“I was 20 months younger than Catherine and I still remember the shock when we found out. It was just devastating.”
Few in this country remember the attack, or that two young Britons were killed in it.
But Bellini’s trial has once again exposed the painful history of modern Italy and the fault lines that ran through the country at a time when “il bel paese” was still the westernmost front line of the Cold War and the setting of a violent struggle between left and right on its streets and piazzas, lasting through the Seventies into the mid-Eighties.
“We felt tremendous anger at first, but we didn’t hold it against the Italian people. How could we? You can’t be angry all the time against an entire nation. The Italians can be so lovely and you wonder how on earth could that happen? But there are terrible people everywhere,” said Mrs Kennedy.
In the months and years that followed Catherine’s death her family became aware of Bologna’s symbolic importance in Italy’s post war history, and the reason it was targeted.
Italy’s troubled past
The town had long been a stronghold of the Italian Communist Party and was recognised as one of the most efficient municipal governments in the country. Bologna’s citizens had also been in the forefront of the wartime resistance against Mussolini’s fascist regime and the Nazi invasion that followed its collapse.
That made Bologna station – packed with Italian and foreign tourists – a strategic target for the far right, who were suspected of being aided by eversive elements of the Italian state and secret services as part of the so-called “Strategy of Tension”, designed to keep the left from taking power nationally.
“Catherine and John were just so unlucky to be caught up in that awful violence that Italy was going through at the time and to be in that particular city at a time when it was targeted because of its history. You become aware of that when you see the photographs in the main square of all the people who died in the resistance against fascism and the Nazis during the war,” said Mrs Kennedy.
Suspected collusion by some state officials hampered the official investigation, delaying until 1988 the trial and conviction of four members of the neo-fascist Armed Revolutionary Nuclei for their part in the bombing.
Catherine’s father Harry, who died in August at the age of 90 – still distraught at his eldest daughter’s death – followed closely the fight for justice mounted by the Victims’ Families Association and its own investigations into what Italians call “la strage di Bologna”.
At his home in Launceston, to where he had retired from Bath with his wife Shirley after a career as a designer with the MoD, he accumulated more than half a dozen heavy boxes of documents and materials about the attack.
Both Mr Mitchell and his wife attended the first trial, despite the emotional ordeal it involved for them.
Mrs Kennedy is grateful for the help and support her family received from the Association and for the pension awarded by the Italian government to her parents, in recognition of the state’s failure to protect their daughter.
Support from Bologna City Council
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the Association and from Bologna City Council. They have fought for everybody. Many people caught up in disasters don’t have that,” she said. “My parents even received a pension until their death from the Italian government, after they passed a special law for the victims’ families, even though they weren’t financially dependent on Catherine. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was a recognition that the state had failed to keep people like my sister safe.”
Mrs Kennedy last visited the scene of her sister’s murder – where a huge dent in the station wall caused by the blast has been preserved as a permanent memorial – in 2005, for the 25th anniversary commemorations.
“It’s always very emotional,” she said. “You march down to the station with all the families. I’ve never been anywhere where people line the streets and applaud you like they do in Bologna on those days. They are huge gatherings.
“Even though it was born of tragedy, we’ve met so many lovely people and made very good friends. That has helped a lot, to meet other people who had gone through the same terrible thing as we had.”