Saturday 7th March 2009
Massereene Barracks was situated in Antrim and in 2009 was home to 38 Engineering Regiment. Despite it being north western Europe, the combat fatigues worn by most of the soldiers at the barracks that day were of the desert type suited to Afghanistan for the regiment were on the eve of a deployment to Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick. At approximately 2140hrs, a group of soldiers emerged from the barracks to meet up with two delivery drivers from the local Domino’s Pizza. Among them were Sappers Mark Fitzpatrick, Patrick Azimkar, Richard Marshall, Christopher Fairclough and Mark Quinsey.
The soldiers spoke mainly to one of the drivers, local man Anthony Watson, since his colleague was a Polish-born man who spoke very little English. As they worked out their bill they were unaware that they were being observed by the two occupants of a green Vauxhall Cavalier that had stopped across the road from the main gate to the barracks.
According to Sapper Mark Fitzpatrick’s account, he heard some commotion followed by someone shouting for them to take cover. There was suddenly a burst of automatic gunfire that hit Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey. Azimkar fell against Fitzpatrick before dropping to the ground; conscious but in pain. Quinsey was silent however. Fitzpatrick quickly took cover in the footwell of the pizza driver’s car while Richard Marshall took cover behind the vehicle before making a run for the main gate with Fairclough to alert the barracks of the attack.
Whilst taking cover in the car, Fitzpatrick looked up at one of the gunmen. He later described what happened next;
Whoever it was wanted to cause damage and they finished [Amzikar] off before firing in at me…There was no remorse. He knew what he was doing, he just seemed to do it all quick. When he saw me in the car he opened fire. [The gun] was an automatic, probably about 10 to 15 seconds of constant fire.
Azimkar & Quinsey
Fitzpatrick was wounded in the chest where one of the 7.62mm bullets from a Romanian AKM assault rifle punctured his lung. He was also hit in his hand and shoulder. Both delivery drivers were wounded in the attack but their injuries were not life-threatening. Sappers Pat Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were both killed however with the former being shot again at close range despite already being wounded in the initial attack. They were the first British Army casualties as a result of dissident action in Northern Ireland since 1997.
The attackers fired off around 60 rounds of ammunition equivalent to two full magazines before retreating back in to their vehicle and fleeing the scene. The green Vauxhall Cavalier was found a few hours later abandoned eight miles away near Randalstown; there had been an effort to burn the vehicle but DNA evidence was obtained from it. As the news broke, the offices of The Sunday Tribune newspaper in Dublin received a call from the Real IRA – a splinter group from the previous Provisional IRA – claiming responsibility for the attack promising that as long as there was a “British military occupation of Northern Ireland” then there would be more bloodshed in the future. The caller even cited the pizza delivery men as legitimate targets since they were servicing British forces. The next day, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer Stephen Carroll was shot dead in Craigavon, County Armagh in another dissident attack this time carried out by another splinter group of the Provisional IRA known as the Continuity IRA.
Flowers left at the gate where the shooting took place (Belfast Telegraph)
An investigation was launched into the attack while the people of the United Kingdom, who had become so focused on the threat from Islamic extremism and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, were quickly reminded that despite the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland was still divided and armed. However, many leading figures of the former Provisional IRA such as Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams publicly condemned the shootings claiming the perpetrators had no real support or plan for a united Ireland. There was also widespread condemnation from abroad such as the US and the government in Dublin as well by Pope Benedict XVI. There was also a mass vigil attended by Catholics and Protestants at the barracks to remember the fallen soldiers. The splinter groups of the IRA remained unapologetic however with the Continuity IRA stating that the Irish people had a right to use whatever force was necessary to remove the British from Ireland and that the attack was not murder but more akin to an act of war.
A week after the attack, three men were arrested but one was subsequently released. The two remaining men, Colin Duffy from Lurgan and Brian Shivers from Magherafelt, were put on trial for the shooting. Duffy, a long-time Republican, was found not-guilty in 2012 and released but Shivers was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding this conviction since it was based primarily on DNA evidence found in a glove that was in the abandoned Vauxhall Cavalier but ignored the fact that Shivers was not a well man suffering from Cystic Fibrosis. There was also the fact that his wife – herself a Protestant – gave him an alibi for the night of the attack which was dismissed in the trail. After the launching of a campaign by his family and friends a retrial was granted in 2013. Shivers was cleared of the attack. His lawyer said to reporters that he was not celebrating but rather his thoughts were with the families of Pat Azimkar and Mark Quinsey who still demand answers to why their sons will never come home.
A memorial to Pat Azimkar and Mark Quinsey was erected at Massereene Barracks but was moved to Aldergrove when 38 Engineering Regiment was relocated there and the barracks were sold to Randox Laboratories Ltd. in 2013. In the days after the shooting, shocked news reporters described Army duty in 21st century Northern Ireland as being no more dangerous than on the mainland. This demonstrated how complacent many people had become regarding the situation in Northern Ireland and while there seems to be a committed effort on all sides for peace there still remain those willing to take up arms to achieve their aims.