Marie Breen-Smyth, Associate Dean International, University of Surrey, talks to Hazel McCready, a former part time police officer who was injured whilst driving to work.
Mother of one, Hazel McCready was a teacher at Lurgan College of Further Education. She and her husband were both part time police officers.
“As we turned into a narrow street almost beside the primary school, we noticed a brand new Ford Cortina car. This was unusual and we both noted it. I was writing down the number and we intended to get that number checked at a later time at the police station. As my husband was getting out of the car, I counted three shots and I knew I had been hit. ”
A man holding a gun had approached the front of the car and started shooting, he then drove off.
Hazel’s husband was unharmed. People nearby helped Hazel into a car which took her to the hospital, she was still conscious.
“The surgeon told me afterwords, the fact that I remained conscious saved my life, because the wounds that I received were mainly on my back and he would have imagined that’s where all the problems were… he would have had no indication that there was a bullet in my liver.”
It was six weeks before Hazel started to show signs of recovery. She was moved from intensive care to the ward and then eventually was able to go home.
The injuries had a drastic effect on her working life as a school teacher.
“It was a very different world in the 1970s and if you weren’t fit to be in the classroom you were of no use to the school. There was a glut of teachers at that time and a lot of people waiting for jobs. I was sent to a board, they gave me a few months and said they would bring me back.”
Hazel retrained to keep working at the school.
“I wasn’t able to use my right arm. I was in the catering end. I trained as a domestic science teacher but then I went on and did Hotel and Catering Intermediate Management exams.”
Hazel’s new job was teaching young chefs and cooks but she was medicaly discharged from teaching.
“That broke my heart, and it has continued to break my heart, I think in the early days because it took so much effort with my baby daughter that the full impactof this didn’t hit until later on”
She was also medically discharged from the police.
“I took that badly too but that wasn’t as bad as losing my teaching career.”
Hazel went to court for compensation case and had a difficult time.
“If I’d been injured 18 years later there would have been a zero at the end of my claim, the money might have done me good, might not have done me good, I don’t know, but I just believe in justice and I just feel this is the greatest injustice, some of us still continue to fight for that but we’re treated like it’s not important.”
Hazel was told by the Police Federation in writing that because she worked part time she wasn’t entitled to a pension.
“I met the Federation Chairman in the Hampshire police and he said I wasn’t entitled to it because I was on my way to work. If I had been in a landrover I would have been entitled to everything, so I went to a solicitor and I won the case and was awarded industrial injuries.”
A number of people were convicted for the shooting of Hazel and her husband.
Two men were charged with the attempted murder of two police officers, the charges were reduced to the attempted murder of a police officer, and the wilful wounding of his wife.
“That cut me up very, very badly because I was even demoted”
Hazel was determined to do something with her time and found work teaching a needlework evening class.
“The interesting thing about that was the wife of one of those who was involved in the incident, we’d had the trial at this stage, she appeared in the class, I couldn’t believe this, I don’t know if she knew who I was, but I certainly knew who she was.”
The man thought to be the shooter was released from prison some years later and was later shot and killed. Hazel heard on the radio of the ‘shooting of an innocent catholic’.
“I later learned that this man was the man the police believed drove the car although he admitted in court that he fired the shots that day, I don’t know who did, I’ll never know that, but that’s the way it was, the bit that he was an innocent catholic I couldn’t take and so I went through such a range of emotions, you know, great he’s dead he’ll not be able to do this to anybody else, but murder is murder, nobody deserves to die like that.”
Now grandparents, Hazel and her husband have got on with their lives. In recent years Hazel has become the Honourable Secretary of the Wounded Police Officers and Families Association.
“I feel I’m one of the very lucky people who haven’t lost limbs, hasn’t lost my sight, and I’ve just committed myself to working for and helping those people.”