Category Archives: Documentaries on Northern Ireland

Documentaries on Northern Ireland Troubles and relevant issues

Loyalist Feuds – Past & Present

Loyalist Feuds

A loyalist feud refers to any of the sporadic feuds which have erupted almost routinely between Northern Ireland‘s various loyalist paramilitary groups during and after the ethno-political conflict known as the Troubles broke out in the late 1960s. The feuds have frequently involved problems between and within the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) as well as, later, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

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The views and opinions expressed in this page and  documentaries 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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UDA-UVF feuds

See UDA Page

See UVF Page

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UDA-UVF Feud,

Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair, Former UDA & UFF Loyalist Commander Talks About His Life.

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U.V.F Logo
U.V.F Logo

Although the UDA and UVF have frequently co-operated and generally co-existed, the two groups have clashed. Two particular feuds stood out for their bloody nature.

1974-1975

UDA Logo
UDA Logo

A feud in the winter of 1974-75 broke out between the UDA and the UVF, the two main loyalist paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. The bad blood originated from an incident in the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of May 1974 when the two groups were co-operating in support of the Ulster Workers’ Council.

Ulster Workers’ Council strike

That support the UDA & UVF members were giving involved shutting down their own social clubs & pubs due to complaints from loyalist wives of the striking men, the reason for this was with the men not working & funds being tight the wives saw what little money they did have being spent at the pubs & social clubs controlled by UDA/UVF, therefore the wives put pressure on the leaders of both groups to shut them down for the duration of the strike & after consultation they agreed.

All shut down except for a lone UVF affiliated pub on the shankill road. On a November night in 1974, a UVF man named Joe Shaw visited the pub for a drink. While there, he was “ribbed by the regulars about having allowed his local to be closed”.[2] A few pints later Shaw and some friends returned to their local, on North Queen St., and open it up. UDA men patrolling the area had seen the pubs lights on and ordered Shaw and his friends to close the place down & go home. Shaw refused, and the UDA men left, but they returned a short while later with a shotgun, determined to close the pub down.

Stephen Goatley

In the brawl that developed Shaw was fatally shot. A joint statement described it as a tragic accident although a subsequent UVF inquiry put the blame on Stephen Goatley and John Fulton, both UDA men. With antagonism grown another man was killed in a drunken brawl on 21 February 1975, this time the UDA’s Robert Thompson. This was followed by another pub fight in North Belfast in March and this time the UVF members returned armed and shot and killed both Goatley and Fulton, who had been involved in the earlier fight.

The following month UDA Colonel Hugh McVeigh and his aide David Douglas were the next to die, kidnapped by the UVF on the Shankill Road and taken to Carrickfergus where they were beaten before being killed near Islandmagee.

The UDA retaliated in East Belfast by attempting to kill UVF leader Ken Gibson who in turn ordered the UDA’s headquarters in the east of the city to be blown up, although this attack also failed. The feud rumbled on for several months in 1976 with a number of people, mostly UDA members, being killed before eventually the two groups came to an uneasy truce.

2000

Although the two organisations had worked together under the umbrella of the Combined Loyalist Military Command, the body crumbled in 1997 and tensions simmered between West Belfast UDA Brigadier Johnny Adair, who had grown weary of the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, and the UVF leadership. Adair by this time had forged close links with the dissident LVF, a group which the UVF had been on poor terms with since its foundation.

Amidst an atmosphere of increasing tension in the area, Adair decided to host a “Loyalist Day of Culture” on the Shankill on Saturday 19 August 2000, which saw thousands of UDA members from across Northern Ireland descend on his Lower Shankill stronghold, where a series of newly commissioned murals were officially unveiled on a day which also featured a huge UDA/UFF parade and armed UDA/UFF show of strength.

Unknown to the UVF leadership, who had sought and been given assurances that no LVF regalia would be displayed on the Shankill on the day of the procession, as well as the rest of the UDA outside of Adair’s “C Company”, Adair had an LVF flag delivered to the Lower Shankill on the morning of the celebrations, which he planned to have unfurled as the procession passed the Rex Bar, a UVF haunt, in order to antagonise the UVF and try and drag it into conflict with as much of the UDA as possible.

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The Rex Bar – Shankill

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Adair waited until the bulk of the parade of UDA men had made its way up into the heart of the Shankill before initiating the provocative gesture. When it happened skirmishes broke out between UVF men who had been standing outside the Rex watching the procession and the group involved in unfurling the contentious flag, which had been discreetly concealed near the tail end of the parade. Prior to this the atmosphere at the Rex had been jovial, with the UVF spectators even joining in to sing UDA songs along to the tunes of the UDA-aligned flute bands which accompanied the approximately ten thousand UDA men on their parade up the Shankill Road.

But vicious fighting ensued, with a roughly three hundred-strong C Company (the name given to the Lower Shankill unit of the UDA’s West Belfast Brigade, which contained Adair’s most loyal men) mob attacking the patrons of the Rex, initially with hand weapons such as bats and iron bars, before they shot up the bar as its patrons barricaded themselves inside.

Also shot up was the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) headquarters which faced the pub. C Company then went on the rampage in the Lower Shankill, attacking the houses of known UVF members and their families, including the home of veteran UVF leader Gusty Spence, and evicting the inhabitants at gunpoint as they wrecked and stole property and set fire to homes. By the end of the day nearly all those with UVF associations had been driven from the Lower Shankill.

Later that night C Company gunmen shot up the Rex again, this time from a passing car. While most of the UDA guests at Adair’s carnival had duly left for home when it became apparent that he was using it to engineer violent conflict with the UVF, festivities nonetheless continued late into the night on the Lower Shankill, where Adair hosted an open air rave party and fireworks display.

The UVF struck back on Monday morning, shooting dead two Adair associates, Jackie Coulter and Bobby Mahood, as they sat in a Range Rover on the Crumlin Road. The UVF also shot up the Ulster Democratic Party headquarters on the Middle Shankill. An hour later Adair’s unit burned down the PUP’s offices close to Agnes Street, the de facto border between the UVF-dominated Middle and Upper Shankill and the UDA-dominated Lower Shankill. The UVF responded by blowing up the UDP headquarters on the Middle Shankill. Adair was returned to prison by the Secretary of State on 14 September, although the feud continued with four more killed before the end of the year.

Violence also spread to North Belfast, where members of the UVF’s Mount Vernon unit shot and killed a UDA member, David Greer, in the Tiger’s Bay area, sparking a series of killings in that part of the city. In another incident the County Londonderry town of Coleraine saw tumult in the form of an attempted expulsion of UVF members by UDA members, which was successfully resisted by the UVF.

But aside from these exceptions Adair’s attempt to ignite a full-scale war between the two organisations failed, as both the UVF and UDA leaderships moved decisively to contain the trouble within the Shankill area, where hundreds of families had been displaced, and focused on dealing with its source as well as its containment. To Adair’s indignation even the “A” and “B” Companies of his West Belfast Brigade of the UDA declined to get involved in C Company’s war with the UVF.

Eventually a ceasefire was reluctantly agreed upon by the majority of those involved in the feuding after new procedures were established with the aim of preventing the escalation of any future problems between the two organisations, and after consideration was paid to the advice of Gary McMichael and David Ervine, the then leaders of the two political wings of loyalism.

UVF-LVF feuds

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Loyalist Feud in Portadown, March 2000

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The nature of the LVF, which was founded by Billy Wright when he, along with the Portadown unit of the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade, was stood down by the UVF leadership on 2 August 1996 for breaking the ceasefire has led to frequent battles between the two movements. This had come about when Wright’s unit killed a Catholic taxi-driver during the Drumcree standoff.

Although Wright had been expelled from the UVF, threatened with execution and an order to leave Northern Ireland, which he defied, the feud was largely contained during his life and the two major eruptions came after his death.

1999-2001

Simmering tensions boiled over in a December 1999 incident involving LVF members and UVF Mid-Ulster brigadier Richard Jameson and his men at the Portadown F.C. social club in which the LVF supporters were severely beaten. The LVF members swore revenge and on 10 January 2000 they took it by shooting Jameson dead on the outskirts of Portadown.[14] The UVF retaliated by killing two Protestant teenagers suspected of LVF membership and involvement in Jameson’s death. As it turned out, the victims, Andrew Robb and David McIlwaine, were not part of any loyalist paramilitary organisation.

The UDA’s Johnny Adair supported the LVF and used the feud to stoke up the troubles that eventually flared in his feud with the UVF later that year. Meanwhile the UVF attempted to kill the hitman responsible for Jameson, unsuccessfully, before the LVF struck again on 26 May, killing PUP man Martin Taylor in Ballysillan. The LVF then linked up with Johnny Adair’s C Company for a time as their feud with the UVF took centre stage.

However the UVF saw fit to continue the battle in 2001, using its satellite group the Red Hand Commando to kill two of the LVF’s leading figures, Adrian Porter and Stephen Warnock. Adair however convinced the LVF that the latter killing was the work of one of his rivals in the UDA, Jim Gray, who the LVF then unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate.

See: Jim Gray – aka Doris Day

2005

In July 2005 the feud came to a conclusion as the UVF made a final move against its rival organisation. The resulting activity led to the deaths of at least four people, all associated with the LVF. As a result of these attacks on 30 October 2005 the LVF announced that its units had been ordered to cease their activity and that it was disbanding. In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported that this feud had come to an end.

UDA internal feuds

The UDA, the largest of the loyalist paramilitary groups, has seen a number of internal struggles within its history.

Gangsters At War – Loyalist Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland

1972-1974

From its beginnings the UDA was wracked by internal problems and in 1972, the movement’s first full year of existence, three members, Ingram Beckett, John Brown and Ernest Elliott were killed by other UDA members. The main problems were between East Belfast chief Tommy Herron and Charles Harding Smith, his rival in the west of the city, over who controlled the movement. Although they had agreed to make compromise candidate Andy Tyrie the leader, each man considered himself the true leader. Herron was killed in September 1973 in an attack that remains unsolved.

Andy Tyrie

However with confirmed in overall control of the UDA Harding Smith initially remained silent until in 1974 he declared that the West Belfast brigade of the movement was splitting from the mainstream UDA on the pretext of a visit to Libya organised by Tyrie in a failed attempt to procure arms from Colonel Qadaffi. The trip had been roundly criticised by the Unionist establishment and raised cries that the UDA was adopting socialism, and so Harding Smith used it re-ignite his attempts to take charge.

Harding Smith survived two separate shootings but crucially lost the support of other leading Shankill Road UDA figures and eventually left Belfast after being visited by North Belfast Brigadier Davy Payne, who warned him that he would not survive a third attack.

1987-1989

South Belfast Brigadier John McMichael was killed by the Provisional IRA in December 1987 but it was later admitted that UDA member James Pratt Craig, a rival of McMichael’s within the movement, had played a role in planning the murder. A new generation of leaders emerged at this time and decided that the woes facing the UDA, including a lack of arms and perceived poor leadership by ageing brigadiers, were being caused by the continuing leadership of Andy Tyrie.

Tyrie was forced to resign in March 1988 and the new men, most of whom had been trained up by McMichael, turned on some of the veterans whom Tyrie had protected. Craig was killed, Tommy Lyttle was declared persona non grata and various brigadiers were removed from office, with the likes of Jackie McDonald, Joe English and Jim Gray taking their places.

2002-2003

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JOHN GREGG UDA- LEADERS FUNERAL

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A second internal feud arose in 2002 when Johnny Adair and former politician John White were expelled from the UDA. Many members of the 2nd Battalion Shankill Road West Belfast Brigade, commonly known as ‘C’ Company, stood by Adair and White, while the rest of the organisation were involved with attacks on these groups and vice versa. There were four murders; the first victim being a nephew of a leading loyalist opposed to Adair, Jonathon Stewart, killed at a party on 26 December 2002.

Roy Green was killed in retaliation. The last victims were John ‘Grug’ Gregg (noted for a failed attempt on the life of Gerry Adams) and Robert Carson, another Loyalist. Adair’s time as leader came to an end on 6 February 2003 when south Belfast brigadier Jackie McDonald led a force of around 100 men onto the Shankill to oust Adair, who promptly fled to England. Adair’s former ally Mo Courtney, who had returned to the mainstream UDA immediately before the attack, was appointed the new West Belfast brigadier, ending the feud.

UVF internal feuds

The feud between the UVF and the LVF began as an internal feud but quickly changed when Billy Wright established the LVF as a separate organisation. Beyond this the UVF has largely avoided violent internal strife, with only two killings that can be described as being part of an internal feud taking place on Belfast’s Shankill Road in late November 1975, with Archibald Waller and Noel Shaw being the two men killed. Several months prior to these killings, Mid-Ulster Brigadier Billy Hanna was shot dead outside his Lurgan home on 27 July 1975, allegedly by his successor, Robin Jackson. This killing, however, was not part of a feud but instead carried out as a form of internal discipline from within the Mid-Ulster Brigade.

See : Robin Jackson

See also

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29 Innocent People Slaughtered – Omagh Bombing – 15th August 1998 . Never Forgotten

15 August 2015

NEVER FORGOTTON

Today is the 17th university of the Omagh Bombing when 29  INNOCENT people , including women, children and  visitors from other countries were slaughtered by Republican Terrorists on the streets of Omagh.

This was among the  worse attacks on Civilians throughout the Troubles and the images of that day are embedded ( along with the Shankill Bomb ) in my soul.

I grew up on the Shankill Road and surrendering areas during the worst years of the troubles and I can assure you I have seen my fair share of  misery and bloodbaths ,  as the Republicans dragged Northern  Ireland to hell and back in their quest for a United Ireland. I’ve  lost count of how many friends and family I have seen destroyed as a direct result of the conflict , either killed, imprisoned or emotionally crippled by the things they have seen and done.

But for some reason  The Omagh Bombing struck me hard and has a permanent place in my heart and soul.

Things have moved on and Northern Ireland is painfully, slowly crawling towards a better future.These things take time , but one day in the distant future, when we are all dust and wind , our children’s grandchildren  will wonder what-it-was–all-about and the names of dead and their brutal slaughter will fade into the dark  corridors of time .

But we will never forget

The Victims

Some of the Victims

Never Forgotten

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15 August 1998


 James Barker,   (12) nfNI
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
From County Donegal. Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998

Fernando Blasco  Bacelga,  (12) nfNI
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Spanish visitor. Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998

Geraldine Breslin,   (43)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998

Debra Ann Cartwright,  (20)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998

Gareth Conway,  (18)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998

Breda Devine,   (1)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998

Oran Doherty,   (8) nfNI
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
From County Donegal. Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Adrian Gallagher,  (21)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Esther Gibson,  (36)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given

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15 August 1998


Mary Grimes,  (65)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Olive Hawkes,  (60)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Julia Hughes,  (21)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given

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15 August 1998

Brenda Logue,  (17)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Anne McCombe,  (48)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Brian McCrory,  (54)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Samantha McFarland, (17)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Sean McGrath,  (61)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Injured in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given. He died 5 September 1998.

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15 August 1998


Sean McLaughlin,  (12) nfNI
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
From County Donegal. Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Jolene Marlow,  (17)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Avril Monaghan, (30)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Maura Monaghan, (1)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Alan Radford,  (16)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given

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15 August 1998


Rocia Abad Ramos,  (23) nfNI
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Spanish visitor. Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Elizabeth Rush,   (57)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Veda Short,  (56)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Philomena Skelton,  (39)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Fred White,  (60)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Bryan White,  (26)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given.

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15 August 1998


Lorraine Wilson , (15)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: real Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Killed in car bomb explosion, Market Street, Omagh, County Tyrone. Inadequate warning given

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Omagh Bombing – The IRA’s Deadliest Massacre of Civilians

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Omagh Bombing

Omagh bombing
Part of the Troubles
Omagh imminent.jpg

The red Vauxhall Cavalier containing the bomb. This photograph was taken shortly before the explosion; the camera was found afterwards in the rubble. The Spanish man and child seen in the photo both survived.[1]
Location Omagh, Northern Ireland
Coordinates 54°36′1.0116″N 7°17′55.9674″W / 54.600281000°N 7.298879833°W / 54.600281000; -7.298879833Coordinates: 54°36′1.0116″N 7°17′55.9674″W / 54.600281000°N 7.298879833°W / 54.600281000; -7.298879833
Date 15 August 1998
3.10 pm (BST)
Target Courthouse[2]
Attack type
Car bomb
Deaths 29 including 2 unborn[3][4][5]
Non-fatal injuries
About 220 initially reported,[6] later stories say over 300.[4][7][8]
Perpetrators Real IRA (RIRA)[4][5]

The Omagh Bombing 15 August 1998

The Omagh bombing (Irish: Buamáil an Ómaigh) was a car bombing that took place on 15 August 1998 in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.[6] It was carried out by the ‘Real IRA‘, an IRA splinter group who opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. The bombing killed 29 people and injured about 220 others.[3][4][5][9] This was the highest death toll from a single incident during the Troubles. Telephoned warnings had been sent about 40 minutes beforehand, but they were inaccurate and police had inadvertently moved people toward the bomb.

The bombing caused outrage both locally and internationally,[8][10] spurred on the Northern Ireland peace process,[3][4][11] and dealt a severe blow to the ‘dissident’ republican campaign. The Real IRA apologized and called a ceasefire shortly after.[11] The victims included people from many backgrounds: Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon teenager, five other teenagers, six children, a woman pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists,[12][13] and other tourists on a day trip from the Republic of Ireland.[7]

It has been alleged that the British, Irish and American intelligence agencies had information which could have prevented the bombing; most of which came from double agents inside the Real IRA.[14] This information was not given to the local police; the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).[14] In 2008 it was revealed that British intelligence agency GCHQ was monitoring conversations between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.[15]

A 2001 report by the Police Ombudsman said that the RUC’s Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings and slammed the RUC’s investigation of the bombing.[16] The RUC has obtained circumstantial and coincidental evidence against some suspects, but it has not come up with anything to convict anyone of the bombing.[17] Colm Murphy was tried, convicted, and then released after it was revealed that the Gardaí forged interview notes used in the case.[18] Murphy’s nephew Sean Hoey was also tried and found not guilty.[19] In June 2009, the victims’ families won a £1.6 million civil action against four defendants.[20] In April 2014, Seamus Daly was charged with the murders of those

Background

Negotiations to end the Troubles had failed in 1996 and there was a resumption of political violence. The peace process later resumed, and it reached a point of renewed tension in 1998, especially following the deaths of three Catholic children in Orange Order-related riots in mid-July.[22] Sinn Féin had accepted the Mitchell Principles, which involved commitment to non-violence, in September 1997 as part of the peace process negotiations.[23] Dissident members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), who saw this as a betrayal of the republican struggle for a united Ireland, left to form the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) in October 1997.[23][24]

The RIRA began its paramilitary campaign against the Agreement with an attempted car bombing in Banbridge, County Down on 7 January 1998, which involved a 300 pounds (140 kg) explosive that was defused by security forces.[24] Later that year, it mounted attacks in Moira, Portadown, Belleek, Newtownhamilton and Newry, as well as bombing Banbridge again on 1 August, which caused thirty-five injuries and no deaths.[24] The attack at Omagh took place 13 weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which had been intended to be a comprehensive solution to the Troubles and had broad support both in Ireland and internationally.[25][26]

Omagh had been targeted in 1973 twice:

  • 17 May 1973 – Arthur Place (29), Derek Reed (28), Sheridan Young (26), Barry Cox (28) and Frederick Drake (25), all off duty members of the British Army, were killed by a Provisional Irish Republican Army booby trap bomb while getting into a car, outside the Knock-na-Moe Castle Hotel, Omagh. Drake died on 3 June 1973.
  • 25 June 1973 – Sean Loughran (37), Patrick Carty (26) and Dermot Crowley (18), all Catholics and members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, were killed in a premature bomb explosion while travelling in a car, Gortin Road, near Omagh.

The attack

Preparation and warnings

Lower Market Street, site of the bombing, 2001. The courthouse is in the background

On 13 August, a maroon Vauxhall Cavalier was stolen from outside a block of flats in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland.[27] At that time it bore the County Donegal registration number of 91 DL 2554. The perpetrators replaced its Republic of Ireland number plates with false Northern Ireland plates and the car was loaded with a bomb.[13][27] On the day of the bombing, they drove the car across the Irish border and at about 14:19 parked the vehicle filled with 230 kilograms (510 lb) of fertiliser-based explosives outside S.D. Kells’ clothes shop in Omagh’s Lower Market Street, on the southern side near the crossroads with Dublin Road.[13] They could not find a parking space near the intended target, the Omagh courthouse.[28] The car (with its false registration number MDZ 5211) had arrived from an easterly direction. The two male occupants then armed the bomb and upon exiting the car, walked east down Market Street towards Campsie Road. Some Spanish tourists stopped beside the car, and were photographed. The photographer died in the bombing.

Three phone calls were made warning of a bomb in Omagh, using the same codeword that had been used in the Real IRA’s bomb attack in Banbridge two weeks earlier.[29] At 14:32, a warning was telephoned to Ulster Television saying, “There’s a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, main street, 500lb, explosion 30 minutes.”[29] One minute later, the office received a second warning saying, “Martha Pope (which was the RIRA’s code word), bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes”. The caller claimed the warning on behalf of “Óglaigh na hÉireann”.[29] The next minute, the Coleraine office of the Samaritans received a call stating that a bomb would go off on “main street” about 200 yards (180 m) from the courthouse.[29] The recipients passed on the information to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).[29]

The BBC News stated that police “were clearing an area near the local courthouse, 40 minutes after receiving a telephone warning, when the bomb detonated. But the warning was unclear and the wrong area was evacuated”.[9] The warnings mentioned “main street” when no street by that name existed in Omagh, although Market Street was the main shopping street in the town.[27] The nature of the warnings led the police to place a cordon across the junction of High Street and Market Street at Scarffes Entry. They then began to evacuate the buildings and move people down the hill from the top of High Street and the area around the courthouse to the bottom of Market Street where the bomb was placed.[4][9][27][29][30] The courthouse is roughly 400 metres (1,300 ft) from the spot where the car bomb was parked.[30][31]

Explosion

The scene in Market Street minutes after the bomb went off. Survivors are shown helping the injured

The car bomb detonated at about 15:10 BST in the crowded shopping area,[9] killing outright 21 people who had been in the vicinity of the vehicle. Eight more people would die on the way to or in hospital. The deceased victims included a pregnant woman, six children, and six teenagers, most of whom had died on the spot.[12] Those who were killed were James Barker (12), Seán McLaughlin (12) and Oran Doherty (8), from County Donegal, Fernando Blasco Baselga (12) and Rocío Abad Ramos (23) from Spain, Geraldine Breslin (43), Gareth Conway (18), Breda Devine (1), Aidan (or Aiden) Gallagher (21), Mary Grimes (65), Brenda Logue (17), Brian McCrory (54), Seán McGrath (61), Jolene Marlow (17), Avril Monaghan (30; pregnant with twins), Maura Monaghan (1), Elizabeth Rush (57), Philomena Skelton (39), all Catholics,; Deborah-Anne Cartwright (20), Esther Gibson (36), Olive Hawkes (60), Julia Hughes (21), Ann McCombe (48), Samantha McFarland (17), Alan Radford (16), Veda Short (56), Fred White (60), Bryan White (26), Lorraine Wilson (15), all Protestants, were killed. (Seán McGrath died from his injuries on 5 September 1998.) [12][32]

Injured survivor Marion Radford described hearing an “unearthly bang”, followed by “an eeriness, a darkness that had just come over the place”, then the screams as she saw “bits of bodies, limbs or something” on the ground while she searched for her 16-year-old son, Alan. She later discovered he had been killed only yards away from her, the two having become separated minutes before the blast.[27][33]

In a statement on the same day as the bombing, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan accused the RIRA of deliberately trying to direct civilians to the bombing site.[31] British government prosecutor Gordon Kerr QC called the warnings “not only wrong but… meaningless” and stated that the nature of the warnings made it inevitable that the evacuations would lead to the bomb site.[34] The RIRA strongly denied that it intended to target civilians.[29][35] It also stated that the warnings were not intended to lead people to the bombing site.[29] During the 2003 Special Criminal Court trial of RIRA director Michael McKevitt, witnesses for the prosecution stated that the inaccurate warnings were accidental.[28]

Aftermath

Tyrone County Hospital, where many of the bomb victims were taken.

The BBC News stated that those “who survived the car bomb blast in a busy shopping area of the town described scenes of utter carnage with the dead and dying strewn across the street and other victims screaming for help”.[9] The injured were initially taken to two local hospitals, the Tyrone County Hospital and the Erne Hospital.[30] A local leisure centre was set up as a casualty field centre, and Lisanelly Barracks, an army base served as an impromptu morgue.[30][31] The Conflict Archive on the Internet project has stated that rescue workers described the scene as “battlefield conditions”.[30] Tyrone County Hospital became overwhelmed, and appealed for local doctors to come in to help.[9][31]

Because of the stretched emergency services, people used buses, cars and helicopters to take the victims to other hospitals in Northern Ireland,[9][31] including the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.[30] A Tyrone County Hospital spokesman stated that they treated 108 casualties, 44 of whom had to be transferred to other hospitals.[31] Paul McCormick of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said that, “The injuries are horrific, from amputees, to severe head injuries to serious burns, and among them are women and children.”[9]

The day after the bombing, the relatives and friends of the dead and injured used Omagh Leisure Centre to post news.[30] The Spanish Ambassador to Ireland personally visited some of the injured[30] and churches across Northern Ireland called for a national day of mourning.[36] Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Robin Eames stated on BBC Radio that, “From the Church’s point of view, all I am concerned about are not political arguments, not political niceties. I am concerned about the torment of ordinary people who don’t deserve this.”[36]

Reactions

British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Omagh days after the bombing. This photograph shows Blair addressing a crowd in Armagh several weeks later.

The nature of the bombing created a strong international and local outcry against the RIRA and in favour of the Northern Ireland peace process.[3][4] British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the bombing an “appalling act of savagery and evil.”[8][9] Queen Elizabeth II expressed her sympathies to the victim’s families, while the Prince of Wales paid a visit to the town and spoke with the families of some of the victims.[9][37] The Pope and US President Bill Clinton, who shortly afterwards visited Omagh with his wife Hillary, also expressed their sympathies.[30] Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume called the perpetrators of the bombing “undiluted fascists”.[38]

Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness said that, “This appalling act was carried out by those opposed to the peace process”.[9] Party president Gerry Adams said that, “I am totally horrified by this action. I condemn it without any equivocation whatsoever.”[10] McGuinness mentioned the fact that both Catholics and Protestants alike were injured and killed, saying, “All of them were suffering together. I think all them were asking the question ‘Why?’, because so many of them had great expectations, great hopes for the future.”[10] Sinn Féin as an organization initially refused to co-operate with the investigation into the attack, citing the involvement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.[39] On 17 May 2007, Martin McGuinness stated that Irish Republicans would co-operate with an independent, international investigation if one is created.[40]

On 22 August 1998, the Irish National Liberation Army called a ceasefire in its operations against the British government.[30][41][42] The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism has accused the republican paramilitary organisation of providing supplies for the bombing.[42] The INLA continued to observe the ceasefire although it remains opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. It recently began decommissioning its arms.[42] The RIRA also suspended operations for a short time after the Omagh bombing before returning to violence.[30] The RIRA came under pressure from the Provisional Irish Republican Army after the bombing; PIRA members visited the homes of 60 people connected with the RIRA and ordered them to disband and stop interfering with PIRA arms dumps.[24] The BBC News stated that, “Like the other bombings in the early part of 1998 in places like Lisburn and Banbridge, Omagh was a conscious attempt by republicans who disagreed with the political strategy of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, to destabilise Northern Ireland in that vulnerable moment of hope. It failed—but there is a terrible irony to the way in which the campaign was halted only by the wave of revulsion triggered by the carnage at Omagh.”[3]

Responsibility

Allegations

No group claimed responsibility on the day of the attack, but the RUC suspected the RIRA.[9][31] The RIRA had carried out a car bombing in Banbridge, County Down, two weeks before the Omagh bombing.[31] Three days after the attack, the RIRA claimed responsibility and apologised for the attack.[11][35] On 7 February 2008, a RIRA spokesman stated that, “The IRA had minimal involvement in Omagh. Our code word was used; nothing more. To have stated this at the time would have been lost in an understandable wave of emotion” and “Omagh was an absolute tragedy. Any loss of civilian life is regrettable.”[43]

On 9 October 2000, the BBC’s Panorama programme aired the special Who Bombed Omagh? hosted by journalist John Ware.[27] The programme quoted RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan as saying, “sadly up to this point we haven’t been able to charge anyone with this terrible atrocity”.[27] The programme alleged that the police on both sides of the Irish border knew the identity of the bombers.[27] It stated that, “As the bomb car and the scout car headed for the border, the police believe they communicated by mobile phone. This is based on an analysis of calls made in the hours before, during and after the bombing. This analysis may prove to be the key to the Omagh bomb investigation.”[27] Using the phone records, the programme gave the names of the four prime suspects as Oliver Traynor, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.[27] The police had leaked the information to the BBC since it was too circumstantial and coincidental to be used in court.[17]

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson praised the Panorama programme, calling it “a very powerful and very professional piece of work”.[44] Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern criticised it, saying that “bandying around names on television” could hinder attempts to secure convictions.[44] First Minister David Trimble stated that he had “very grave doubts” about it.[44] Lawrence Rush, whose wife Elizabeth died in the bombing, tried legally to block the programme from being broadcast, saying, “This is media justice, we can’t allow this to happen”.[45] Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Oliver Gibson, whose niece Esther died in the bombing, stated that the government did not have the will to pursue those responsible and welcomed the programme.[45]

The police believe that the bombing of BBC Television Centre in London on 4 March 2001 was a revenge attack for the broadcast.[46] On 9 April 2003, the five RIRA members behind the BBC office’s bombing were convicted and sentenced for between 16 and 22 years.[47]

Prosecutions and court cases

On 22 September 1998, the RUC and Gardaí arrested twelve men in connection with the bombing.[40] They subsequently released all of them without charge.[40] On 25 February 1999, they questioned and arrested at least seven suspects.[40] Builder and publican Colm Murphy, from Ravensdale, County Louth, was charged three days later for conspiracy and was convicted on 23 January 2002 by the Republic’s Special Criminal Court.[40] He was sentenced to fourteen years.[18] In January 2005, Murphy’s conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered by the Court of Criminal Appeal, on the grounds that two Gardaí had falsified interview notes, and that Murphy’s previous convictions were improperly taken into account by the trial judges.[18]

On 28 October 2000, the families of four children killed in the bombing – James Barker, 12, Samantha McFarland, 17, Lorraine Wilson, 15, and 20-month-old Breda Devine – launched a civil action against the suspects named by the Panorama programme.[40] On 15 March 2001, the families of all twenty-nine people killed in the bombing launched a £2-million civil action against RIRA suspects Seamus McKenna, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.[40] Former Northern Ireland secretaries Peter Mandelson, Tom King, Peter Brooke, Lord Hurd, Lord Prior, and Lord Merlyn-Rees signed up in support of the plaintiffs’ legal fund.[40] The civil action began in Northern Ireland on 7 April 2008.[48]

On 6 September 2006, Murphy’s nephew Sean Hoey, an electrician from Jonesborough, County Armagh, went on trial accused of 29 counts of murder, and terrorism and explosives charges.[49] Upon its completion, Hoey’s trial found on 20 December 2007 that he was not guilty of all 56 charges against him.[50]

On 24 January 2008, former Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan apologised to the victims’ families for the lack of convictions in relation to the Omagh bombing.[51] This apology was rejected by some of the victims’ families.[51] After the Hoey verdict, BBC News reporter Kevin Connolly stated that, “The Omagh families were dignified in defeat, as they have been dignified at every stage of their fight for justice. Their campaigning will go on, but the prospect is surely receding now that anyone will ever be convicted of murdering their husbands and brothers and sisters and wives and children.”[3] Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde stated that he believed there would be no further prosecutions.[19]

On 8 June 2009, the civil case taken by victims’ relatives concluded, with Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly being found to have been responsible for the bombing.[20] Seamus McKenna was cleared of involvement.[20] The others were held liable for £1.6 million of damages. It was described as a “landmark” damages award internationally.[52] Murphy and Daly appealed and were granted a retrial, but this second trial also found them responsible for the bombing, with the judge describing the evidence as overwhelming.[53]

On 10 April 2014 Daly was charged with murdering the 29 victims of the Omagh bombing and with other offences.[54] Daly lived in Cullaville, County Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland and was arrested in Newry by police after he crossed the Border into Northern Ireland.[55]

Independent bombing investigation

On 7 February 2008, the Northern Ireland Policing Board decided to appoint a panel of independent experts to review the police’s investigation of the bombing. Some of the relatives of the bombing victims criticised the decision, saying that an international public inquiry covering both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland should be established instead. The review is to determine whether enough evidence exists for further prosecutions. It is also to investigate the possible perjury of two police witnesses made during Sean Hoey’s trial.[56] Sinn Féin Policing Board member Alex Maskey stated that, “Sinn Féin fully supports the families’ right to call for a full cross-border independent inquiry while the Policing Board has its clear and legal obligation to scrutinise the police handling of the investigations.” He also stated that, “We recognise that the board has a major responsibility in carrying out our duty in holding the PSNI to account in the interests of justice for the Omagh families”.[57]

Allegations against the security forces

It has been alleged that the British, Irish and American intelligence agencies had information which could have prevented the bombing. This information was not given to the local police; the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The RUC’s investigation into the bombing has also been widely criticized.

Police Ombudsman report

Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan published a report on 12 December 2001 that strongly criticised the RUC over its handling of the bombing investigation.[16][58][59] Her report stated that RUC officers had ignored the previous warnings about a bomb and had failed to act on crucial intelligence.[31][58][59] She went on to say that officers had been uncooperative and defensive during her inquiry.[59] The report concluded that, “The victims, their families, the people of Omagh and officers of the RUC were let down by defective leadership, poor judgement and a lack of urgency.”[16] It recommended the setting up of a new investigation team independent of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which had since replaced the RUC, led by a senior officer from an outside police force.[16]

Initially, the Police Association, which represents both senior officers and rank and file members of the Northern Ireland police, went to court to try to block the release of the O’Loan report.[31][59] The Association stated that, “The ombudsman’s report and associated decisions constitute a misuse of her statutory powers, responsibilities and functions.”[59] The group later dropped its efforts.[31][60] RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan called the report “grossly unfair” and “an erroneous conclusion reached in advance and then a desperate attempt to find anything that might happen to fit in with that.”[16] Other senior police officers also disputed the report’s findings.[58][59] Flanagan issued a 190 page counter-report in response, and has also stated that he has considered taking legal action.[16][61] He argued that the multiple warnings were given by the RIRA to cause confusion and lead to a greater loss of life.[31][62] Assistant Chief Constables Alan McQuillan and Sam Kincaid sent affidavits giving information that supported the report.[59]

The families of the victims expressed varying reactions to the report.[63] Kevin Skelton, whose wife died in the attack, said that, “After the bomb at Omagh, we were told by Tony Blair and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, that no stone would be left unturned … It seems to me that a lot of stones have been left unturned,” but then expressed doubt that the bombing could have been prevented.[63] Lawrence Rush, whose wife also died in the attack, said that, “There’s no reason why Omagh should have happened – the police have been in dereliction of their duty.”[63] Other Omagh residents said that the police did all that they could.[63] The Belfast Telegraph called the report a “watershed in police accountability” and stated that it “broke the taboo around official criticism of police in Northern Ireland”.[58] Upon leaving office on 5 November 2007, Nuala O’Loan stated that the report was not a personal battle between herself and Sir Ronnie, and did not lead to one.[58] She also stated that the “recommendations which we made were complied with”.[58]

Advance warning allegations

Throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland, the security forces used double agents to infiltrate the paramilitary groups. In 1998 the British, Irish and American intelligence agencies had agents connected to the Real IRA.

In 2001, a double agent known as Kevin Fulton claimed he told his MI5 handlers three days before the bombing that the RIRA was about to bring a “huge bomb” across the border.[64] Fulton claims he also told them who he believed was making it and where it was being made.[64] He said that MI5 did not pass his information over to the police.[64][65][66] RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan called the allegations “preposterous” and said the information Fulton gave his handlers was full of “distortions and inaccuracies”.[64] However, Flanagan admitted that some of Fulton’s information was not passed to RUC Special Branch, due to “an administrative error”.[64] In September 2001, British security forces informer Willie Carlin said the Ombudsman had obtained evidence confirming Fulton’s allegations.[65] A spokesman for the Ombudsman neither confirmed nor denied Carlin’s assertion when asked.[65]

David Rupert, an American citizen, was jointly run as an agent by MI5 and the FBI. He worked as a fundraiser for the RIRA. On 11 August 1998, four days before the bombing, Rupert informed his MI5 handlers that the RIRA was planning a car bomb attack in Omagh or Derry. It is not known whether this information was passed to the RUC Special Branch.[67]

The Republic of Ireland’s police force, the Gardaí, also had an agent close to the RIRA at the time. The agent, Paddy Dixon, stole cars for the RIRA, who used them to transport bombs.[64] Days before the bombing, the RIRA had Dixon steal the maroon Vauxhall Cavalier it would use in the attack.[64] Dixon immediately told his handler; Detective Sergeant John White. On 12 August, White passed this on to his superior; Detective Chief Superintendent Dermot Jennings.[64] According to White, Jennings told him that they would let the bomb go through, mainly so that the RIRA would not become suspicious of Dixon.[64] Dixon fled the Republic of Ireland in January 2002. The following year, a transcript of a conversation between Dixon and White was released. In it, Dixon confirms that Gardaí let the bomb go through and says that “Omagh is going to blow up in their faces”.[68] In February 2004, PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde called for the Republic of Ireland to hand over Dixon.[31] In March 2006, Chief Constable Orde stated that “security services did not withhold intelligence that was relevant or would have progressed the Omagh inquiry”.[69] He also stated that the dissident republican militants investigated by MI5 were members of a different cell than the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing.[69]

A 2013 independent report concluded that the British, Irish and American intelligence agencies “starved” police in Omagh of intelligence that could have prevented the bombing. The report was commissioned by the victims’ families and produced by Rights Watch (UK).[70]

GCHQ monitoring

A BBC Panorama documentary, named “Omagh: What the police were never told”, was aired in September 2008. It revealed that the British intelligence agency GCHQ was monitoring mobile phone calls between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.[71] Ray White, former Assistant Chief of RUC Special Branch, said GCHQ had been monitoring mobile phones at their request. He said he believed GCHQ were listening to the phonecalls ‘live’, rather than merely recording them for later.[71] Panorama’s John Ware also claimed that a listening device had been hidden in the car and that GCHQ had recordings of what was said.[71] None of this information was given to the RUC in Omagh at the time.[71] Transcripts of the phone calls were later handed over to RUC Special Branch.[9]

Victims’ support group

The families of the victims of the bomb created the Omagh Support and Self Help Group after the bombing.[72] The organisation is led by Michael Gallagher, who lost his 21-year-old son Aidan in the attack.[73] Its web site provides over 5000 newspaper articles, video recordings, audio recordings, and other information sources relating to the events leading up to and following the bombing as well as information about other terrorist attacks.[74] The group’s five core objectives are “relief of poverty, sickness, disability of victims”, “advancement of education and protection”, “raising awareness of needs and experiences of victims, and the effects of terrorism”, “welfare rights advice and information”, and “improving conditions of life for victims”.[72] The group also provides support to victims of other bombings in Ireland, as well other terrorist bombings, such as the 2004 Madrid train bombings.[72] The group has protested outside meetings of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, an Irish republican political activist group opposed to the Good Friday Agreement that the families believe is part of the RIRA.[75]

In April 2000, the group argued that the attack breached Article 57 of the Geneva Convention and stated that they will pursue the alleged bombers using international law.[76] Michael Gallagher told BBC Radio Ulster that, “The republican movement refused to co-operate and those people hold the key to solving this mystery. Because they have difficulty in working with the RUC and Gardaí, we can’t get justice.”[76] In January 2002, Gallagher told BBC News that, “There is such a deeply-held sense of frustration and depression” and called the anti-terrorist legislation passed in the wake of the Omagh bombing “ineffective”.[77] He expressed support for the controversial Panorama programme, stating that it reminded “people that what happened in Omagh is still capable of happening in other towns”.[45] In February 2002, Prime Minister Tony Blair declined a written request by the group to meet with him at Downing Street.[78] Group members accused the Prime Minister of ignoring concerns about the police’s handling of the bombing investigation.[78] A Downing Street spokesman stated that, “The Prime Minister of course understands the relatives’ concerns, but [he] believes that a meeting with the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office is the right place to air their concerns at this stage.”[78]

The death of Michael Gallagher’s son along with his and other families’ experiences in the Omagh Support and Self Help Group formed the story of the television film Omagh, a Channel 4RTÉ co-production.[73] Film-maker Paul Greengrass stated that “the families of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group have been in the public eye throughout the last five years, pursuing a legal campaign, shortly to come before the courts, with far reaching implications for all of us and it feels the right moment for them to be heard, to bring their story to a wider audience so we can all understand the journey they have made.”[73] In promotion for the film, Channel 4 stated that the group had pursued “a patient, determined, indomitable campaign to bring those responsible for the bomb to justice, and to hold to account politicians and police on both sides of the border who promised so much in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity but who in the families’ eyes have delivered all too little.”[73]

Memorials

Media memorials

The bombing inspired the song “Paper Sun” by British hard rock band Def Leppard.[79]

Another song inspired by the bombings was “Peace on Earth” by rock group U2.[80] It includes the line, “They’re reading names out over the radio. All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know. Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann, and Breda.”[80] The five names mentioned are five of the victims from this attack.[80] Another line, “She never got to say goodbye, To see the colour in his eyes, now he’s in the dirt,” was about how James Barker, a victim, was remembered by his mother Donna Maria Barker in an article in the Irish Times after the bombing in Omagh.[80] The Edge has described the song as “the most bitter song U2 has ever written”.[81] The names of all 29 people killed during the bombing were recited at the conclusion of the group’s anti-violence anthem “Sunday Bloody Sunday” during the Elevation Tour; one performance is captured on the concert video U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, Ireland.[82]

Omagh memorial

Omagh Memorial at the bomb site

In late 1999, Omagh District Council established the Omagh Memorial Working Group to devise a permanent memorial to the bombing victims.[7] Its members come from both public and private sectors alongside representatives from the Omagh Churches Forum and members of the victims’ families.[7] The chief executive of the Omagh Council, John McKinney, stated in March 2000 that, “we are working towards a memorial. It is a very sensitive issue.”[83] In April 2007, the Council announced the launch of a public art design competition by the Omagh Memorial Working Group.[7] The group’s goal was to create a permanent memorial in time for the tenth anniversary of the bombing on 15 August 2008.[7][84] It has a total budget of £240,000.[7]

Since space for a monument on Market Street itself is limited, the final memorial was to be split between the actual bombing site and the temporary Memorial Garden about 300 metres away.[85] Artist Sean Hillen and architect Desmond Fitzgerald won the contest with a design that, in the words of the Irish Times, “centres on that most primal yet mobile of elements: light.”[85] A heliostatic mirror was to be placed in the memorial park tracking the sun in order to project a constant beam of sunlight onto 31 small mirrors, each etched with the name of a victim.[84][85] All the mirrors were then to bounce the light on to a heart-shaped crystal within an obelisk pillar that stands at the bomb site.[84][85]

In September 2007, the Omagh Council’s proposed wording on a memorial plaque — “dissident republican car bomb” — brought it into conflict with several of the victims’ families.[84] Michael Gallagher has stated that “there can be no ambiguity over what happened on 15 August 1998, and no dancing around words can distract from the truth.”[84] The Council appointed an independent mediator in an attempt to reach an agreement with those families.[84] Construction started on the memorial on 27 July 2008.[86]

On 15 August 2008, a memorial service was held in Omagh.[87] Senior government representatives from the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the Stormont Assembly were present, along with relatives of many of the victims.[87] A number of bereaved families, however, boycotted the service and held their own service the following Sunday.[87] They argued that the Sinn Féin-dominated Omagh council would not acknowledge that republicans were responsible for the bombing.[87]

See also

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The Shankill – A Community Scarred By IRA Terrorism – Where my Soul was Forged!

The Shankill

A Community Scarred

By

IRA Terrorism

Shankill Road

Image result for the shankill

 

Shankill history mural

 

 

The Shankill Road (from IrishSeanchill, meaning “old church”) is one of the main roads leading through west Belfast, Northern Ireland. It runs through the predominantly loyalistworking-class area known as the Shankill. The road stretches westwards for about 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from central Belfast and is lined, to an extent, by shops.

The residents live in the many streets which branch off the main road. Much of the area along the Shankill Road forms the five wards of Court district electoral area.

 

History

Ulster loyalist banner and graffiti on a side street building off the Lower Shankill, early 1970s

 

The first Shankill residents lived at the bottom of what is now known as Glencairn: a small settlement of ancient people inhabited a ring fort, built where the Ballygomartin and Forth rivers meet.

A settlement around the point at which the Shankill Road becomes the Woodvale Road, at the junction with Cambrai Street, was known as Shankill from the IrishSeanchill meaning ‘old church’. Believed to date back to 455 CE,

it was known as the “Church of St Patrick of the White Ford” and in time had six smaller churches, known as “alterages”, attached to it across the west bank of the River Lagan. The church was an important site of pilgrimage and it is likely that the ford of the River Farset, which later became the core of Belfast, was important because of its site on the pilgrimage route.

As a paved road the Shankill dates back to around the sixteenth century as at the time it was part of the main road to Antrim, a role now filled by the A6.

The lower sections of the Shankill Road were in former times the edge of Belfast with both Boundary Street on the lower Shankill and Townsend Street in the middle Shankill taking their names from the fact that at the time they were built they marked the approximate end of Belfast.

The area expanded greatly in the mid to late 19th century with the growth of the linen industry. Many of the streets in the Shankill area, such as Leopold Street, Cambrai Street and Brussels Street, were named after places and people connected with Belgium or Flanders, where the flax from which the linen was woven was grown.

The linen industry, along with others that had previously been successful in the area, declined in the mid-20th century leading to high unemployment levels, which remain at the present time.

 

Image result for The Harland and Wolff

 

The Harland and Wolff shipyard, although on the other side of Belfast, was also a traditional employer for the area, and it too has seen its workforce numbers decline in recent years. The area was also a regular scene of rioting in the nineteenth century, often of a sectarian nature after Irish Catholic areas on the Falls Road and Ardoyne emerged along with the city’s prosperity.

One such riot occurred on 9 June 1886 following the defeat of the Government of Ireland Bill 1886 when a crowd of around 2,000 locals clashed with Royal Irish Constabulary police attempting to stop the mob from looting a liquor store. Local law enforcement officers had to barricade themselves in Bower’s Hill barracks where a long siege followed.

Bower’s Hill was a name applied to the area of the road between Agnes Street and Crimea Street.  The West Belfast Division of the original Ulster Volunteer Force organised on the Shankill and drilled in Glencairn and many of its members saw service in the First World War with the 36th (Ulster) Division.

A garden of remembrance beside the graveyard and a mural on Conway Street commemorate those who fought in the war. Recruitment was also high during the Second World War and that conflict saw damage occur to the Shankill Road as part of the Belfast Blitz when a Luftwaffe bomb hit a shelter on Percy Street, killing many people. The site of the destruction was visited by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester soon after the attack.

The Troubles

UVF mural in the Shankill

 

During the Troubles, the Shankill was a centre for loyalist paramilitarism. The modern Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had its genesis on the Shankill and its first attack occurred on the road on 7 May 1966 when a group of UVF men led by Gusty Spencepetrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub. Fire also engulfed the house next door, killing the elderly Protestant widow, Matilda Gould (77), who lived there.

This was followed on 27 May by the murder of John Scullion (28), a Catholic, as he walked home from a pub.

On 26 June a Catholic civilian, Peter Ward (18), a native of the Republic of Ireland, was killed and two others wounded as they left a pub on the Shankill’s Malvern Street. Shortly after this attack, Spence and three others were arrested and later convicted.

The UVF would continue to be active on the Shankill throughout the Troubles, most notoriously with the Shankill Butchers led by Lenny Murphy, as well as the likes of William Marchant and Frankie Curry, the latter a member of the UVF’s Red Hand Commando.

UDA mural in the Shankill (removed June 2006)

 

Similarly the Ulster Defence Association, established in September 1971, also began on the Shankill when vigilante groups such John McKeague‘s Shankill Defence Association and the Woodvale Defence Association merged into a larger structure.Under the leadership of initially Charles Harding Smith and later Andy Tyrie the Shankill Road became the centre of UDA activity with the movement establishing its headquarters on the road and leading members such as James Craig, Davy Payne and Tommy Lyttle making their homes in the area.

The Shankill was covered by the West Belfast Battalion of the UDA which was divided into three companies A (Glencairn and Highfield), B (middle Shankill) and C (lower Shankill). During the 1990s C Company under Johnny Adair became one of the most active units in the UDA with gunmen such as Stephen McKeag responsible for several murders.

C Company would later feud with both the UVF and the rest of the UDA until 2003 when they were forced out. Following the exile of Adair and his supporters, as well as the murder of some such as Alan McCullough, the lower Shankill UDA was once again brought into line with the rest of the movement under former Adair supporter Mo Courtney.

Scene of the Shankill Road bombing, as of 2011

 

 

The Greater Shankill and its residents were also subjected to a number of bombings and shootings by Irish republican paramilitary forces. During 1971 two pub bombings took place on the Shankill, one in May at the Mountainview Tavern at which several people were injured and a second at the Four Step Inn in September which resulted in two deaths.[21] A further bomb exploded at the Balmoral Furnishing Company on 11 December that same year, resulting in four deaths, including two infants.

Another pub attack followed on 13 August 1975 when the IRA opened fire on patrons outside the Bayardo Bar and then left a bomb inside the crowded bar area, killing four civilians and one UVF member. Brendan McFarlane was given a life sentence for his part in the attack.

The Shankill Road bombing occurred on 23 October 1993. A bomb exploded in Frizzells Fish Shop, below the UDA’s Shankill heaquarters. The bomb exploded prematurely as it was being planted. Nine people were killed in addition to one of the bombers, Thomas Begley. None of the loyalist paramilitaries targeted were hurt, as they had postponed a planned meeting. Begley’s accomplice, Sean Kelly, survived and was imprisoned.

Areas of the Shankill Road

Lower Shankill

Jackie Coulter, a member of C Company of the UDA, commemorated on a mural on Hopewell Crescent

 

The Shankill Road begins at Peter’s Hill, a road that flows from North Street in Belfast city centre and quickly merges into the Shankill itself at the Westlink. Peter’s Hill is adjacent to the Unity Flats/Carrick Hill, a small nationalist area to the north of the city centre. The area of housing on the lower Shankill around Agnes Street was known colloquially as :

“The Hammer”, one of a number of nicknames applied to districts that included “the Nick”.

The Hammer name is recalled in the Hammer Sports Complex, the home ground of amateur football side Shankill United F.C. The Lower Shankill has been redeveloped in recent years although during the 1960s the housing was ranked as the worst in Belfast. A Lower Shankill Community Association is active in the area whilst the Shankill Leisure Centre is also located here.

The Shankill Women’ s Centre, a women’s educational initiative established by May Blood (now Baroness Blood) in 1987, is also located on the lower Shankill.George McWhirter, a writer and first Poet Laureate of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, also came from the area originally.

The “Diamond Jubilee Bar”, a popular UDA haunt

 

Several streets link the Shankill Road to the neighbouring Crumlin Road with the area around North Boundary Street formerly the stronghold of Johnny Adair’s C Company. Several members of C Company who have died are commemorated on murals around the area, notably Stephen McKeag, William “Bucky” McCullough, who was killed by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1981 as part of a series of tit for tat murders between that group and the UDA and Jackie Coulter, killed by the UVF during a loyalist feud in 2000.

The Shankill theoretically links to the neighbouring Falls Road at a few locations although most of these exits are blocked by peace lines. The entrance at Northumberland Street is sometimes open although it has lockable gates at the midpoint. The Lower Shankill is home to many loyalist pubs, the most notable being the “Malvern Arms”, associated with the UVF, and the “Diamond Jubilee” – a UDA haunt which became notorious as the main meeting place of “C Company” during the early 1990s.

The “Long Bar” and the “Windsor Bar”, both frequented by the UVF in the 1970s, have since vanished. According to investigative journalist Martin Dillon, the latter was used a centre of operations for a UVF platoon led by Anthony “Chuck” Berry.

Middle and upper Shankill

Grave of W.A. Sterling, amongst the youngest people killed on active service during the First World War

 

Although there is no precise dividing line between the Lower, Middle and Upper Shankill locally it is usually said that the lower Shankill ends at Agnes Street. The area was redeveloped some time before the lower Shankill leading to feelings locally that those in the upper part of the road were better off compared to the “Apaches” of the lower Shankill as they were colloquially known.

A number of Protestant churches are situated in this area including the West Kirk Presbyterian Church, the Shankill Methodist church and the independent Church of God.

The West Belfast Orange Hall is located near the top of the Road. This building, which houses the No. 9 District Orange Lodge, has been revamped by Belfast City Council.[36] The same is true of the nearby Shankill Cemetery, a small graveyard that has received burials for around 1000 years. The graveyard is noted for a statue of Queen Victoria as well as the adjacent memorial to the members of the 36th Ulster Division who died at the Battle of the Somme.

Amongst those buried in the graveyard is Rev Isaac Nelson, a Presbyterian minister who was also active in nationalist politics. Nelson lived at Sugarfield House on the Shankill, which has since given its name to Sugarfield Street.

Also buried here is 2nd Private W.A. Sterling, killed in action with the Royal Air Force on 5 November 1918 at the age of 14.

The “Lawnbrook Social Club” in Centurion Street, one of the drinking dens used by Lenny Murphy and the Shankill Butchers

 

The area includes Lanark Way, one of the few direct links to the neighbouring nationalist areas, which leads directly to the Springfield Road (although the street is gated close to the Springfield Road end and these are locked at night). A regular route for UDA gunmen seeking access to the Falls during the Troubles, it was dubbed the “Yellow Brick Road” by Stephen McKeag and his men.

A number of pubs frequented by UVF members were located in the area. These included the “Berlin Arms” at the Shankill and Berlin Street junction, and the “Bayardo”, which was situated on the corner of Shankill and Aberdeen Street. The pub was close to “The Eagle” where the UVF “Brigade Staff” had their headquarters in rooms above a chip shop bearing the same name at the Shankill and Spiers Place junction. The “Brown Bear” pub which loyalist Lenny Murphy used as his headquarters to direct his notorious murder gang – the Shankill Butchers – was located on the corner of the Upper Shankill and Mountjoy Street.

The pub, which went out of business, has since been demolished. Another drinking den in the area used by Murphy and his gang was the “Lawnbrook Social Club” in Centurion Street. The “Rex Bar” on the middle Shankill is one of the oldest pubs on the Shankill Road and frequented by members of the UVF. This bar was attacked by members of the UDA’s C Company in 2000 to launch a loyalist feud between the two groups.

Greater Shankill

Mural depicting James Buchanan on Ainsworth Street

 

The terms Greater Shankill is used by a number of groups active in the area, most notably the Greater Shankill Partnership, to refer to both the Shankill Road and the unionist/loyalist areas that surround it. The main areas identified within this area are Woodvale, Glencairn and Highfield. The Greater Shankill as a whole has a population of around 22,000.

Woodvale

Image result for woodvale belfast

Woodvale Park

The Woodvale area begins after Ainsworth Avenue when the road changes from Shankill Road to Woodvale Road. As well as extensive housing the Woodvale area also contains the Woodvale Presbyterian Church, a building on the corner of the Woodvale and Ballygomartin Roads that dates back to 1899.

The area takes its name from Woodvale Park, a public gardens and sports area that was opened in 1888. Also found locally is St. Matthew’s Church of Ireland, which was rebuilt in 1872, taking its name from the original church which had sat in the grounds of the graveyard. The architecture of this church is called trefoil, which means it is built in the shape of a shamrock. The shamrock is the national emblem of Ireland and was supposedly used by St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland to explain the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

There is a book about the church which says that St. Matthew’s is actually a copy of a church in Salonika, as the rounded “leaves” do not have the indentations of the leaves of the shamrock. The water in the stone outside the front door was thought to cure warts and, certainly up to the 1990s, was considered to cure colic if a new, open, safety pin was thrown in.

The oldest stone in the Shankill graveyard was known locally as the “Bullaun Stone” and was traditionally said to cure warts if the effected area was rubbed on the stone. It was removed to the grounds of St Matthews in 1911.

Glencairn

Ballygomartin Road, as viewed from Springmartin Road, showing its largely rural nature

Glencairn is an area based around the Ballygomartin Road, which runs off the Woodvale Road, as well the Forthriver Road. It is bordered by the Crumlin Road. As well as a large housing estate the area also includes Glencairn Park, a large woodland area at the bottom of Divis Mountain. Previously the estate of the Cunningham family the area was open to the public in 1962.

The park features Fernhill House, the ancestral family home, which was not only used by Edward Carson to drill his Ulster Volunteers but was also the setting for the announcement of the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) ceasefire on 13 October 1994.

It subsequently became a museum but closed down in late 2010-early 2011. A further area of housing, known as the Lyndhurst area after a number of local streets, lies to the west of Glencairn Park (with the Glencairn estate to the east of the woodland area). The Lyndhurst area hit the headlines in 2003 when two leading loyalists, Jim Spence of the UDA and Jackie Mahood of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, were reported as brawling in the streets of the Lyndhurst area where they both lived.

The Ballygomartin Road extends as far as the nationalist Upper Whiterock Road although after Springmartin the area is mainly countryside. The estate was the scene of the killings of two prominent loyalists. In 1982 Lenny Murphy was shot and killed by the Provisional IRA close to his girlfriend’s house on the estate.

In 2001 William Stobie was killed by members of the UDA, a group to which Stobie had formerly belonged, after intimating that he would testify at a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. Stobie’s killing, which occurred near his home on Forthriver Road, was publicly claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by various loyalist groups on ceasefire.

Highfield

The Springmartin barrier, with New Barnsley police station at one end

 

Highfield is a housing estate situated around the West Circular and Springmartin Roads, both of which run off the Ballygomartin Road. Highfield comes close to the nationalist Springfield Road and there is limited access between the two areas through West Circular and Springmartin. Due to its location parts of the area are sometimes known as the Springmartin estate.

Highfield is seen as an enclave and has been the scene of frequent sectarian tension. As a consequence the Springmartin Road is home to an 18-foot-high (5.5 m) peace line that runs for the length of the road from the junction with the Springfield Road until near that with the Ballygomartin Road.

In May 1972 the area was the scene of a two-day gun battle between republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the British Army, although a combination of the peace lines and demographic changes meant that such open conflict was not repeated later in the Troubles.

Politics

Democratic Unionist Party office, Woodvale Road

 

The Shankill has been traditionally unionist and loyalist, albeit with some strength also held by the labour movement. Belfast Shankill was established as a constituency of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1929 and existed until the body was abolished in 1973. During that time the seat was held by three men, Tommy Henderson (1929–1953), Henry Holmes (1953–1960) and Desmond Boal (1960–1973). Of these only Holmes belonged to the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party for the entirety of his career with Boal a sometime member who also designated as both independent Unionist and Democratic Unionist Party and Henderson always and independent who for a time was part of the Independent Unionist Association.

Henderson was a native of Dundee Street on the Shankill. A Belfast Shankill constituency also returned a member to the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1918–1922, with Labour UnionistSamuel McGuffin holding the seat. Further up the road there was also a Belfast Woodvale seat at Westminster and a seat of the same name at Stormont. Robert John Lynn of the Irish Unionist Alliance represented the seat at Westminster for the entirety of its existence (1918–1922).

The Stormont seat was held by John William Nixon (independent Unionist) from 1929 to 1950, Ulster Unionists Robert Harcourt (1950–1955) and Neville Martin (1955–1958), Billy Boyd of the Northern Ireland Labour Party until 1965 then finally John McQuade, who was variously Ulster Unionist, independent Unionist and Democratic Unionist until the seat was abolished in 1972. The Shankill is currently part of the Belfast West constituencies for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster. As a consequence the Shankill is represented by five Sinn Féin MLAs and one from the Social Democratic and Labour Party whilst from 1966, when the seat was lost by the last sitting unionist member Jim Kilfedder, it has also always had a nationalist or republican MP.

The abstentionist policy of Sinn Féin MP Gerry Adams, who was West Belfast’s MP until his resignation in 2011, led to an attempted legal challenge by local councillor Frank McCoubrey who argued that Shankill residents were being denied their right to representation.

The case was not a success. On Belfast City Council the Greater Shankill area is covered by the Court electoral area. At the 2011 election the five councillors elected were William Humphrey, Naomi Thompson and Brian Kingston of the Democratic Unionist Party, the independent Frank McCoubrey (who is a member of the Ulster Political Research Group) and the Progressive Unionist Party‘s Hugh Smyth.

Robert McCartney, who led his own UK Unionist Party and represented North Down at Westminster, is also originally from the Shankill.

Sport

Boxing mural, Hopewell Crescent

 

Wayne McCullough, a gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games and a world champion in the Bantamweight division and an olympic silver medalist at the 1992 Summer Olympics representing Ireland is a native of the Shankill. He is one of a number of boxers from the area to be featured on a mural on Gardiner Street celebrating the area’s strong heritage in boxing.

The image has since been moved to Hopewell Crescent. McCullough trained in the Albert Foundry boxing club, located in the Highfield estate where he grew up.

Other locals to make an impact in the sport have included Jimmy Warnock, a boxer from the 1930s who beat world champion Benny Lynch twice, and his brother Billy. Football is also a popular sport in the area with local teams including Shankill United, Albert Foundry, who play on the West Circular Road, Lower Shankill, who share the Hammer ground with United and Woodvale who won the Junior Cup in 2011.

All four clubs are members of the Northern Amateur Football League. The main club in the area however is Linfield with a Linfield superstore trading on the Shankill Road despite the club being based on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast.

A Linfield Supporters and Social Club is situated on Crimea Street. An Ulster Rangers club is also open on the road, with the Glasgow club widely supported amongst Northern Irish Protestants. Norman Whiteside, the ex Northern Ireland and Manchester United midfielder, lived on the Shankill. Whiteside also lends his name to the Norman Whiteside Sports Facility, a community sports area used by Woodvale F.C.

he facility is located on Sydney Street West between the Shankill and the neighbouring Crumlin Road. The Ballygomartin Road is also home to a cricket ground of the same name which in 2005 hosted a List-A match between Canada and Namibia in the 2005 ICC Trophy. The ground is the home of Woodvale Cricket Club, established in 1887.

Education

Secondary schools serving the Shankill area include the Belfast Boys’ Model School and Belfast Model School for Girls due to their location in the Ballysillan area of the neighbouring Crumlin Road. Pupils from the area also attend Hazelwood College or Malone College which are both integrated schools, as well as Victoria College and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution both of which are grammar schools. Prior to its closure, and before several changes of name, Cairnmartin Secondary School also served the greater Shankill area. Famous pupils include footballer Norman Whiteside[66] and boxer Wayne McCullough.

The school, by then known as Mount Gilbert Community College, closed permanently in 2007 after a fall in pupil numbers. Primary schools in the greater Shankill area included Forth River Primary School on the Ballygomartin Road. Established in 1841, the original building was cramped and inspection reports over the years commented on the high standard of teaching despite the inadequacy of the building.

During the 1980s and 1990s, closure and amalgamation were both suggested and vehemently opposed by everyone connected with the school. Ultimately a new £1.4m state-of-the-art school was announced as a replacement for the old building and this new school, which is on the adjacent Cairnmartin Road, was officially opened by Prince Andrew, Duke of York in 2005.

Others primary schools in the area include three on the Shankill Road itself in Glenwood Primary School, established in 1981, Edenbrooke Primary School on Tennent Street and Malvern Primary School as well as Black Mountain Primary School and Springhill Primary School on Springmartin Road.

Shankill Graveyard

About the cemetery

Shankill Graveyard is one of the oldest cemeteries in Belfast.

It has been used for burials for more than 1,000 years and, although they no longer take place in the graveyard, it remains an important historical site. One of the oldest legible stones belongs to George McAuley who died in 1685.

A memorial stone book is located in a special landscaped portion of the cemetery, which includes an area of grass where cremated remains can be scattered.

The site’s gates and railings are listed due to their historical significance.

Another feature is the sculpture of Queen Victoria by artist John Cassidy, which you can see from the main entrance. The statue was originally located at in Durham Street, before being moved to the cemetery in 2003. It was carved from Portland stone in 1897 to celebrate the queen’s diamond jubilee and shows her wearing a dress of Nottingham lace.

History

The earliest church on this site, dating back to around 1306, is believed to have been the White Church of the Chapels of the Ford.

Although the name ‘Shankill’ means ‘old church’ (from the Irish ‘séan chill’), the name did not come into common use until the 17th century.

During the 18th century, most burials were of local people but, during the 19th century, residents from the nearby linen settlements of Glenalina, Ligoniel, Oldpark and Springfield were also buried in the cemetery. During this time, the site changed from a rural community graveyard to a town cemetery.

Many paupers and victims of the plague and other diseases are also buried in Shankill Graveyard, in unmarked graves. In fact, the Black Death sparked such fear, the ground surrounding the victims’ graves was ordered to be closed over and never reopened, in case the disease was ‘released’.

In 1834, a watchtower was built by William Sayers and Israel Milliken so families could guard new graves for a small fee. The idea was to prevent bodysnatchers from stealing ‘fresh’ remains for use in medical research.

Shankill Graveyard was handed over to the public in 1958, after it had fallen into disrepair following the decision to no longer accept new burials. Belfast Corporation (now the council) cleared and renovated the site, turning it into a ‘rest garden’ for local residents to enjoy.

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The Legend of Margorie McCall ~ 1705

mar mccall headstone

Lived Once , Buried Twice

Shankhill Graveyard

 

Times were hard in the 1700s, and people made a penny wherever they could. Some trades were frowned upon, however, and rightly so. One such trade was that of the resurrectionist, also known as a grave robber or ‘sack-em up’. These unsavoury types provided cadavers to the many private medical schools throughout the UK, and at the start of the 18th Century business was booming. Probably the most famous of the practitioners of this particular trade were Burke and Hare, who found infamy almost 100 years later. Their notoriety wasn’t really due to their grave-robbing, but more to do with their fresh supply of corpses to order. They were both originally from Ireland, but they met in Edinburgh, from where they went on to supply students of anatomy with more than their quota of cadavers.

The resurrectionists weren’t unique to Edinburgh. In Ireland, surgeons were prepared to pay a fair price for the newly deceased and this provided employment opportunities for the local resurrectionists. This practice was however to prove a hair raising experience for once such band of greave robbers in Lurgan in 1705.

Margorie McCall was wed to a doctor. They lived in Church Place, Lurgan, Co Armagh and by all accounts were very happy. When Margorie fell ill, her husband John was beside himself with worry – in the early 1700s many illnesses we consider minor today could be fatal and ‘the fever’ was a great catch-all for many of these ailments. Sadly, Margorie succumbed to her bout of fever and was buried in Shankill Church of Ireland Cemetery, not far from her home in Church Place. She was hastily buried for fear of the fever spreading, and that should have been the end of that; however, she was to become one of the most famous women in Lurgan – and is still talked about today.

There was quite a lot of commotion at the wake concerning a valuable ring that Marjorie was wearing. Many of the mourners tried in vain to prise the ring from her fingers – perhaps because they anticipated the possibility that grave robbers would desecrate Marjorie’s resting place in order to steal the ring. Margorie was buried still wearing her beautiful gold wedding ring. Due to her husband’s inability to remove it from her finger, which had swollen considerably since her death, but news of the treasure leaked out to the resurrectionists. They spotted the opportunity to gain themselves a bonus.

After the wake – which was traditionally an attempt to avoid premature burial as the family of the deceased would sit and watch over the body for a few days to see if the person awakened – Marjorie was duly interred in Shankill Graveyard.

That evening, before the soil had time to settle on Margorie’s coffin, the grave-robbers paid a visit. Working under cover of darkness they grappled in the dirt until they reached and opened her coffin. True to the rumour, the ring was still on her finger. Before removing the body, they attempted to purloin the valuable item, but it wouldn’t budge. Being businessmen, they weren’t about to allow such a prize to make its way to a surgeon’s slab, and since she couldn’t get any deader, they agreed to cut off her finger to free the ring.

See:  Lurgan Ancestry for full story

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More Details on Shankill Graveyard

Cemetery location

Shankill Road, Belfast,

BT13 3AE

Enter from Shankill Road.

Bereavement Services

Our Bereavement Services Office is located on the Ground Floor, Cecil Ward Building, 4-10 Linenhall Street, Belfast, BT2 8BP.

Our phone number is 028 9027 0296.

Contact our Bereavement Services Office if you have a query about our cemeteries.

Office opening hours

 Day  Time
Monday and Friday 8.30am – 4pm
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9am – 4pm
Saturday 8.30am 11.30am

Cemetery opening hours

From 7.30am to dusk daily. 

Access information

Take Metro 11A/B/C/D from Belfast city centre. There is no car parking available at the cemetery, which is fully accessible to those with disabilities.

 

 

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UDA – UFF – The Very British Terrorists

UDA – UFF 

The Very British Terrorists

 

– 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.

The UDA – Ulster Defence Association the largest Paramilitary group in Ireland has now reorganised, rearmed and has stepped up it’s campaign for the 1st time since the 1970’s and for the 1st time ever has killed more people in 1 year than the IRA. Those are the words of ‘This Weeks’ presenter Margaret Gilmore. This is a historical documentary created in 1992 please don’t dislike it because you hate the UDA or Loyalism.

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See UDA page for more information

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UDA – UVF – Loyalists in Northern Ireland – Full Documentary

Loyalists in Northern Ireland – Full Documentary

UDA (Ulster Defence Association)

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this post and page 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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Belfast Shankill Loyalist Bands

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The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is the largest[5][6] Ulster loyalist paramilitary and vigilante[7] group in Northern Ireland. It was formed in September 1971 and undertook a campaign of almost twenty-four years during The Troubles. Within the UDA was a group tasked with launching paramilitary attacks; it used the covername Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) so that the UDA would not be outlawed. The United Kingdom outlawed the “UFF” in November 1973, but the UDA itself was not classified as a terrorist group until 10 August 1992.[8] The UDA/UFF is also classified as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department.[9]

The UDA’s/UFF’s declared goal was to defend Ulster Protestant loyalist areas[10] and to combat Irish republicanism, particularly the Provisional IRA. However, most of its victims were unarmed civilians.[11] The majority of them were Irish Catholics,[12][13] killed in what the group called retaliation for IRA actions or attacks on Protestants.[14][15] High-profile attacks carried out by the group include the Milltown massacre, the Sean Graham bookmakers’ shooting, the Castlerock killings and the Greysteel massacre. The vast majority of its attacks were in Northern Ireland, but from 1972 onward it also carried out bombings in the Republic of Ireland. The UDA/UFF declared a ceasefire in 1994, although sporadic attacks continued until it officially ended its armed campaign in November 2007.[16]

The UDA were often referred to by their Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) rivals as the “Wombles”,[17] derived from the furry fictional creatures, The Wombles, or “Japs”,[18] owing to their mass rallies and marches in combat clothing. Its motto is Quis Separabit, Latin for “Who will separate [us]?”.

History

Beginning

The Ulster Defence Association emerged from a series of meetings during the summer of 1971 of loyalistvigilante” groups called “defence associations”.[19] The largest of these were the Shankill and Woodvale Defence Associations,[20] with other groups based in East Belfast, the Hammer and Roden Street.[21] The first meeting was chaired by Billy Hull, with Alan Moon as its vice-chair. Moon was quickly replaced by Jim Anderson and had left the organisation by the time of its formal launch in September.[22]

By this point, Charles Harding Smith had become the group’s leader, with former British soldier Davy Fogel as his second-in-command, who trained the new recruits in military tactics, the use of guns, and unarmed combat. Its most prominent early spokesperson was Tommy Herron,[19] however Andy Tyrie would emerge as leader soon after.[23] Its original motto was Cedenta Arma Togae (“Law before violence”) and it was a legal organisation until it was banned by the British Government on 10 August 1992.[19]

UDA members marching through Belfast city centre in a massive show of strength, summer 1972

At its peak of strength it held around forty thousand members, mostly part-time.[24][25] During this period of legality, the UDA committed a large number of attacks using the name Ulster Freedom Fighters,[26][27] including the assassination of Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) politician Paddy Wilson in 1973.[28] The UDA was involved in the successful Ulster Workers Council Strike in 1974, which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement—an agreement which some unionists thought conceded too much to nationalist demands. The UDA enforced this general strike through widespread intimidation across Northern Ireland. The strike was led by VUPP Assemblyman and UDA member, Glenn Barr.[29]

The UDA were often referred to as “Wombles” by their rivals, mainly the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The name is derived from the furry fictional creatures The Wombles, and was given to the UDA because many of its members wore fur-trimmed parkas.[17] Its headquarters is in Gawn Street, off the Newtownards Road in east Belfast,[30] and its current motto is Quis Separabit, which is Latin for “Who will separate us?”

Women’s units

The UDA had several women’s units, which acted independent of each other.[31][32] Although they occasionally helped man roadblocks, the women’s units were typically involved in local community work and responsible for the assembly and delivery of food parcels to UDA prisoners. This was a source of pride for the UDA.[33] The first women’s unit was founded on the Shankill Road by Wendy “Bucket” Millar (b. 1944), whose sons Herbie and James “Sham” Millar would later become prominent UDA members.[34] The UDA women’s department was headed by Jean Moore, who also came from the Shankill Road. She had also served as the president of the women’s auxiliary Loyalist Association of Workers. Her brother Ingram “Jock” Beckett, one of the UDA’s founding members, had been killed in March 1972 by a rival UDA faction in an internal dispute.[35] Moore was succeeded by Hester Dunn of east Belfast, who also ran the Public Relations and administration section at the UDA headquarters.[36] Wendy Millar’s Shankill Road group was a particularly active women’s unit, and another was based in Sandy Row, south Belfast – a traditional UDA stronghold. The latter was commanded by Elizabeth “Lily” Douglas.[37] Her teenaged daughter, Elizabeth was one of the members.[38]

The Sandy Row women’s UDA unit was disbanded after it carried out a vicious “romper room” punishment beating on 24 July 1974 which left 32-year-old Ann Ogilby dead. The body of Ogilby, a Protestant single mother who had an affair with the husband of one of the unit’s members, was found in a ditch five days later.[39] The day of the fatal beating Ogilby was abducted and forced upstairs to the first floor of a disused bakery in Sandy Row that had been converted into a UDA club. Two teenage girls, Henrietta Cowan and Christine Smith,[40] acting under Elizabeth Douglas’ orders to give Ogilby a “good rompering”,[41] punched, kicked, then battered her to death with bricks and sticks; the autopsy later revealed that Ogilby had suffered 24 blows to the head and body. The killing, which was carried out within earshot of Ogilby’s six-year-old daughter, caused widespread revulsion throughout Northern Ireland and was condemned by the UDA prisoners serving inside the Maze Prison. None of the other UDA women’s units had consented to or been aware of the fatal punishment beating until it was reported in the news.[32] Douglas, Cowan, and Smith were convicted of the murder and sentenced to imprisonment at Armagh Women’s Jail. Seven other members of the women’s unit and a UDA man were also convicted for their part in the murder.[41][38] At the time of the murder the Sandy Row commander was Sammy Murphy, who also ran the South Belfast UDA. He had engaged in successful talks with the British Army to defuse a potential confrontation during the UWC strike over the erection of street barricades in the Sandy Row area.[42][43] The UDA “romper rooms”, named after the children’s television programme, were places where victims were beaten and tortured prior to being killed. This was known as a “rompering”. The “romper rooms” were normally located in disused buildings, lock-up garages, warehouses, and rooms above pubs and drinking clubs.[44] The use of the “romper rooms” was a more common practise among male members of the UDA than their female counterparts.[32]

Paramilitary campaign

Masked and armed UDA/UFF members at a show of strength in Belfast

The flag of the “Ulster Freedom Fighters” with a clenched fist representing the Red Hand of Ulster and the Latin motto Feriens tego, meaning “striking I defend”

Throughout the majority of its period of legality, the UDA’s attacks were carried out under the name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). The UDA’s campaign of violence began in 1972. In May of that year, the UDA’s pressured leader Tommy Herron decided that responsibility for acts of violence committed by the UDA would be claimed by the “UFF”. Its first public statements came one month later.[45]

The UDA’s official position during the Troubles was that if the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provisional IRA) called off its campaign of violence, then it would do the same. However, if the British government announced that it was withdrawing from Northern Ireland, then the UDA would act as “the IRA in reverse.”[46]

Active throughout the Troubles, its armed campaign gained prominence in the early 1990s through Johnny Adair‘s ruthless leadership of the Lower Shankill 2nd Battalion, C. Company, which resulted in a greater degree of tactical independence for the UFF.[47] C. Company’s hit squad, led by Stephen McKeag, became notorious for a campaign of random murders of Catholic civilians in the first half of the 1990s.[48]

They benefited, along with the Ulster Volunteer Force, and a group called Ulster Resistance (set up by the Democratic Unionist Party), from a shipment of arms imported from Lebanon in 1988.[49] The weapons landed included rocket launchers, 200 rifles, 90 pistols and over 400 grenades.[50] Although almost two–thirds of these weapons were later recovered by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), they enabled the UDA to launch an assassination campaign against their perceived enemies.

A UFF mural in the Kilcooley estate near Bangor

A UFF mural in the Sandy Row area of South Belfast

North Belfast UDA brigadier Davy Payne was arrested after his “scout” car had been stopped at a RUC checkpoint and large caches of the weaponry were discovered in the boots of his associates’ cars. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In 1992 Brian Nelson, a prominent UDA member convicted of sectarian killings, revealed that he was also a British Army agent. This led to allegations that the British Army and RUC were helping the UDA to target Irish republican activists. UDA members have since confirmed that they received intelligence files on republicans from British Army and RUC intelligence sources.[51]

One of the most high profile UDA attacks came in October 1993, when three masked men attacked a restaurant called the Rising Sun in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteel, County Londonderry, where two hundred people were celebrating Halloween. The two men entered and opened fire. Eight people, including six Catholics and two Protestants were killed and nineteen wounded in what became known as the Greysteel massacre. The UFF claimed the attack was in retaliation to the IRA’s Shankill Road bombing which killed nine, seven days earlier.

According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster‘s CAIN project,[52] the UDA/UFF was responsible for 259 killings during the Troubles. 208 of its victims were civilians (predominantly Catholics), 12 were civilian political activists (mainly members of Sinn Fein), 37 were other loyalist paramilitaries (including 30 of its own members), three were members of the security forces and 11 were republican paramilitaries. A number of these attacks were carried out with the assistance or complicity of the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or both, according to the Stevens Enquiry, although the exact number of people killed as a result of collusion has not been revealed. The preferred modus operandi of the UDA was individual killings of select civilian targets in nationalist areas, rather than large-scale bomb or mortar attacks.

The UDA employed various codewords whenever they claimed their attacks. These included: “The Crucible”, “Titanic”, and “Ulster Troubles”. The UFF used the codename of “Captain Black”.

Post-ceasefire activities

Its ceasefire was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Paul Murphy and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde.

A UDA/UFF mural in Belfast

A UFF flag in Finvoy,a rural area of County Antrim

Since the ceasefire, the UDA has been accused of taking vigilante action against alleged drug dealers, including tarring and feathering a man on the Taughmonagh estate in south Belfast.[53][54] It has also been involved in several feuds with the UVF, which led to many killings. The UDA has also been riddled by its own internecine warfare, with self-styled “brigadiers” and former figures of power and influence, such as Johnny Adair and Jim Gray (themselves bitter rivals), falling rapidly in and out of favour with the rest of the leadership. Gray and John Gregg are amongst those to have been killed during the internal strife. On 22 February 2003, the UDA announced a “12-month period of military inactivity”.[55] It said it would review its ceasefire every three months. The UPRG’s Frankie Gallagher has since taken a leading role in ending the association between the UDA and drug dealing.[56]

Following an August 2005 Sunday World article that poked fun at the gambling losses of one of its leaders, the UDA banned the sale of the newspaper from shops in areas it controls. Shops that defy the ban have suffered arson attacks, and at least one newsagent was threatened with death.[57] The Police Service of Northern Ireland began accompanying the paper’s delivery vans.[58][59] The UDA was also considered to have played an instrumental role in loyalist riots in Belfast in September 2005.[60]

On 13 November 2005 the UDA announced that it would “consider its future”, in the wake of the standing down of the Provisional IRA and Loyalist Volunteer Force.[61]

In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported UDA involvement in organised crime, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, extortion, money laundering and robbery.[62]

A UDA/UFF mural in Bangor

On 20 June 2006, the UDA expelled Andre Shoukri and his brother Ihab, two of its senior members who were heavily involved in crime. Some see this as a sign that the UDA is slowly coming away from crime.[63] The move did see the southeast Antrim brigade of the UDA, which had been at loggerheads with the leadership for some time, support Shoukri and break away under former UPRG spokesman Tommy Kirkham.[64] Other senior members met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for talks on 13 July in the same year.[65]

On 11 November 2007 the UDA announced that the Ulster Freedom Fighters would be stood down from midnight of the same day,[66] with its weapons “being put beyond use” although it stressed that these would not be decommissioned.[67]

Although the group expressed a willingness to move from criminal activity to “community development,” the IMC said it saw little evidence of this move because of the views of its members and the lack of coherence in the group’s leadership as a result of a loose structure. While the report indicated the leadership intends to follow on its stated goals, factionalism hindered this change. Factionalism was, in fact, said to be the strongest hindrance to progress. The report also said the main non-splintered faction remained active, though it was considerably smaller than the resulting party. Individuals within the group, however, took their own initiative to criminal activity. Although loyalist actions were curtailed, most of the loyalist activity did come from the UDA.

The IMC report concluded that the leadership’s willingness to change has resulted in community tension and the group would continue to be monitored, although “the mainstream UDA still has some way to go.” Furthermore, the IMC warned the group to “recognise that the organisation’s time as a paramilitary group has passed and that decommissioning is inevitable.” Decommissioning was said to be the “biggest outstanding issue for loyalist leaders, although not the only one.”[68]

A UDA/UFF South-East Antrim Brigade mural in Newtownabbey

On 6 January 2010, the UDA announced that it had put its weapons “verifiably beyond use”.[69] The decommissioning was completed five weeks before a government amnesty deadline beyond which any weapons found could have been used as evidence for a prosecution.[69] The decommissioning was confirmed by Canadian General John de Chastelain, chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, as well as Lord Eames, former Archbishop of Armagh and Sir George Quigley, former top civil servant.[70]

Chastelain stated that the decommissioning included arms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices and the UDA stated that the arms “constitute the totality of those under their control”.[69] Following the decommissioning the Ulster Political Research Group, the UDA’s political representatives, stated that the “Ulster Defence Association was formed to defend our communities; we state quite clearly and categorically that this responsibility now rests with the Government and its institutions where legitimacy resides”.[70] UDA representative Frankie Gallagher also stated that the group now regretted being responsible for the killing of more than 400 people.[71]

Shaun Woodward, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that this “is a major act of leadership by the UDA and further comprehensive evidence of the success of politics over violence in Northern Ireland” and the act was also welcomed by Sinn Féin and DUP politicians.[72] The President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese, described the decommissioning as “a very positive milestone on the journey of peace”.[73] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also welcomed the move as a step towards lasting peace in Northern Ireland.[74]

South East Antrim breakaway group

The breakaway faction continues to use the “UDA” title in its name, although it too expressed willingness to move towards “community development.” Though serious crime is not prevalent among the members, some who were arrested for drug peddling and extortion were exiled by the Brigade. Although a clear distinction between the factions was not available in the 20th IMC report, as this was the first report to differentiate between the two, future reports would tackle the differences.[68]

Politics

Some UDA leaders supported an independent Northern Ireland in the mid–late 1970s

In the 1970s the group favoured Northern Ireland independence, but they have retreated from this position.[75]

The New Ulster Political Research Group (NUPRG) was initially the political wing of the UDA, founded in 1978, which then evolved into the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party in 1981 under the leadership of John McMichael, a prominent UDA member killed by the IRA in 1987, amid suspicion that he was set up to be killed by some of his UDA colleagues.

In 1987, the UDA’s deputy commander John McMichael (who was then the leader of the UFF) promoted a document titled “Common Sense”, which promoted a consensual end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, while maintaining the Union. The document advocated a power sharing assembly, involving both Nationalists and Unionists, an agreed constitution and new Bill of Rights. It is not clear however, whether this programme was adopted by the UDA as their official policy.[50] However the killing of McMichael that same year and the subsequent removal of Tyrie from the leadership and his replacement with an Inner Council saw the UDA concentrate on stockpiling weapons rather than political ideas.[76]

In 1989, the ULDP changed its name to the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and finally dissolved itself in 2001 following very limited electoral success. Gary McMichael, son of John McMichael, was the last leader of the UDP, which supported the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but had poor electoral success and internal difficulties. The Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) was subsequently formed to give political analysis to the UDA and act as community workers in loyalist areas. It is currently represented on the Belfast City Council.

In early January 1994, the UDA released a document calling for ethnic cleansing and repartition, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[77] The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. The vastly Catholic and nationalist areas would be handed over to the Republic, and those left stranded in the “Protestant state” would be “expelled, nullified, or interned”.[77] The story was printed in The Sunday Independent newspaper on 16 January.[78] The “doomsday plan” was based on the work of Dr Liam Kennedy, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast.[77] In 1986 he had published a book called Two Ulsters: A Case for Repartition; though it did not call for ethnic cleansing. The UDP’s Raymond Smallwoods said “I wasn’t consulted but the scenario set out is a perfectly plausible one”.[77] The DUP’s Sammy Wilson stated that the plan “shows that some loyalist paramilitaries are looking ahead and contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity”.[77]

Links with other groups

In his book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke claimed that the UDA had links with Neo-Nazi groups in Britain—specifically Combat 18[79] (formed in 1991) and the British National Socialist Movement[80] (formed in 1985). He claims that members of these groups helped to smuggle weapons for the UDA/UFF. Ian S Wood‘s book Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA claims that the UDA has received backing from Combat 18, the British National Front and the British National Party.[81] In 2006, the BBC also reported that the group has links with Combat 18.[82] It is unknown whether these links still exist. The links may not have been politically motivated, but mutually beneficial arms deals. On one occasion the UDA sent Louis Scott, one of a few black members of the UDA, to make the transaction.[83]

The Red Hand Defenders is a cover name used by breakaway factions of the UDA/UFF and the LVF.[1] The term was originally coined in 1997 when members of the LVF carried out attacks on behalf of Johnny Adair‘s “UFF 2nd Battalion, ‘C’ Company (Shankill Road)” and vice versa.[1] The relationship between the UDA/UFF (specifically Adair’s unit, not the wider leadership of the UDA) was initially formed after the death of Billy Wright, the previous leader of the LVF, and Adair’s personal friendship with Mark ‘Swinger’ Fulton, the organisations new chief.

The necessity for a cover name resulted from the need to avoid tensions between the UDA and the UVF, the organisation from which the LVF had broken away. It was perceived that any open co-operation between the UDA and the LVF would anger the UVF, something which proved to be the case in following years and resulted in the infamous ‘Loyalist Feud’.[1] There has been debate as to whether or not the Red Hand Defenders have become an entity in their own right[84] made up of dissident factions from both the UDA and the LVF (both of which have now declared ceasefires whilst the RHD has not), though much intelligence has been based on the claims of responsibility which, as has been suggested,[1] are frequently misleading.

Structure and leadership

The UDA is made up of:

  • the Inner Council
  • the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)—whose role was to carry out attacks on republican and nationalist targets. However, many regard the UFF as merely a covername used when the UDA wished to claim responsibility for attacks.[85]
  • the Ulster Defence Force (UDF)—whose role was to give “specialist military training” to a select group of UDA members. The UDF was initiated by John McMichael[86] (the then UDA/UFF commander) in 1985 as a response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The UDF operated training camps in rural parts of Northern Ireland that young loyalists such as Johnny Adair claim to have attended.[86] One reported ‘survival’ training technique was to leave trainees stranded in Dublin with only £1.[86] Some of the training was given by former British Army soldiers and officers. It was described by the UDA as “the nucleus of a new loyalist army at the ready”.[87]
  • the Ulster Young Militants (UYM)—the “youth wing” of the group. Formed in 1973.[88]
  • the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG)—the UDA’s “political advisory body”. Formed in 1978.[89]

The UDA operated a devolved structure of leadership, each with a brigadier representing one of its six “brigade areas”.[86] Currently, it is not entirely clear whether or not this structure has been maintained in the UDA’s post cease-fire state. The UDA’s six “brigade areas” were:

  • North Belfast
  • East Belfast
  • South Belfast, the UDA’s largest brigade area, covering all of South Belfast down to Lisburn and operating as far away as South County Down, Lurgan and Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.[90]
  • West Belfast
  • Southeast [County] Antrim
  • North County Antrim & County Londonderry

A wall sign in Dervock showing support for the North Antrim and Londonderry brigade.

In addition to these six core brigades two others may have existed. A seventh Mid-Ulster Brigade is mentioned by Steve Bruce as having existed for part of the UDA’s history[91] although Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack characterise this as a “battalion” rather than a brigade and suggest that its rural location prevented it from fully developing.[92] In the late 1970s a Scottish Brigade was established under the command of Roddy McDonald but this proved short-lived. The security forces infiltrated this brigade almost immediately and in 1979 arrested almost its entire membership, ninety people in all. Six members received particularly lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in UDA activities in Perth and the Scottish Brigade quietly disappeared.[93]

Some of the notable past brigadiers include:

Jackie McDonald—South Belfast (~1980s-present)[94] Resident of the Taughmonagh estate in South Belfast.[94] McDonald was a cautious supporter of the UDA’s ceasefire and a harsh critic of Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair during his final years of membership of the organisation.[94] McDonald remains the only brigadier who did not have a commonly used nickname.

Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair—West Belfast (1990–2002)[86] An active figure in the UDA/UFF, Adair rose to notoriety in the early 1990s when he led the 2nd Battalion, C Company unit in West Belfast which was responsible for one of the bloodiest killing sprees of the Troubles.[86]

Jim ‘Doris Day’ Gray—East Belfast (1992–2005)[86][95] An unlikely figure in Northern Ireland loyalism, the openly bi-sexual[86] Gray was a controversial figure in the organisation until his death on 4 October 2005. Always flamboyantly dressed, Gray was a key figure in the UDA’s negotiations with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid. It is widely believed that Gray received his nickname from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch.[86]

Jimbo ‘Bacardi Brigadier’ Simpson—North Belfast (Unknown–2002)[86] Simpson is believed to have been an alcoholic, hence his nickname. He was leader of the UDA in the volatile North Belfast area, an interface between Catholics and Protestants in the New Lodge and Tiger’s Bay neighbourhoods.[86]

Billy ‘The Mexican’ McFarland—North Antrim and Londonderry (Unknown–2013)[86] He Earned his nickname because of his moustache and swarthy appearance, and had overall command of the UDA’s North Antrim and Derry brigade at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. He supported the leadership against Johnny Adair and has been associated with the magazine ‘Warrior’, which makes the case for Ulster Independence

Andre ‘The Egyptian’ Shoukri[86]—North Belfast (2002–2005)[86] Initially a close ally of Johnny Adair, Shoukri and his brother Ihab became involved with the UDA in his native North Belfast. The son of an Egyptian father and a Northern Irish mother, he was expelled from the UDA in 2005 following allegations of criminality.

John ‘Grug’ Gregg—South East Antrim (c.1993[96]–2003) John ‘Grug’ Gregg was a man with a fearsome reputation within the loyalist movement, known as a “Hawk” in loyalist circles, and controlled the streets of south east Antrim. On 14 March 1984, he severely wounded Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in an assassination attempt for which he was jailed. When asked by the BBC in prison if he regretted anything about the shooting, his reply was “only that I didn’t succeed.” He was killed on Belfast’s Nelson Street, along with another UDA member (Rab Carson), while travelling in a taxi from the docks in 2003, and the murder was blamed on supporters of Johnny Adair, who had recently been expelled from the UDA in 2002.

Deaths as a result of activity

UDA South Belfast Brigade memorial plaque in Sandy Row

According to Malcolm Sutton’s Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (part of the CAIN database), the UDA/UFF was responsible for at least 260 killings during the Troubles, between 1969 and 2001. There are a further 250 loyalist killings where it is not yet certain which group was responsible.[97]

Of those killed by the UDA/UFF:[11]

  • 209 (~80%) were civilians, 12 of whom were civilian political activists
  • 11 (~4%) were members or former members of republican paramilitary groups
  • 37 (~14%) were members or former members of loyalist paramilitary groups
  • 3 (~1%) were members of the British security forces

There were also 91 UDA members and four former members killed in the conflict.[98]

UVF ( Ulster Volunteer Force )

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. It emerged in 1966 and is named after the original UVF of the early 20th century. Its first leader was Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. The group undertook an armed campaign of almost thirty years during the Troubles. It declared a ceasefire in 1994 and officially ended its campaign in 2007, although some of its members have continued to engage in violence. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom,[1] Republic of Ireland and United States.[2]

Until recent years,[3] it was noted for secrecy and a policy of limited, selective membership.[4][5][6][7][8] The UVF’s declared goals were to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Irish Republican Army – and to maintain Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom. It was responsible for at least 500 deaths, the vast majority (more than two-thirds)[9][10] of whom were Irish Catholic civilians. During the conflict, its deadliest attack in Northern Ireland was the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing, which killed fifteen civilians. The group also carried out attacks in the Republic of Ireland from 1969 onward. The biggest of these was the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which killed 33 civilians, making it the deadliest terrorist attack of the conflict. The no-warning car bombings had been carried out by units from the Belfast and Mid-Ulster brigades. The Mid-Ulster Brigade was also responsible for the 1975 Miami Showband killings, in which three members of the popular Irish cabaret band were shot dead at a bogus military checkpoint by gunmen in British Army uniforms. Two UVF men were accidentally blown up in this attack. The UVF’s last major attack was the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, in which its members shot dead six Catholic civilians in a rural pub.

Since the ceasefire, the UVF has been involved in rioting, organized crime, vigilantism and feuds with other loyalist groups.[11] Some members have also been orchestrating a series of racist attacks.[12]

Aim and strategy

A UVF publicity photo showing masked and armed UVF members

The UVF’s stated goal was to combat Irish republicanism – particularly the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – and maintain Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom.[13] The vast majority of its victims were Irish Catholic civilians, who were often killed at random.[14] Whenever it claimed responsibility for its attacks, the UVF usually claimed that those targeted were IRA members or were giving help to the IRA.[15] Other times, attacks on Catholic civilians were claimed as “retaliation” for IRA actions, since the IRA drew most of its support from the Catholic community. Such retaliation was seen as both collective punishment and an attempt to weaken the IRA’s support; it was thought that terrorizing the Catholic community and inflicting such a death toll on it would force the IRA to end its campaign.[16] Many retaliatory attacks on Catholics were claimed using the covername “Protestant Action Force” (PAF), which first appeared in Autumn 1974.[17] They always signed their statements with the fictitious name “Captain William Johnston”.[18]

Like the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the UVF’s modus operandi involved assassinations, mass shootings, bombings and kidnappings. It used sub machine-guns, assault rifles, pistols, grenades (including homemade grenades), incendiary bombs, booby trap bombs and car bombs. Referring to its activity in the early and mid-1970s, journalist Ed Moloney described no-warning pub bombings as the UVF’s “forte”.[19] Members were trained in bomb-making and it developed home-made explosives.[20] In the late summer and autumn of 1973 the UVF detonated more bombs than the UDA and IRA combined,[21] and by the time of the group’s temporary ceasefire in late November it had been responsible for over 200 explosions that year.[22] However, from 1977 bombs largely disappeared from the UVF’s arsenal owing to a lack of explosives and bomb-makers, plus a conscious decision to abandon their use in favour of more contained methods.[23][24] The UVF did not return to regular bombings until the early 1990s when it obtained a quantity of the mining explosive Powergel.[25][26]

History

The 1960s

Since 1964, there had been a growing civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland. The civil rights movement sought to end discrimination against Catholics by the Protestant and Unionist-dominated government of Northern Ireland.[27] In March and April 1966, Irish republicans held parades throughout Ireland to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. On 8 March, a group of ex-Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers planted a bomb that destroyed Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin. At the time, the IRA was weak and not engaged in armed action, but some unionists and loyalists warned that it was about to be revived and launch another campaign against Northern Ireland.[27] In April, loyalists led by Ian Paisley, a Protestant fundamentalist preacher, founded the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC). It set up a paramilitary-style wing called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV).[27] The ‘Paisleyites’ set out to stymie the civil rights movement and oust Terence O’Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Although O’Neill was a unionist, they saw him as being too ‘soft’ on the civil rights movement and too friendly with the Republic of Ireland. There was much overlap in membership between the UCDC/UPV and the UVF.[28]

A UVF mural on the Shankill Road

An old UVF mural on Shankill Road, where the group was formed

A UVF flag in Glenarm, County Antrim

On 7 May, loyalists petrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub in the loyalist Shankill area of Belfast. Fire engulfed the house next door, badly burning the elderly Protestant widow who lived there. She died of her injuries on 27 June.[27] The group called itself the “Ulster Volunteer Force” (UVF), after the original UVF of the early 20th century. It was led by Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. Spence claimed that he was approached in 1965 by two men, one of whom was an Ulster Unionist Party MP, who told him that the UVF was to be re-established and that he was to have responsibility for the Shankill.[29] On 21 May, the group issued a statement:

From this day, we declare war against the Irish Republican Army and its splinter groups. Known IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without hesitation. Less extreme measures will be taken against anyone sheltering or helping them, but if they persist in giving them aid, then more extreme methods will be adopted… we solemnly warn the authorities to make no more speeches of appeasement. We are heavily armed Protestants dedicated to this cause.[30]

On 27 May, Spence sent four UVF members to kill IRA volunteer Leo Martin, who lived in Belfast. Unable to find their target, the men drove around the Falls district in search of a Catholic. They shot John Scullion, a Catholic civilian, as he walked home.[31] He died of his wounds on 11 June.[27] Spence later wrote “At the time, the attitude was that if you couldn’t get an IRA man you should shoot a Taig, he’s your last resort”.[31]

On 26 June, the group shot dead a Catholic civilian and wounded two others as they left a pub on Malvern Street, Belfast.[27] Two days later, the Government of Northern Ireland declared the UVF illegal.[27] The shootings led to Spence being arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum sentence of twenty years.[32] Spence appointed Samuel McClelland as UVF Chief of Staff in his stead.[33]

By 1969, the Catholic civil rights movement had escalted its protest campaign, and O’Neill had promised them some concessions. In March and April that year, UVF and UPV members bombed water and electricity installations in Northern Ireland, blaming them on the dormant IRA and elements of the civil rights movement. Some of them left much of Belfast without power and water.[34] The loyalists “intended to force a crisis which would so undermine confidence in O’Neill’s ability to maintain law and order that he would be obliged to resign”.[35] There were bombings on 30 March, 4 April, 20 April, 24 April and 26 April. All were widely blamed on the IRA, and British soldiers were sent to guard installations.[34] Unionist support for O’Neill waned, and on 28 April he resigned as Prime Minister.[34]

On 12 August 1969, the “Battle of the Bogside” began in Derry. This was a large, three-day riot between Irish nationalists and the police (RUC). In response to events in Derry, nationalists held protests throughout Northern Ireland, some of which became violent. In Belfast, loyalists responded by attacking nationalist districts. Eight people were shot dead and hundreds were injured. Scores of houses and businesses were burnt-out, most of them owned by Catholics. The British Army were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland. The Irish Army also set up field hospitals near the border. Thousands of families, mostly Catholics, were forced to flee their homes and refugee camps were set up in the Republic of Ireland.[34]

On 12 October, a loyalist protest in the Shankill became violent. During the riot, UVF members shot dead RUC officer Victor Arbuckle. He was the first RUC officer to be killed during the Troubles.[36]

The UVF had launched its first attack in the Republic of Ireland on 5 August 1969, when it bombed the RTÉ Television Centre in Dublin.[37][38] There were further attacks in the Republic between October and December 1969. In October, UVF and UPV member Thomas McDowell was killed by the bomb he was planting at Ballyshannon power station. The UVF stated that the attempted attack was a protest against the Irish Army units “still massed on the border in County Donegal“.[39] In December the UVF detonated a car bomb near the Garda central detective bureau and telephone exchange headquarters in Dublin.[40]

The early to mid-1970s

A UVF mural on Shankill Road, Belfast

In January 1970, the UVF began bombing Catholic-owned businesses in Protestant areas of Belfast. It issued a statement vowing to “remove republican elements from loyalist areas” and stop them “reaping financial benefit therefrom”. During 1970, 42 Catholic-owned licensed premises in Protestant areas were bombed.[41] Catholic churches were also attacked. In February it began to target critics of militant loyalism – the homes of MPs Austin Currie, Sheelagh Murnaghan, Richard Ferguson and Anne Dickson were attacked with improvised bombs.[41] It also continued its attacks in the Republic of Ireland, bombing the Dublin-Belfast railway line, an electricity substation, a radio mast, and Irish nationalist monuments.[42]

In December 1969 the IRA had split into the Provisional IRA and Official IRA. In early 1971 they began a concerted campaign against the British Army and RUC. The first British soldier to die in the conflict was killed by the Provisional IRA in February 1971. That year, a string of tit-for-tat pub bombings began in Belfast.[43] This came to a climax on 4 December, when the UVF bombed McGurk’s Bar, a Catholic-owned pub in Belfast. Fifteen Catholic civilians were killed and seventeen wounded. It was the UVF’s deadliest attack in Northern Ireland, and the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.[44]

The following year, 1972, was the most violent of the Troubles. Along with the newly formed Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the UVF began carrying out gun attacks on random Catholic civilians and using car bombs to attack Catholic-owned pubs. It would continue these tactics for the rest of its campaign. On 23 October 1972, the UVF carried out an armed raid against King’s Park camp, a UDR/Territorial Army depot in Lurgan. They managed to procure a large cache of weapons and ammunition including self-loading rifles, Browning pistols, and Sterling submachine guns. Twenty tons of ammonium nitrate was also stolen from the Belfast docks.[45]

The UVF launched further attacks in the Republic of Ireland during December 1972 and January 1973, when it detonated three car bombs in Dublin and one in Belturbet, killing five civilians. It would attack the Republic again in May 1974, during the two-week Ulster Workers’ Council strike. This was a general strike in protest against the Sunningdale Agreement, which meant sharing political power with Irish nationalists and the Republic having more involvement in Northern Ireland. Along with the UDA, it helped to enforce the strike by blocking roads, intimidating workers, and shutting any businesses that opened.[46] On 17 May, two UVF units from the Belfast and Mid-Ulster brigades detonated four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. Thirty-three people were killed and almost 300 injured. It was the deadliest attack of the Troubles. There are various credible allegations that elements of the British security forces colluded with the UVF in the bombings. The Irish parliament‘s Joint Committee on Justice called the bombings an act of “international terrorism” involving the British security forces.[47] Both the UVF and the British Government have denied the claims.

The UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade was founded in 1972 in Lurgan by Billy Hanna, a sergeant in the UDR and a member of the Brigade Staff, who served as the brigade’s commander until his shooting death in July 1975. From that time until the early 1990s, the Mid-Ulster Brigade was led by Robin “the Jackal” Jackson, who then passed the leadership to Billy Wright. Hanna and Jackson have both been implicated by journalist Joe Tiernan, and RUC Special Patrol Group (SPG) officer John Weir as having led one of the units that bombed Dublin.[48] Jackson was allegedly the hitman who shot Hanna dead outside his home in Lurgan, and subsequently took over his command.[49]

The brigade formed part of the Glenanne gang, a loose alliance of loyalist assassins which the Pat Finucane Centre has linked to 87 killings in the 1970s. The gang comprised, in addition to the UVF, rogue elements of the UDR, RUC, SPG, and the regular Army, all acting allegedly under the direction of British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch.[50]

Mid to late-1970s

UVF mural in the Shankill Road, where the Brigade Staff is based

In 1974, hardliners staged a coup and took over the Brigade Staff.[51] This resulted in a lethal upsweep of sectarian killings and internecine feuding with both the UDA and within the UVF itself.[51] Some of the new Brigade Staff members bore nicknames such as “Big Dog” and “Smudger”.[52] Beginning in 1975, recruitment to the UVF, which until then had been solely by invitation, was now left to the discretion of local units.[53]

The UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade carried out further attacks during this same period. These included the Miami Showband killings of 31 July 1975 – when three members of the popular showband from the Republic of Ireland were killed having been stopped at a fake British Army checkpoint outside of Newry in County Down. Two members of the group survived the attack and later testified against those responsible. Two UVF members, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, were accidentally killed by their own bomb while carrying out this attack. Two of those later convicted (James McDowell and Thomas Crozier) were also serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a part-time, locally recruited regiment of the British Army.

From late 1975 to mid-1977, a unit of the UVF dubbed the Shankill Butchers (a group of UVF men based on Belfast’s Shankill Road) carried out a series of sectarian murders of Catholic civilians. Six of the victims were abducted at random, then beaten and tortured before having their throats slashed. This gang was led by Lenny Murphy. He was shot dead by the IRA in November 1982, four months after his release from the Maze Prison.

The group had been proscribed in July 1966, but this ban was lifted on 4 April 1974 by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in an effort to bring the UVF into the democratic process.[54] A political wing was formed in June 1974, the Volunteer Political Party led by UVF Chief of Staff Ken Gibson, which contested West Belfast in the October 1974 General Election, polling 2,690 votes (6%). The UVF spurned the government efforts however and continued killing. Colin Wallace, part of the intelligence apparatus of the British Army, asserted in an internal memo in 1975 that MI6 and RUC Special Branch formed a pseudo-gang within the UVF, designed to engage in violence and to subvert moves of the UVF towards the political process. Captain Robert Nairac of 14 Intelligence Company was alleged to have been involved in many acts of UVF violence.[55] The UVF was banned again on 3 October 1975 and two days later twenty-six suspected UVF members were arrested in a series of raids. The men were tried and in March 1977 were sentenced to an average of twenty-five years each.[56][57]

In October 1975, after staging a counter-coup, the Brigade Staff acquired a new leadership of moderates with Tommy West serving as the Chief of Staff.[58] These men had overthrown the “hawkish” officers, who had called for a “big push”, which meant an increase in violent attacks, earlier in the same month.[59] In fact, the UVF was behind the deaths of seven civilians in a series of attacks on 2 October.[60] The hawks had been ousted by those in the UVF who were unhappy with their political and military strategy. The new Brigade Staff’s aim was to carry out attacks against known republicans rather than Catholic civilians.[59] This had been thoroughly endorsed by Gusty Spence who issued a statement asking all UVF volunteers to support the new regime.[61] The UVF’s activities in the last years of the decade were increasingly being curtailed by the number of UVF members who were sent to prison.[59] Indeed, the number of killings in Northern Ireland had decreased from 300 per year during the period between 1973 and 1976 to just under 100 in the years 1977–1981.[62] In 1976, Tommy West was replaced with “Mr. F” who is alleged to be John “Bunter” Graham and remains the incumbent Chief of Staff to date.[63][64] West died in 1980.

On 17 February 1979, the UVF carried out its only major attack in Scotland, when its members bombed two pubs in Glasgow frequented by Catholics. Both pubs were wrecked and a number of people were wounded. It claimed the pubs were used for republican fundraising. In June, nine UVF members were convicted of the attacks.[65]

The early to mid-1980s

In the 1980s, the UVF was greatly reduced by a series of police informers. The damage from security service informers started in 1983 with “supergrass” Joseph Bennett’s information which led to the arrest of fourteen senior figures. In 1984, they attempted to kill the northern editor of the Sunday World, Jim Campbell after he had exposed the paramilitary activities of Mid-Ulster brigadier Robin Jackson. By the mid-1980s, a Loyalist paramilitary-style organisation called Ulster Resistance was formed on 10 November 1986. The initial aim of Ulster Resistance was to bring an end to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Loyalists were successful in importing arms into Northern Ireland. The weapons were Palestine Liberation Organisation arms captured by the Israelis, sold to Armscor, the South African state-owned company which, in defiance of the 1977 United Nations arms embargo, set about making South Africa self-sufficient in military hardware.[citation needed] The arms were divided between the UVF, the UDA (the largest loyalist group) and Ulster Resistance.[66]

The UVF received large numbers of Sa vz. 58 assault rifles in the 1980s

The arms are thought to have consisted of:

  • 200 Czechoslovak Sa vz. 58 assault rifles,
  • 90 Browning pistols,
  • 500 RGD-5 fragmentation grenades,
  • 30,000 rounds of ammunition and
  • 12 RPG-7 rocket launchers and 150 warheads.

The UVF used this new infusion of arms to escalate their campaign of sectarian assassinations. This era also saw a more widespread targeting on the UVF’s part of IRA and Sinn Féin members, beginning with the killing of senior IRA member Larry Marley[67] and a failed attempt on the life of a leading republican which left three Catholic civilians dead.[68]

The late 1980s and early 1990s

The UVF also attacked republican paramilitaries and their political activists. These attacks were stepped up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The largest death toll was on 3 March 1991 when the UVF killed IRA members John Quinn, Dwayne O’Donnell and Malcolm Nugent, and civilian Thomas Armstrong in the car park next to Boyle’s Bar, Cappagh.[69] Republicans had responded to the attacks by assassinating UVF leaders, including John Bingham, William “Frenchie” Marchant, Trevor King[70] and, allegedly, Leslie Dallas.[71] The UVF also killed republicans James Burns, Liam Ryan and Larry Marley.[72] According to Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), the UVF killed 17 active and four former republican paramilitaries. CAIN also states that Republicans killed 13 UVF members.[73]

According to journalist and author Ed Moloney the UVF campaign in Mid Ulster in this period “indisputably shattered Republican morale”, and put the leadership of the republican movement under intense pressure to “do something”.[74]

1994 ceasefire

A UVF mural referencing the ceasefire

In 1990 the UVF joined the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) and indicated its acceptance of moves towards peace. However, the year leading up to the loyalist ceasefire, which took place shortly after the Provisional IRA ceasefire, saw some of the worst sectarian killings carried out by loyalists during the Troubles. On 18 June 1994, UVF members machine-gunned a pub in Loughinisland, County Down on the basis that its customers were watching the Republic of Ireland national football team playing in the World Cup on television and were therefore assumed to be Catholics. The gunmen shot dead six people and injured five.

The UVF agreed to a ceasefire in October 1994.

Post-ceasefire activities

More militant members of the UVF, led by Billy Wright who disagreed with the ceasefire, broke away to form the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). This development came soon after the UVF’s Brigade Staff in Belfast had stood down Wright and the Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade, on 2 August 1996, for the killing of a Catholic taxi driver near Lurgan during Drumcree disturbances.[75]

A UVF mural in Carrickfergus

There followed years of violence between the two organisations. In January 2000 UVF Mid-Ulster brigadier Richard Jameson was shot dead by a LVF gunman which led to an escalation of the UVF/LVF feud. The UVF was also clashing with the UDA in the summer of 2000. The feud with the UDA ended in December following seven deaths. Veteran anti-UVF campaigner Raymond McCord, whose son, Raymond Jr., a Protestant, was beaten to death by UVF men in 1997, estimates the UVF has killed more than thirty people since its 1994 ceasefire, most of them Protestants.[citation needed] The feud between the UVF and the LVF erupted again in the summer of 2005. The UVF killed four men in Belfast and trouble ended only when the LVF announced that it was disbanding in October of that year.[76]

On 14 September 2005, following serious loyalist rioting during which dozens of shots were fired at riot police, the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain announced that the British government no longer recognised the UVF ceasefire.[77]

On 12 February 2006, The Observer reported that the UVF was to disband by the end of 2006. The newspaper also reported that the group refused to decommission its weapons.[78]

On 2 September 2006, BBC News reported the UVF may be intending to re-enter dialogue with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, with a view to decommissioning of their weapons. This move comes as the organisation holds high level discussions about their future.[79]

On 3 May 2007, following recent negotiations between the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and with Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, the UVF made a statement that they would transform to a “non-military, civilianised” organisation.[80] This was to take effect from midnight. They also stated that they would retain their weaponry but put them beyond reach of normal volunteers. Their weapons stock-piles are to be retained under the watch of the UVF leadership.[81][82][83]

In January 2008, the UVF was accused of involvement in vigilante action against alleged criminals in Belfast.[84]

In 2008, a loyalist splinter group calling itself the “Real UVF” emerged briefly to make threats against Sinn Féin in Co. Fermanagh.[85]

In the twentieth IMC report, the group was said to be continuing to put its weapons “beyond reach”, (in the group’s own words) to downsize, and reduce the criminality of the group. The report added that individuals, some current and some former members, in the group have, without the orders from above, continued to “localised recruitment”, and although some continued to try and acquire weapons, including a senior member, most forms of crime had fallen, including shootings and assaults. The group concluded a general acceptance of the need to decommission, though there was no conclusive proof of moves towards this end.[86]

In June 2009 the UVF formally decommissioned their weapons in front of independent witnesses as a formal statement of decommissioning was read by Dawn Purvis and Billy Hutchinson.[87] The IICD confirmed that “substantial quantities of firearms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices” had been decommissioned and that for the UVF and RHC, decommissioning had been completed.[88] On 30 May 2010, however, the UVF was believed to have carried out the shotgun killing of expelled RHC member Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road in broad daylight. The shooting raised questions over the future of the PUP.

On 25–26 October 2010, the UVF was involved in rioting and disturbances in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey with UVF gunmen seen on the streets at the time.[89][90]

On 28 May 2010, the UVF was severely criticised over the murder of Moffett. The Independent Monitoring Commission was highly critical of the leadership for having condoned and even sanctioned the attack, in contrast to praise bestowed on the Brigade Staff for a moderating influence during the marching season. The Progressive Unionist Party‘s condemnation, and Dawn Purvis and other leaders’ resignations as a response to the Moffett shooting, were also noted. Eleven months later, a 40-year-old man was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of the UVF’s alleged second-in-command Harry Stockman, described by the media as a “senior Loyalist figure”. Fifty-year-old Stockman was stabbed more than 15 times in a supermarket in the Greater Shankill area; the attack was believed to have been linked to the Moffett killing. However, public opinion suggests that the stabbing was a personal vendetta and any connection being made to the Moffett case was simply a fictitious tale of revenge.[91]

On the night of 20 June 2011, riots involving 500 people erupted in the Short Strand area of East Belfast. They were blamed by the PSNI on members of the UVF, who also said UVF guns had been used to try to kill police officers.[92] The UVF leader in East Belfast, who is popularly known as the “Beast of the East” and “Ugly Doris” also known as by real name Stephen Matthews, ordered the attack on Catholic homes and a church in the Catholic enclave of the Short Strand. This was in retaliation for attacks on Loyalist homes the previous weekend and after a young girl was hit in the face with a brick by Republicans.[92][93] A dissident Republican was arrested for “the attempted murder of police officers in east Belfast” after shots were fired upon the police.[94]

In July 2011 a UVF flag flying in Limavady was deemed legal by the PSNI after the police had received complaints about the flag from nationalist politicians.[95]

During the Belfast City Hall flag protests of 2012 – 2013, senior UVF members were confirmed to have actively been involved in orchestrating violence and rioting against the PSNI and the Alliance Party throughout Northern Ireland during the weeks of disorder.[96] Much of the UVF’s orchestration was carried out by its senior members in East Belfast, where many attacks on the PSNI and on residents of the Short Strand enclave took place.[97] There were also reports that UVF members fired shots at police lines during a protest.[98] The high levels of orchestration by the leadership of the East Belfast UVF, and the alleged ignored orders from the main leaders of the UVF to stop the violence has led to fears that the East Belfast UVF has now become a separate loyalist paramilitary grouping which doesn’t abide by the UVF ceasefire or the Northern Ireland Peace Process.[99][100]

In October 2013, the policing board announced that the UVF was still heavily involved in gangsterism despite its ceasefire. Assistant chief constable Drew Harris in a statement said “The UVF are subject to an organized crime investigation as an organized crime group. The UVF very clearly have involvement in drug dealing, all forms of gangsterism, serious assaults, intimidation of the community.” [11]

In November 2013, after a series of shootings and acts of intimidation by the UVF. Police Federation Chairman, Terry Spence declared that the UVF ceasefire was no longer active. Spence told Radio Ulster that the UVF had been “engaged in murder, attempted murder of civilians, attempted murder of police officers. They have been engaged in orchestrating violence on our streets, and it’s very clear to me that they are engaged in an array of mafia-style activities.”They are holding local communities to ransom. On the basis of that, we as a federation have called for the respecification of the UVF [stating that its ceasefire is over].”[101]

Leadership

Brigade Staff

Masked UVF Brigade Staff members at a press conference in October 1974. They are wearing part of the UVF uniform which earned them their nickname “Blacknecks”

The UVF’s leadership is based in Belfast and known as the Brigade Staff. It comprises high-ranking officers under a Chief of Staff or Brigadier-General. With a few exceptions, such as Mid-Ulster brigadier Billy Hanna (a native of Lurgan), the Brigade Staff members have been from the Shankill Road or the neighbouring Woodvale area to the west.[102] The Brigade Staff’s former headquarters were situated in rooms above “The Eagle” chip shop located on the Shankill Road at its junction with Spier’s Place. The chip shop has since been closed down.

In 1972, the UVF’s imprisoned leader Gusty Spence was at liberty for four months following a staged kidnapping by UVF volunteers. During this time he restructured the organisation into brigades, battalions, companies, platoons and sections.[45] These were all subordinate to the Brigade Staff. The incumbent Chief of Staff, is alleged to be John “Bunter” Graham, referred to by Martin Dillon as “Mr. F”.[63][64][103] Graham has held the position since he assumed office in 1976.[63]

The UVF’s nickname is “Blacknecks”, derived from their uniform of black polo neck jumper, black trousers, black leather jacket, black forage cap, along with the UVF badge and belt.[104][105] This uniform, based on those of the original UVF, was introduced in the early 1970s.[106]

Chiefs of Staff

  • Gusty Spence (1966–1966). Whilst remaining de jure UVF leader after he was jailed for murder, he no longer acted as the Chief of Staff
  • Sam “Bo” McClelland (1966–1973)[33] Described as a “tough disciplinarian”, he was personally appointed by Spence to succeed him as Chief of Staff, due to his having served in the Korean War with Spence’s former regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles. He was interned in late 1973, although by that stage the de facto Chief of Staff was his successor, Jim Hanna.[33][107]
  • Jim Hanna (1973 – April 1974)[107] Hanna was allegedly shot dead by the UVF as a suspected informer.[107]
  • Ken Gibson (1974)[108] Gibson was the Chief of Staff during the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike in May 1974.[108]
  • Unnamed Chief of Staff (1974 – October 1975). Leader of the Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV), the youth wing of the UVF. Assumed command after a coup by hardliners in 1974. He, along with the other hawkish Brigade Staff members were overthrown by Tommy West and a new Brigade Staff of “moderates” in a counter-coup supported by Gusty Spence. He left Northern Ireland after his removal from power.[61][109]
  • Tommy West (October 1975 – 1976)[58] A former British Army soldier, West was already the Chief of Staff at the time UVF volunteer Noel “Nogi” Shaw was killed by Lenny Murphy in November 1975 as part of an internal feud.[58]
  • John “Bunter” Graham, also referred to as “Mr. F” (1976–present)[63][64][103]

Strength, finance and support

The strength of the UVF is uncertain. The first Independent Monitoring Commission report in April 2004 described the UVF/RHC as “relatively small” with “a few hundred” active members “based mainly in the Belfast and immediately adjacent areas”.[110] Historically, the number of active UVF members in July 1971 was stated by one source to be no more than 20.[111] Later, in September 1972, Gusty Spence said in an interview that the organisation had a strength of 1,500.[112] A British Army report released in 2006 estimated a peak membership of 1,000.[113] Information regarding the role of women in the UVF is limited. One study focusing in part on female members of the UVF and Red Hand Commando noted that it “seem[ed] to have been reasonably unusual” for women to be officially asked to join the UVF.[114] Another estimates that over a 30-year period women accounted for just 2% of UVF membership at most.[115]

Prior to and after the onset of the Troubles the UVF carried out armed robberies.[116][117] This activity has been described as its preferred source of funds in the early 1970s,[118] and it continued into the 2000s with the UVF in Co Londonderry being active.[110] Members were disciplined after they carried out an unsanctioned theft of £8 million of paintings from an estate in Co Wicklow in April 1974.[119] Like the IRA, the UVF also operated black taxi services,[120][121][122] a scheme believed to have generated £100,000 annually for the organisation.[116] The UVF has also been involved in the extortion of legitimate businesses, although to a lesser extent than the UDA,[123] and was described in the fifth IMC report as being involved in organised crime.[124] In 2002 the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee estimated the UVF’s annual running costs at £1–2 million per year, against an annual fundraising capability of £1.5 million.[125]

In contrast to the IRA, overseas support for loyalist paramilitaries including the UVF has been limited.[126] Its main benefactors have been in central Scotland,[127] Liverpool,[128] Preston[128] and the Toronto area of Canada.[129] Supporters in Scotland have helped supply explosives and guns.[130][131] Although Scottish support for loyalist paramilitaries has been hindered by the strong disapproval of the mainstream Orange Order in that country,[132][133] it is estimated that the UVF nevertheless received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations to its Loyalist Prisoners Welfare Association.[134]

Drug dealing

The UVF have been implicated in drug dealing in areas from where they draw their support. Recently it has emerged from the Police Ombudsman that senior North Belfast UVF member and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch informant Mark Haddock has been involved in drug dealing. According to the Belfast Telegraph, “…70 separate police intelligence reports implicating the north Belfast UVF man in dealing cannabis, Ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine.”[135]

According to Alan McQuillan, the assistant director of the Assets Recovery Agency in 2005, “In the loyalist community, drug dealing is run by the paramilitaries and it is generally run for personal gain by a large number of people.” When the Assets Recovery Agency won a High Court order to seize luxury homes belonging to ex-policeman Colin Robert Armstrong and his partner Geraldine Mallon in 2005, Alan McQuillan said “We have further alleged Armstrong has had links with the UVF and then the LVF following the split between those organisations.” It was alleged that Colin Armstrong had links to both drugs and loyalist terrorists.[136]

Billy Wright, the commander of the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade, is believed to have started dealing drugs in 1991 [137] as a lucrative sideline to paramilitary murder. Wright is believed to have dealt mainly in Ecstasy tablets in the early 90s.[138] It was around this time that Sunday World journalists Martin O’Hagan and Jim Campbell coined the term “rat pack” for the UVF’s murderous mid-Ulster unit and, unable to identify Wright by name for legal reasons, they christened him “King Rat.” An article published by the newspaper fingered Wright as a drug lord and sectarian murderer. Wright was apparently enraged by the nickname and made numerous threats to O’Hagan and Campbell. The Sunday World’s offices were also firebombed. Mark Davenport from the BBC has stated that he spoke to a drug dealer who told him that he paid Billy Wright protection money.[139] Loyalists in Portadown such as Bobby Jameson have stated that the LVF (the Mid-Ulster Brigade that broke away from the main UVF – and led by Billy Wright) was not a ‘loyalist organisation but a drugs organisation causing misery in Portadown.’[140]

The UVF’s satellite organisation, the Red Hand Commando, was described by the IMC in 2004 as “heavily involved” in drug dealing.[110]

Affiliated groups

  • The Red Hand Commando (RHC) is an organisation that was established in 1972 and is closely linked with the UVF.
  • The Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV) is the youth section of the UVF. It was initially a youth group akin to the Scouts, but became the youth wing of the UVF during the Home Rule crisis.

Deaths as a result of activity

The UVF has killed more people than any other loyalist paramilitary group. According to the University of Ulster‘s Sutton database, the UVF and RHC was responsible for at least 485 killings during the Troubles, between 1969 and 2001. This includes killings claimed by the “Protestant Action Force” and “Protestant Action Group”. There are a further 250 loyalist killings where it is not yet certain which group was responsible.[9]

Of those killed by the UVF and RHC:[143]

  • 414 (~85%) were civilians, 11 of whom were civilian political activists
  • 21 (~4%) were members or former members of republican paramilitary groups
  • 44 (~9%) were members or former members of loyalist paramilitary groups
  • 6 (~1%) were members of the British security forces

There were also 66 UVF/RHC members and four former members killed in the conflict.[144]

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Operation Flavius – SAS execute three IRA Terrorists in Gibraltar

 Operation Flavius

Operation Flavius (also referred to as the “Gibraltar killings“) was a controversial military operation in which three members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) were shot dead by the British Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988. The three—Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell—were believed to be mounting a bombing attack on British military personnel in Gibraltar. SAS soldiers challenged them in the forecourt of a petrol station, then opened fire, killing them.

All three were found to be unarmed, and no bomb was discovered in Savage’s car, leading to accusations that the British government had conspired to murder them. An inquest in Gibraltar ruled that the SAS had acted lawfully, while the European Court of Human Rights held that, although there had been no conspiracy, the planning and control of the operation was so flawed as to make the use of lethal force almost inevitable. The deaths were the first in a chain of violent events in a fourteen-day period; they were followed by the Milltown Cemetery attack and the corporals killings in Belfast.

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From late 1987, the British authorities were aware that the IRA was planning to detonate a bomb at the changing of the guard ceremony outside the governor’s residence in the British Dependent Territory of Gibraltar. When Savage, McCann and Farrell—known IRA members—travelled to Spain in preparation for the attack, they were tracked at the request of the British government. On the day of the shootings, Savage was seen parking a white Renault in the car park used as the assembly area for the parade; McCann and Farrell were seen crossing the border shortly afterwards.

After a military bomb-disposal officer reported that Savage’s car should be treated as a suspected bomb, the police handed over control of the operation to the SAS. As soldiers were moving into position to intercept the trio, Savage split from McCann and Farrell and began running south. Two soldiers pursued Savage while two approached McCann and Farrell; as they did so, the pair were said to make threatening movements, as a result of which the soldiers opened fire, shooting them multiple times.

As soldiers caught up with Savage, he was alleged to have turned around to face them while reaching into his jacket; he was also shot multiple times. All three were subsequently found to be unarmed, and Savage’s car was found to contain no explosives; enquiries resulting from keys found on Farrell led authorities to a second car, containing a large quantity of explosives, in a car park in Spain. Almost two months after the shootings, the documentary Death on the Rock was broadcast on British television. Using reconstructions and eyewitness accounts, it presented the possibility that the three IRA members had been unlawfully killed. The documentary proved extremely controversial; several British newspapers described it as “trial by television”.

The inquest into the deaths began in September 1988. It heard from British and Gibraltar authorities that the IRA team had been tracked to Málaga Airport, where they were lost by the Spanish police, and that the three did not re-emerge until Savage was sighted parking his car in Gibraltar. The soldiers each testified that they had opened fire in the belief that the suspected bombers were reaching for weapons or a remote detonator. Among the civilians who gave evidence were the eyewitnesses discovered by “Death on the Rock”, who gave accounts of seeing the three shot without warning, with their hands up, or while they were on the ground.

Kenneth Asquez, who told the documentary that he had seen a soldier fire at Savage repeatedly while the latter was on the ground, retracted his statement at the inquest, claiming that he had been pressured into giving it. On 30 September, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “lawful killing“.

Dissatisfied, the families took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Delivering its judgement in 1995, the court found that the operation had been in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the authorities’ failure to arrest the suspects at the border, combined with the information given to the soldiers, rendered the use of lethal force almost inevitable. The decision is cited as a landmark case in the use of force by the state.

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), now inactive, is a paramilitary organisation which aimed to establish a united Ireland and end the British administration of Northern Ireland through the use of force. The organisation was the result of a 1969 split within the previous Irish Republican Army, also known as “the IRA”[(the other resulting group, known as the Official IRA, ceased military activity during the 1970s). During its campaign, the IRA killed members of the armed forces, police, judiciary and prison service, including off-duty and retired members, and bombed businesses and military targets in both Northern Ireland and England, with the aim of making Northern Ireland ungovernable.

Daniel McCann, Seán Savage, and Mairéad Farrell were, according to journalist Brendan O’Brien, “three of the IRA’s most senior activists”. Savage was an explosives expert and McCann was “a high-ranking intelligence operative”; both McCann and Farrell had previously served prison sentences for offences relating to explosives.

Background

The Special Air Service (formally 22 Special Air Service Regiment, or 22 SAS) is a regiment of the British Army and part of the United Kingdom’s special forces. The SAS was sporadically assigned to operations in Northern Ireland in the early stages of the British Army’s deployment in the province, during which they were confined to South Armagh. The first large-scale deployment of SAS soldiers in the Troubles was in 1976, when the regiment’s D Squadron was committed.The SAS soon began to specialise in covert, intelligence-based operations against the IRA, using more aggressive tactics than regular army and police units operating in Northern Ireland.

Build-up

Area in front of The Convent where the changing of the guard ceremony takes place

From late 1987, the British authorities were aware that the IRA was planning an attack in Gibraltar and launched Operation Flavius.

The intelligence appeared to be confirmed in November 1987, when several known IRA members were detected travelling from Belfast to Spain under false identities. MI5—the British Security Service—and the Spanish authorities became aware that an IRA active service unit was operating from the Costa del Sol and the members of the unit were placed under surveillance.

After a known IRA member was sighted at the changing of the guard ceremony at “the Convent” (the governor’s residence) in Gibraltar, the British and Gibraltarian authorities began to suspect that the IRA was planning to attack the British soldiers with a car bomb as they assembled for the ceremony in a nearby car park. In an attempt to confirm the IRA’s intended target, the government of Gibraltar suspended the ceremony in December 1987, citing a need to repaint the guardhouse.

They believed their suspicions were confirmed when the IRA member re-appeared at the ceremony when it resumed in February 1988, and the Gibraltar authorities requested special assistance from the British government.

In the weeks after the resumption of the changing of the guard ceremony, the three IRA members who were to carry out the attack—Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell—travelled to Malaga (90 miles [140 kilometres] along the coast from Gibraltar), where they each rented a car.Their activities were monitored and by early March, the British authorities were convinced that an IRA attack was imminent; a special projects team from the SAS was despatched to the territory, apparently with the personal approval of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.Before the operation, the SAS practised arrest techniques, while the Gibraltar authorities searched for a suitable place to hold the would-be bombers after their arrest.

The plan was that the SAS would assist the Gibraltar Police in arresting the IRA members—identified by MI5 officers who had been in Gibraltar for several weeks—if they were seen parking a car in Gibraltar and then attempting to leave the territory.

Events of 6 March

 

Proposed site of IRA car bomb by Southport Gates

 

According to the official account of the operation, Savage entered Gibraltar undetected in a white Renault 5 at 12:45 (CET; UTC+1) on 6 March 1988. An MI5 officer recognised him and he was followed, but he was not positively identified for almost an hour and a half, during which time he parked the vehicle in the car park used as the assembly area for the changing of the guard. At 14:30, McCann and Farrell were observed crossing the frontier from Spain and were also followed.

They met Savage in the car park at around 14:50 and a few minutes later the three began walking through the town. After the three left the car park, “Soldier G”,[note 1] a bomb-disposal officer, was ordered to examine Savage’s car; he returned after a few minutes and reported that the vehicle should be treated as a suspect car bomb. This soldier’s suspicion was conveyed as certainty to Soldiers “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”, who were ordered into positions to intercept Savage, McCann, and Farrell as they walked north towards the Spanish border. “Soldier G”‘s information convinced Gibraltar Police Commissioner Joseph Canepa, who was controlling the operation, to order the arrest of the three suspects. To that end, he signed over control of the operation to “Soldier F”, the senior SAS officer, at 15:40.

Two minutes after receiving control, “Soldier F” ordered Soldiers “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D” to apprehend the IRA operatives, by which time they were walking north on Winston Churchill Avenue towards the airport and the border. As the soldiers approached, the suspects appeared to realise that they were being followed. Savage split from the group and began heading south, brushing against “Soldier A” as he did so; “A” and “B” decided to continue approaching McCann and Farrell, leaving Savage to Soldiers “C” and “D”.

 

Location between Corral Road and Landport in Gibraltar where Savage was shot

At the same time as the police handed control over to the SAS, they began making arrangements for the IRA operatives once they were in custody, including finding a police vehicle in which to transport the prisoners. A patrol car containing Inspector Luis Revagliatte and three other uniformed officers, apparently on routine patrol and with no knowledge of Operation Flavius, was ordered to return to police headquarters as a matter of urgency.

The police car was stuck in heavy traffic travelling north on Smith Dorrien Avenue, close to the roundabout where it meets Winston Churchill Avenue.  The official account states that at this point, Revagliatte’s driver activated the siren on the police car in order to expedite the journey back to headquarters, intending to approach the roundabout from the wrong side of the road and turn the vehicle around.

The siren apparently startled McCann and Farrell, just as Soldiers “A” and “B” were about to challenge them, outside the Shell petrol station on Winston Churchill Avenue. “Soldier A” stated at the inquest that Farrell looked back at him and appeared to realise who “A” was; “A” testified that he was drawing his pistol and intended to shout a challenge to her, but “events overtook the warning”:  that McCann’s right arm “moved aggressively across the front of his body”, leading “A” to believe that McCann was reaching for a remote detonator. “A” shot McCann once in the back; “A” went on to tell the inquest that he believed Farrell then reached for her handbag, and that he believed Farrell may also have been reaching for a remote detonator. “A”

also shot Farrell once in the back, before returning to McCann—he shot McCann a further three times (once in the body and twice in the head). “Soldier B” testified that he reached similar conclusions to “A”, and shot Farrell twice, then McCann once or twice, then returned to Farrell, shooting her a further three times. Soldiers “C” and “D” testified at the inquest that they were moving to apprehend Savage, who was by now 300 feet (91 metres) south of the petrol station, as gunfire began behind them. “Soldier C” testified that Savage turned around while simultaneously reaching towards his jacket pocket at the same time as “C” shouted “Stop!”; “C” stated that he believed Savage was reaching for a remote detonator, at which point he opened fire. “Soldier C” shot Savage six times, while “Soldier D” fired nine times.

All three IRA members died. One of the soldiers’ bullets, believed to have passed through Farrell, grazed a passer-by.

Immediately after the shootings, the soldiers donned berets to identify themselves. Gibraltar Police officers, including Inspector Revagliatte and his men, began to arrive at the scene almost immediately. At 16:05, only 25 minutes after assuming control, the SAS commander handed control of the operation back to the Gibraltar Police in a document stating:

A military assault force completed the military option in respect of the terrorist ASU in Gibraltar and returns control to the civil power.

Shortly after the shootings, soldiers and police officers evacuated buildings in the vicinity of the Convent, while bomb-disposal experts got to work; four hours later, the authorities announced that a car bomb had been defused, after which Savage’s white Renault was towed from the car park by an army truck. The SAS personnel, meanwhile, left Gibraltar on a Royal Air Force aircraft.[27]

When the bodies were searched, a set of car keys was found on Farrell. Spanish and British authorities conducted enquiries to trace the vehicle, which—two days after the shootings—led them to a red Ford Fiesta in a car park in Marbella (50 miles [80 kilometres] from Gibraltar). The car contained a large quantity of Semtex surrounded by 200 rounds of ammunition, along with four detonators and two timers

Reaction

Within minutes of the military operation ending, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a press release, stating that “a suspected car bomb has been found in Gibraltar, and three suspects have been shot dead by the civilian police”. That evening, both the BBC and the ITN (Independent Television News) reported that the IRA team had been involved in a “shootout” with the authorities. The following morning, BBC Radio 4 reported that the alleged bomb was “packed with bits of metal and shrapnel”, and later carried a statement from Ian Stewart, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, that “military personnel were involved. A car bomb was found, which has been defused”.

Each of the eleven British daily newspapers reported the alleged finding of the car bomb, of which eight quoted its size as 500 pounds (230 kilograms). The IRA issued a statement later on 7 March to the effect that McCann, Savage, and Farrell were “on active service” in Gibraltar and had “access to and control over 140 pounds (64 kg)” of Semtex.

According to one case study of the killings, the events “provide an opportunity to examine the ideological functioning of the news media within [the Troubles]”.

The British broadsheet newspapers all exhibited what the authors called “ideological closure” by marginalising the IRA and extolling the SAS. Each of the broadsheets focused, for example, on the alleged bomb and the potential devastation it could have caused without questioning the government’s version of events.

At 15:30 (GMT) on 7 March, the foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, made a statement to the House of Commons:

Shortly before 1:00pm yesterday, afternoon [Savage] brought a white Renault car into Gibraltar and was seen to park it in the area where the guard mounting ceremony assembles. Before leaving the car, he was seen to spend some time making adjustments in the vehicle

An hour and a half later, [McCann and Farrell] were seen to enter Gibraltar on foot and shortly before 3:00pm, joined [Savage] in the town. Their presence and actions near the parked Renault car gave rise to strong suspicions that it contained a bomb, which appeared to be corroborated by a rapid technical examination of the car.

About 3:30pm, all three left the scene and started to walk back towards the border. On their way to the border, they were challenged by the security forces. When challenged, they made movements which led the military personnel, operating in support of the Gibraltar Police, to conclude that their own lives and the lives of others were under threat. In light of this response, they [the IRA members] were shot.

Those killed were subsequently found not to have been carrying arms.

The parked Renault car was subsequently dealt with by a military bomb-disposal team. It has now been established that it did not contain an explosive device.

Press coverage in the following days, after Howe’s statement that no bomb had been found, continued to focus on the act planned by the IRA; several newspapers reported a search for a fourth member of the team. Reports of the discovery of the bomb in Marbella appeared to vindicate the government’s version of events and justify the killings. Several MPs made statements critical of the operation, while a group of Labour MPs tabled a condemnatory motion in the House of Commons.

Aftermath

The IRA notified the McCann, Savage, and Farrell families of the deaths on the evening of 6 March. In Belfast, Joe Austin, a senior local member of Sinn Féin, was assigned the task of recovering the bodies for burial. On 9 March, he and Terence Farrell (one of Mairéad Farrell’s brothers) travelled to Gibraltar to identify the bodies. Austin negotiated a charter aircraft to collect the corpses from Gibraltar and fly them to Ireland on 14 March. Two thousand people waited to meet the coffins in Dublin, which were then driven north to Belfast.

Northern Irish authorities flooded the neighbourhoods where McCann, Farrell and Savage had lived with soldiers and police to try to prevent public displays of sympathy for the dead. Later that evening, a local IRA member, Kevin McCracken, was shot and allegedly then beaten to death by a group of soldiers he had been attempting to shoot at.

At the border, the authorities met the procession with a large number of police and military vehicles, and insisted on intervals between the hearses, causing tensions between the police and the members of the procession and leading to accusations that the police rammed Savage’s hearse.

The animosity between the mourners and the police continued until the procession split to allow the hearses to travel to the respective family homes, and then on to Milltown cemetery. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) agreed to maintain a minimal presence at the funeral in exchange for guarantees from the families that there would be no salute by masked gunmen.

This agreement was leaked to Michael StoneDuring the funeral, Stone, who described himself as a “freelance Loyalist paramilitary”, threw several hand grenades into the congregation, before firing an automatic pistol at the gathered mourners, injuring 60 people. After initial confusion, several of the mourners began to pursue Stone, throwing rocks and shouting abuse. Stone fired on his pursuers, hitting and killing three. He was eventually captured by members of the crowd, who had chased him onto a road, and beaten him with rocks and makeshift weapons until the RUC arrived to extract him and arrest him.

The funeral of Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (née Kevin Brady), the third and last of the Milltown attack victims to be buried, was scheduled for 19 March. 

As his cortège proceeded along Andersontown Road, a car being driven by two British Army corporals, David Howes and Derek Wood, entered the street and sped past two teams of stewards, who were attempting to direct traffic out of the procession’s path. As the corporals continued along Andersontown Road, they came across the cortège, and mounted the footpath to avoid colliding with it.

They continued until blocked by parked cars, at which point they attempted to reverse, but were blocked by vehicles from the cortège and a hostile crowd surrounded their vehicle.

As members of the crowd began to break into the vehicle, some using makeshift weapons, one of the corporals drew and fired a pistol, which momentarily subdued the crowd, before both men were dragged from the car, beaten and disarmed. Shortly afterwards, the corporals were dragged across the road to Casement Park, where they were beaten further. A local priest intervened to stop the beating, but was pulled away when a military identity card was discovered, raising speculation that the corporals were members of the SAS.

The two were bundled semi-conscious over a wall by IRA operatives, who jumped over the wall and forced the corporals into the back of a black taxi and sped away. The taxi took the corporals and the IRA men to an area of waste ground in West Belfast, the IRA men continuing to beat the soldiers en route. Six men were seen leaving the vehicle.

The two corporals, apparently dazed from their injuries, staggered from the taxi, but were quickly restrained. Another IRA man arrived with a pistol taken from one of the soldiers, with which he repeatedly shot each of the corporals before handing the weapon to another man, who shot the corporals’ bodies multiple times. Margaret Thatcher described the corporals’ killings as the “single most horrifying event in Northern Ireland” during her premiership.

The shootings sparked the largest criminal investigation in Northern Ireland’s history, which created fresh tension in Belfast as republicans saw what they believed was a disparity in the efforts the RUC expended in investigating the corporals’ murders compared with those of republican civilians. Over four years, more than 200 people were arrested in connection with the killings, of whom 41 were charged with a variety of offences.

The first of the so-named “Casement Trials” concluded quickly; two men were found guilty of murder and given life sentences in the face of overwhelming evidence. Of the trials that followed, many were based on weaker evidence and proved much more controversial.

“Death on the Rock”

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Death On The Rock, SAS execute IRA cell in Gibraltar, Thames Television (1988)

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On 28 April 1988, almost two months after the Gibraltar shootings, ITV broadcast an episode of its current affairs series This Week, produced by Thames Television, entitled “Death on the Rock”. This Week sent three journalists to investigate the circumstances surrounding the shootings from both Spain and Gibraltar.

Using eyewitness accounts, and with the cooperation of the Spanish authorities, the documentary reconstructed the events leading up to the shootings; the Spanish police assisted in the reconstruction of the surveillance operation mounted against the IRA members as they travelled around Spain in the weeks before 6 March, and the journalists hired a helicopter to film the route.

In Gibraltar, they located several new eyewitnesses to the shootings, who each said they had seen McCann, Savage, and Farrell shot without warning or shot after they had fallen to the ground; most agreed to be filmed and provided signed statements. One witness, Kenneth Asquez, provided two near-identical statements through intermediaries, but refused to meet with the journalists or sign either statement. After failing to persuade Asquez to sign his statement, the journalists eventually incorporated his account of seeing Savage shot while on the ground into the programme.

For technical advice, the journalists engaged Lieutenant Colonel George Styles GC, a retired British Army officer who was regarded as an expert in explosives and ballistics. Styles believed that it would have been obvious to the authorities that Savage’s car was unlikely to contain a bomb as the weight would have been obvious on the vehicle’s springs; he also expressed his opinion that a remote detonator could not have reached the car park from the scenes of the shootings given the number of buildings and other obstacles between the locations

As the government refused to comment on the shootings until the inquest, the documentary concluded by putting its evidence to a leading human rights lawyer, who expressed his belief that a judicial inquiry was necessary to establish the facts surrounding the shootings.

The documentary attracted considerable controversy. On 26 April, two days before the programme was scheduled for broadcast, Sir Geoffrey Howe telephoned the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to request that the authority delay the broadcast until after the inquest on the grounds that it risked prejudicing the proceedings. After viewing the programme and taking legal advice, the IBA decided on the morning of 28 April that “Death on the Rock” should be broadcast as scheduled, and Howe was informed of the decision. Howe made further representation to the IBA that the documentary would be in contempt of the inquest; after taking further legal advice, the IBA upheld its decision to allow the broadcast.

The programme was broadcast at 21:00 (GMT) on 28 April. The following morning, the British tabloid newspapers lambasted the programme, describing it as a “slur” on the SAS and “trial by television”,  while several criticised the IBA for allowing the documentary to be broadcast.

Over the following weeks, newspapers repeatedly printed stories about the documentary’s witnesses, in particular Carmen Proetta, who gave an account of seeing McCann and Farrell shot without warning by soldiers who arrived in a Gibraltar Police car. Proetta subsequently sued several newspapers for libel and won substantial damages.

The Sunday Times conducted its own investigation and reported that “Death on the Rock” had misrepresented the views of its witnesses; the witnesses involved later complained to other newspapers that “The Sunday Times” had distorted their comments.

Inquest

Unusually for Gibraltar, there was a long delay between the shootings and the setting of a date for the inquest (the usual method for investigating sudden or controversial deaths in the United Kingdom and its territories); eight weeks after the shootings, the coroner, Felix Pizzarello, announced that the inquest would begin on 27 June. Two weeks later (unknown to Pizzarello), Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary announced that the inquest had been indefinitely postponed.

The inquest began on 6 September.  Pizzarello presided over the proceedings, while eleven jurors evaluated the evidence; representing the Gibraltar government was Eric Thislewaite, the Gibraltar attorney general. The interested parties were represented by John LawsQC (for the British government), Michael Hucker (for the SAS personnel), and Patrick McGrory (for the families of McCann, Farrell, and Savage). Inquests are non-adversarial proceedings aimed at investigating the circumstances of a death; the investigation is conducted by the coroner, while the representatives of interested parties can cross-examine witnesses.

Where the death occurred through the deliberate action of another person, the jury can return a verdict of “lawful killing”, “unlawful killing”, or an “open verdict“; though inquests cannot apportion blame, in the case of a verdict of unlawful killing the authorities will consider whether any prosecutions should be brought. There was initially doubt as to whether the SAS personnel involved in the shootings would appear at the inquest. Inquests have no powers to compel witnesses to appear if the witness is outside the court’s jurisdiction, although the soldiers apparently volunteered after Pizzarello declared that the inquest would be “meaningless” without their evidence.

The soldiers and MI5 officers gave their evidence anonymously and from behind a screen. As the inquest began, observers including Amnesty International expressed concern that McGrory was at a disadvantage, as all of the other lawyers were privy to the evidence of the SAS and MI5 personnel before it was given. The cost of the transcript for each day’s proceedings was increased ten-fold the day before the inquest began.

In total, the inquest heard evidence from 79 witnesses, including the Gibraltar Police officers, MI5 personnel, and SAS soldiers involved in the operation, along with technical experts and civilian eyewitnesses.

Police, military, and MI5 witnesses

 

The first witnesses to testify were the Gibraltar Police officers involved in the operation and its aftermath. Following them, on 7 September, was “Mr O”, the senior MI5 officer in charge of Operation Flavius. “O” told the inquest that, in January 1988, Belgian authorities found a car being used by IRA operatives in Brussels. In the car were found a quantity of Semtex, detonators, and equipment for a radio detonation device, which, “O” told the coroner, led MI5 to the conclusion that the IRA might use a similar device for the planned attack in Gibraltar.

MI5 further believed that the IRA had been unlikely to use a “blocking car” (an empty vehicle used to hold a parking space until the bombers bring in the vehicle containing the explosives) as this entailed the added risk of multiple border crossings.

Finally, “O” told the coroner that McCann, Savage, and Farrell had been observed by Spanish authorities arriving at Malaga Airport, after which he claimed the trio had been lost, and that the British and Gibraltarian authorities did not detect them crossing the border.

Joseph Canepa, commissioner of the Gibraltar Police, was the next senior figure to testify. He told the inquest that (contrary to McGrory’s assertions) there had been no conspiracy to kill McCann, Savage, and Farrell. Canepa told the coroner that, upon learning of the IRA plot from MI5, he set up an advisory committee, which consisted of MI5 officials, senior military officers, and the commissioner himself; as events developed, the committee decided that the Gibraltar Police was not adequately equipped to counter the IRA threat, and Canepa requested assistance from London. The commissioner gave assurances that he had been in command of the operation against the IRA at all times, except for the 25 minutes during which he signed over control to the military.[note 2] In his cross-examination,

McGrory queried the level of control the commissioner had over the operation; he extracted from Canepa that the commissioner had not requested assistance from the SAS specifically. Canepa agreed with “O” that the Spanish police had lost track of the IRA team, and that Savage’s arrival in Gibraltar took the authorities by surprise. Although a police officer was stationed in an observation post at the border with instructions for alerting other officers to the arrival of the IRA team, Canepa told the inquest that the officer had been looking for the three IRA members arriving at once. When pressed, he told McGrory he was “unsure” whether or not the officer had the details of the false passports the trio were travelling under.

Two days after Canepa’s testimony concluded, Detective Constable Charles Huart, the Gibraltar Police officer in the observation post at the border on 6 March, appeared. When cross-examined, Huart denied knowing the pseudonyms under which the IRA team were travelling. On cross-examination, Huart acknowledged having been provided with the pseudonyms at a briefing the night before the shootings. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Joseph Ullger, head of the Gibraltar Police Special Branch, offered a different account when he gave evidence the following day.

He told the coroner that the Spanish border guards had let Savage through out of carelessness, while the regular border officials on the Gibraltar side had not been told to look for the IRA team.

“Soldier F”, a British Army colonel who was in command of the SAS detachment involved in Operation Flavius, took the stand on 12 September.

“F” was followed the next day by “Soldier E”, a junior SAS officer who was directly responsible for the soldiers who carried out the shootings.[70] After the officers, the inquest heard from Soldiers “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”, the SAS soldiers who shot McCann, Savage, and Farrell. The SAS personnel all told the coroner that they had been briefed to expect the would-be bombers to be in possession of a remote detonator, and that they had been told that Savage’s car definitely contained a bomb.

Each soldier testified that the IRA team made movements which the soldiers believed to be threatening, and this prompted the soldiers to open fire. McGrory asked about the SAS’s policy on lethal force during cross-examination; he asked “D” about allegations that Savage was shot while on the ground, something “D” strenuously denied. McGrory asked “D” if he had intended to continue shooting Savage until he was dead, to which “D” replied in the affirmative.

Several Gibraltar Police officers, including Special Branch officers, gave evidence about the aftermath of the shootings and the subsequent police investigation. Immediately after the shootings, the soldiers’ shell casings were removed from the scene (making it difficult to assess where the soldiers were standing when they fired); two Gibraltar Police officers testified to collecting the casings, one for fear that they might be stolen and the other on the orders of a superior.

 

Statements from other police and military witnesses revealed that the Gibraltar Police had lost evidence and that the soldiers did not give statements to the police until over a week after the shootings.

Civilian witnesses

 

A white Renault 5, similar to that driven into Gibraltar by Sean Savage and later suspected to contain a bomb.

 

One of the first witnesses with no involvement in Operation Flavius to give evidence to the inquest was Allen Feraday, Principal Scientific Officer at the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment. He posited that a remote detonator could reach from the scenes of the shootings to the car park in which Savage had left the white Renault and beyond. On cross-examination, he stated that the aerial on the Renault was not the type he would expect to be used for receiving a detonation signal, adding that the IRA had not been known to use a remote-detonated bomb without a direct line of sight to their target.

The following day, “Soldier G” (who had made the determination that the white Renault contained a bomb) told the coroner that he was not an explosives expert, and that his assessment was based on his belief that the vehicle’s aerial looked “too new”. Dissatisfied, McGrory called his own expert witness—Dr Michael Scott, an expert in radio-controlled detonation—who disagreed with government witnesses that a bomb at the assembly area could have been detonated from the petrol station where McCann and Farrell were shot, having conducted tests prior to testifying.

The government responded by commissioning its own tests, conducted by British Army signallers, which showed that radio communication between the petrol station and the car park was possible, but not guaranteed.

Professor Alan Watson, a British forensic pathologist, carried out a post-mortem examination of the bodies. Watson arrived in Gibraltar the day after the shootings, by which time the bodies had been taken to the Royal Navy Hospital; he found that the bodies had been stripped of their clothing (causing difficulties in distinguishing entry and exit wounds), that the mortuary had no X-ray machine (which would have allowed Watson to track the paths of the bullets through the bodies), and that he was refused access to any other X-ray machine. After the professor returned to his home in Scotland, he was refused access to the results of blood tests and other evidence which had been sent for analysis and was dissatisfied with the photographs taken by the Gibraltar Police photographer who had assisted him.

At the inquest, McGrory noted and questioned the lack of assistance given to the pathologist, which Watson told him was “a puzzle”.

Watson concluded that McCann had been shot four times—once in the jaw (possibly a ricochet), once in the head, and twice in the back; Farrell was shot five times (twice in the face and three times in the back). Watson was unable to determine exactly how many times Savage was shot—he estimated that it was possibly as many as eighteen times. McGrory asked Watson whether the pathologist would agree that Savage’s body was “riddled with bullets”; Watson’s answer made headlines the following morning:

“I concur with your word. Like a frenzied attack”.

Watson agreed that the evidence suggested the deceased were shot while on the ground; a second pathologist called by McGrory offered similar findings. Two weeks later, the court heard from David Pryor—a forensic scientist working for London’s Metropolitan Police—who had analysed the clothes of the dead; he told the inquest his analysis had been hampered by the condition of the clothing when it arrived. Pryor offered evidence contradictory to that given by Soldiers “A” and “B” about their proximity to McCann and Farrell when they opened fire—the soldiers claimed they were at least six feet (1.8 metres) away, but Pryor’s analysis was that McCann and Farrell were shot from a distance of no more than two or three feet (0.6 or 0.9 metres).

Aside from experts and security personnel, several eyewitnesses gave evidence to the inquest. Three witnessed parts of the shootings, and gave accounts which supported the official version of events—in particular, they did not witness the SAS shooting any of the suspects while they were on the floor.[83] Witnesses uncovered by the journalists making “Death on the Rock” also appeared: Stephen Bullock repeated his account of seeing McCann and Savage raise their hands before the SAS shot them; Josie Celecia repeated her account of seeing a soldier shooting at McCann and Farrell while the pair were on the ground.

Hucker pointed out that parts of Celecia’s testimony had changed since she spoke to “Death on the Rock”, and suggested that the gunfire she heard was from the shooting of Savage rather than sustained shooting of McCann and Farrell while they were on the ground, a suggestion Celecia rejected; the SAS’s lawyer further observed that she was unable to identify the military personnel in photographs her husband had taken.

Maxie Proetta told the coroner that he had witnessed four men (three in plain clothes and one uniformed Gibraltar Police officer) arriving opposite the petrol station on Winston Churchill Avenue; the men jumped over the central reservation barrier and Farrell put her hands up, after which he heard a series of shots. In contrast to his wife’s testimony, he believed that Farrell’s gesture was one of self-defence rather than surrender, and he believed that the shots he heard did not come from the men from the police car.

The government lawyers suggested that the police car the Proettas saw was the one being driven by Inspector Revagliatte, carrying four uniformed police officers rather than plain-clothed soldiers, but Proetta was adamant that the lawyers’ version did not make sense. His wife gave evidence the following day.[note 3] Contrary to her statement to “Death on the Rock”, Carmen Proetta was no longer certain that she had seen McCann and Savage shot while on the ground. The government lawyers questioned the reliability of Proetta’s evidence based on her changes, and implied that she behaved suspiciously by giving evidence to “Death on the Rock” before the police. She responded that the police had not spoken to her about the shootings until after “Death on the Rock” had been shown.

Asquez, who provided an unsworn statement to the “Death on the Rock” team through an intermediary, which the journalists included in the programme, reluctantly appeared. He retracted the statements he made to “Death on the Rock”, which he claimed he had made up after “pestering” from Major Bob Randall (another “Death on the Rock” witness, who had sold the programme a video recording of the aftermath of the shootings).[note 4]

The British media covered Asquez’s retraction extensively, while several members of parliament accused Asquez of lying for the television (and “Death on the Rock” of encouraging him) in an attempt to discredit the SAS and the British government. Nonetheless, Pizzarello asked Asquez if he could explain why his original statement mentioned the Soldiers “C” and “D” donning berets, showing identity cards, and telling members of the public “it’s okay, it’s the police” after shooting Savage (details which were not public before the inquest); Asquez replied that he could not, because he was “a bit confused”.

Verdict

The inquest concluded on 30 September, and Laws and McGrory made their submissions to the coroner regarding the instructions he should give to the jury (Hucker allowed Laws to speak on his behalf). Laws asked the coroner to instruct the jury not to return a verdict of “unlawful killing” on the grounds that there had been a conspiracy to murder the IRA operatives within the British government, as he believed that no evidence had been presented at the inquest to support such a conclusion. He did also allow for the possibility that the SAS personnel had individually acted unlawfully.

McGrory, on the other hand, asked the coroner to allow for the possibility that the British government had conspired to murder McCann, Savage, and Farrell, which he believed was evidenced by the decision to use the SAS for Operation Flavius. The decision, according to McGrory was

wholly unreasonable and led to a lot of what happened afterwards…it started a whole chain of unreasonable decisions which led to the three killings, which I submit were unlawful and criminal killings.

When the coroner asked McGrory to clarify whether he believed there had been a conspiracy to murder the IRA operatives, he responded

that the choice of the SAS is of great significance…If the killing of the ASU was, in fact, contemplated by those who chose the SAS, as an act of counter-terror or vengeance, that steps outside the rule of law and it was murder…and that is a matter for the jury to consider.

After listening to both arguments, Pizzarello summarised the evidence for the jury and instructed them that they could return a verdict of “unlawful killing” under any of five circumstances, including if they were satisfied that there had been a conspiracy within the British government to murder the three suspected terrorists. He also urged the jury to return a conclusive verdict, rather than the “ambiguity” of an “open verdict”, and instructed them not to make recommendations or add a rider to their verdict.

The jury retired at 11:30 to start their deliberations. Pizzarello summoned them back after six hours with the warning that they were “at the edge” of the time in which they were allowed to come to a verdict. Just over two hours later, the jury returned. By a majority of nine to two, they returned a verdict of lawful killing.

Following the inquest, evidence came to light to contradict the version of events presented by the British government at the inquest. Six weeks after the conclusion of the inquest, a Gibraltar Police operations order leaked; the document listed Inspector Revagliatte, who had claimed to be on routine patrol, unaware of Operation Flavius, and whose siren apparently triggered the shootings, as the commander of two police firearms teams assigned to the operation.

In February 1989, British journalists discovered that the IRA team operating in Spain must have contained more members than the three killed in Gibraltar. The staff at the agencies from which the team rented their vehicles gave the Spanish police descriptions which did not match McCann, Savage, or Farrell; Savage’s white Renault, meanwhile, was rented several hours before Savage himself arrived in Spain.

It emerged that the Spanish authorities knew where McCann and Savage were staying; a senior Spanish police officer repeatedly told journalists that the IRA cell had been under surveillance throughout their time in Spain, and that the Spanish told the British authorities that they did not believe that the three were in possession of a bomb on 6 March. Although the Spanish government remained silent about the claims and counter-claims, it honoured 22 police officers at a secret awards ceremony for Spanish participants in Operation Flavius in December 1988, and a government minister told a press conference in March 1989 that “we followed the terrorists. They were completely under our control”.

The same month, a journalist discovered that the Spanish side of the operation was conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Brigade rather than the local police as the British government had suggested.

The Independent and Private Eye conjectured as to the reason for the Spanish government’s silence—in 1988, Spain was attempting to join the Western European Union, but was opposed by Britain (which was already a member); the papers’ theory was that Margaret Thatcher’s government placed political pressure on the Spanish, and that Britain later dropped its opposition in exchange for the Spanish government’s silence on Operation Flavius.

Legal proceedings

In March 1990, almost two years after the shootings, the McCann, Savage, and Farrell families began proceedings against the British government at the High Court in London. The case was dismissed on the grounds that Gibraltar was not part of the United Kingdom, and was thus outside the court’s jurisdiction.

The families launched an appeal, but withdrew it in the belief that it had no prospect of success.[62] The families proceeded to apply to the European Commission of Human Rights for an opinion on whether the authorities’ actions in Gibraltar violated Article 2 (the “right to life”) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Issuing its report in April 1993, the commission criticised the conduct of the operation, but found that there had been no violation of Article 2. Nevertheless, the commission referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for a final decision.[103][104]

The British government submitted that the killings were “absolutely necessary”, within the meaning of Article 2, paragraph 2, to protect the people of Gibraltar from unlawful violence, because the soldiers who carried out the shootings genuinely believed that McCann, Savage, and Farrell were capable of detonating a car bomb, and of doing so by remote control. The families contested the government’s claim, alleging that the government had conspired to kill the three; that the planning and control of the operation was flawed; that the inquest was not adequately equipped to investigate the killings; and that the applicable laws of Gibraltar were not compliant with Article 2 of the ECHR.

The court found that the soldiers’ “reflex action” in resorting to lethal force was excessive, but that the soldiers’ actions did not—in their own right—give rise to a violation of Article 2. The court held that the soldiers’ use of force based on an honestly held belief (that the suspects were armed or in possession of a remote detonator) could be justified, even if that belief was later found to be mistaken. To hold otherwise would, in the court’s opinion, place too great a burden on law-enforcement personnel.

It also dismissed all other allegations, except that regarding the planning and control of the operation. In that respect, the court found that the authorities’ failure to arrest the suspects as they crossed the border or earlier, combined with the information that was passed to the soldiers, rendered the use of lethal force almost inevitable. Thus, the court decided there had been a violation of Article 2 in the control of the operation.

As the three suspects had been killed while preparing an act of terrorism, the court rejected the families’ claims for damages, as well as their claim for expenses incurred at the inquest. The court did order the British government to pay the applicants’ costs incurred during the proceedings in Strasbourg. The government initially suggested it would not pay, and there was discussion in parliament of the UK withdrawing from the ECHR. It paid the costs on 24 December 1995, within days of the three-month deadline which had been set by the court.

Long-term impact

A history of the Gibraltar Police described Operation Flavius as “the most controversial and violent event” in the history of the force, while journalist Nicholas Eckert described the incident as “one of the great controversies of the Troubles” and academic Richard English posited that the “awful sequence of interwoven deaths” was one of the conflict’s “most strikingly memorable and shocking periods”.

The explosives the IRA intended to use in Gibraltar were believed to have come from Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi who was known to be supplying arms to the IRA in the 1980s; some sources speculated that Gibraltar was chosen for its relative proximity to Libya, and the targeting of the territory was intended as a gesture of gratitude to Gaddafi.[7][110][111][112][113]

Maurice Punch, an academic specialising in policing issues, described the ECtHR verdict as “a landmark case with important implications” for the control of police operations involving firearms.[15] According to Punch, the significance of the ECtHR judgement was that it placed accountability for the failures in the operation with its commanders, rather than with the soldiers who carried out the shooting itself. Punch believed that the ruling demonstrated that operations intended to arrest suspects should be conducted by civilian police officers, rather than soldiers.

The case is considered a landmark in cases concerning Article 2, particularly in upholding the principle that Article 2, paragraph 2, defines circumstances in which it is permissible to use force which may result in a person’s death as an unintended consequence, rather than circumstances in which it is permissible to intentionally deprive a person of their life. It has been cited in later ECtHR cases concerning the use of lethal force by police.

After the inquest verdict, the Governor of Gibraltar, Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Terry declared “Even in this remote place, there is no place for terrorists.” In apparent revenge for his role in Operation Flavius, Terry and his wife, Lady Betty Terry, were shot and seriously injured in front of their daughter when IRA paramilitaries opened fire on the Terry home in Staffordshire two years later, in September 1990.

Following Kenneth Asquez’s retraction of the statement he gave to “Death on the Rock” and his allegation that he was pressured into giving a false account of the events he witnessed, the IBA contacted Thames Television to express its concern and to raise the possibility of an investigation into the making of the documentary. Thames eventually agreed to commission an independent inquiry into the programme (the first such inquiry into an individual programme), to be conducted by two people with no connection to either Thames or the IBA; Thames engaged Lord Windlesham and Richard Rampton, QC to conduct the investigation.

In their report, published in January 1989, Windlesham and Rampton levelled several criticisms at “Death on the Rock”, but found it to be a “trenchant” piece of work made in “good faith and without ulterior motives”. In conclusion, the authors believed that “Death on the Rock” proved “freedom of expression can prevail in the most extensive, and the most immediate, of all the means of mass communication”

 

See Corporal Killings

See Michael Stone