Theresa Rowntree died recently and the following tribute was paid by RFJ CEO Mark Thompson;
Along with a handful or relatives who had loved ones killed by plastic and rubber bullets Theresa was a founding member of the UCAPB.
Theresa was particularly active in the campaign leading delegations to component manufacturers of the various elements from which plastic and rubber bullets, the charge for firing, the gun etc. comprised of; attending pickets, protests and vigils when this was unpopular not to mention dangerous. Theresa did this right up until she became unwell and was a familiar figure alongside the late Emma Groves, Jim McCabe, Mrs. Stewart, the Livingstone’s and others.
Theresa articulated the devastating impact that these weapons had and continued to bring to our communities not least the death of Francis.
She quoted from the medical journal the Lancet in which doctors that had treated Francis and attempted to save his life documented the horrific injuries calling for these lethal weapons to be banned.
Theresa was quiet and unassuming and yet paradoxically extremely compelling in her words of truth about what had actually happened to Francis.
The family suffered with raids, arrests and harassment following the killing of Francis all designed to intimidate and silence them yet they, led by Theresa, were never intimidated and continued to campaign and to speak the truth.
As a community we owe her a great debt for the work she undertook in seeking truth and justice not just for Francis but for others too.
In particular I spoke to Theresa many years back concerning a similar case of the killing of young boy, Christopher Truter, in South Africa by the apartheid regieme – shot by a similar weapon and as in the case of Francis, misinformation was also disseminated after the shooting in order to justify it.
Christopher’s parents had been involved with a local support group in Soweto who in turn had contact with RFJ. His parents were pictured at his grave which was unmarked in that it didn’t have a headstone – only a piece of tin from an old oil can that was cleaned a made into a makeshift cross.
When I showed this to Theresa she not expressed her empathy and solidarity reaching out to the Truter family but Theresa also insisted that we should organise a fundraiser to erect a headstone to properly mark the grave.
Within a year we had managed to raise the funds, make the necessary connections and have a headstone erected.
That was all due to Theresa; she had great compassion and not an ounce of bitterness.
Along with solicitor Padraig O’Muirigh we were able to gather fresh evidence and assist in the reopening of the original inquest that had so failed the family as did the original ‘investigation’ into Francis’s killing.
The inquest concluded last year and it is sad that whilst waiting so long for a fresh hearing and investigation into Francis’s killing that Theresa then died awaiting the verdict.
Theresa was an exceptional woman and we are enriched for having known and worked with her despite the fact that that opportunity emerged from such an awful incident.
We extend our deepest condolences to the entire Rowntree family.