The definitive account of the only case of its kind in Northern Ireland, the ongoing campaign for justice and a labour-of-love in memory of the victim of a murder mystery still officially unsolved after 31 years
By Keeley Moss
PART 28 - CONTENTS Chapter 75: Empty Chairs Chapter 76: End of the Line Chapter 77: Welcome to Stranraer Acknowledgements for Part 28
Chapter 75: Empty Chairs
I feel the trembling tingle of a sleepless night creep through my fingers
And I wonder if you know
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs
Don McLean – ‘Empty Chairs’
Stranraer is the end of the line in every sense. Not only is it the southern terminus for one of the branch lines of the Glasgow South Western Line but where the track ends, the mouth of the Irish Sea begins – if you went any further, you’d literally end up in the water. When Inga arrived there in 1988 the train station was named Stranraer Harbour, but in 1996 it was simplified to Stranraer which is how it remains today.
Stepping onto the 23.31 in Ayr I’m one of only four people to board the otherwise-empty train, the last of the night, the last for many miles around. I take my rucksack off and sit into a seat as the train prepares to pull out. For a moment the train remains still as the driver presumably waits to see if any more passengers appear on the platform, but none do. Looking out the window I see an empty platform in a lonely railway station where thirty years previously, Inga had similarly stepped onto a train bound for Stranraer. I know she isn’t here but I can’t stop myself from trying to look for her out of the window, visualising her standing on the same platform with her rucksack on her back, full of excitement at the prospect of travelling to Ireland for the first time.
The train pulls out and I watch as Ayr soon becomes another flicker in the distance. The first stop isn’t long in arriving, a place called Maybole. Two of the passengers who boarded alongside me in Ayr get off the train here. No one gets on. It’s now just me and one other person on the train. We set off again but it’s not long before the train stops at a station called Girvan. The only other person on the train besides me and the train driver gets off here. Again no one gets on. Where is Girvan? I have no idea. Suddenly it occurs to me that I have not a clue where I am. But I know where I’m going, and that’s what matters.
The stops are coming and going fast now. And soon I’m at the second-last of them, Barrhill. Having no connection to Inga’s case other than by way of the tenuous link that she had passed through here while on the train that took her from Ayr to Stranraer on the last evening of her life, Barrhill is no more familiar to me than Maybole or Girvan were. In Barrhill with no other passenger left on the train, there’s no one left to disembark. And once again no one gets on. Could I really be the only person in Scotland who wants to go to Stranraer right now? I look around the empty train and the answer is clear.
I learned in Glasgow that the journey between Ayr and Stranraer takes approximately ninety minutes by rail so I know there is still an hour left of the journey from here on. What I didn’t know in advance is that the remainder of the journey will consist of a whole hour without any more stops.
Overhead a sign proclaims, “The next stop is Stranraer”. Suddenly a feeling washes over me, a feeling alien and strange. I feel…nervous. I never feel nervous. I don’t feel nervous in social situations, I didn’t feel nervous performing live on the radio in front of 40,000 people – I just don’t get nervous. But I could remember a time in my adolescence when I last felt nervous enough to be able to recognise the feeling now. And suddenly it was coming in waves. Why?
The feeling intensifies as the train hurtles forwards at what is now a very fast pace. I have the strong impression that the train driver is doing that thing that I’ve experienced many times when on board the last bus of the night, where it feels like they’re trying to break the speed of sound barrier to get to the end of what has no doubt been a long shift so they can finish up and go home.
I can hardly believe I’m actually going to be in Stranraer soon. The place has become mythologised in my mind over the past three years. I think the nervousness I’m feeling must have a lot to do with the fact that Stranraer is where Inga made her fateful ferry journey from. It is one of the emotional epicentres of the case, part of a trilogy of tragedy alongside the Port of Larne and Ballypatrick Forest Park. However, I have never felt nervous in Larne or Ballypatrick Forest so it strikes me as odd why out of those three places I would only experience such an intense unsettling feeling when approaching Stranraer.
Suddenly the train begins to reduce speed. The clock reads 00.56. The end of the line is in sight. And with it, the sense of queasiness increases.
During the five minutes that follows, the lines begin to blur. Sitting still on a fast-moving train. Getting closer. Getting there. Hurtling towards her memory. Her spirit maybe. Perhaps just perhaps, a remainder of the faintest trace that this fascinating person left when she briefly passed through here all those years before.
Chapter 76: End of the Line
Reached the point of no return
The more I see the more I stand alone
I see the end of the line
Everything is wrong
Roxy Music – ‘End of the Line’
Suddenly the train slows to a stop. The sliding doors open. And there she is:
The end of the line. Any further and I’ll be in the sea. And what a sea this is. It’s the first thing I notice. I can’t see it. But I can certainly hear it, whistling winter like a banshee scream. I zip up my coat, stand up and grapple with the straps of my rucksack. Walking towards the doors, dazed from a lack of sleep over the previous nights and unsteady on my feet as I adjust to the sudden weight of my rucksack on my back after spending the previous ninety minutes sitting stationary, I stumble onto the platform. Now that I’m finally here, I can’t bear to just walk away. It is now 1am. And the station area is completely deserted. The station building itself is locked up. Suddenly, I hear a car start. I look up the platform to where the sound is coming from and see the close proximity of this car to the top of the train. That’s when I realise it’s the train driver starting his car. Even he is leaving. But I can’t leave, not yet. I’ve travelled for three days to get here.
I focus on the sound. The sea. Normally I love the sea and find anything to do with it calming and dreamy. But this sea isn’t like that at all. This sea reeks of menace, and tonight it’s whistling wildly. The second thing I notice is that familiar orange glow of the station lights overhead, gleaming and glaring like the ones in the train stations of Preston, Oxford and London on the nights before. But this is different. The tangerine tones here strangely seem stronger. Looking down along the platform they bathe my face in an amber shade. The howling wind, the raging sea, the orange lights, the remoteness of these surroundings, the sense of being utterly alone. I feel like I’m on the edge of the world. Or on the edge of the Irish Sea at least.
The signs Inga saw when she arrived at the station are now gone. As recently as 2017 they were removed and as I’ve been informed by ScotRail, destroyed. History’s precious treasures torn asunder for no good reason. For the record those signs read: ScotRail. Training Beats Coaching. ScotRail. Welcome to Stranraer. Sealink Stranraer-Larne Up to 8 sailings a day – Determined to give you a better service. And most poignantly of all in the light of what transpired only a few hours after Inga saw these signs for the first and last time, the last of those signs read: ease the strain – take the train. NIR Northern Ireland railways.
Take the train. If only.
That aside, the station is nowadays largely as it was in 1988. I stand on the platform for a while. Listening to the wind. Looking at the lights. Frozen in the moment, I lose track of time. But it must be a while, because when I next check the time upon arriving in the centre of Stranraer which is only ten minutes’ walk away it is 3am. I decide to leave the station when I start to feel seriously spooked. It’s the single spookiest atmosphere I have ever experienced. Tonight the sea is about as loud as it gets, but the sea itself cannot be seen. I try to find it with my eyes but all I see is a vast void, a black blankness in this wintertime wilderness.
Chapter 77: Welcome to Stranraer
The truth is cooking on a slow simmer
A light still shining even when its dimmer
Beth Orton – ‘Touch Me With Your Love’
Turning to go, I cast one last glance over my shoulder. But haunted waters are all that lie beyond the buffers. I’m not long out of the station area before I realise I’ve swapped one wilderness for another. And this one makes the one at the station seem like a fairy story in comparison. I had never been to Stranraer before, so I wasn’t to know that the journey from the station towards the town can only be made one way. And this way consists of a walk that on the left-hand side no more than a few feet away sit the tracks that had brought the train to the station. Looking at the track I realise that thirty years ago the train carrying Inga had rode over this very same section of track. No more than a couple of feet away from the train tracks is where the sea is howling. The footpath is so close to the train tracks, and the train tracks are so close to the sea.
But if I thought that was spooky, what I see when I look in the opposite direction is on another level altogether. Directly to my right I can just about make out in the darkness a caged space that seems to be enormous. I can’t resist moving towards it, pushing my face up against the wire mesh to try find out exactly what it is. And there sits a sight that chills me to my core. It’s the ferry terminal. Or what is left of it. A cold, concrete arena of dereliction. The hollowed-out heart of Stranraer’s once-busy, once-bustling, now-rusting shipping infrastructure. Inga entered that building for her fateful ferry crossing on that April evening thirty years before. And now much like Inga herself the building is sadly gone, thoughtlessly reduced to rubble.
I stand still. Ahead of me and on either side, I am surrounded by complete darkness. So much for “a light that never goes out” – I’m taken aback to discover there are no lights whatsoever once you leave Stranraer station until you reach the main road seven minutes away on foot. Not one light of any kind to guide the way. On my left is the section of train track that was the last section of train track that Inga ever travelled on, and on my right is the now-derelict ferry terminal where she boarded her fateful final ferry. And I’m walking between these two most poignant points. And yet, even in this moment I feel a faint flicker, perhaps an inkling of winning days for Inga’s case that might lie ahead, the moment where all of this might make sense, the point at which her soul could finally find a measure of peace if at long last justice is finally reached.
The cold is making me shiver. And the wind – being Irish and living as I do in a coastal area, I’m well used to being half-garrotted by gales, but this wind is ferocious. I quicken my step and find my eyes adjusting to the darkness. It’s remarkable how quickly your eyes can adapt after being plunged into the black. As the footpath turns into a bend I can just about make out something ahead. As I get closer, I realise what it is. Then I see there’s more than one. There are many of them. It’s a procession. Of lorries. Motionless in their murkiness. Lurking, smugly, as if smirking. HGVs presumably minus their drivers, abandoned in the darkest part of town. There’s still no light around. I’ll have to pass them if I’m to stand any chance of getting out of here.
Then suddenly on the road ahead of me I see two red lights. They’re the taillights of a car. Where did that come from? And what is it doing here at 3am? Like the lorries, the car is motionless but unlike the lorries its taillights are on, indicating someone is behind the wheel. Suddenly it starts to drive off. No sooner does it start, it mysteriously slows before stopping again, but still the red lights remain on.
I’m now walking past the lorries. Sitting eerily still on either side, radiating silent, pent-up menace into the night. I shudder. Only this time the cold is not the cause of my shivers.
The symbolism of the sight is screaming at me.
Of all the things. Of all the places.
Up ahead I can just about make out a sign. It reads:
Welcome to Stranraer
TO BE CONTINUED
May 28th 1969 – April 6th 1988. Never forgotten.
Copyright: Keeley Moss ℗&©2019. All rights reserved.
Acknowledgements for Part 28
Empty Chairs written by Don McLean. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group ©1971
End of the Line written by Bryan Ferry. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management ©1975
Touch Me With Your Love written by Orton/Barnes/Friend. Published by Warner Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management ©1996