A new BBC Sounds podcast, Blood on the Dance Floor, is investigating the cold case murder of a gay police officer. In the most recent episode, Kristian Nairn, the out actor who portrayed Hodor in Game of Thrones, has shared that he personally witnessed the shooting more than two decades ago.
The murder occurred in May 1997 at the Parliament, the only gay bar in Belfast at the time. The victim was 24-year-old police officer Darren Bradshaw, and although The Irish National Liberation Army claimed responsibility, no convictions were made.
Nairn was 21 and had just arrived at the Parliament with his friends when the shooting happened. “We hadn’t been there long, we’d probably had our first drink,” he recalled.
He then noticed someone with a “weirdly drawn-on beard” enter the room and approach Bradshaw at the bar. “Me and my friends were just like ‘look at the state of him’,” he said. “He was nervous-looking, he was definitely looking for someone.”
The man got close and fired three shots into Bradshaw’s back. “The music carried on for a second before it came down,” said Nairn. “I remember a girl at the bar covered in blood.
“This guy just legged it out, sort of kicked the doors open. I made eye contact with him, I think we all made eye contact with him as he was coming out. It happened so fast. It was just like stunned silence, just like a bomb had gone off.”
Traumatic enough as witnessing the murder was, the shooting had immediate personal consequences for Nairn when he confided in his family. “I told my grandfather I’d been in a shooting and he was like ‘I’m glad you’re okay’ and all that,” he recalled. “But he was quite a gossipy man in his time and he was around telling his old farmer friends. One of them had obviously been watching the news and he was like ‘that was a gay bar’. And that was how my grandfather found out I was gay, and he threw me out of the house.”
For the wider LGBTQ+ community in Belfast, the Parliament had been something of a haven. Nairn described it as a “safe space [for] people who’ve been repressed their entire lives.”
“It was an amazing place, there was nowhere else like it,” he said. “We were there every Saturday – at one stage every night of the week. You’d walk into the bar downstairs and it’d be absolutely rammed.” You can hear in Nairn’s voice that this is how he will always remember the place, despite the awful event.
Nairn came out publicly as gay in 2014, while Game of Thrones was at its height. More recently, he has a regular series role as a pyromaniac pirate on HBO Max’s queer comedy Our Flag Means Death.