Feb 14 2004
By Claire Donnelly

JO Berry fumbles hurriedly with the buttons of her mobile before pushing it back in her bag.

"Sorry about that," she says smiling. "It was just Pat letting me know that he's on his way."

"Pat" is Patrick Magee, the man who killed her father.

The former IRA man planted and set the device that ripped through Brighton's Grand Hotel in 1984, killing Tory MP Sir Anthony Berry and four others and injuring 34 more.

Patrick, 52, was jailed in 1986 for life for his part in the atrocity, but released in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement. When Jo, 47, heard he was going to be freed she made a decision that would change both their lives - to meet him and try to understand him.

That first historic contact made headlines across the world but after the media frenzy subsided they forged an unusual partnership.

Now, as the 20th anniversary of the bombing approaches, she and Patrick have developed an unlikely and genuine friendship, a friendship they hope will help promote peace through Jo's organisation Building Bridges For Peace. They are writing a book together to record their remarkable journey.

Jo and Pat have met more than 20 times since that first, emotionally-charged day. Today they regularly phone, text and email each other and are keen to learn more about each other's views.

As Jo, who lives with her three daughters in North Wales, explains: "Pat is a friend, a genuine friend - although obviously not a normal friend. There probably isn't a word to describe our relationship.

"We've met so many times now and we talk on the phone and text. We usually meet for a reason, for work or something but we do have coffee and that kind of thing.

"I took him to a macrobiotic restaurant in Dublin once - he had a cup of tea then went for a hamburger round the corner. So we do do normal things.

But in some ways it can't be normal because there is still that tension."

Patrick, who is no longer a member of the IRA and now opposes the use of violence in Northern Ireland, tries to explain their relationship.

"Sometimes we're just talking about what we've been doing recently and you nearly forget what our situation is.

"But you have to catch yourself. In some ways, we've got the worst possible basis for any type of friendship, it almost defies what friendship is.

"Normally if a friend hurts you or your family, that would be the end. But that was our starting point.

"I don't know if I could do what Jo has done if someone hurt one of my relatives. I'd like to think I had it in me to try and understand at least.

"But I didn't go to Jo asking for or expecting forgiveness but we have managed to find some common ground."

Their relationship was recently highlighted in The F-Word: Images of Forgiveness, an exhibition on London's South Bank about reconciliation. Now they hope their friendship will set a precedent for future generations.

As Pat explains: "We're still making our own way around this idea of forgiveness and what it means to us.

"Before our first meeting I didn't foresee a situation in which Jo and I would even want to meet again, never mind share a platform."

It was Jo's desire to understand more about the conflict that brought them together in November 2001.

After feeling anger towards Patrick - "I had this rage in me saying, 'How dare he kill my family?'" - Jo arranged to talk to him face-to-face at the house of a mutual friend in Dublin.

"I wanted him to know what my father was like, to see the consequences of violence.

"He was expecting a lot of anger from me - he would have found that easier to deal with - but I felt relatively calm.

"We just started talking and I realised his need to meet me was the same as my need to meet him.

"He had got to a point in his life where he felt that there was a cost to his humanity because of what he'd done."

Patrick, himself a father of three who now lives in Belfast, says: "You have this stereotypical image when you hear 'Tory'. You expect someone to be quite la-di-da, but Jo wasn't like that at all."

In the course of their first three-hour meeting, Patrick listened as Jo told him all about the man he'd killed.

But it was a question from her seven-year-old daughter, he found hardest to answer. "My daughter was seven and she'd wanted me to ask him why he killed her grandaddy," says Jo.

"At that moment he was very shaken.

"He had talked about my father being a 'legitimate target' - it's a way of separating the way your head and heart feel, a non-feeling way of explaining what you're doing. I don't believe you could plant a bomb if you knew the legacy of pain that was going to be left and the families that were going to be devastated."

Patrick explains: "She told me a lot about her father, I think I tried to build up a picture of him. It was difficult, but I was just glad we were meeting. But when Jo spoke about her daughter and what she said about me and her grandfather, that was very tough to hear."

His voice dropping to a whisper, he adds: "That was very tough. You know...." His voice picks up.

"I set out to hurt the British State and I can live with that.

"But when you come face to face with the fact that this was a person and all the wider ripples - the relatives and the unborn relatives - it's difficult." Jo and Patrick's developing friendship isn't always an easy one, but they both say it is their honesty to each other that makes it difficult and worthwhile.

As Jo says: "I still get angry with him, but I think that's fine.

"I'm not a saint and sometimes I don't want this to be a part of my life - sometimes I'll leave it for weeks and weeks. And I still don't say I've forgiven him. People think I met Pat, forgave him and that's the issue resolved.

"But nothing is ever as simple as that. It's about understanding. He has enriched my life experience and I've learnt so much from him. I've learnt how to challenge without blaming.

"I am not naive and I don't expect huge changes very quickly but I'll be very happy if one person says to me, 'I heard your story and it helped me'."

Pat agrees. "From the word go, there was no act with Jo and she knows I'm always going to be very open.

"One thing that is contentious between us is my role in the IRA and I do still defend my actions at Brighton. We have debated the issue of violence and she would never condone it.

"I have to respect that as her friend, but I don't share that view. But I don't think there's any justification for violence in the present Northern Ireland. The peace process means there is another way."

Jo, who says she will mark the anniversary of her father's death on October 12 privately, adds: "I don't think Pat is evil.

"I think his actions, what he did, were evil, but not the person. You have to separate them to avoid blame and find a new way thinking that will break that cycle of violence.

"That's what we want."

-JO'S website is at: www.buildingbridgesforpeace.org.

-ANYONE interested in The Forgiveness Project can contact them at: info@the forgivenessproject.com.

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