Tag Archives: Miami Showband Killings

Robin `The Jackal’ Jackson – Life & Death

Robert John Jackson

  Robert John Jackson (27 September 1948  – 30 May 1998) ] also known as The Jackal, was a Northern Irish loyalistparamilitary who held the rank of brigadier in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) during the period of violent ethno-nationalist  conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

He was the commander of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade from 1975 to the early 1990s, when Billy Wright took over as leader.

From his home in the small village of DonaghcloneyCounty Down, five miles southeast of Lurgan, Jackson is alleged to have organised and committed a series of killings, mainly against Catholic civilians, although he was never convicted in connection with any killing and never served any lengthy prison terms.

At least 50 killings in Northern Ireland have been attributed to him, according to Stephen Howe (New Statesman) and David McKittrick (Lost Lives).

 David McKittrick (Lost Lives).

An article by Paul Foot in Private Eye suggested that Jackson led one of the teams that bombed Dublin on 17 May 1974, killing 26 people, including two infants.

Journalist Kevin Dowling in the Irish Independent alleged that Jackson had headed the gang that perpetrated the Miami Showband killings, which left three members of the cabaret band dead and two wounded. Journalist Joe Tiernan and the Pat Finucane Centre alleged this as well as Jackson’s involvement in the Dublin bombings.

When questioned about the latter, Jackson denied involvement. Findings noted in a report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) (released in December 2011) confirmed that Jackson was linked to the Miami Showband attack through his fingerprints, which had been found on the silencer specifically made for the Luger pistol used in the shootings.

See : Miami Showband Killings – The Day The Music Died

Jackson was a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), but had been discharged from the regiment for undisclosed reasons. It was stated by Weir, as well as by others including former British Army psychological warfare operative Major Colin Wallace, that Jackson was an RUC Special Branch agent.

Image result for operative Major Colin Wallace
Colin Wallace – Colin Wallace (left) with Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis

Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Patrol Group (SPG) officer John Weir (who was also involved in loyalist killings), also maintained this in an affidavit. The information from Weir’s affidavit was published in 2003 in the Barron Report, the findings of an official investigation into the Dublin bombings commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron.

See: the Barron report

— Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in this post/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.

Early life and UDR career

Jackson was born into a Church of Ireland family in the small hamlet of the mainly Protestant Donaghmore, County Down, Northern Ireland on 27 September 1948, the son of John Jackson and Eileen Muriel.

Some time later, he went to live in the Mourneview Estate in Lurgan,  County Armagh before making his permanent home in the village of DonaghcloneyCounty Down, five miles southeast of Lurgan. Jackson married and made a living by working in a shoe factory and delivering chickens for the Moy Park food processing company throughout most of the 1970s.

The conflict known as “the Troubles” erupted in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, and people from both sides of the religious/political divide were soon caught up in the maelstrom of violence that ensued. In 1972, Jackson joined the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), an infantry regiment of the British Army, in Lurgan.

He was attached to 11th Battalion UDR. On 23 October 1972, a large cache of guns and ammunition was stolen during an armed raid by the illegal Ulster loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), on King’s Park camp, a UDR/Territorial Army depot.

It is alleged by the Pat Finucane Centre, a Derry-based civil rights group, that Jackson took part in the raid while a serving member of the UDR. Journalist Scott Jamison also echoed this allegation in an article in the North Belfast News,  as did David McKittrick in his book Lost Lives.

UVF history

Image result for uvf history logo

Around the same time Jackson was expelled from the regiment for undisclosed reasons, he joined the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade‘s Lurgan unit. The UVF drew its greatest strength as well as the organisation’s most ruthless members from its Mid-Ulster Brigade, according to journalist Brendan O’Brien.

The Pat Finucane Centre‘s allegation that he had taken part in the UVF’s 23 October 1972 raid on the UDR/TA depot indicates that he was most likely already an active UVF member prior to being dismissed from the UDR.

Anne Cadwallader states in her 2013 book Lethal Allies that Jackson was expelled from the UDR on 4 March 1974; by then he was discernibly involved in UVF activity.

Image result for Anne Cadwallader book Lethal Allies

As the Provisional IRA continued to wage its militant campaign across Northern Ireland throughout 1972, many loyalists felt their community was under attack and their status was being threatened and sought to retaliate against Irish nationalists and republicans by joining one of the two main loyalist paramilitary organisations, the illegal UVF or the legal Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The proscription against the UVF was lifted by Merlyn ReesSecretary of State for Northern Ireland, on 4 April 1974. It remained a legal organisation until 3 October 1975, when it was once again banned by the British government.

Many members of loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVF and UDA managed to join the UDR despite the vetting process. Their purpose in doing so was to obtain weapons, training and intelligence.

 Vetting procedures were carried out jointly by the Intelligence Corps and the RUC Special Branch and if no intelligence was found to suggest unsuitability, individuals were passed for recruitment and would remain as soldiers until the commanding officer was provided with intelligence enabling him to remove soldiers with paramilitary links or sympathies.

Operating mainly around the Lurgan and Portadown areas, the Mid-Ulster Brigade had been set up in 1972 in Lurgan by Billy Hanna, who appointed himself commander. His leadership was endorsed by the UVF’s supreme commander Gusty Spence.

Hanna was a decorated war hero, having won the Military Medal for gallantry in the Korean War when he served with the Royal Ulster Rifles. He later joined the UDR, serving as a permanent staff instructor (PSI) and holding the rank of sergeant. According to David McKittrick, he was dismissed from the regiment two years later “for UVF activity”;

The regimental history of the UDR confirms this although journalist/author Martin Dillon states in his book, The Dirty War, that at the time of his death Hanna was still a member of the UDR.

Hanna’s unit formed part of the “Glenanne gang“, a loose alliance of loyalist extremists which allegedly functioned under the direction of the Intelligence Corps and/or RUC Special Branch.

See: The Glenanne Gang

It comprised rogue elements of the RUC and its Special Patrol Group (SPG), the UDR, the UDA, as well as the UVF.

The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), in collaboration with an international panel of inquiry (headed by Professor Douglass Cassel, formerly of Northwestern University School of Law) has implicated this gang in 87 killings which were carried out in the 1970s against Catholics and nationalists.

The name, first used in 2003, is derived from a farm in Glenanne, County Armagh, which the UVF regularly used as an arms dump and bomb-making site. It was owned by James Mitchell, an RUC reservist.  According to John Weir, the gang usually did not use the name UVF whenever it claimed its attacks; instead it employed the cover names of “Red Hand Commando“, “Protestant Action Force“, or “Red Hand Brigade”. Weir named Jackson as a key player in the Glenanne gang.

He had close ties to loyalist extremists from Dungannon such as brothers Wesley and John James Somerville, with whom he was often spotted drinking in the Morning Star pub in the town. 

Alleged shooting and bombing attacks

Patrick Campbell shooting

He was first arrested on 8 November 1973 for the killing on 28 October of Patrick Campbell, a Catholic trade unionist from Banbridge who was gunned down on his doorstep. Jackson’s words after he was charged with the killing were:

“Nothing. I just can’t believe it”.

Campbell’s wife, Margaret had opened the door to the gunman and his accomplice when they had come looking for her husband. She had got a good look at the two men, who drove off in a Ford Cortina after the shooting, and although she identified Jackson as the killer at an identity parade, murder charges against him were dropped on 4 January 1974 at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.

The charges were allegedly withdrawn because the RUC thought Mrs. Campbell knew him beforehand. Jackson confirmed this, saying that they had met previously on account that he worked in the same Banbridge shoe factory (Down Shoes Ltd.) as Patrick Campbell.

 It was suggested in David McKittrick’s Lost Lives that some time before the shooting there may have been a “minor political disagreement” between Jackson and Campbell while the two men were on a night out.

Image result for Raymond Murray, in his book The SAS in Ireland,

Raymond Murray, in his book The SAS in Ireland, suggested that his accomplice in the shooting was Wesley Somerville. Irish writer and journalist Hugh Jordan also maintains this allegation.

When the RUC had searched Jackson’s house after his arrest they discovered 49 additional bullets to those allotted a serving member of the UDR. A notebook was also found which contained personal details of over two dozen individuals including their car registration numbers.

Dublin car bombings

RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir claimed to have first met Jackson in 1974 at Norman’s Bar, in Moira, County Down.

Weir stated in an affidavit that Jackson was one of those who had planned and carried out the Dublin car bombings. According to Weir, Jackson, along with the main organiser Billy Hanna and Davy Payne (UDA, Belfast), led one of the two UVF units that bombed Dublin on 17 May 1974 in three separate explosions, resulting in the deaths of 26 people, including two infant girls. Close to 300 others were injured in the blasts; many of them maimed and scarred for life.

Journalist Peter Taylor affirmed that the Dublin car bombings were carried out by two UVF units, one from Mid-Ulster, the other from Belfast.

The bombings took place on the third day of the Ulster Workers Council Strike, which was a general strike in Northern Ireland called by hardline unionists in protest against the Sunningdale Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly which had proposed their sharing political power with nationalists in an Executive that also planned a greater role for the Republic of Ireland in the governance of Northern Ireland.

In 2003, Weir’s information was published in the Barron Report, which was the findings of an official investigation into the bombings by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron.

 Justice Barron concluded Weir’s “evidence overall is credible”.  An article by Paul Foot in Private Eye also implicated Jackson in the bombings.

The producers of the 1993 Yorkshire Television documentary, The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre, referred to Jackson indirectly as one of the bombers. However, three of his alleged accomplices, Billy Hanna, Harris Boyle, and Robert McConnell were directly named.

Although the incriminating evidence against Jackson had comprised eight hours of recorded testimony which came from one of his purported chief accomplices in the bombings, the programme did not name him directly during the transmission as the station did not want to risk an accusation of libel.

The programme’s narrator instead referred to him as “the Jackal”. Hanna, Boyle, and McConnell were deceased at the time of the programme’s airing.

According to submissions received by Mr. Justice Barron, on the morning of 17 May 1974, the day of the bombings, Jackson collected the three bombs and placed them onto his poultry lorry at James Mitchell‘s farm in Glenanne, County Armagh, which had been used for the construction and storage of the devices.

He then drove across the border to Dublin, crossing the Boyne River at Oldbridge. The route had been well-rehearsed over the previous months. Billy Hanna, then the Mid-Ulster UVF’s commander and the principal organiser of the attacks, accompanied him.

At the Coachman’s Inn pub carpark on the Swords Road near Dublin Airport, the two men met up with the other members of the UVF bombing team.  Jackson and Hanna subsequently transferred the bombs from his lorry into the boots of three allocated cars, which had been hijacked and stolen that morning in Belfast. The Hidden Hand producers named William “Frenchie” Marchant of the UVF’s A Coy, 1st Battalion Belfast Brigade, as having been on a Garda list of suspects as the organiser of the hijackings in Belfast on the morning of the bombings.

The cars, after being obtained by the gang of hijackers, known as “Freddie and the Dreamers”, were driven from Belfast across the border to the carpark, retaining their original registration numbers.

Journalist Joe Tiernan suggested that the bombs were activated by Billy Hanna.  Sometime before 4.00 p.m., Jackson and Hanna headed back to Northern Ireland in the poultry lorry after the latter had given the final instructions to the drivers of the car bombs.

 Upon their return, Jackson and Hanna went back to the soup kitchen they were running at a Mourneville, Lurgan bingo hall. With the UWC strike in its third day, it was extremely difficult for people throughout Northern Ireland to obtain necessities such as food. Neither man’s absence had been noticed by the other helpers.

Following Hanna’s orders, the three car bombs (two of them escorted by a “scout” [lead] car, to be used for the bombers’ escape back across the Northern Ireland border) were driven into the city centre of Dublin where they detonated in Parnell StreetTalbot Street, and South Leinster Street, almost simultaneously at approximately 5.30 pm.

No warnings were given. From the available forensic evidence derived from material traces at the scene, the bombs are believed to have contained, as their main tertiary explosive a gelignite containing ammonium nitrate, packed into the usual metallic beer barrel container used by loyalists in prior car bombings.

Twenty-three people were killed outright in the blasts, including a pregnant woman and her unborn child; three more people would later die of their injuries. The bodies of the dead were mostly unrecognisable. One girl who had been near the epicentre of the Talbot Street explosion was decapitated; only her platform boots provided a clue as to her sex.

The bombers immediately fled from the destruction they had wrought in central Dublin in the two scout cars and made their way north using the “smuggler’s route” of minor and back roads, crossing the border near Hackballs CrossCounty Louth at about 7.30 pm. 

Thirty minutes earlier in Monaghan, an additional seven people were killed instantly or fatally injured by a fourth car bomb which had been delivered by a team from the Mid-Ulster UVF’s Portadown unit. According to Joe Tiernan, this attack was carried out to draw the Gardaí away from the border, enabling the Dublin bombers to cross back into Northern Ireland undetected.

Jackson was questioned following the Yorkshire Television programme, and he denied any involvement in the Dublin attacks.[ His name had appeared on a Garda list of suspects for the bombings.  Hanna’s name was on both the Garda and the RUC’s list of suspects; however, neither of the two men were ever arrested or interrogated in connection with the bombings. The submissions made to the Barron Inquiry also stated that one week before the Dublin attacks, Jackson and others had been stopped at a Garda checkpoint at Hackballs Cross.

Image result for David Ervine belfast

As it turned out, nobody was ever convicted of the car bombings. Years later, British journalist Peter Taylor in an interview with Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) politician and former senior Belfast UVF member David Ervine questioned him about UVF motives for the 1974 Dublin attacks. Ervine replied they [UVF] were:

“returning the serve”.

Ervine, although he had not participated in the bombings, explained that the UVF had wanted the Catholics across the border in the Republic of Ireland to suffer as Protestants in Northern Ireland had suffered on account of the intensive bombing campaign waged by the Provisional IRA.

On 28 May 1974, 11 days after the bombings, the UWC strike ended with the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the power-sharing Executive.

See: Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

John Francis Green killing

Statements made by John Weir affirmed Jackson’s active participation in the killing of senior IRA member John Francis Green in Mullyash, near CastleblayneyCounty Monaghan.

Image result for IRA member John Francis Green
John Francis Green

On the evening of 10 January 1975, gunmen kicked down the front door of the “safe” house Green was staying in and, finding him alone in the living room, immediately opened fire, shooting him six times in the head at close range. The bullets all entered from the front, which indicated that Green had been facing his killers.

The UVF claimed responsibility for the killing in the June 1975 edition of its publication, Combat. Green’s killing occurred during an IRA ceasefire, which had been declared the previous month.

Assassination of Billy Hanna and leadership of UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade†

Ulster Volunteer Force mural. Robin Jackson led the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade from 1975 to the early 1990s.

Subsequent to his alleged killing of leader Billy Hanna outside his home in Lurgan in the early hours of 27 July 1975, Jackson assumed command of the Mid-Ulster Brigade.

Hanna and his wife Ann had just returned from a function at the local British Legion Club. When he stepped out of the car, Jackson and another man approached him. After asking them “What are you playing at?” Jackson produced a pistol, walked over and shot him twice in the head; once in the temple and afterwards in the back of the head, execution style as he lay on the ground. His wife witnessed the killing.

Joe Tiernan suggested that Jackson killed Hanna on account of the latter’s refusal to participate in the Miami Showband killings. Hanna apparently suffered remorse following the 1974 Dublin bombings, as he is believed by Tiernan to have instructed one of the bombers, David Alexander Mulholland to drive the car which exploded in Parnell Street, where two infant girls were among those killed.

 According to Tiernan and the Barron Report, David Alexander Mulholland was identified by three eyewitnesses. Tiernan also suggested that Hanna and Mulholland became informers for the Gardaí regarding the car bombings in exchange for immunity from prosecution. He added that although the British Army was aware of this, Jackson was never told, as it was feared he would decide to become an informer himself

Investigative journalist Paul Larkin, in his book A Very British Jihad: collusion, conspiracy, and cover-up in Northern Ireland maintained that Jackson, accompanied by Harris Boyle, had shot Hanna after learning that he had passed on information regarding the Dublin bombings.

Image result for A Very British Jihad: collusion, conspiracy, and cover-up in Northern Ireland

Martin Dillon also claims this in The Trigger Men. Dillon also stated in The Dirty War that because a number of UDR/UVF men were to be used for the planned Miami Showband attack, the UVF considered Hanna to have been a “security risk”, and therefore it had been necessary to kill him.

Image result for The Trigger Men martin dillon

David McKittrick in Lost Lives, however, suggested that Jackson had actually killed Hanna in order to obtain a cache of weapons the latter held.

The UVF drew its greatest strength as well as the organisation’s most ruthless members from its Mid-Ulster Brigade according to Irish journalist Brendan O’Brien.

Miami Showband massacre

See: Miami Showband massacre

Links to Captain Robert Nairac

Robert Nairac.jpg

It was stated by The Hidden Hand programme that Jackson had links to British Military Intelligence and Liaison officer Captain Robert Nairac.

The Hidden Hand alleged that Jackson and his UVF comrades were controlled by Nairac who was attached to 14th Intelligence Company (The Det). Former MI6 operative, Captain Fred Holroyd claimed that Nairac admitted to having been involved in John Francis Green’s death and had shown Holroyd a colour polaroid photograph of Green’s corpse to back up his claim. Holroyd believed that for some months leading up to his shooting, Green had been kept under surveillance by 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers, one of the three sub-units of 14th Intelligence.

This unit was based in Castledillon, County Armagh, and according to Holroyd, was the cover name of an SAS troop commanded by Nairac and Captain Julian Antony “Tony” Ball. Nairac was himself abducted and killed by the IRA in 1977, and Ball was killed in an accident in Oman in 1981.

Justice Barron himself questioned Holroyd’s evidence as a result of two later Garda investigations, where Detective Inspector Culhane discounted Holroyd’s allegations regarding Nairac and the polaroid photograph. Culhane concluded that the latter had been one of a series of official photographs taken of Green’s body the morning following his killing by Detective Sergeant William Stratford, who worked in the Garda Technical Bureau‘s Photography Section.

Weir made the following statements in relation to Jackson and Nairac’s alleged mutual involvement in the Green assassination:

The men who did that shooting were Robert McConnell, Robin Jackson, and I would be almost certain, Harris Boyle who was killed in the Miami attack. What I am absolutely certain of is that Robert McConnell, Robert McConnell knew that area really, really well. Robin Jackson was with him. I was later told that Nairac was with them. I was told by … a UVF man, he was very close to Jackson and operated with him. Jackson told [him] that Nairac was with them.

In his 1989 book War Without Honour, Holyroyd claimed that Nairac had organised the Miami Showband ambush in collaboration with Jackson, and had also been present at Buskhill when the attack was carried out.

Image result for book War Without Honour

Bassist Stephen Travers and saxophonist Des McAlea, the two bandmembers who survived the shootings, both testified in court that a British Army officer “with a crisp, clipped English accent” had overseen the operation. However, when shown a photograph of Nairac, Travers could not positively identify him as the soldier who had been at the scene.

Martin Dillon in The Dirty War adamantly stated that Nairac had not been involved in the Green killing nor in the Miami Showband massacre.

Image result for the dirty war book

The Barron Report noted that although Weir maintained that Jackson and Billy Hanna had links to Nairac and British Military Intelligence, his claim did not imply that the British Army or Military Intelligence had aided the two men in the planning and perpetration of the 1974 Dublin bombings. While in prison, Weir wrote a letter to a friend claiming that Nairac had ties to both Jackson and James Mitchell, owner of the Glenanne farm.

The 2006 Interim Report of Mr. Justice Barron’s inquiry into the Dundalk bombing of 1975 (see below) concluded that Jackson was one of the suspected bombers:

“reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence and or RUC Special Branch officers”.

In 2015, a biography of Nairac entitled “Betrayal: the Murder of Robert Nairac” was published. Written by former diplomat Alistair Kerr, the book provides documentary evidence that shows Nairac as having been elsewhere at the time the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, John Francis Green killing and Miami Showband ambush took place.

On 17 May 1974 he was on a months-long training course in England; 10 January 1975 there were three witnesses who placed him on temporary duty in Derry for a secret mission; and on 31 July 1975 at 4am he had started on a road journey from London to Scotland for a fishing holiday.

Other killings

1975

The 2006 Interim Report named Jackson as having possibly been one of the two gunmen in the shooting death of the McKearney couple on 23 October 1975. Peter McKearney was shot between 14 and 18 times, and his wife, Jenny 11 times. The shooting took place at their home in Moy, County Tyrone; Jackson was linked to the 9mm Sterling submachine gun used in the killings. “Glenanne gang” member Garnet Busby pleaded guilty to the killings and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Image result for john weir loyalist
John Weir

John Weir claimed that Jackson led the group who bombed Kay’s Tavern pub in Dundalk on 19 December 1975, which killed two men.  Barron implicated the “Glenanne gang” in the bombing, however, Jackson was not identified by any eyewitnesses at or in the vicinity of Kay’s Tavern.[

Gardaí received information from a reliable source that Jackson and his car – a Vauxhall Viva with the registration number CIA 2771 – were involved in the bombing; yet there were no witnesses who reported having seen the car. The RUC stated that Jackson had been observed celebrating at a Banbridge bar at 9.00 pm on the evening of the attack in the company of other loyalist extremists. The implication was that they were celebrating the Kay’s Tavern bombing.

1976

The following month, on 4 January 1976, Jackson supposedly organised the “Glenanne gang”‘s two co-ordinated sectarian attacks against the O’Dowd and Reavey families in County Armagh, leaving a total of five men dead and one injured.

 Weir maintained that it was Jackson who shot 61-year-old Joseph O’Dowd and his two nephews, Barry and Declan, to death at a family celebration in Ballydougan, near Gilford; although Jackson had not been at the scene where the Reavey brothers had been killed twenty minutes earlier.

The day after the double killing, ten Protestant workmen were gunned down by the South Armagh Republican Action Force, who ambushed their minibus near the village of Kingsmill. The shootings were in retaliation for the O’Dowd and Reavey killings. The Glenanne gang made plans to avenge the Kingsmill victims with an attack on St Lawrence O’Toole Primary School, Belleeks. This plan, which involved the killing of at least 30 schoolchildren and their teacher, was called off at the last minute by the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership), who considered it “morally unacceptable” and feared it would have led to a civil war.

Based on the description given by Barney O’Dowd, a survivor of the shooting attack at Ballydougan, one of the weapons used in the O’Dowd killings was a Luger with an attached silencer.  The findings noted in the HET Report on the Miami Showband killings revealed that on 19 May 1976, two fingerprints belonging to Jackson were discovered on the metal barrel of a home-made silencer constructed for a Luger pistol.

Both the silencer and Luger, as well as more firearms, ammunition, a magazine, explosives, and bomb-making material, were found by the security forces at the farm of a man by the name of Edward Sinclair, a former member of the “B Specials“. The exhibit, however, was mistakenly labelled indicating that his prints had been found on the black insulating tape wrapped around the silencer rather than the silencer itself.

After several unsuccessful attempts to apprehend Jackson between 20 and 30 May, Jackson was arrested at his home on 31 May under Section 10 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973; he was taken to Armagh Police Station. This was when the amended information regarding his fingerprints was delivered to Detective Superintendent Ernest Drew at Armagh. Drew and Detective Constable William Elder both questioned him; Jackson denied ever having been at Sinclair’s farm whilst admitting knowing him through the Portadown Loyalist Club which they both frequented.

When shown the Luger, silencer and magazine (but not the insulating tape), Jackson denied having handled them. When asked by Detective Superintendent Drew to provide an explanation should his fingerprints be discovered on either pistol or silencer, Jackson told him that one night at the Portadown Loyalist Club, Sinclair had asked him for some adhesive tape and Jackson claimed

“I gave him part of the roll I was using in the bar”.

Jackson had allegedly been using the tape whilst lapping hoses for beer kegs at the bar. In his statement to Detective Superintendent Drew, Jackson claimed that one week prior to his arrest, two high-ranking RUC officers had tipped him off about his fingerprints having been found on the insulating tape wrapped around the silencer used with the Luger. Jackson went on to say that he was forewarned, using the words:

“I should clear as there was a wee job up the country that I would be done for and there was no way out of it for me”.

On 2 June, Jackson was charged with possession of a firearm, a magazine, four rounds of ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life. He was detained in custody and went to trial on 11 November 1976 at a Diplock Court held at Belfast City Commission, charged only with possession of the silencer. Although the judge initially rejected his defence that his fingerprints were on the insulating tape and had “been innocently transferred to the silencer”, he managed to avoid conviction when he was acquitted of the charge.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Murray, had said: “At the end of the day I find that the accused somehow touched the silencer, but the Crown evidence has left me completely in the dark as to whether he did that wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly”.

As a result of the judicious examination of forensic ballistics procured from original RUC reports and presented to Justice Barron, the 9 mm Luger pistol, serial no. U 4 for which the silencer was specifically made, was established as having been the same one used in the Miami Showband and John Francis Green killings.

Image result for Miami Showband trumpeter Brian McCoy

According to journalist Tom McGurk, Miami Showband trumpeter Brian McCoy was shot nine times in the back with a Luger pistol.  The Miami inquiry team was never informed of these developments and Jackson was never questioned about the Miami Showband killings following the discovery of his fingerprints on the silencer. The Luger pistol serial no.U 4 was later destroyed by the RUC on 28 August 1978.

Barney O’Dowd claimed RUC detectives in the 1980s admitted to him that Jackson had been the man who shot the three O’Dowd men, but the evidence had not been sufficient to charge him with the killings.

In 2006, Barney O’Dowd spoke at the public hearings of the Houses of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on the Barron Report Debate. He maintained that in June 1976 an RUC detective came to see him at his home and told him the gunman could not be charged with the killings as he was the “head of the UVF” and a “hard man” who could not be broken during police interrogation. Additionally the UVF had threatened to start shooting policeman like the IRA were doing if the gunman was ever charged with murder.

Weir stated in his affidavit that on one occasion some months after he was transferred to Newry RUC station in October 1976, Jackson himself, and another RUC officer and “Glenanne gang” member, Gary Armstrong, went on a reconnaissance in south Armagh seeking out the homes of known IRA members, with the aim of assassinating them. Jackson, according to Weir, carried a knife and hammer, and boasted to Weir that if they happened to:

“find a suitable person to kill”, he [Jackson] “knew how to do it with those weapons”.

They approached the houses of two IRA men; however, the plan to attack them was aborted and they drove back to Lurgan. They were stopped at an RUC roadblock near the Republic of Ireland border, but the three men were waved through, after an exchange of courtesies, despite the presence of Jackson in the car with two RUC officers.

1977 and the William Strathearn killing

The village of AhoghillCounty Antrim, where the William Strathearn killing took place

He was implicated by Weir in the killing of Catholic chemist, William Strathearn,  who was shot at his home in AhoghillCounty Antrim after two men knocked on his door at 2.00 am on 19 April 1977 claiming to need medicine for a sick child.

Strathearn lived above his chemist’s shop. Weir was one of the RUC men later convicted of the killing, along with his SPG colleague, Billy McCaughey, and he named Jackson as having been the gunman, alleging that Jackson had told him after the shooting that he had shot Strathearn twice when the latter opened the door.

Weir and McCaughey had waited in Weir’s car while the shooting was carried out. The gun that Jackson used had been given to him by McCaughey, with the instructions that he was only to fire through an upstairs window to frighten the occupants and make sure they “got the message”, and not to kill anyone. As in the Dublin bombings, Jackson’s poultry lorry was also employed on this occasion, specifically to transport himself and Robert John “R.J.” Kerr, another alleged accomplice, to and from the scene of the crime. After the killing, Jackson and Kerr went on to deliver a load of chickens. Kerr was allegedly Jackson’s lorry helper, assisting in loading and unloading chickens which Jackson sold for a living.

Jackson was never questioned about the killing. According to an RUC detective, he was not interrogated for “reasons of operational strategy”. Weir suggested that “Jackson was untouchable because he was an RUC Special Branch agent.”

The Barron Report stated that Weir had made an offer to testify against Jackson and Robert John “R.J”. Kerr, but only on the condition that the murder charge against him was withdrawn. This offer was refused by the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions who said

Kerr and Jackson have not been interviewed by the police because the police state they are virtually immune to interrogation and the common police consensus is that to arrest and interview either man is a waste of time. Both men are known to police to be very active and notorious UVF murderers. Nevertheless the police do not recommend consideration of withdrawal of charges against Weir. I agree with this view. Weir and McCaughey must be proceeded against. When proceedings against them are terminated the position may be reviewed in respect of Jackson and Kerr.

It is noted in the Barron Report that Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Robert Lowry was aware of Jackson and Kerr’s involvement in the Strathearn killing, and that they were not prosecuted for “operational reasons”. Mr. Justice Barron was highly critical of the RUC’s failure to properly investigate Jackson.

Weir declared:

“I think it is important to make it clear that this collusion between loyalist paramilitaries such as Robin Jackson and my RUC colleagues and me was taking place with the full knowledge of my superiors”.

1978–1991

The interior of Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. Following his arrest in 1979 for possession of guns, ammunition, and hoods, Jackson was remanded in custody to the prison to await trial

Journalist Liam Clarke alleged that in early 1978, Weir and Jackson traveled to Castleblaney with the intention of kidnapping an IRA volunteer named Dessie O’Hare from a pub called The Spinning Wheel. However, when Jackson and Weir arrived, they discovered the publican had been warned of the kidnap plot and they were ordered to leave the premises.

Jackson’s sole conviction came after he was arrested on 16 October 1979 when a .22 pistol, a .38 revolver, a magazine, 13 rounds of ammunition, and hoods were found in his possession.He was remanded in custody to Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast to await trial. On 20 January 1981, Jackson was brought before the Belfast Crown Court on charges of possession of guns and ammunition, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

 He was released on 12 May 1983.

A man whose description matched Jackson’s was seen behaving suspiciously in the vicinity of Lurgan RUC barracks close to where three prominent republicans were later ambushed and shot by masked UVF gunmen after they left the police station on 7 March 1990. The republicans had been signing in at the station as part of their bail conditions for charges of possession of ammunition. Sam Marshall was killed in the attack; Colin Duffy and Tony McCaughey were both wounded. Although the shooting was claimed by the UVF, the gunmen were never caught. Two UVF members were later convicted of having supplied the car used in the ambush.

He reportedly perpetrated his last killings in March 1991, with the fatal shootings of three Catholics, Eileen Duffy, Catriona Rennie, and Brian Frizzell, at a mobile shop in Craigavon. Duffy and Rennie were teenage girls.

 Weir’s affidavit contradicted this as it pointed out that although Jackson was aware that the killings were to take place, he had not been at the scene of the crime; a solicitor informed Weir he had been with Jackson at his home at the time the shootings occurred to provide him with an alibi. Investigative journalist Paul Larkin suggested that the shooting attack against the shop was organised by Jackson upon receiving complaints from UDR soldiers after they had been refused service and insulted by the mobile shop employees.

Larkin identified one of the hitmen as Mark “Swinger” Fulton. Although the RUC initially arrested UVF members associated with Jackson, they then focused their attention on the men belonging to the Mid-Ulster Brigade’s Portadown unit led by Billy Wright. Fulton was a prominent member of this unit and served as Wright’s right-hand man.

Reputation and further allegations

Designated by Weir the “most notorious paramilitary in Northern Ireland”, at least 50 killings were directly attributed to Jackson, according to journalists Stephen Howe in the New Statesman,  and David McKittrick in his book Lost Lives.

Kevin Dowling in the Irish Independent, dubbed Jackson the “Lord High Executioner of the North’s notorious murder triangle”, adding that he was infamous from Belfast to the Irish border for “the intensity and fury of his instinct to kill”.

A former UDR soldier who had served with Jackson described him as a sectarian killer who had a visceral hatred of Catholics but that :

“you were always glad to have him with you when you were out on patrol”.

Unnamed Intelligence officers personally acquainted with Jackson stated that he was a psychopath who would often dress up and attend the funerals of his victims because he felt a need “to make sure they were dead.”

 Described as a sardonic man who was extremely dedicated; physically he was dark-haired, blue-eyed, “small, but firmly-built”. Suspicious by nature, he repeatedly advised his associates that they should never reveal secret information to anyone. His paranoia and fear of recognition by his potential victims was such that he attempted to destroy all photographs of himself including school and family pictures.

Psychological warfare operative Major Colin Wallace corroborated the allegations, stating that

[E]verything people had whispered about Robin Jackson for years was perfectly true. He was a hired gun. A professional assassin. He was responsible for more deaths in the North [Northern Ireland] than any other person I knew. The Jackal killed people for a living. The State not only knew that he was doing it. Its servants encouraged him to kill its political opponents and protected him.

Wallace also named Jackson as having been “centrally-involved” in the Dublin bombings, but like Weir, suggested that the principal organiser had been Billy Hanna.  Wallace’s psychological operations unit typically targeted loyalist extremists; however, during the period of 1973 and 1974 he was refused clearance to target principal members of the Mid-Ulster UVF despite an increase in paramilitary activity from the organisation.

In June 1974, a month after the bombings, Wallace was denied permission to target key loyalists including Jackson and Hanna, as their names were on a list which excluded them from being targeted for psychological operations. This appeared to indicate that in practice, those members of paramilitaries whose names were listed were also excluded from being targeted for prosecution.

Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times made the following statements regarding Jackson and his reported special relationship with the security forces and military intelligence:

Jackson had many allies still serving in the UDR and close links to special forces soldiers. These included Bunny Dearsley of military intelligence and Robert Nairac, Tony Ball and other soldiers attached to the undercover 14th Intelligence Unit. These officers met him at a bar in Moira and many suspect that he was involved in murders set up by military contacts at that time. In the late 1970s, he [Jackson] was a binge drinker and sometimes boasted to UVF associates of “someone looking after me”. Some took this as a reference to God, or even the Devil, but the most likely explanation is that it referred to members of the Army’s intelligence corps.

Originally nicknamed “Jacko”,  Jackson was given the more sinister sobriquet, “the Jackal” by Sunday World newspaper’s Northern Ireland editor Jim Campbell when he investigated and exposed Jackson’s alleged paramilitary activities – including his involvement in the Miami Showband killings – and links to British Military Intelligence.

 In retaliation, Jackson reportedly approached members of the violent loyalist Shankill Butchers gang in Belfast, who (at Jackson’s request) shot and seriously wounded Campbell on 18 May 1984.  According to journalist Joe Gorrod of The Mirror, it was reported in the Irish Times that the SAS took Jackson abroad where he received specialist training. In the late 1980s, he was also sent by MI5 to South Africa and Australia to buy weapons that were shipped back to loyalist paramilitaries and Ulster Resistance in Northern Ireland.[130]Gorrod wrote that Jackson kept hidden files that incriminated the politicians and businessmen who were involved with Jackson in the loyalist arms shipments.

In his book Loyalists, British journalist Peter Taylor devotes pages 187–195 to the loyalists’ South African arms deals which had taken place in the late 1980s. Jackson’s name does not appear in the account nor is Australia referred to. Joe Gorrod is the only journalist to make these allegations although Henry McDonald (of The Guardian) affirmed that Jackson lived for a period of time in South Africa during the 1980s.

Image result for Loyalists Peter Taylor

The purported files, which were kept with a friend, would have ensured Jackson that he would never be sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment.

Weapons used in the 1994 UVF shooting attack on patrons in the Heights Bar at Loughinisland were later found to have come from the South African arms shipment that had ended up in the hands of Robin Jackson.

Succeeded by Billy Wright

In the early 1990s, he handed over command of the Mid-Ulster UVF to Portadown unit leader Billy Wright, also known as “King Rat”. Wright formed the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) in 1996. This was after he and his Portadown unit had been stood down by the UVF’s Brigade Staff in Belfast on 2 August 1996, following the unauthorised killing of a Catholic taxi driver by members of Wright’s group outside Lurgan during the Drumcree disturbances when the UVF were on ceasefire.

Although Wright took the officially-disbanded Portadown unit with him to form the LVF, Jackson, despite being on friendly terms with Wright, remained loyal to the UVF leadership as did most of the other Mid-Ulster Brigade units. Wright was shot dead inside the Maze Prison on 27 December 1997 by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) inmates while waiting in a prison van which was transporting him to a visit with his girlfriend. Wright had been sentenced to eight years imprisonment for having threatened a woman’s life.

Jackson was confronted in 1998 by the son of RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell, a Catholic constable gunned down outside the Cushendall, County Antrim RUC station in February 1977, as he was locking up. It was rumoured that Jackson had been the hitman sent to shoot Campbell on behalf of an RUC Special Branch officer.

Weir, in his affidavit, claimed Jackson, prior to Campbell’s shooting, had informed him of the RUC officer’s request. Jackson, by then dying of cancer, told Campbell’s son that he had not been involved in the killing. The UVF, at a secret meeting with journalists, declared that Jackson had no part in Campbell’s killing. The case was later placed under investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

See: Billy Wright

Death

Jackson died of lung cancer at his Donaghcloney home on Saturday, 30 May 1998 and was buried the following Monday, 1 June in a private ceremony in the St. Bartholomew Church of Ireland churchyard in his native Donaghmore, County Down. His grave, close to that of his parents, is unmarked apart from a steel poppy cross. 

He was 49 years old. His father had died in 1985 and his mother outlived him for five years.

After his death, a friend of Jackson told Gorrod that Jackson had no regrets about his UVF activities; however, due to his religious upbringing he was tormented by feelings of remorse on his deathbed believing that he had been “drawn into a world of evil that wasn’t of his making”. One of his last wishes was that the secret documents incriminating the politicians and businessmen with whom he associated be released to the public. Liam Clarke suggested the killing of Billy Hanna was the only killing Jackson ever regretted, admitting it had been “unfair” to kill him.

Journalist Martin O’Hagan had been in the process of writing a book about Jackson but his assassination by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) in 2001 prevented its completion. Along with Billy Hanna and other senior loyalists, Jackson was commemorated in the UVF song Battalion of the Dead. In May 2010, angry relatives of UVF victims unsuccessfully sought the removal of the song from YouTube.

See : Miami Showband Killings – The Day The Music Died

See: The Glenanne Gang

See: Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

Advertisements

Miami Showband Killings – The Day The Music Died

Miami Showband Killing

The Miami Showband killings (also called the Miami Showband Massacre) was an attack by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, on 31 July 1975. It took place on the A1 road at Buskhill in County Down, Northern Ireland. Five people were killed, including three members of The Miami Showband, who were then one of Ireland’s most popular cabaret bands.

The Day The Music Died

The band was travelling home to Dublin late at night after a performance in Banbridge. Seven miles (11 km) north of Newry, their minibus was stopped at what appeared to be a military checkpoint, where gunmen in British Army uniforms ordered them to line up by the roadside. At least four of the gunmen were serving soldiers from the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) but, unbeknownst to the band, all were members of the UVF. While two of the gunmen (both soldiers) were hiding a time bomb on the minibus, it exploded prematurely and killed them.

It has been suggested that the plan had been for it to explode en route and kill the band, who would be branded IRA bomb smugglers. The other gunmen then opened fire on the dazed band members, killing three and wounding two.

Two serving British soldiers and one former British soldier were found guilty of the murders and received life sentences; they were released in 1998. Allegations of collusion between British military intelligence and the loyalist militants persist. According to former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agent Captain Fred Holroyd, the killings were organised by British Army Captain Robert Nairac (a member of 14th Intelligence Company), in collaboration with the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade and its commander Robin “The Jackal” Jackson.

Robin Jackson.jpg

Robin ( The Jackal)  Jackson

The Historical Enquiries Team, which investigated the killings, released their report to the victims’ families in December 2011. It confirmed that Jackson was linked to the attack by fingerprints. There are claims that those involved in the Miami Showband killings belonged to the Glenanne gang; a secret alliance of loyalist militants, rogue police officers and British soldiers.

In a report published in the Sunday Mirror in 1999, Colin Wills called the Miami Showband attack “one of the worst atrocities in the 30-year history of the Troubles”. Irish Times diarist Frank McNally summed up the massacre as “an incident that encapsulated all the madness of the time”

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

Background

Political situation in Northern Ireland

UVF-logo123.png

The conflict in Northern Ireland, known as “The Troubles“, began in the late 1960s. The year 1975 was marked by an escalation in sectarian attacks and a vicious feud between the two main loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). On 4 April 1974 the proscription against the UVF had been lifted by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This meant that both it and the UDA were legal organisations.

The UVF would be once more banned by the British government on 3 October 1975.

In May 1974 unionists called a general strike to protest against the Sunningdale Agreement – an attempt at power-sharing, setting up a Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland, which would have given the Government of Ireland a voice in running Northern Ireland. During that strike on 17 May, the UVF carried out the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings, which killed 33 civilians. The Provisional IRA were suspected by British police of bombing two pubs in the English city of Birmingham the following November, resulting in 21 deaths.

UK Home Secretary Roy Jenkins introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gave the government unprecedented powers against the liberty of individuals in the United Kingdom in peacetime. At Christmas 1974 the IRA declared a ceasefire, which theoretically lasted throughout most of 1975. This move made loyalists apprehensive and suspicious that a secret accord was being conducted between the British government and the IRA, and that Northern Ireland’s Protestants would be “sold out”.

Their fears were slightly grounded in fact, as the MI6 officer Michael Oatley was involved in negotiations with a member of the IRA Army Council, during which “structures of disengagement” from Ireland were discussed. This had meant the possible withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. The existence of these talks led unionists to believe that they were about to be abandoned by the British government and forced into a united Ireland; as a result, the loyalist paramilitary groups reacted with a violence that, combined with the tit-for-tat retaliations from the IRA (despite their ceasefire), made 1975 one of the “bloodiest years of the conflict”.

In early 1975 Merlyn Rees set up elections for the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention at which all of Northern Ireland’s politicians would plan their way forward. These were held on 1 May 1975 and the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC), which had won 11 out of 12 Northern Irish seats in the February 1974 general election, won a majority again. As the UUUC would not abide any form of power-sharing with the Dublin government, no agreement could be reached and the convention failed, again marginalising Northern Ireland’s politicians and the communities they represented

Robin Jackson and the Mid-Ulster UVF

 

refer to caption

Ulster Volunteer Force mural.

The UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade, led by Robin Jackson, was one of the most ruthless paramilitary groups that operated in the 1970s.

The UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade operated mainly around the Portadown and Lurgan areas. It had been set up in Lurgan in 1972 by part-time Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) sergeant and permanent staff instructor Billy Hanna, who made himself commander of the brigade. His leadership was endorsed by the UVF’s leader Gusty Spence.

The brigade was described by author Don Mullan as one of the most ruthless units operating in the 1970s. At the time of the attack the Mid-Ulster Brigade was commanded by Robin Jackson, also known as “The Jackal”. Jackson had assumed command of the Mid-Ulster UVF just a few days before the Miami Showband attack, after allegedly shooting Hanna dead outside his home in Lurgan on 27 July 1975.

According to authors Paul Larkin and Martin Dillon, Jackson was accompanied by Harris Boyle when he killed Hanna. Hanna was named by former British Intelligence Corps operative Colin Wallace as having organised and led the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, along with Jackson.  Journalist Joe Tiernan suggested that Hanna was shot for refusing to participate in the Miami Showband attack and that he had become an informer for the Gardaí in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the Dublin bombings.  Dillon suggested that because a large number of joint UDR/UVF members were to be used for the planned Miami Showband ambush, Hanna was considered to have been a “security risk”, and the UVF decided he had to be killed before he could alert the authorities.

Jackson was an alleged RUC Special Branch agent who was said by Yorkshire Television‘s The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre programme to have had links to both the Intelligence Corps and Captain Robert Nairac.  A report in the Irish Times implicated Jackson in the Dublin bombings. More than 100 killings have been attributed to him by the Pat Finucane Centre, the Derry-based civil rights group.

The Miami Showband

 

refer to caption

The Miami Showband in 1975; one of the last photos of the band before the attack
L–R: Tony Geraghty, Fran O’Toole, Ray Millar, Des McAlea (“Des Lee”), Brian McCoy, Stephen Travers

The Miami Showband was a popular Dublin-based cabaret band, enjoying fame and, according to journalist Peter Taylor, “Beatle-like devotion” from fans on both sides of the Irish border. A typical Irish showband was based on the popular six- or seven-member dance band. Its basic repertoire included cover versions of pop songs that were currently in the charts and standard dance numbers. The music ranged from rock and country and western to Dixieland jazz. Sometimes the showbands played traditional Irish music at their performances.

Originally called the Downbeats Quartet, the Miami Showband was reformed in 1962 by rock promoter Tom Doherty, who gave them their new name. With Dublin-born singer Dickie Rock as frontman, the Miami Showband underwent many personnel changes over the years. In December 1972, Rock left the band to be briefly replaced by two brothers, Frankie and Johnny Simon. That same year keyboardist Francis “Fran” O’Toole (from Bray, County Wicklow) had won the Gold Star Award on RTÉ‘s Reach For the Stars television programme.

 

In early 1973, Billy MacDonald (aka “Billy Mac”) took over as the group’s frontman when the Simon brothers quit the band. The following year, Fran O’Toole became the band’s lead vocalist after Mick Roche (Billy Mac’s replacement) was sacked. O’Toole was noted for his good looks and popularity with female fans.  was described by the Miami Showband’s former bass guitarist, Paul Ashford, as having been the “greatest soul singer” in Ireland. Ashford had been asked to leave the band in 1973, for complaining that performing in Northern Ireland put their lives at risk.

He was replaced by Johnny Brown, who in turn was replaced by Dave Monks until Stephen Travers eventually became the band’s permanent bass player. In late 1974, the Miami Showband’s song Clap Your Hands and Stomp Your Feet (featuring O’Toole on lead vocals) reached number eight in the Irish charts.

The 1975 line-up comprised four Catholics and two Protestants. They were: lead vocalist and keyboard player Fran O’Toole (28, Catholic), guitarist Anthony “Tony” Geraghty (24, Catholic) from Dublin, trumpeter Brian McCoy (32, Protestant) from Caledon, County Tyrone, saxophonist Des McAlea (aka “Des Lee”), 24, a Catholic from Belfast, bassist Stephen Travers (24, Catholic) from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary and drummer Ray Millar (Protestant) from Antrim. O’Toole and McCoy were both married; each had two children. Geraghty was engaged to be married.

Their music was described as “contemporary and trans-Atlantic”, with no reference to the Northern Ireland conflict. By 1975 they had gained a large following, playing to crowds of people in dance halls and ballrooms across the island.The band had no overt interest in politics nor in the religious beliefs of the people who made up their audience. They were prepared to travel anywhere in Ireland to perform for their fans.

According to the Irish Times, at the height of the Irish showband’s popularity (from the 1950s to the 1970s), up to as many as 700 bands travelled to venues all over Ireland on a nightly basis.

Ambush

Bogus checkpoint

refer to caption

Volkswagen Type 2 (T2)
similar to the minibus used by the band

 

Five members of the Dublin-based band were travelling home after a performance at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, County Down on Thursday 31 July 1975. Ray Millar, the band’s drummer, was not with them as he had chosen to go to his home town of Antrim to spend the night with his parents. The band’s road manager, Brian Maguire, had already gone ahead a few minutes earlier in the equipment van. At about 2.30 a.m., when the band was seven miles (11 km) north of Newry on the main A1 road, their Volkswagen minibus (driven by trumpeter Brian McCoy with Stephen Travers in the front seat beside him) reached the townland of Buskhill.

Near the junction with Buskhill Road they were flagged down by armed men dressed in British Army uniforms waving a red torch in a circular motion. During “The Troubles” it was normal for the British Army to set up checkpoints daily, at any time.

Assuming it was a legitimate checkpoint, McCoy informed the others inside the minibus of a military checkpoint up ahead and pulled in at the lay-by as directed by the armed men.

As McCoy rolled down the window and produced his driving licence, gunmen came up to the minibus and one of them said in a Northern Irish accent,

“Goodnight, fellas. How are things? Can you step out of the van for a few minutes and we’ll just do a check”.

The unsuspecting band members got out and were politely told to line up facing the ditch at the rear of the minibus with their hands on their heads.  More uniformed men appeared from out of the darkness, their guns pointed at the minibus. About 10 gunmen were at the checkpoint, according to author and journalist Martin Dillon.

After McCoy told them they were the Miami Showband, one gunman, Thomas Crozier (who had a notebook) asked the band members for their names and addresses, while the others bantered with them about the success of their performance that night.

As Crozier took down the information, a car pulled up and another uniformed man appeared on the scene. He wore a uniform and beret noticeably different from the others. He spoke with an educated English accent and immediately took charge, ordering a man who appeared to have been the leader of the patrol, to tell Crozier to obtain their names and dates of birth instead of addresses.

The jocular mood of the gunmen abruptly ceased. At no time did this new soldier speak to any of the band members nor did he directly address Crozier. He relayed all his instructions to the gunman in command.  Travers, the band’s new bass player, assumed he was a British Army officer; an opinion shared by McCoy. Just after the arrival of this mysterious soldier, McCoy nudged Travers, who was standing beside him, and reassured him by saying “Don’t worry Stephen, this is British Army”.  Travers thought that McCoy, a Protestant from Northern Ireland, was familiar with security checkpoints and had reckoned the regular British Army would be more efficient than the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), who had a reputation for unprofessional and unpredictable behaviour especially towards people from the Irish Republic.

McCoy, son of the Orange Order‘s Grand Master for County Tyrone,  had close relatives in the security forces; his brother-in-law was a former member of the B Specials which had been disbanded in 1970. Travers described McCoy as a “sophisticated, father-type figure. Everybody was respectful to Brian”. McCoy’s words, therefore, were taken seriously by the other band members, and anything he said was considered to be accurate.

Explosion

 

At least four of the gunmen were soldiers from the UDR; a locally recruited infantry regiment of the British Army in Northern Ireland. Martin Dillon suggested, in The Dirty War, that at least five serving UDR soldiers were present at the checkpoint.

All the gunmen were members of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade, and had been lying in wait to ambush the band having set up the checkpoint just minutes before.

Out of sight of the band members, two of the gunmen placed a ten-pound (4.5 kg) time bomb in the rear of the minibus.  The UVF’s plan was that the bomb would explode once the minibus had reached Newry, killing all on board. However, Martin Dillon alleged that the bomb was meant to go off in the Irish Republic.

He suggested that had all gone according to plan, the loyalist extremists would have been able to clandestinely bomb the Republic of Ireland, yet claim that the band were republican bomb-smugglers carrying explosives on behalf of the IRA. They had hoped to embarrass the Government of Ireland, as well as to draw attention to its under-patrolled border. This would have resulted in the Irish authorities enforcing tighter controls over people crossing the border, thus greatly restricting IRA operations.

Dillon opined that another reason the UVF decided to target the Miami Showband was because the nationalist community held them in high regard; to attack the band was to strike the nationalists indirectly.

Stephen Travers heard the gunmen rummaging in the back of the minibus, where he kept his guitar. Concerned it may be damaged, he approached the two gunmen and told them to be careful. Asked whether he had anything valuable inside the case, Travers replied no. The gunman turned him round, punched him in the back and pushed him on the shoulder back into the line-up.

When the two gunmen closed the rear door, clumsy soldering on the clock used as a timer caused the device to explode prematurely, blowing the minibus apart and killing the gunmen Harris Boyle (aged 22, a telephone wireman from Portadown) and Wesley Somerville (aged 34, a textile worker from Moygashel) instantly. Hurled in opposite directions, they were both decapitated and their bodies dismembered. What little that remained intact of their bodies was burnt beyond recognition; one of the limbless torsos was completely charred.

Shootings

refer to caption

Luger P08 pistol
similar to the one used to kill Brian McCoy

Following the explosion, the remaining gunmen opened fire on the dazed band members, who had all been knocked down into the field below the level of the road from the force of the blast. The order to shoot was given by the patrol’s apparent leader, James McDowell, to eliminate witnesses to the bogus checkpoint and subsequent bombing. Three of the musicians were killed: lead singer Fran O’Toole, trumpeter Brian McCoy, and guitarist Tony Geraghty.

Brian McCoy was the first to die, having been hit in the back by nine rounds from a 9mm Luger pistol in the initial volley of gunfire.  Fran O’Toole attempted to run away, but was quickly chased down by the gunmen who had immediately jumped down into the field in pursuit. He was then machine-gunned 22 times, mostly in the face, as he lay supine on the ground. Tony Geraghty also attempted to escape; but he was caught by the gunmen and shot at least four times in the back of the head and back. Both men had pleaded for their lives before they were shot; one had cried out,

“Please don’t shoot me, don’t kill me”.

 

Bassist Stephen Travers was seriously wounded by a dum-dum bullet which had struck him when the gunmen had first begun shooting.

He survived by pretending he was dead, as he lay beside the body of McCoy.Saxophone player Des McAlea was hit by the minibus’s door when it was blown off in the explosion, but was not badly wounded. He lay hidden in thick undergrowth, undetected by the gunmen. He also survived. However, the flames from the burning hedge (which had been set on fire by the explosion) soon came dangerously close to where he lay; he was forced to leave his hiding spot. By this time the gunmen had left the scene, assuming everyone else had been killed. Travers later recalled hearing one of the departing gunmen tell his comrade who had kicked McCoy’s body to make sure he was not alive: “Come on, those bastards are dead. I got them with dum-dums”.

McAlea made his way up the embankment to the main road where he hitched a lift to alert the RUC at their barracks in Newry.

Forensic and ballistic evidence

 

When the RUC arrived at the site they found five dead bodies, a seriously injured Stephen Travers, body parts, the smouldering remains of the destroyed minibus, debris from the bomb blast, bullets, spent cartridges, and the band members’ personal possessions, including clothing, shoes, and a photograph of the group, strewn across the area. They also discovered a stolen white Ford Escort registration number 4933 LZ, which had been left behind by the gunmen, along with two guns, ammunition, green UDR berets and a pair of glasses later traced to James McDowell, the gunman who had ordered the shootings.

One of the first RUC men who arrived at Buskhill in the wake of the killings was scenes of crime officer James O’Neill. He described the scene as having “just the smell of utterly death about the place … burning blood, burning tyres”. He also added that “that bomb was definitely placed there with a view to killing all in that band”.

The only identifiable body part from the bombers to survive the blast (which had been heard up to four miles away) was a severed arm belonging to Wesley Somerville. It was found 100 yards from the site with a “UVF Portadown” tattoo on it.

refer to caption

Sterling submachine gun
similar to the those used in the attack

 

The RUC’s investigative unit, the Assassination or “A” Squad of detectives, was set up to investigate the crime and to discover the identities of the UVF gunmen who perpetrated the killings.  Afterwards, as Travers recovered in hospital, the second survivor Des McAlea gave the police a description of McDowell as the gunman with a moustache and wearing dark glasses who appeared to have been the leader of the patrol. Some time after the attack, RUC officers questioned Stephen Travers at Dublin Castle. He subsequently stated they refused to accept his description of the different-coloured beret worn by the soldier with the English accent.

The UVF gunmen had worn green UDR berets, whereas the other man’s had been lighter in colour.

The dead bombers were named by the UVF, in a statement issued within 12 hours of the attack.  Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville were UDR soldiers as well as holding the rank of major and lieutenant, respectively, in the UVF.

In 1993 Boyle was named by The Hidden Hand programme as one of the Dublin car bombers.

The stolen Ford Escort belonged to a man from Portadown, who according to Captain Fred Holroyd, had links with one of the UVF bombers and the driver of the bomb car which had been left to explode in Parnell Street, Dublin on 17 May 1974. He was also one of the prime suspects in the sectarian killing of Dorothy Traynor on 1 April 1975 in Portadown.

Ballistic evidence indicates that the 10-member gang took at least six guns with them on the attack.  An independent panel of inquiry commissioned by the Pat Finucane Centre has established that among the weapons actually used in the killings were two Sterling 9mm submachine guns and a 9mm Luger pistol serial no. U 4. The submachine guns, which had been stolen years earlier from a former member of the B Specials, were linked to prior and later sectarian killings, whereas the Luger had been used to kill leading IRA member, John Francis Green, the previous January.

 

In a letter to the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Bombing of Kay’s Tavern dated 22 February 2004, the Northern Ireland Office stated that: “The PSNI [The Police Service of Northern Ireland] have confirmed that a 9mm Luger pistol was ballistically traced both to the murder of John Francis Green and to the Miami Showband murders.”

In May 1976, Robin Jackson’s fingerprints were discovered on the metal barrel of a home-made silencer constructed for a Luger.[53] Both the silencer and pistol – which was later established to have been the same one used in the Miami Showband killings – were found by the security forces at the home of Edward Sinclair. Jackson was charged with possession of the silencer but not convicted, the trial judge having reportedly said: “At the end of the day I find that the accused somehow touched the silencer, but the Crown evidence has left me completely in the dark as to whether he did that wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly”. The Luger was destroyed by the RUC on 28 August 1978.[54]

Aftermath

Reactions

Within 12 hours of the attack the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership) issued a statement. It was released under the heading Ulster Central Intelligence Agency – Miami Showband Incident Report:

A UVF patrol led by Major Boyle was suspicious of two vehicles, a minibus and a car parked near the border. Major Boyle ordered his patrol to apprehend the occupants for questioning. As they were being questioned, Major Boyle and Lieutenant Somerville began to search the minibus. As they began to enter the vehicle, a bomb was detonated and both men were killed outright.

At the precise moment of the explosion, the patrol came under intense automatic fire from the occupants of the other vehicle. The patrol sergeant immediately ordered fire to be returned. Using self-loading rifles and sub-machine guns, the patrol returned fire, killing three of their attackers and wounding another. The patrol later recovered two Armalite rifles and a pistol.

The UVF maintains regular border patrols due to the continued activity of the Provisional IRA. The Mid-Ulster Battalion has been assisting the South Down-South Armagh units since the IRA Forkhill boobytrap which killed four British soldiers. Three UVF members are being treated for gunshot wounds after last night but not in hospital.

It would appear that the UVF patrol surprised members of a terrorist organisation transferring weapons to the Miami Showband minibus and that an explosive device of some description was being carried by the Showband for an unlawful purpose. It is obvious, therefore, that the UVF patrol was justified in taking the action it did and that the killing of the three Showband members should be regarded as justifiable homicide. The Officers and Agents of the Ulster Central Intelligence Agency commend the UVF on their actions and tender their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the two Officers who died while attempting to remove the bomb from the minibus.

Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville were given UVF paramilitary funerals conducted by Free Presbyterian minister William McCrea, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician.[

The killings shocked both Northern Ireland and Ireland and put a serious strain on Anglo-Irish relations.

The Irish Times reported that on the night following the attack, the British ambassador Sir Arthur Galsworthy was summoned to hear the Government of Ireland’s strong feelings regarding the murder of the three band members. The government held the view that the British Government had not done enough to stop sectarian assassinations in Northern Ireland.

Following the post-mortems, funerals were held for the three slain musicians; they received televised news coverage by RTÉ, Ireland’s public service broadcaster. According to RTÉ,

“Their families were in deep mourning and Ireland mourned with them”.

According to Peter Taylor, the Provisional IRA’s gun and bomb attack on the loyalist Bayardo Bar in Belfast’s Shankill Road on 13 August was in retaliation for the Miami Showband ambush. Four Protestant civilians (two men and two women) and UVF member Hugh Harris were killed in the attack.

Two days later, Portadown disc jockey Norman “Mooch” Kerr, aged 28, was shot dead by the IRA as he packed up his equipment after a show at the Camrick Bar in Armagh. Although not a member of any loyalist paramilitary group, he was a close friend of Harris Boyle and the two were often seen together.

 

Robert Nairac

See Robert Nairac

The IRA said it killed him because of an alleged association with British Army officer and member of 14th Intelligence Company, Captain Robert Nairac, and claimed it was in possession of his diary, which had been stolen in Portadown.

Altnamachin attack

Less than one month after the Miami Showband massacre, another UVF unit, operating as part of the Glenanne gang, used the same modus operandi on 24 August 1975, at Altnamachin, outside Tullyvallen, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. Two Gaelic football supporters, Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer, were stopped in their car by a UVF patrol wearing full military combat uniforms at a bogus vehicle checkpoint. The two men were ordered out of the car and then both were shot dead a short distance away. Three RUC men had earlier been stopped in their unmarked car by the same “soldiers”, who let them through upon ascertaining their identity.

The RUC, however, had suspected that the checkpoint had been fake. After receiving radio confirmation that there were no authorised regular army or UDR checkpoints in the area that night, they reported the incident and requested help from the British Army to investigate it, but no action was taken.  UDR corporal Robert McConnell was implicated by RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir in this attack.

Convictions

A number of suspects were arrested by the RUC in early August 1975. One of these men, Lance-Corporal Thomas Raymond Crozier (aged 25, a painting contractor from Lurgan) of C Company, 11th Battalion UDR was charged with the Miami killings. It was believed he had been betrayed to the RUC by a member of the gang.

Thomas Crozier recounted that on the night of the killings, he had driven to the grounds of a school in Lurgan where he had picked up two men. He then drove to a lay-by on the Newry-Banbridge dual carriageway and met up with another five men, who were all wearing British Army uniforms. They subsequently set up a roadblock with “all the trappings of a regular military checkpoint”. Crozier told police, and later a court, that he had not played a large part in the attack. He refused to name his accomplices, as he felt that to do so would put the lives of his family in danger.

On 22 January 1976, a second UDR soldier, Sergeant James Roderick Shane McDowell (aged 29, an optical worker, also from Lurgan) was arrested and charged with the Miami killings. He served in C Company, 11th Battalion UDR. The RUC were led to him through his glasses which had been found at the murder scene. Tests done on the glasses, which were eventually traced back to McDowell, revealed that the lenses were of a prescription worn by just 1 in 500,000 of the population.

McDowell’s statement of admission was published in David McKittrick‘s book Lost Lives:

“There was very little planning. I only came into it because of my UDR connection and the fact that I had a uniform. I was given a sub-machine gun but I had never fired it. I passed out when the explosion happened and that was when I lost the gun, the glasses, and a UDR beret”.

On 15 October 1976, Crozier and McDowell both received life sentences for the Miami Showband murders. McDowell had pleaded guilty. Crozier had pleaded not guilty. The judge, by sentencing McDowell and Crozier to 35 years imprisonment each, had handed down the longest life sentences in the history of Northern Ireland; he commented that “killings like the Miami Showband must be stopped”. He added that had the death penalty not been abolished, it would have been imposed in this case.

A third person, former UDR soldier John James Somerville (aged 37, a lorry-helper and the brother of Wesley), was arrested following an RUC raid in Dungannon on 26 September 1980. He was charged with the Miami Showband murders, the attempted murder of Stephen Travers, and the murder of Patrick Falls in 1974. He was given a total of four life sentences (three for the murders of the Miami Showband members and one for the Falls murder) on 9 November 1981;  he had pleaded not guilty.

The three convicted UVF men, although admitting to having been at the scene, denied having shot anyone. None of the men ever named their accomplices, and the other UVF gunmen were never caught. The three men were sent to serve their sentence in the Maze Prison, on the outskirts of Lisburn. Fortnight Magazine reported that on 1 June 1982, John James Somerville began a hunger strike at the Maze to obtain special category status. Crozier, McDowell, and Somerville were released after 1998 under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

Allegations

A continued allegation in the case has been the presence of Captain Robert Nairac at the scene. Former serving Secret Intelligence Service agent Captain Fred Holroyd, and others, suggested that Nairac had organised the attack in co-operation with Robin Jackson and the Mid-Ulster UVF.  In his maiden parliamentary speech on 7 July 1987, Ken Livingstone MP told the House of Commons,  “it was likely” that Nairac had organised the attack.

Surviving band members Stephen Travers and Des McAlea told police and later testified in court that a British Army officer with a “crisp, clipped English accent” oversaw the Buskhill attack, the implication being that this was Nairac.

 

In his book The Dirty War, Martin Dillon adamantly dismissed the allegation that Nairac had been present. He believed it was based on the erroneous linkage of Nairac to the earlier murder of IRA man John Francis Green in County Monaghan – the same pistol was used in both attacks. Regarding the soldier with the English accent, Dillon wrote:

it is to say the least highly dubious, if not absurd to conclude from such superficial factors that Nairac was present at the Miami murders. I was told by a source close to “Mr. A” and another loyalist hitman that Nairac was not present at either murder [Miami Showband and John Francis Green].

Travers had described the English-accented man as having been of normal height and thought he had fair hair, but was not certain. Travers was not able to positively identify Nairac, from his photograph, as having been the man at Buskhill . The RTÉ programme Today Tonight aired a documentary in 1987 in which it claimed that former UVF associates of Harris Boyle revealed to the programme’s researchers that Nairac had deliberately detonated the bomb to eliminate Boyle, with whom he had carried out the Green killing.

Emily O’Reilly Senate of Poland.JPG

Journalist Emily O’Reilly noted in the Sunday Tribune that none of the three men convicted of the massacre ever implicated Nairac in the attack or accused him of causing Boyle’s death.

The band’s road manager, Brian Maguire stated that when he drove away from Banbridge in the lead, a few minutes ahead of the band’s minibus, he passed through security barriers manned by the RUC. As Maguire continued ahead, up the by-pass towards Newry, he noticed a blue Triumph 2000 pulling-out from where it had been parked in a lay-by. Maguire recalled that the car first slowed down, then it accelerated, flashing its lights. Two men had been observed acting suspiciously inside the Castle Ballroom during the band’s performance that night, suggesting that the Miami Showband’s movements were being carefully monitored.

Another persistent allegation is the direct involvement of Mid-Ulster UVF leader Robin Jackson. He was one of the men taken in by the RUC in August 1975 and questioned as a suspect in the killings, but was released without charge. The independent panel of inquiry commissioned by the Pat Finucane Centre concluded that there was “credible evidence that the principal perpetrator [of the Miami Showband attack] was a man who was not prosecuted – alleged RUC Special Branch agent Robin Jackson”.

The same panel revealed that about six weeks before the attack, Thomas Crozier, Jackson, and the latter’s brother-in-law Samuel Fulton Neill, were arrested for the possession of four shotguns.  Neill’s car was one of those allegedly used in the Buskhill attack. He was later shot dead in Portadown on 25 January 1976, allegedly by Jackson for having informed the RUC about Thomas Crozier’s participation in the attack.

The panel stated that it was unclear why Crozier, Jackson, and Neill were not in police custody at the time the Miami Showband killings took place. Martin Dillon maintained in The Dirty War that the Miami Showband attack was planned weeks before at a house in Portadown, and the person in charge of the overall operation was a former UDR man, whom Dillon referred to for legal reasons as “Mr. A”. Dillon also opined in God and the Gun: the Church and Irish Terrorism that the dead bombers, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, had actually led the UVF gang at Buskhill.

Journalists Kevin Dowling and Liam Collins in the Irish Independent however, suggested in their respective articles that Jackson had been the leader of the unit.

Former British soldier and writer Ken Wharton published in his book Wasted Years, Wasted Lives, Volume 1, an alternative theory that was suggested to him by loyalist paramilitarism researcher Jeanne Griffin; this was that the ambush was planned by Robin Jackson as an elaborate means of eliminating trumpet player Brian McCoy.

Griffin suggests that McCoy, who originally came from Caledon, County Tyrone and had strong UDR and Orange Order family connections, was possibly approached at some stage by Jackson with a view of securing his help in carrying out UVF attacks in the Irish Republic. When McCoy refused, Jackson then hatched his plan to murder McCoy and his band mates in retaliation, even macabrely choosing Buskhill as the ambush site due to its similarity to Bus-kill. Griffin goes on to add that the bogus checkpoint was set up not only to plant the bomb on board the van but to ensure the presence of McCoy which would have been confirmed when he handed over his driver’s license to the gunmen.

She also thinks that had everything gone to plan once the bomb was planted in the van McCoy would have been instructed to drive through Newry where the bomb would have gone off and the UVF could then afterwards portray the Miami Showband as IRA members on a mission to blow up the local RUC barracks. Griffin based her theory on the nine bullets that were fired from a Luger into McCoy’s body and that Jackson’s fingerprints were found on the silencer used for a Luger.

She furthermore opined that Jackson was the man Travers saw kicking McCoy’s body to make sure he was dead.

The Pat Finucane Centre has named the Miami Showband killings as one of the 87 violent attacks perpetrated by the Glenanne gang against the Irish nationalist community in the 1970s. The Glenanne gang was a loose alliance of loyalist extremists allegedly operating under the command of British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch. It comprised rogue elements of the British security forces who, together with the UVF, carried out sectarian killings in the Mid-Ulster/County Armagh area. Their name comes from a farm in Glenanne, County Armagh, which was owned by RUC reservist James Mitchell; according to RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir, it was used as a UVF arms dump and bomb-making site.

Weir alleged the bomb used in the Miami Showband attack came from Mitchell’s farm. Weir’s affidavit implicating Robin Jackson in a number of attacks including the 1974 Dublin bombings was published in the 2003 Barron Report; the findings of an official investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Judge Henry Barron.

Later years

During the six years from the onset of “The Troubles” until the July 1975 attack, there had never been an incident involving any of the showbands. The incident had an adverse effect on the Irish showband scene, with many of the bands afraid to play in Northern Ireland. The emergence of discos later in the decade meant that ballrooms were converted into nightclubs, leaving the showbands with few venues available in which to perform. By the mid-1980s, the showbands had lost their appeal for the Irish public; although The Miami Showband, albeit with a series of different line-ups, did not disband until 1986.

The Miami Showband reformed in 2008, with Travers, Des McAlea, Ray Millar and other new members. It is fronted by McAlea, who returned to Northern Ireland the same year after living in South Africa since about 1982.

In 1994, Eric Smyth, a former UDR member and the husband of Brian McCoy’s sister, Sheila, was killed by the IRA.

Travers travelled to Belfast in 2006 for a secret meeting with the second-in-command of the UVF’s Brigade Staff, in an attempt to come to terms with the killing of his former colleagues and friends. The meeting was arranged by Rev. Chris Hudson, a former intermediary between the government of Ireland and the UVF, whose role was crucial to the Northern Ireland peace process. Hudson, a Unitarian minister, had been a close friend of Fran O’Toole.

The encounter took place inside Hudson’s church, All Souls Belfast. The UVF man, who identified himself only as “the Craftsman”, apologised to Travers for the attack, and explained that the UVF gunmen had opened fire on the band because they “had panicked” that night.  It was revealed in Peter Taylor’s book Loyalists that “the Craftsman” had been instrumental inbringing about the 1994 Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) ceasefire.

Travers also visited the home of Thomas Crozier, hoping to meet with him, but the latter did not come to the door. He presently resides near Craigavon. James McDowell lives in Lurgan, and John James Somerville became an evangelical minister in Belfast.  The UVF had cut all ties with Somerville after he had opposed the 1994 ceasefire. In January 2015 he was found dead in his Shankill Road flat. Aged 70, he died of cancer of the kidney.

Memorials

refer to caption

Memorial to the three dead band members at Parnell Square, Dublin

 

A monument dedicated to the dead Miami Showband members was unveiled at a ceremony at Parnell Square North, Dublin, on 10 December 2007. Survivors Stephen Travers and Des McAlea were both present at the unveiling, as was the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who made a tribute. The monument, made of limestone, bronze and granite, by County Donegal sculptor Redmond Herrity, is at the site of the old National Ballroom, where the band often played.

A mural and memorial plaque to Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville is in the Killycomain Estate in Portadown, where Boyle had lived. The plaque describes them as having been “killed in action”.

In a report on Nairac’s alleged involvement in the massacre, published in the Sunday Mirror newspaper on 16 May 1999, Colin Wills called the ambush “one of the worst atrocities in the 30-year history of the Troubles”.

Irish Times diarist, Frank McNally, summed up the massacre as “an incident that encapsulated all the madness of the time”.  In 2011, Journalist Kevin Myers denounced the attack with the following statement: “in its diabolical inventiveness against such a group of harmless and naïve young men, it is easily one of the most depraved [of the Troubles]”.

A stamp was issued in Ireland on 22 September 2010 commemorating the Miami Showband. The 55-cent stamp, designed with a 1967 publicity photograph of the band, included two of the slain members Fran O’Toole and Brian McCoy as part of the line-up when Dickie Rock was the frontman. It was one of a series of four stamps issued by An Post, celebrating the “golden age of the Irish showband era from the 1950s to the 1970s”.

The HET Report

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which was set up to investigate the more controversial Troubles-related deaths, released its report on the Miami Showband killings to the victims’ families in December 2011. The findings noted in the report confirmed Mid-Ulster UVF leader Robin Jackson’s involvement and identified him as an RUC Special Branch agent.

According to the report, Jackson had claimed during police interrogations that after the shootings, a senior RUC officer had advised him to “lie low”. Although this information was passed on to RUC headquarters, nothing was done about it. In a police statement made following his arrest for possession of the silencer and Luger on 31 May 1976, Jackson maintained that a week before he was taken into custody, two RUC officers had tipped him off about the discovery of his fingerprints on the silencer; he also claimed they had forewarned him: “I should clear as there was a wee job up the country that I would be done for and there was no way out of it for me”.

Although ballistic testing had linked the Luger (for which the silencer had been specifically made) to the Miami Showband attack, Jackson was never questioned about the killings after his fingerprints had been discovered on the silencer, and the Miami inquiry team were never informed about these developments.

Robin Jackson died of cancer on 30 May 1998, aged 49.

The families held a press conference in Dublin after the report was released. When asked to comment about the report, Des McAlea replied, “It’s been a long time but we’ve got justice at last”. He did, however, express his concern over the fact that nobody was ever charged with his attempted murder.

Stephen Travers

Stephen Travers offered, “We believe the only conclusion possible arising from the HET report is that one of the most prolific loyalist murderers of the conflict was an RUC Special Branch agent and was involved in the Miami Showband attack”.

The HET said the killings raised “disturbing questions about collusive and corrupt behaviour”.