TUNISIA ATTACK: ‘Sense of loss is magnified when it’s on your doorstep’

One minute silence held at Blackpool Town Hall for the victims of the terrorist attack in Tunisia
One minute silence held at Blackpool Town Hall for the victims of the terrorist attack in Tunisia

Steve Canavan joined hundreds of people in Blackpool who stood in silence to honour those murdered in Tunisia.

Atrocities and terror attacks seem to happen all the time in this often depressing and terrifying world in which we live.

So often in fact that it is frighteningly easy to become numb and emotionless about them.

It is perhaps only when your fellow townsfolk are the victims that it really hits home.

Denis and Elaine Thwaites, aged 70 and 69, who lived in North Shore and were described by their daughter, Lindsey, as the “kindest, most caring, loving parents”, were among the 38 victims of a lone gunman who embarked on a savage and indiscriminate attack in Tunisia.

It was the most appalling of incidents, which Mr and Mrs Thwaites had the tragic misfortune to be caught up in.

Yesterday millions of people throughout the country took part in a minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives.

A crowd of around 500 gathered outside Blackpool Town Hall to pay their own tribute and, perhaps because two of our own were among the dead, it felt more poignant than most gatherings.

“There has been a horrendous and tragic loss of life and one can only imagine how Mr and Mrs Thwaites’ daughter and the rest of their family and friends feel,” said Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, who led the minute’s silence.

“Your immediate reaction is to focus on the act of terror itself. But when you walk down the Town Hall steps and see how many people have taken time out of their day to stop and be here, it makes you realise that it is the response to the act of terror that we should be focusing on.”

Because Blackpool has been hit harder than most by the tragic events in Tunisia, the resort was the focus of media attention.

BBC and ITV cameras were there to film events at Talbot Square, along with presenters from several radio stations.

But this day was about the little things, the women who gently sobbed throughout the silence as she grasped her young son’s hand; the elderly gentleman dressed in suit and tie, with war medals pinned to his chest; the workmen on the scaffolding at Sacred Heart church who stopped what they were doing, took off their hard-hats, and stood with heads bowed.

The silence was impeccably observed. It was a shame perhaps that the traffic and the buses continued to rumble by, while some marched by without pause, talking on mobile phones. But that is the way of the modern world.

Speaking of the modern world, on his internet channel earlier in the day, the comedian Russell Brand had labelled the minute’s silence and “empty, futile gesture”.

“Stop bombing those foreign countries, stop selling arms to countries on your own human rights abuse list,” said Brand. “If you want to change this situation, you’ve got to stop perpetuating the problem.”

It is a legitimate argument and worth consideration, but somehow, while standing in respectful silence with 500 others outside the Town Hall, Brand’s words felt at best ill-timed, at worst ill-judged.

People grieve in different ways and let’s look at it from the point of view of the victim’s families; how comforting it must have been for them to know that throughout Britain, strangers stood side-by-side, shouldering their loss and upset.

If we were all to continue with our hectic, everyday lives and never pause to reflect on or remember those less fortunate then surely the world would be a poorer place? God knows we need something during this difficult era of violence and terror - even if it is only a minute of silence - to show that there are still some decent people around.

“It was a quiet but very elegant ceremony, and it was lovely to see such an outpouring of respect,” said Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South.

“It really is a case of there but for the grace of God. I went to the same resort in Tunisia, Sousse, 10 years ago and there will be lots of other people in Blackpool who have been there too.

“Today is a day to remember the Thwaites’ and all those other poor people who lost their lives and we’ve done that by this simple act of solidarity and coming together.”

A number of councillors gathered on the Town Hall steps to take part in the silence.

Across the Promenade, the big screen on North Pier flashed a message in memory of those who lost their lives.

“I think being a holiday town ourselves, we know just how terrible this is,” said Peter Sedgwick, owner of North Pier.

“To think these people were just on holiday enjoying themselves ... what happened is unbelievable, just terrible.

“So to see so many people joining in this minute’s silence is heartwarming and it shows how much the people of Blackpool are behind the families of those who have lost their lives.”

38 people, including 30 Britons, died during the horror in Tunisia.

Mr and Mrs Thwaites had been staying at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Sousse when they were killed.

Mr Thwaites used to play for Birmingham City and is believed to have worked as a hospital porter after moving to Blackpool. His wife is understood to have worked in the resort’s hotel industry.

“The fact a couple from Blackpool have been killed really hit home with me,” said Lisa Phillips, from Cleveleys, who attended the minute’s silence with her three children.

“It makes you realise that it could have been any one of us. It is a horrible, terrible thing - you go on holiday and don’t come back.

“I just wanted to be here to remember them, and in some small way show my support for that family and what they must be going through.”

It is a sentiment impossible to take issue with.

Any loss of life, anywhere in the world, is tragic.

But that sense of loss is magnified when it happens on your own doorstep.

The Thwaites’ will never be forgotten. We can only hope their death is not as senseless and in vain as it seems and that, perhaps, some good will eventually emerge from this most brutal of crimes.

At the moment, though, it is very difficult to see what that good might be, and to see any further than the grief their daughter and family are experiencing.