Father's Wallace tribute to Rory

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THE grieving father of murdered schoolboy Rory Blackhall today paid a moving tribute to his "William Wallace" at his son's funeral.

Russell Blackhall fought to keep his composure as he recounted precious memories of Rory's childhood and praised his "wonderful" son.

His voice breaking with emotion, Mr Blackhall compared the 11-year-old to Scots hero Wallace and said: "I miss him so much. My life will not be the same again.

"Rory, my son, had passion, strength and gave so much to other people.

"There is no question in my mind that Rory would have been a good, strong and compassionate man, partner and father.

To me, he is my William Wallace. I hope I can be half the man he would have been."

The words prompted tears among many of those packed into the ceremony in the Howden Park Centre, Livingston.

Rory's parents - Edinburgh-based company director Russell and West Lothian school teacher Michelle - both paid poignant tributes to their son in separate eulogies during this morning's service.

They stood within feet of Rory's coffin, which was draped in a saltire and topped with a bouquet of thistles.

Around 300 mourners, all wearing tartan at the family's request, crammed into the centre or stood outside to say their final goodbyes to the popular pupil and celebrate his life.

Among those at the service was Detective Superintendent Bert Swanson, the officer heading the inquiry into Rory's murder.

Rory was killed after failing to turn up for school at Meldrum Primary in Livingston, on August 18. His body was found in woodland three days later, covered by a tattered tent.

The schoolboy's funeral comes just two days after prosecutors revealed prime suspect Simon Harris, 37, would have been charged with murder had he not been found hanged.

Flower Of Scotland, played by lone piper Pc David Brown, a family friend, signalled the start of the emotional ceremony.

Standing as the coffin arrived, some members of the congregation hugged those they had come with, hanging on to them for support.

Other elements of the service were a reflection of Rory's personality.

Family friend the Rev John Povey, minister at the Kirk of Mid Calder, West Lothian, conducted the service, despite it being a non-religious affair.

The minister, who donned a suit and tartan tie instead of his more traditional dress, read a passage from AA Milne's House On Pooh Corner, one of Rory's favourite books.

The family felt the story was an appropriate choice because the book contained a picture of a small boy playing with a teddy bear, which reminded them of Rory.

One of Rory's favourite songs, Smoke on the Water by 1970s rock band Deep Purple, was played during the service. He had been learning to play it on the guitar.

The song, along with the rest of the service, was relayed by a PA system to scores of mourners who gathered outside, braving the chill morning air.

Some hugged each other while others wiped away tears. Teenagers stood in groups, some with arms around each other as they listened to the service.

A version of the Kinks song Days by late singer Kirsty MacColl was played in memory of the child at the family's request.

Some bowed their heads as the music was played, others tapped their feet, or managed to raise a small smile, as personal recollections of Rory's personality doubtless flooded back.

Inside the modern venue, three Scout flags had been placed at the front of the hall to recognise Rory's enthusiasm for the Scouts as a member of the 14th West Lothian group.

Mrs Blackhall told the gathering that Rory's death had left "a huge chasm in my life and in our family".

She said: "I know that he made me a better person for knowing him and I'm very proud and very honoured to have been his 'Mummy'."

At times during both parents' tributes, sadness gave way to humour as they recounted quirks of Rory's personality.

Mourners managed gentle laughter in support of the pair.

Rory's mother joked about his birth, saying he was the biggest baby in the hospital.

He came to idolise his brother Conal and the pair were "inseparable" best friends, she told the crowds.

Mr Blackhall paid tribute to his son as a "die-hard young Scot" who spent "happy days at Murrayfield watching Scotland get stuffed".

He spoke of his son's passion and enthusiasm for rugby, steam trains, dogs and even his schoolwork.

He and his son also shared a love of cooking - something which he said "particularly hits me now".

And he spoke of Rory's resilience in the face of bullying.

Flanked by his friend, college lecturer John Cowan, he said: "He (Rory) went to a youth club and it turned out that he was getting bullied by a number of kids.

"We asked him if he wanted to leave, change, or let me deal with it. His response was simple - no.

"He faced it out and dealt with it himself. He would not give in."

Mr Blackhall recounted snippets of his numerous recollections of Rory's childhood, despite confessing: "No words can really describe my pain and feelings just now."

He spoke of the time when his patriotic son, then aged four, was found chasing his best friend with a saltire and plastic sword because his father had jokingly told him the Scots had "always" fought the English throughout history.

He also recalled a "bonding session" the pair and elder brother Conal had in Aviemore and Perthshire.

"I can still see his face and hear the screams and noise of fun," Mr Blackhall said.

Echoing the parents' tributes, Mr Povey said Rory was "very special".

He said: "Inevitably we will find the world a poorer place without Rory, but it will always be a richer place because he was once in it.

"The joy of having Rory as a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin, a friend, may be lost - but the joys of having had that relationship, the delight and comfort of its memories, is never lost."

He added that if the law can be improved for the safety of other children, then it must be done.

Rory was being cremated in a private ceremony at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh.

Non-family members were asked to make donations to The Dogs Trust.

Among the mourners who gathered outside to pay their respects to the murdered schoolboy many had felt deeply affected by Rory's murder despite having no direct connection with his family.

Linda Wilson, from Ladywell in Livingston, 56, said: "I feel so sorry for the Blackhall family. I have two grandsons and this could have happened to them. I didn't know the family but I felt I had to be here to pay my respects."

Kevin Mackenzie, 38, from Howden, a customer service worker, said: "I'm here as part of the community which Rory belonged to. His murder put everyone on guard. I have three children myself and now we have to make sure we know where they are at all times. It's taken part of children's lives away here and that's why it is important to pay our respects to Rory."

Elaine Ferguson, 43, of Howden, a domestic worker at St John's Hospital, said: "I am here to show some respect for Rory. It's such a sad occasion. The community are coming together to say goodbye."

Boy who could 'melt hearts at 20 paces'

RORY could "melt hearts at 20 paces", his mother told mourners at his funeral today.

Michelle Blackhall spoke of how she would look to her loving son for reassurance due to his "wise-ness beyond his years" and his "simplistic and optimistic" perspective on life.

"The face of an angel, Rory's smile could melt hearts at 20 paces and his cheery 'good morning' would make many a shopper's day," she said.

"Rory grew into a smart little cookie, who was always ready with a hug, or a kiss, or a smile, or more usually all three. He never grew out of his cuddly ways and would leap out, like Kato from the Pink Panther, to smother you with affection just when you least expected it.

"I'll miss that and I'll miss the way that he was the only person who would shout 'bless you' when I sneezed.

"He would come running in from the garden, jump out of the shower or stop playing a game just to do this. It was one of our special things."

She later told mourners: "We were very lucky to be a very open and loving family.

"Not one day passed without us telling Rory how much he was loved.

"Sometimes, he would like to ask 'why'. I would list each special trait that he had.

"Rory was a kind, loving, caring, sensitive, honest, generous, fun, brave, determined, selfless child.

"Rory had a great enthusiasm for life.

"Not just for his hobbies or ambitions, but for the simple pleasures."