Michael Stone – Loyalist Hero or Psychopath? (Documentary)

 – Disclaimer –

 

The views and opinions expressed in these documentary are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

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Michael Stone (born 2 April 1955) is an Ulster loyalist who was a volunteer in the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Stone was born in England but raised in the Braniel estate in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. Convicted of murdering three people and injuring more than sixty in an attack on mourners at Milltown Cemetery in 1988, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. While in jail, he became one of the leaders of the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) prisoners.[1]

In 2000, Stone was released from prison on licence under the Belfast Agreement and subsequently worked as an artist and writer. In November 2006, Stone was charged with (among other offences) the attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the parliament buildings at Stormont while armed.[2] Stone was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years’ imprisonment

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Early life

Stone was born in Harborne, Birmingham, to English parents Cyril Alfred Stone and his wife Mary Bridget (née O’Sullivan).[4] Mary Bridget walked out on the marriage soon after Stone’s birth and Cyril Alfred enlisted in the Merchant Navy, leaving the infant Michael in the care of John Gregg and his wife Margaret (Cyril’s sister) who lived in Ballyhalbert.[5] Stone has claimed that he suspects his biological mother may have been a Catholic because of her name but added that he was baptised in the Church of Ireland by the Greggs and as such he has always self-identified as Protestant.[6] Cyril Stone subsequently remarried and had two children, Michael Stone’s half-siblings, by his second wife – Tracey and Terence – the latter of whom converted to Buddhism and became a monk in Southeast Asia.[7] The Greggs had five biological children with whom Stone was raised and whom he identifies as siblings, a son John and four daughters, Rosemary, Colleen, Sharon and Shirley.[8]

The Greggs moved to the Braniel estate on the outskirts of Belfast in 1959 due to John Gregg securing employment with Harland and Wolff shipyard.[9] Stone attended Braniel Primary School and Lisnasharragh Secondary School, where fellow pupils included George Best, who was in the same class as Stone’s sister Rosemary Gregg.[10] Stone enrolled in the Army Cadet Force as a fourteen-year-old where he received basic training in firearm use.[11] Stone was expelled from school at fifteen and a half after a series of playground fights and left Lisnasharragh with no formal qualifications.[12] He would find work as a “hammer boy” in the shipyard only a few weeks later.[13] However he got into a fight with another worker and, following a suspension, resigned his position.[14]

Move to loyalism

The UFF East Belfast Brigade of which Stone became a member

In 1970 Stone helped establish a Braniel street gang, which called itself the Hole in the Wall Gang, and which Stone claims included Catholic and Protestant members.[15] Gang members, who adopted a form of uniform consisting of blue jeans and oxblood Dr. Martens and who carried knives, clashed regularly with members of other Braniel gangs as well as those from neighbouring estates in east Belfast.[16] In 1971 Stone joined a “Tartan Gang” that had started up on the Braniel estate and he was soon recognised as “general” of this loyalist group. The gangs were responsible for sectarian violence, which usually took the form of spending Saturday afternoons in Belfast city centre attacking Catholic youths, and vandalising the Catholic repository in Chapel Lane.[17]

Stone met Tommy Herron, commander of the Ulster Defence Association‘s East Belfast Brigade, when Herron moved into the Braniel estate in 1972.[18] According to Stone, Herron took him and three friends to the neighbouring Castlereagh Hills one day and brought a German shepherd dog with them. After the four had played with the dog for around half-an-hour, Herron produced a gun and told them to kill the dog. After his three friends refused Stone shot the animal and was praised by Herron for being ruthless.[19] He was sworn in as a member of the UDA at a ceremony the following week.[20] Stone was trained in weapon use by Herron himself for several months and according to Stone at one point in the training Herron shot him with a blank round from a shotgun.[21]

Stone’s early UDA activity was mostly confined to stealing and in 1972 he was sent to prison for six months for stealing guns and ammunition from a Comber sports shop.[22] He returned to jail soon after his release for stealing a car.[23] Tommy Herron was murdered, probably by colleagues, soon afterwards and the Braniel UDA went into abeyance.[24]

Red Hand Commando

Following Herron’s death, Stone withdrew from the UDA and in January 1974 attached himself to the Red Hand Commando (RHC), a loyalist group that also operated a Braniel unit under Sammy Cinnamond.[25] According to Stone, one of his earliest duties was acting as a bodyguard to Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party leader Bill Craig.[26] In 1978 the UDA encouraged Stone to join the Royal Irish Regiment at Ballymena in order that he could receive training with anti-tank weaponry although he did not receive this training and left after six months.[27] According to Martin Dillon, Stone also held membership of Tara, an anti-Catholic and anti-communist organisation led by William McGrath, a close associate of RHC leader John McKeague.[28] Dillon also argues that Stone had actually joined the RHC at an earlier date and held simultaneous membership of the other groups, Tara and the UDA. Cross-membership of more than one loyalist group was not unheard of in the early days of the Troubles.[29]

Stone became close to John Bingham, the commander of the Ballysillan Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF, which the RHC was very close to), and the two worked closely on a fund-raising drive for their groups.[30] According to Stone this included a meeting with two members of Mossad who wished to provide funding to the UVF.[31] Stone however was eager to become more closely involved in killing and under Cinnamond that was not on the agenda so he drifted from the RHC.[32]

Return to UDA

In 1984 Stone decided to reactivate his membership of the UDA and contacted Andy Tyrie to receive permission.[33] After a brief period with the near moribund Mid-Ulster Brigade, Stone, who felt he was too well known in east Belfast to rejoin the local brigade, met John McMichael and was soon seconded to his South Belfast Brigade.[34] McMichael soon provided Stone with guns and placed him in a team whose ostensible purpose was to fill McMichael’s hit list, a list of high-profile Irish republican targets the Brigadier wanted killed.[35] His first target was Owen Carron, who actually was a high-profile republican. Stone trailed Carron for several weeks but on the day he was due to kill the Sinn Féin activist, Stone was tipped off that the Royal Ulster Constabulary knew about the plan and were approaching, so the hit was abandoned.[36]

On 16 November 1984 Stone committed his first murder when he shot and killed Catholic milkman Patrick Brady, a man Stone claimed was a member of the Provisional IRA.[37] According to the Conflict Archive on the Internet, although Brady was a member of Sinn Féin, he was not in the IRA.[38] This was followed in 1985 by an attempt to kill another Sinn Féin activist, Robert McAllister, but on this occasion Stone was unsuccessful.[39] He subsequently killed Kevin McPolin in November 1985 and would also face charges for the murder of Dermot Hackett in 1987. Stone would subsequently admit to killing McPolin but has claimed that he did not kill Hackett but confessed to his murder in order that a young UFF member might escape punishment.[40] Both McPolin and Hackett were uninvolved Catholics.

Milltown Cemetery attack

See Below for more details on Milltown Attack

Stone attacked the people attending the funeral which was being held at the Milltown Cemetery for the three IRA members killed 10 days earlier in Gibraltar by the Special Air Service (SAS) in what was termed Operation Flavius. As Danny McCann, Seán Savage, and Mairéad Farrell were being buried, Stone launched a commando-style assault against the mourners with RGD-5 grenades and an semi-automatic pistol. He killed three people, including IRA member Kevin Brady, and injured sixty others. Stone was eventually overpowered by infuriated mourners and was then arrested by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). He still walks with a slight limp as a result of the dislocated thigh bone he received in the aftermath of the attack.[41]

According to Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member Sammy Duddy, two UDA “brigadiers” from two Belfast battalions, fearing IRA reprisals against themselves or the areas they controlled, telephoned the IRA after the Milltown attack, denying knowledge of Stone or his intentions. The two brigadiers both claimed that Stone was a “rogue loyalist” acting without UDA sanction or authorisation.[42] Duddy, however, described Stone as “one of the UDA’s best operators”.[43]

Stone, who apparently objected to the newspapers’ portrayal of him as a mad Rambo-style gunman, also confessed to shooting dead three other Catholics between 1984 and 1987. He claimed the victims were linked to the IRA, although it appears that they were unaligned civilians. At his trial he pleaded not guilty, but refused to offer any defence. Convicted of six murders, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with sentences totalling 684 years, with a recommendation he serve at least thirty years.[44]

While in HM Prison Maze, Stone became one of the five leaders of the Ulster Defence Association/”Ulster Freedom Fighters” prisoners.[1] Alongside the other four, he met Mo Mowlam during the 1998 negotiations between the government and paramilitaries as part of the peace process. The goal was to get the paramilitaries to come to the negotiation table.[1] He also collaborated with Martin Dillon on a book about his life entitled Stone Cold.[45]

Release

On 24 July 2000, Stone was released from prison after 13 years under the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Stone had been living in East Belfast, London and Spain with his girlfriend Suzanne Cooper until the events of 24 November 2006.[46] In 2001 Stone and Ms Cooper exchanged bullet-proof jackets as Christmas gifts. Stone has nine children from his first two marriages.[47]

Since leaving prison Stone concentrated on work in the community and being an artist, a hobby he began in the Maze. His paintings are vivid and not so much political as topical. They fetch between a few hundred and a few thousand pounds each. Stone published his autobiography titled None Shall Divide Us, in which he claimed that he had received “specialist assistance” from RUC operatives in carrying out the cemetery killings.[48] A second book and the auctioning of the jacket he wore at the Milltown Cemetery at a Scottish loyalist club for £10,000 have brought forward legislation to ban former convicted paramilitaries released through the Northern Ireland Peace Process from profiting from their crimes.

In March 2002 it was reported in the Sunday Life that Stone and Cooper had fled Northern Ireland for France following death threats from loyalists opposed to the peace process. The aim of those behind the threats – reported as being from the Orange Volunteers – was the eventual destruction of the Good Friday Agreement and the end of Northern Ireland’s troubled peace process.[49] Following time in Birmingham, Stone returned to East Belfast.

Stone was featured in the BBC2 television series Facing the Truth mediated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu where he met relatives of a victim of loyalist violence. Sylvia Hackett talked with Stone, who was convicted of murdering her husband Dermot, a Catholic delivery man. Although he previously admitted to the murder, Stone told his victim’s widow that he had no direct responsibility, having been withdrawn after planning the attack. At the end of their meeting she forced herself to walk over to Stone and shake his hand – when he placed a second hand on hers, she recoiled and fled from the room.[50]

In November 2006, he claimed that in the 1980s he had been “three days” away from killing the then leader of the Greater London Council and former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, over his invitations to Sinn Féin‘s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to visit him in London.[51] The plot was reportedly cancelled over fears it had been infiltrated by Special Branch detectives.[52]

Stormont arrest

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Stormont Saga – Michael Stone

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On 24 November 2006, at 11.16 am, Stone was arrested for attempting to enter the parliament buildings at Stormont armed with an imitation Beretta 92FS pistol, a knife and a “viable” bomb, after placing 8 “pipe bombs” within the grounds of Stormont.[53] Three civilian security guards disarmed him as he entered the building, by trapping him within the revolving doors of the main lobby entrance. The security guards were injured during the struggle with Stone.[54] Following the security breach, the building was evacuated and an Army Bomb Disposal Unit was called to examine the suspect device. Before entering the building he had scrawled an incomplete graffiti stating “Sinn Féin IRA mur[derers]” on the Parliament building. Later examination from the bomb squad revealed that the bag Stone had been carrying contained between six and eight viable explosive devices. Sir Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said “their potential for death, destruction and injury is being assessed” but added they were “fairly amateurish”. As a result of Stone’s actions, talks between political parties about power sharing and the election of a First Minister, which had only just resumed, had to be abandoned.[55]

On 19 December 2006, Stone’s defence lawyer, Arthur Harvey, QC, claimed that the Stormont incident was not intended to endanger the life of anyone. “It was, in fact, a piece of performance art replicating a terrorist attack”, claimed Harvey.[56] During his trial in September 2008, on 13 charges including the attempted murder of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Stone repeated that his actions were “an act of performance art“.[57]

The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Peter Hain) indicated that Stone’s licence for release under the “Good Friday Agreement” would be revoked, and the full 638-year sentence for triple murder, terrorist charges and firearm charges be reimposed on him, in line with his sentencing in 1988. On 25 November 2006, Stone appeared in court in Belfast charged with attempting to murder Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Stone faced a total of five charges of attempted murder following the incident at Stormont.

Stone was charged with possession of articles for terrorist purposes, possession of an imitation firearm in a public place, assault, grievous bodily harm, possession of an offensive weapon and possession of explosives. The court heard the articles allegedly for terrorist purposes included nailbombs, an axe and a garrotte. He was remanded in custody until 22 December 2006.[44] A letter written by Stone was published in the Belfast Telegraph on 29 November 2006. In the letter dated 24 November 2006, Stone described his “mission to Kill” Adams and McGuinness in detail, giving a description of his intended movements once inside the building.[56]

On 14 November he was found guilty of attempting to murder Adams and McGuinness. The judge said defence evidence that Stone had been taking part in some sort of a “comic parody” was “hopelessly unconvincing” and “self-contradictory”. On 8 December 2008, Stone received a 16-year sentence for his actions at Stormont.[58]

Personal life

Stone married Marlene Leckey in 1976 and had three sons with her. The couple separated in 1978 and divorced in 1983.[26] At the time of his divorce Stone was cohabiting with Leigh-Ann Shaw. Stone and Shaw were subsequently married[26] in 1985. Although the marriage produced two children, it also ended in divorce.[59]

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Milltown Cemetery attack

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Milltown Massacre

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Milltown Cemetery attack.JPG

The funerals, minutes before the attack
Location Milltown Cemetery, Belfast,
Northern Ireland
Coordinates 54°35′0″N 5°58′38″W / 54.58333°N 5.97722°W / 54.58333; -5.97722Coordinates: 54°35′0″N 5°58′38″W / 54.58333°N 5.97722°W / 54.58333; -5.97722
Date 16 March 1988
Weapons RGD-5 hand grenades; Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol; Ruger .357 magnum revolver
Deaths 3
Non-fatal injuries
60+ [1]
Perpetrator Michael Stone

The Milltown Cemetery attack (also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or Milltown Massacre[2]) took place on 16 March 1988 in Belfast‘s Milltown Cemetery. During the funeral of three Provisional IRA volunteers killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) volunteer, Michael Stone, attacked the mourners with hand grenades and pistols. As Stone then ran towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd began chasing him and he continued shooting and throwing grenades. Some of them caught him and began beating him, but he was rescued by the police and arrested. Three people had been killed and more than 60 wounded. The “unprecedented, one-man attack”[1] was filmed by television news crews and caused shock around the world.[3]

Three days later, at the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, two non-uniformed British soldiers drove into the funeral procession. Bystanders, who reportedly thought it was a replay of an attack like that carried out by Stone, dragged the soldiers from their car; the two corporals were later shot dead by the IRA.

Background

See SAS Operation Flavius

See Corporal Murders

On 6 March 1988, Provisional IRA members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell were shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. This caused outrage among Irish republicans and their supporters as the three were unarmed and allegedly shot without warning. They were due to be buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery on 16 March. For years, republicans had complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which had led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) decided they would pull back from the funerals of the “Gibraltar Three” and keep watch from the sidelines.[1] This followed negotiations with Catholic church leaders.[4]

Michael Stone’s self-professed mission was “to take out the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership at the graveside”.[5] He told journalist Peter Taylor that his attack was retaliation for the IRA’s Remembrance Day bombing four months earlier. Taylor wrote, “He said it was symbolic: the IRA had attacked a British cenotaph and he was taking revenge by attacking the IRA equivalent”.[6] Stone claimed a “senior member of the UDA” had given him the organisation’s “official” clearance for the attack[7] and claimed he was given a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol, a Ruger .357 Magnum revolver and seven RGD-5 grenades the night before the funeral.[5]

Attack

The funeral service and requiem mass went ahead as planned, and the cortege made its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present were thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.[7] Two RUC helicopters hovered overhead.[8] Stone claimed that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners.[5] Some eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Stone enter the graveyard from the M1 motorway with three other people (two men and a woman). The others walked across the graveyard and later left on the Falls Road side. As the third coffin was about to be lowered into the ground, Stone threw two grenades—which had a seven-second delay—toward the republican plot and began shooting.[5]

The first grenade exploded near the crowd and about 20 yards (18 m) from the grave.[8] Amid the panic and confusion, people took cover behind gravestones. Stone began jogging toward the motorway, several hundred yards away, chased by dozens of men and youths. He continued shooting and throwing grenades at his pursuers. Three people were killed while pursuing Stone:[1] two Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and a Provisional IRA volunteer, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30). During the attack about 60 people were wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded was a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy.[1]

In the 19 March edition of the Irish Times, columnist Kevin Myers, an opponent of republican paramilitary violence, wrote: “Unarmed young men charged against the man hurling grenades and firing an automatic pistol […] The young men stalking their quarry repeatedly came under fire; they were repeatedly bombed; they repeatedly advanced. Indeed this was not simply bravery; this was a heroism which in other circumstances, I have no doubt, would have won the highest military decorations”.[1]

A memorial in Milltown Cemetery to the ‘Gibraltar Three’ and to the three men killed in the attack on their funeral

A white van that had been parked by the motorway suddenly drove off as Stone fled from the angry crowd. The RUC said the van was part of an uninvolved police patrol.[8] Stone later claimed that a getaway vehicle, driven by a UDA member, was waiting for him on the motorway but the driver “panicked” and left.[5] By the time Stone reached the motorway, he had seemingly ran out of ammunition.[1] He ran out onto the road and tried to stop cars,[8] but was caught by the crowd and beaten unconscious. RUC officers quickly arrived, “almost certainly saving his life”.[1] They arrested him and took him to Musgrave Park Hospital for treatment of his injuries. The whole event had been recorded by television news cameras.

Aftermath

That evening, angry youths in republican districts burnt hijacked vehicles and attacked the RUC.[8] Immediately after the attack, the two main loyalist paramilitaries—the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)—denied responsibility. The leader of the UDA’s West Belfast Brigade, Tommy Lyttle, said that Stone was a rogue loyalist acting without orders from the UDA, though he did not condemn the attack. Lyttle told other UDA leaders to keep to this line. UDA member Sammy Duddy said: “After Milltown, two UDA brigadiers from two Belfast battalions telephoned the IRA to say they didn’t know Michael Stone […] But Michael was UDA, he was a travelling gunman who went after the IRA and Republicans and he needed no authority for that because that was his job. Those two brigadiers were scared in case the IRA would retaliate against them […] so they disclaimed Michael, one of our best operators”.[7]

Sinn Féin and others “claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals”.[4] Stone later claimed he had assurances that British soldiers and RUC officers would not be deployed in the graveyard. He also claimed to have had detailed information about British Army and RUC movements.[7] Stone wrote that, the night before the attack, he was “given his pick of weapons from an Ulster Resistance cache at a secret location outside Belfast” and was “driven back into the city by a member of the RUC”.[7] According to journalist Martin Dillon, the weapons he used were given to him on the orders of UDA intelligence chief Brian Nelson, who was later revealed to be an undercover agent of the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU).[5]

Three days after the Milltown killings, one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, was being buried when two plain-clothes British Army Corporals (Derek Wood and David Howes) in an unmarked car drove into the path of the funeral cortège – apparently by mistake. Some of those present, believing the soldiers to be loyalist gunmen, surrounded and attacked their car. Corporal Wood drew his service pistol and fired a shot in the air. The two men were then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by republicans.[4] The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it was filmed by television news cameras. The Browning pistol Stone used during the killings was stolen by the mob on the day of the attack and was eventually used by an IRA unit to ambush a combined RUC/British Army patrol in Belfast on 13 October 1990. A constable was shot dead and another badly injured.[9]

Many hardline loyalists saw Stone as a hero and he became a loyalist icon.[2] In March 1989, he was convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences. He received sentences totaling 682 years, but was released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Apart from time on remand spent in Crumlin Road Prison, Stone spent all of his sentence in HM Prison Maze. Stone later published an autobiography, None Shall Divide Us, which included an account of the attack, in which he wrote that he deeply regretted the hurt he had caused the families of those he killed, and paid tribute to the bravery of two of the men killed while pursuing him at the cemetery (Murray, Mac Brádaigh). Stone wrote “I didn’t choose killing as a career, killing chose me”.[

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