‘The day I was told I was to be murdered’ - McCrea
SOUTH Antrim MP William McCrea has opened up about how he diced death from the IRA, not once, but three times.
Mr McCrea revealed how one IRA man sent out to shoot him couldn’t pull the trigger - because the DUP politician had helped his parents.
In another lucky escape a bomb was diffused inside Mr McCrea’s Magherafelt home when his housekeeper opened a parcel, thought to contain biblical booklets, packed with explosives. The bomb had been concealed in a book, carved out to hold the deadly device.
He also spoke about how shortly before the IRA ceasefire, his young daughter unknowingly disturbed two gunmen armed with AK47s outside the family’s Highfield Road home.
Mr McCrea gave the frank, open and, at times, emotional interview with our sister paper the Mid-Ulster Mail as part of a special series on former Mid-Ulster MPs ahead of Martin McGuinness officially stepping down from the role.
The Calvary Free Presbyterian Church Minister topped the poll in every Westminster election from 1983 to 1997, before controversial boundary changes to the Mid-Ulster area forced him out of the seat.
Speaking about fears for his life during that time, Mr McCrea recalled his first death threat, and how one IRA man’s guilt saved his life.
“I will never forget the day I was called in by the police to attend the station. When I drove to the station I went to the Chief Superintendent’s office,” Mr McCrea said.
He added: “He sat me down and said, ‘Mr McCrea I have something to tell you. You are to be murdered this weekend’.
“And I said ‘what?’, and I laughed, I suppose it was a nervous laugh. And he said to me, ‘Mr McCrea I wouldn’t laugh if I were you. Listen to what I am saying, you are to be murdered this weekend’.
“I thought to myself, ‘is this me he is talking about?’
“Then he called in a pile of other police officers and said to them ‘I want you to get the cars ready and I want a car to go in front of Mr McCrea’s car and I want a car to go behind Mr McCrea’s car, as he goes down to his house’, and he went through the weapons that they were to take.
“And one officer said to him, ‘what are we looking for Sir?’, and he said, ‘we are looking for gunmen, with machine guns’.
“And I am sitting saying this is me? Is this me? Because quite honestly it was the first time really that I heard it said so bluntly, so he said I will be able to tell you at 5pm if that is so, if it was on that I was to be murdered.”
The Chief Superintendant received the call as the then Magherafelt councillor sat in his office. He was told by an IRA informer that plans were in place to kill the preacher that weekend.
“So afterwards I spoke to a senior officer in the police, and I said to him, what do you mean an informant?,” Mr McCrea said.
He added: “‘Well,’ he said, ‘you know Mr McCrea, one of the persons sent out to do the job, actually were sent out to do the job, has informed us.’
“‘And the reason why they informed us was because you had helped his parents when nobody else would help, their back was against the wall, they went to their own folks, their own side, their elected representatives, and they could do nothing for them, but you helped his parents and he felt so guilty that he was going out to murder the person that helped his people.’
“And that’s one reason why I am still alive, not only because they came to, but the police got the whole thing aborted.
“They [IRA] saw the police there, and it was a Friday night, and we had the prayer meeting on and they actually came to the church to murder me at the church, and we had only had a tin hut at the time.”
Then, five years after winning the Mid-Ulster MP seat the politician was sent a deadly package through the post for his 40th birthday.
“They say life begins at 40, mine was to end,” Mr McCrea said.
He added: “And they sent a bomb, it had been a large book that had been cut out, and the bomb had been put inside it.
“This package came around the same time that the real package was to come, and the package actually came just before the real package. So we would be expecting this, and on it, it read Trinitarian Missionary Society, they made a one-word mistake, as it should have been Trinitarian Bible Society, now we didn’t pick that up at the time. But they certainly knew about this package.
“The other interesting thing was this, I would open my mail in a certain place with my back to the window, and then I would take off the postage stamp and give it to my youngest daughter because she was collecting them for school.
“They also knew that I would certainly open the package with my back to the window, and you say, ‘how do you know that’, because the trigger mechanism was the light.
“However we were away on holidays, and whenever the package came my member of staff thought it was the Trinitarian Bible Society, so he took it and left it in the house.”
The deadly package was in fact opened and Mr McCrea’s staff only escaped injury or death because the curtains were closed in his home.
“Because the curtains were pulled, the room was in darkness and there lies our sparing. But if I’d been back, and the package had been left until I got back, the curtains would have been open. So I just thank God for that,” Mr McCrea said.
In one of the last serious attempts on his life Mr McCrea recalled how his young daughter unknowingly disturbed an IRA ambush waiting on her father.
“It was a Sunday night and we were going on holidays the next day and I was up at the church and had just finished the service, and one of my elder’s wives said to me, ‘listen you are going away for a couple of weeks, sit down and give us a bit of chat before you go’,” Mr McCrea said.
He added: “And at this time the police were on with me, it was the time of the bomb and so I had protection.
“The police were outside the church and my wife had gone down to the house, the children had gone down to the house and my friend had gone with his wife to the house. Unbeknownst to any of them, there was a car pulled up outside. And my daughter, one of my daughters, ran upstairs to change her clothes, came down and had some cereal before going to bed.
“When she went up into the room, she went over to the window but she never saw anything. But the terrorists thought she did.
“Now they had been waiting on me coming down from the church. This was the last hooray before the ceasefire, the last act. And they were waiting, they would have shot us, all together, because we were supposed to be coming down together, only, I was stopped at the church to have a bit of a chat.
“They thought my daughter had seen them, but she didn’t. So they got out of the car and fired at the house, they fired straight at where she was standing, the bullet went through the window.
“The great thing about it was, because she was a child, she had already run down the stairs, not knowing anything, to the rest of the family to get cereal. But the place was riddled with 50 bullets.”
Mr McCrea continued: “Realising my wife and children and my two friends all could’ve been murdered that night and it was because of me...
“That was the last hooray before the ceasefire, that the IRA was going to do McCrea and the whole lot of them. We would’ve been wiped out.”
“But once again, it wasn’t that girl who stopped me at the church that night, or her husband, it was the preservation of God, and it was the Lord’s hand once again.
“That’s what warms my heart, that the Lord watched over, and looked after, undeserving though I be, God has preserved me, and he did it for a purpose because I still had work to do.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Antrim
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 9 C
Wind Speed: 22 mph
Wind direction: North west