country which have seen similar treatment, are a step above the lead off roofs. It shows a disrespect for communities, for the ties that bind them together, and for the greater meaning behind these things.
Today, my heart weeps for my hometown, as it struggles to come to terms with this heartless act. That plaque was more than just a piece of metal. It was a reminder of what we can overcome and of the dignity that we are capable of.