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Man killed in IRA ambush ‘had life stolen before he had the chance to live it’

Robin Bell was shot dead by the Provisional IRA on October 22, 1972 as he arrived to milk cows on his family’s farm.

20 October 2022

A 21-year-old man killed in an IRA ambush 50 years ago had his life “stolen” from him before he had the chance to live it, his brother has said.

Robin Bell, a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment from Co Fermanagh, was shot dead as he arrived with his brother and father at the family farm in Newtownbutler to milk their cows on October 22, 1972.

His brother Richard recalled their car coming under a period of sustained gunfire.

“Robin was murdered and Daddy was also injured, mercifully I was not physically injured,” he said.

Robin Bell, 21, was killed in an IRA ambush in 1972 (Bell Family/PA)

“I returned fire but was not firing at anything in particular, the terrorist gang then fled and escaped over the border by boat, their getaway was well organised.”

He said his family feel that the IRA had intended to wipe out all the men in their family as Protestants living close to the Irish border.

“The Provisional IRA were of course attempting to wipe out all the males in our family that fateful morning; Robin, my Dad Sidney and myself (Richard),” he said.

“They had made a judgement that in removing the males from our family that they were removing and cleansing our border home and land from a Bell presence.

“My Mum (Olive) was broken by the loss of Robin, I can’t imagine how she’d have coped if Daddy and I were also murdered that day.

“They will of course suggest that they merely targeted us because we were part time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment but this holds no water, they carried out tactical and strategic hits; little on the border happened by chance, it was all carefully planned and designed.”

He described Robin as a wonderful big brother to him and their four sisters.

“Robin and I were very close, we grew up together, we shared a bedroom together, we farmed together, we socialised together and we soldiered together,” he said.

“He was stolen away aged just 21 years; his life had but begun and it is a travesty that Robin never had the opportunity to marry, to have his own children and grandchildren, he was so well liked by everyone (or so we thought).”

Mr Bell attended agricultural college to help develop the family farm.

He had previously served with the B Specials, a part time unit which supported police, before joining the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) when it was formed in 1970.

His brother Richard was also a member of the UDR.

He said they both joined to help defend the whole community from terrorism during the Troubles.

Fifty years on he said they have little confidence there will ever be justice for what happened.

“We do want there to be accountability for what happened but it is questionable if the will exists to pursue these issues,” he said.

“But we are clear as a family that those responsible will have to meet their Maker and no amount of ducking and diving will save them at that point.”

The day after Robin was killed, two Catholic farmers – Andrew Murray, 24, and Michael Naan, 31, – were killed by members of the British army who had incorrectly suspected they were members of the IRA.

The Bell family said they want to make it clear as as a family they believe “these murders were also wrong and this has always been our position”.

They will remember Robin in a special service at Galloon Parish Church on Sunday.

They have been supported by the victims group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF).

Kenny Donaldson, SEFF’s Director of Services, claimed the ambush was “an attempt at ethnic cleansing”.

“The Provisional IRA’s efforts to murder all the males within the Bell family was an act of ethnic cleansing, but their mission failed,” he said.

“Yes, they brought devastation to the Bell family through the murder of Robin, the early death of Robin’s father Sidney and the emotional turmoil caused to Robin’s late Mummy Olive and his siblings but the Bell family remain in the Newtownbutler area and have developed their farm and augmented their presence in the area.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bell family and our thoughts are also with the families of Andrew Murray and Michael Naan who were murdered around 36 hours later. We are clear that their murders were also unjustified and wholly wrong.”

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