I have no political or religious message to give you,” Colin Parry says, solemnly. “It seems to me that I’m not qualified to do that. But people have said that Tim hasn’t died in vain, that good must come from this. I hope that’s true because if my son becomes a symbol of peace and gives everyone a new sense of hope after so much tragedy…” There is a long pause as his voice audibly breaks. “Then that will be Tim’s unique achievement.”
The emotional moment sits at the heart of Mother’s Day, a new drama set in the wake of the 1993 Warrington bombings.
It’s hard to imagine what Colin Parry (played by Daniel Mays) is going through. What is beyond debate is that he delivers an astonishingly moving oration at the funeral of his 12-year-old son, who days earlier had lost his life in the IRA attack.
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Mother’s Day, written by Nick Leather, who grew up in Warrington and was on his way into town on the day of the attack, focuses on the impact the bombings had on the families affected. The one-off drama begins by conveying the mounting sense of horror as it dawns on Colin and his wife Wendy (Anna Maxwell Martin) that Tim has been caught in the blast while shopping on Saturday 20 March 1993, the day before Mother’s Day.
He sustained “battlefield injuries” in the explosion and, after an agonising five days in hospital, his parents switched off his life support. He left behind two siblings, Abbi and Dominic. Three-year-old Johnathan Ball also lost his life in the attack; 56 others were injured.
Mother’s Day is profoundly affecting and hard to watch. Were the Parrys concerned about it reopening emotional wounds, I wonder? No, 60-year-old Wendy says. Things like that cannot touch them now, as they have already suffered far greater emotional trauma. “The wounds never go away,” she says. “Every anniversary, every Christmas, every birthday, you’re aware that Tim is not with us. It’s always there, no matter what. Nothing takes the pain away. And it was worth dragging up the past to let people know about the charity we set up in the wake of the bombing.”
Colin and Wendy are sitting opposite me in the Peace Centre in Warrington, the headquarters of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, which they set up in 1995. Opened in 2000, the wood-clad building contains a huge portrait of Dr Mo Mowlam, who was instrumental in securing the funding, and a “peace tree” where people can leave messages – “As long as they’re not too rude,” Colin, 71, says with characteristic good humour.
The Peace Centre promotes peace throughout the UK and helped the 900 families affected by last year’s Manchester Arena bombing. For the parents, it’s a very tangible means of honouring their sons.
For all that, the Parrys were pleased that the makers of Mother’s Day took the trouble to run the script past them in order to ensure its accuracy. “The only thing that got me was the fact that Danny Mays wears a vest in bed,” Colin jokingly complains. “Talk about a stereotypical northerner! All it needed was a Woodbine, ferrets running round the bedroom, pigeons in the loft ready to be raced and coal in the bath to complete the picture! And Danny doesn’t look a bit like me – lucky him! Apart from that, Mother’s Day is true to what happened.”
Another aspect of the film that reflects reality is its portrayal of a family that grows stronger under the most extreme pressures imaginable. Colin recalls meeting the late peace campaigner Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in an IRA attack at Enniskillen in 1987. “He said to us, ‘I warn you now that you’ll find you grieve differently, at different times and in different ways. You have to give each other time and space and don’t judge each other.’
“We said, ‘Thanks for that, but we won’t be like that’, but he was right. Every couple who loses a child goes through exactly the same. That’s why 80 per cent of relationships break down after the death of a child – you’re pulling in different directions.”
Colin thinks that his and Wendy’s relationship might have broken down if it hadn’t been for the foundation. “People might have imagined that we were a couple damaged and broken and that our family was falling apart. But the charity has been the glue that has kept the family together and kept our spirits high.”
Mother’s Day also underscores the fact that the Warrington attack was a pivotal moment in the Northern Ireland peace process. On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared a ceasefire. “A notable turning point in the Troubles was the outrage and disgust Warrington caused in the Republic of Ireland,” Colin says. “It triggered the Irish government to sit down with the UK government and start exploring peace seriously.”
As recounted in Mother’s Day, the Parrys’ story is one of astounding resilience. Colin and Wendy were informed within six months of the bombing that there was no chance of the perpetrators ever being caught as the Cheshire police force had run out of money, but that didn’t deter the couple. “You become resigned to the fact that no one will help you unless you help yourself,” Colin explains. “If we wanted any kind of salvation or anything to come from the loss of Tim, we knew we had to do it ourselves.”
In the meantime, the Parrys consider what viewers might take away from watching Mother’s Day. “I hope people realise what families go through by being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Wendy muses. “That they will realise that whereas everyone else goes back to their everyday life, this is what the affected families go through after a terrorist attack.
“I also hope they think that something good has come out of it. We’ve supported thousands of people and are still working very hard at what we do. We didn’t want Tim to be forgotten. We didn’t want him to be just another number on the list of victims of the Troubles. This is our way of keeping him alive.”
For information about the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation click here
Mother’s Day airs on Monday 3rd September at 9pm on BBC2