Fulton was alleged by journalist Susan McKay to have carried out a dozen sectarian killings in the 1990s. He also allegedly organized the murder of a Catholic lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, in 1999 while he was out of prison on compassionate leave. In 2002, he was found hanged in his cell at Maghaberry Prison, an apparent suicide. He was awaiting trial having been charged with conspiracy to murder a man from a rival loyalist paramilitary organisation. At the time of his death, Fulton was married with two children
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The views and opinions expressed in these blog post/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
Mark Fulton was born in Portadown, County Armagh in 1961, one of the children of Jim Fulton, a former British soldier who worked as a window cleaner. His mother, Sylvia (née Prentice), came from a family of wealthy car dealers. Fulton grew up in the working-class Protestant Killycomain area. A childhood friend described Fulton as “a lovely, sweet wee boy”.
Jackson, one of the alleged leaders of the gang which carried out the 1974 Dublin car bombings, became the commander of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade in July 1975. Four days later, Boyle was blown up after placing a bomb on the Miami Showband’s minibus after the band was stopped at a bogus checkpoint by UVF gunmen, and three band members shot dead.
Ulster Volunteer Force
Fulton left school early and promptly joined the Mid-Ulster UVF, being sworn in at the age of 15. According to Sean McPhilemy, Fulton’s early activity included being part of the UVF gang that opened fire on a Craigavon mobile sweetshop on 28 March 1991, killing two teenaged girls and one man, all Catholics. The attack was allegedly planned by Robin Jackson.
In the early 1990s, Billy Wright, also from Portadown, took over command of the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade from Jackson. The Mid-Ulster Brigade, founded in 1972 by its first commander, Billy Hanna, operated mainly in the Lurgan and Portadown areas. Fulton soon became Wright’s closest associate and right-hand man and had an “extreme fixation and obsession over Wright; he even had an image of Wright tattooed over his heart.
Fulton was alleged to have perpetrated twelve sectarian killings in the 1990s, and reportedly was implicated in many other attacks. His victims were often questioned about their religion prior to their killings, and sometimes they were killed in front of their families.
He was very violent and had a quick temper. Wright was the only person who was able to control him. A Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) detective who knew both of them said that whenever they were stopped by the police in the 1990s, Wright was “coolness personified”, while Fulton would rage, shout and make threats.
The Mid-Ulster Brigade called themselves the “Brat Pack”, which journalist Martin O’Hagan of the Sunday World altered to “Rat Pack”. After the nickname of “King Rat” was given to Wright by local Ulster Defence Association (UDA) commander Robert John Kerr as a form of pub bantering, O’Hagan took to describing Wright by that term.
This soubriquet was thereafter used by the media, much to Wright’s fury. This led him to issue threats against O’Hagan and all journalists who worked for the newspaper. The unit initially welcomed the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in October 1994; however, things were to change drastically over the next few years.
Loyalist Volunteer Force
Following the order given in August 1996 by the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership) for Wright and the Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade to stand down, Fulton remained loyal to Wright and defied the order. This came after the Mid-Ulster UVF’s killing of a Catholic taxi driver, Michael McGoldrick, while the UVF were on ceasefire. Fulton was close to Alex Kerr, the sometime South Befast brigadier of the Ulster Defence Association who had become an ally of Wright during the Drumcree conflict and had been expelled by the UDA at the same time Wright was removed from the UVF.
After Wright defied a UVF order to leave Northern Ireland, he formed the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), taking the members of the officially-disbanded Portadown unit with him, including Fulton. Fulton acted as an adviser to Kerr during the emergence of the LVF as a separate group and told both Kerr and Wright that the LVF should seek a closer relationship with the UDA in order to more fully oppose the UVF.
Fulton, as Wright’s deputy, assumed effective control of the LVF when Wright was sent to the Maze Prison in March 1997, and his relationship with Kerr, who had relocated to the LVF’s Portadown stronghold, soon ended. Fulton, who continued to advocate a closer alliance with the UDA, reasoned that the group would be more prepared to co-operate with the LVF if their dissident former brigadier was not involved and so before long Fulton and his cousin Gary, also a leading LVF member, began to threaten Kerr, resulting in the Kerr family fleeing to England.
Not long after this, on 13 May, Fulton was said by McPhilemy to have been responsible for the abduction and murder of 61 year-old civil servant and GAA official Séan Brown, who was kidnapped in Bellaghy before being murdered in Randalstown.
When Wright was shot dead by the INLA in December 1997, in a prison van while being taken to the Maze’s visitor block, Fulton assumed control of the LVF. In the immediate aftermath he attempted to minimise local violence as youths sympathetic to Wright amassed on Portadown’s loyalist estates preparing to riot in protest at the killing of their leader and local hero. Unlike Wright, Fulton had always been on good personal terms with UDA chief Johnny Adair as the two had socialized together on and off since the early 1990s.
The alliance was sealed soon afterwards when Mark and Gary Fulton arrived at the Maze prison,ostensibly to visit a friend, but instead sat at Adair’s table in the visiting room. Fulton was deeply affected by Wright’s death, and reportedly spent many nights alone by his grave.
The LVF published a magazine, Leading the Way. The special 1998 edition, commemorating Billy Wright, was edited by and written almost exclusively by Fulton. In an article, “Have Faith”, he advised loyalists to refuse the notion of extending the hand of friendship to “those who are genetically violent, inherent in the Catholic Church, a church as sly as a fox and vicious as a tiger”, citing historic examples of persecution of Protestants by Catholics. In May 1998, the LVF called a ceasefire. It was accepted by the Northern Ireland Office six months later.
Fulton was arrested in 1998 after shooting at an off-duty soldier in Portadown. He was heavily intoxicated at the time and sentenced to four years imprisonment. While he was out on compassionate leave in early 1999, he allegedly organised the killing of Catholic human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson. During the Drumcree standoff, Nelson had represented the Catholic Portadown residents who opposed the Orange Order‘s march through the predominantly nationalist Garvaghy area. She was blown up by a car bomb on 15 March 1999 outside her home in Lurgan. The bomb was allegedly made by a man from the Belfast UDA but planted by Fulton’s associates acting on his orders.
Colin Port, the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary who headed the investigation into her death, said “without question” Fulton was the person who had masterminded her killing. Although he was back in prison at the time, he was excited when he heard the news of her death on the radio. He was linked to the killing by police informers but not forensics. It was also revealed that prior to his own death, Wright had threatened to kill Nelson in the belief she had defended IRA volunteers.
On 10 June 2002, Fulton, who was being held on remand in HMP Maghaberry since December 2001, was found dead in his prison cell with a leather belt around his neck. Fulton was found on his bed rather than hanging from the ceiling, leading to speculation that he has death had been accidentally caused by autoerotic asphyxiation.
Friends claimed he had expressed suicidal thoughts due to both his failure to recover from his close friend Wright’s death, as well as fears he had that he was suffering from stomach cancer. Some reports suggested his unstable mental state had seen him stood down as leader several weeks before his death, with the LVF’s power base transferred to Belfast. He was also afraid that rival loyalist inmates wished to kill him inside the prison.
At the time of his death, Fulton had been awaiting trial, having been charged with conspiracy to murder Rodney Jennett, a member of a rival loyalist paramilitary organisation, in connection with an ongoing feud. He left behind his wife, Louise and two children, Lee and Alana. His funeral was attended by 500 mourners, including a number of senior loyalist paramilitaries, including Johnny Adair and John White, who acted as pallbearers alongside Fulton’s brother Jim and son, Lee.
After a service at St Columba’s Parish Church, he was interred in Kernan Cemetery in Portadown. Among the tributes placed in the Belfast Telegraph was one which described Fulton as “Never selfish/Always kind”.
Craig allegedly colluded at times with the enemies of the UDA, Irish Republican groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), providing them with information on key loyalists which led to their subsequent murders. Aside from controlling rackets and extorting protection money from a variety of businesses, it was claimed that Craig also participated in paramilitary murders.
— 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.
James Pratt Craig, known as Jim, was born in Belfast in 1941 and grew up in an Ulster Protestant family on the Shankill Road. In the early 1970s, Craig, a former boxer, was sent to the Maze Prison for a criminal offence unrelated to paramilitary activities. While serving his sentence at the Maze he joined the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), and he was asked by the organisation’s commander at the time, Charles Harding Smith to take control of the UDA prisoners inside, on account of his reputation as a “hard man”.
After his release in 1976, he set up a large protection racket and became the UDA’s chief fundraiser; by 1985 he had managed to blackmail and extort money from a number of construction firms, building sites, as well as pubs, clubs, and shops in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, whose intimidated owners paid protection money out of fear of Craig and his associates.
It was alleged that the UDA received hundreds of thousands of pounds some of which also found their way inside Craig’s pockets as part of his “commission”. He was acquitted on a firearm charge and Ulster Freedom Fighters (a cover name for the UDA) membership on 18 March 1982. In 1985, Craig was brought to court after a number of businessmen decided to testify against him, with the condition that their identities remained hidden. The case fell apart when Craig’s defence argued that his client’s rights were violated by the concealment of the witnesses’ identities.
Craig was alleged to have been involved in the double killing of a Catholic man and a Protestant man on the Shankill Road in 1977. The men, both work colleagues, had entered a loyalist club and were later stabbed, shot and put into a car which was set on fire. By this time the West Belfast UDA no longer wanted him in their ranks, as they claimed they could no longer “afford him”.
Craig, who was ordered to leave the Shankill Road, went on to join forces with John McMichael‘s South Belfast Brigade. In addition to being the principal fundraiser, Craig also sat on the UDA’s Inner Council. Craig usually travelled in the company of his bodyguard Artie Fee, a UDA member from the Shankill Road.
The rival Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out an investigation after it was rumoured Craig had been involved in the death of UVF major William Marchant, who was gunned down by Provisional IRA gunmen from a passing car on the Shankill Road on 28 April 1987. Marchant was the third high-ranking UVF man to be killed by the IRA during the 1980s. Although their inquiries revealed that Craig had quarrelled with Marchant as well as Lenny Murphy and John Bingham prior to their killings, the UVF felt that there was not enough evidence to warrant an attack on such a powerful UDA figure as Craig.
In December 1987, when South Belfast UDA brigadier John McMichael was blown up by an IRA booby-trap car bomb outside his home in Lisburn‘s Hilden estate, it was believed that Craig had organised his death with the IRA.
Allegedly Craig had feared McMichael was about to expose his racketeering business, thus putting an end to his lucrative operation. McMichael had reportedly set up an inquiry and discovered that Craig was spending money on a lavish scale, going on holidays at least twice a year and indulging in a:
At the same time it was suggested that Craig had made certain deals with Irish republican paramilitary groups, dividing up the rackets in west Belfast, and he would have been doing the IRA a favour by helping them to eliminate a high-profile loyalist such as McMichael. Craig had established links with republicans during his time in prison, and the profitable deals and exchanges of information between them ensured he would most likely not be a target for IRA assassination.
Craig was named as an extortionist in Central Television’s 1987 programme The Cook Report. Craig planned to sue the programme’s producers for libel; in January 1988, Jack Kielty (father of future television presenter Patrick Kielty), a building contractor from County Down who had promised to testify as a key witness against Craig, was murdered by the UDA. This killing was attributed to Craig, although it was never proven.
“Bunch of Grapes” pub in Beersbridge Road, east Belfast where Craig was shot dead. At the time it was called “The Castle Inn”
Craig was shot dead by two gunmen from the UDA in “The Castle Inn” (later called “The Bunch of Grapes”), a pub in Beersbridge Road, east Belfast on 15 October 1988, to where he had been lured in the belief that there was to have been a UDA meeting.
He was playing pool in the pub at the time of his fatal shooting by the two men, both of whom were wearing boiler suits and ski masks and carrying automatic weapons. Upon spotting Craig they opened fire, spraying the room with gunfire. Craig died instantly; a bystander pensioner was also murdered in the attack, and four other bystanders were wounded by stray bullets. The UDA claimed the killing was carried out due to Craig’s “treason” and involvement in John McMichael’s murder as they knew he had provided the IRA with information to successfully carry out the assassination.
They apologised for the unintentional death of the pensioner. Craig was not given a paramilitary funeral, and none of the UDA’s command attended it.
Andy Tyrie, the UDA’s former supreme commander, was not convinced of Craig’s complicity in McMichael’s killing. In an interview with Peter Taylor, he stated that after McMichael’s death, the UDA set up an inquiry, but couldn’t find any solid proof which linked Craig to McMichael’s assassination. Tyrie maintained that the two men had been good friends, and that Craig had given McMichael £20,000 to keep the latter’s pub (The Admiral Benbow) from failing. Tyrie suggested that Craig was a suspect because his wife was Catholic.
Tyrie insisted that John Hanna, a prison officer in the Maze, had supplied the IRA with information about McMichael through Rosena Brown, a Belfast actress and IRA intelligence operative, with whom Hanna had been infatuated.
McMichael’s son, Gary, however, firmly believed Craig to have been the person behind his father’s killing. Less than three months after McMichael’s death, Tyrie himself narrowly escaped an attempt on his life by car bomb; he subsequently tendered his resignation as commander.
According to McKittrick, Craig’s:
“notoriety and range of enemies meant he could have been killed by almost any paramilitary group, loyalist or republican”.
Described as stocky of build, he wore expensive clothing and jewellery, and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle from the proceeds of his racketeering. Author and journalist Martin Dillon wrote that Craig was not intelligent but was “cunning, boastful and ruthless”.
There was also much antipathy between him and UDA brigadier Tommy “Tucker” Lyttle due to Craig having allegedly made Lyttle’s daughter pregnant. Lyttle died of natural causes in October 1995. It was later revealed that Lyttle had worked as an informer for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)’s Special Branch.
Craig reportedly invited RUC officers to an extravagant wedding reception held for his daughter. Author Sally Belfrage who encountered Craig at an “Eleventh night” party held at the UDA’s east Belfast headquarters, summed him up as “the most personally powerful man I had ever met, with an air of animal force that inspired awe at the idea of its ever being let loose. He was also as drunk as I had ever seen anyone in my life who could still more or less negotiate a sentence and a sequence of steps.” She claimed Craig had propositioned her; when she rebuffed his advances he took it in his stride, and grabbing a microphone, went on to lead the other revellers in a rendition of “The Sash My Father Wore“.
Dillon, in his book about the violent loyalist gang, the Shankill Butchers, recounted how Craig casually killed a man in a UDA club after a fellow UDA member handed him a jammed pistol. Craig, testing the weapon, allegedly pointed it at a man who was playing pool, and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. Craig then gave orders for the man’s body to be dumped in an adjacent alley. Dillon believes Craig had killed UDA commander William “Bucky” McCullough in October 1981 after the latter discovered Craig had been stealing funds from the UDA for his own personal use. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) had claimed responsibility for the killing.
Jackie McDonald, who was part of Craig’s protection racket, was arrested in 1989. He had taken over McMichael’s command of the South Belfast UDA, having been promoted to the rank of brigadier by Andy Tyrie in 1988. In January 1990, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment inside the Maze for extortion, blackmail, and intimidation. McDonald was released in 1994. In an interview with Peter Taylor, he made the following statement regarding his former association with Craig:
I would say without a shadow of doubt the worst thing that ever happened to South Belfast, John McMichael and myself especially, was that Jim Craig ever had anything to do with our organisation.
One builder who later assisted the RUC when they set up an anti-racketeering unit, admitted that he had paid out protection money throughout the 1980s to Craig and his henchmen. The amount of money he handed over increased each year.
Dillon suggested that prior to Craig’s killing, younger elements within the UDA, who were loyal supporters of McMichael, discovered (by means which Dillon did not divulge) that the RUC’s anti-racketeering squad CI3 had videotaped a clandestine meeting between Craig and a member of the IRA’s Northern Command, which is what reportedly sealed Craig’s fate.
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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 … Continue reading The Shankill Bomb→
Originally posted on Belfast Child: The Stranglers Golden Brown January 1982 Golden Brown – The Stranglers: Iconic Songs & the story behind them Golden Brown – The Stranglers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWAsI3U2EaE “Golden Brown” is a song by the English rock band?the Stranglers. It was released as a 7″ single in December 1981 in the United States and…
By age ten I’d heard shots ring out and seen the injuries caused by bullets and beatings. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the scene outside Glencairn’s community centre on Forthriver Road on an overcast morning in October 1976. Before heading to school I polished off my cornflakes and, kicking and protesting as ever, had … Continue reading The Shankill Butchers…→
The life and death of Eamon Collins Eamon Collins (1954 – 27 January 1999) was a Provisional Irish Republican Army member in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He turned his back on the organisation in the late 1980s, and later co-authored a book called Killing Rage detailing his experiences within it. In January 1999 he was waylaid on a … Continue reading Killing Rage – The life and death of Eamon Collins→
British government officials ‘knew about loyalist Glenanne Gang’
A member of the notorious loyalist killer group, the Glennan Gang, has told how he believes its leader personally killed more than 100 people and dismissed suggestions that a public inquiry would exposed the truth. In a rare interview from his home in South Africa, John Weir insists that a truth commission is the only way that victims will get closure. Connla Young reports.
A FORMER RUC officer and member of the notorious Glenanne gang has claimed the British government was aware of the group’s activities at the very highest level.
John Weir, who held the rank of sergeant, was speaking just weeks after a High Court judge ruled that the PSNI unlawfully frustrated any chance of an effective investigation into suspected state collusion with the sectarian killer gang.
Made up of members of the RUC, UDR and UVF, it operated across the Mid-Ulster area in the mid 1970s.
Based out of a farm owned by former RUC officer, James Mitchell in Glenanne in south Armagh, the gang is believed to have carried out around 120 murders, the majority of which were innocent Catholics.
Now one of its most prominent members, former sergeant John Weir, has said that the establishment of a truth commission and amnesty may be the only way some of the darkest secrets of the Troubles will ever be revealed.
Originally from Co Monaghan, he was a member of the RUC’s Special Patrol Group in Armagh when he became involved in the activities of the Glenanne Gang.
The former policeman gave evidence to the 2003 Barron Report – which examined the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings that claimed the lives of 33 people and an unborn child.
He and another former colleague William ‘Billy’ McCaughey were convicted of taking part in the murder of father-of-seven William Strathearn (39) at his home in Ahoghill, Co Antrim, in April 1977.
The former Derry GAA player and shopkeeper had opened his front door at 2am after the gunmen said they needed aspirin for a sick child.
Convicted in 1980 he was released from prison in 1993 and later went to live in Nigeria.
Now living in South Africa, the former policeman last said that senior officials in Downing Street would have been aware of the group’s activities.
“Of course they would,” he said in an interview with the Irish News.
“How would they not be?
“Right, for example, the army commanders……do you mean to say that those men were not actually feeding information.
“Even they were feeding information direct to government.
“Obviously some of it was going through their senior officers but not all.
“Some of those men, they themselves were connected to parliament.
“And I know that and I also know that they know that even the very bottom of army intelligence, which I don’t think in a way were that capable a lot of them, but they knew all about Glenanne.”
After last month’s court ruling relatives of people killed by the gang demanded an independent inquiry be set up.
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.
Twenty-five British soldiers and police officers were named as purported members of the gang. Details about the group have come from many sources, including the affidavit of former member and RUC officer John Weir; statements by other former members; police, army and court documents; and ballistics evidence linking the same weapons to various attacks. Since 2003, the group’s activities have also been investigated by the 2006 Cassel Report, and three reports commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron, known as the Barron Reports.
A book focusing on the group’s activities, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, was published in 2013. It drew on all the aforementioned sources, as well as Historical Enquiries Team investigations.
Lethal Allies claims that permutations of the group killed about 120 people – almost all of whom were “upwardly mobile” Catholic civilians with no links to Irish republican paramilitaries. The Cassel Report investigated 76 killings attributed to the group and found evidence that British soldiers and RUC officers were involved in 74 of those. John Weir claimed his superiors knew he was working with loyalist militants but allowed it to continue.
Many of the victims were killed at their homes or in indiscriminate attacks on Catholic-owned pubs with guns and/or bombs. Some were shot after being stopped at fake British Army checkpoints, and a number of the attacks were co-ordinated.
When it wished to “claim” its attacks, the group usually used the name “Protestant Action Force“. The name “Glenanne gang” has been used since 2003 and is derived from the farm at Glenanne (near Markethill, County Armagh) that was used as the gang’s main ‘base of operations’. It also made use of a farm near Dungannon.
Fields near the farm where the gang was based (Ballylane townland, near Glenanne, County Armagh)
By the mid-1970s the violent ethno-political conflict known as the Troubles had radically transformed the daily lives of people in Northern Ireland; after five years of turbulent civil unrest, the bombings and shootings showed no signs of abating. The armed campaign waged by the Provisional IRA had escalated, with bombings in England and increased attacks on the security forces in Northern Ireland.
The British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bore the brunt of IRA violence and many Protestants felt their people to be under attack. Rogue members of the RUC Special Patrol Group (SPG) believed that the situation was rapidly deteriorating and that the IRA were actually ‘winning the war’. As early as the end of 1973, it was suggested that drastic measures had to be taken to defeat the organisation. The SPG was a specialised police unit tasked with providing back-up to the regular RUC and to police sensitive areas.
On 10 February 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government entered into a truce and restarted negotiations. The IRA agreed to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly ended its raids and searches.
However, there were dissenters on both sides. Some Provisionals wanted no part of the truce, while British commanders resented being told to stop their operations against the IRA just when—they claimed—they had the Provisionals on the run.
There was a rise in sectarian killings during the truce, which ‘officially’ lasted until February 1976. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries, fearing they were about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland,
increased their attacks on Roman Catholics and nationalists. Loyalist fears were partially grounded in fact as Secret Intelligence Service officer Michael Oatley had engaged in negotiations with a member of the IRA Army Council during which “structures of disengagement” from Ireland were discussed. This had meant a possible withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland.
Loyalists killed 120 Catholics in 1975, the vast majority civilians.They hoped to force the IRA to retaliate in kind and thus hasten an end to the truce.
This group began to carry out shooting and bombing attacks directed against Catholics and nationalists to retaliate for the IRA’s intensified military campaign. Most of these attacks took place in the area of County Armagh and Mid-Ulster referred to as the “murder triangle” by journalist Joe Tiernan. It also launched attacks elsewhere in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.
The name “Glenanne gang” is derived from the farm at Glenanne (near Markethill, County Armagh) that was used as the gang’s arm dump and bomb-making site.
“In spite of my own unwillingness to become too directly involved in the terrorist operations in Northern Ireland, I was very aware, as were the leaders of the UVF and UDA, that National Front members serving with the Army in Northern Ireland were smuggling intelligence information on suspected IRA members to the Loyalist paramilitaries. This information included photographs of suspected IRA members, the type of car they drove and its registration number, and other useful facts. I have little doubt that this information was used by the UVF and UDA to target and assassinate their enemies.”
The following people, among others, have been implicated by Justice Barron and Professor Douglass Cassel in their respective reports as having been members of the Glenanne gang:
John Oliver Weir (born 1950, County Monaghan, Republic of Ireland) — an officer in the RUC Special Patrol Group (an “anti-terrorist” unit) and UVF volunteer. Weir was the son of a gamekeeper and was brought up on an estate near Castleblaney. He attended a Protestant boarding school in Dublin.
After joining the RUC in 1970, he worked at Strandtown RUC station in Belfast. In 1972, he was transferred to Armagh where he was recruited by the SPG on 1 August 1973. Following the IRA killing of two members of the security forces in 1974 and 1975, he was sent for his own safety to the SPG unit in Castlereagh, Belfast. On an unspecified date between January 1975 and September 1976, he joined the Glenanne gang. Weir then spent six weeks at the Lisanelly Army base in Omagh; in 1976 he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and transferred to Newry RUC barracks.
He claimed to have been directly involved in the bomb attack at Tully’s Bar in Belleek, the attempted bombing of Renaghan’s Bar, Clontibret, County Monaghan, and to have visited the Glenanne farm regularly during the autumn of 1976. In November 1977, he was sent to Newtownhamilton RUC barracks. In 1980, he left the RUC upon his conviction for the 1977 killing of William Strathearn, a Catholic chemist. He was released from prison in 1992. During and after his imprisonment he made a number of allegations incriminating his former associates in the Glenanne gang. His 1999 affidavit was published in the 2003 Barron Report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
Weir also implicated Chief Inspector Harry Breen in having direct knowledge of the gang’s activities in his Affidavit of 3 January 1999.
Among other claims, he stated “In summary, Down Orange Welfare was using RUC officers in Newry RUC station – McBride, Breen, myself – and another RUC officer, Sergeant Monty Alexander from Forkhill RUC station – to supply weapons to the UVF in Portadown. I later learned that these weapons were being manufactured by Samuel McCoubrey in Spa, Co. Down.”
William “Billy” McCaughey (died 2006) — Armagh RUC SPG officer who had acted as a close protection guard for Ulster Unionist Party politician John Taylor and a UVF volunteer. He was a former member of the Ulster Special Constabulary. McCaughey was implicated by his colleague Weir in many Glenanne gang attacks such as the O’Dowd shootings, the assault on the Rock Bar, and he admitted to having kidnapped a Roman Catholic priest.
McCaughey was convicted along with Weir for the killing of William Strathearn and sentenced to 16 years imprisonment. McCaughey received a seven-year sentence for wounding Michael McGrath during the attack on the Rock Bar, was sentenced on explosives and possession charges and was also sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for the kidnapping of Fr Hugh Murphy.
Journalist Joe Tiernan alleged that Hanna was an Intelligence Corps agent. He was the person who had approached James Mitchell for permission to use the property as an arms dump and bomb-making site. Hanna was shot dead outside his home in Lurgan in July 1975.
He assumed leadership of the brigade upon the shooting death of Hanna, for which he was said by Tiernan to have been responsible. Weir implicated Robin Jackson in a number of the gang’s killings and has named him as having been a “key figure” in the gang.
Following the 1993 Yorkshire Television programme The Hidden Hand which implicated Jackson in the Dublin bombings but did not mention him by name, he was questioned. He denied involvement in the three car bombings which left 26 people dead. and Miami Showband killings.
He was only convicted once (in 1981), for possession of a .22 pistol, a .38 revolver, a magazine, 13 rounds of ammunition, and hoods; however, he was released after having served two years of a seven-year sentence. Jackson’s fingerprints were found on a home-made silencer attached to a Luger pistol (serial number U 4) retrieved at Ted Sinclair’s farm in 1976.
Jackson’s name appeared on the Garda Síochána suspects list for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Jackson was named in court as one of the killers of William Strathern by Weir and McCaughey. The court was told by an RUC officer that Jackson and Kerr were not before the court as part of “operational strategy”.
Jackson died of lung cancer in 1998.
Robert McConnell — a UVF volunteer and 2nd Battalion UDR corporal. The Barron Report lists him as one of the suspects in the Dublin bombings. He allegedly had links to both RUC Special Branch and the Intelligence Corps, and it was claimed he was controlled before and after the bombings by Robert Nairac.
McConnell was named by both Lily Shields and Laurence McClure as being involved in the Donnelly’s Bar killings. Weir states he took part in the John Francis Green shooting along with Robin Jackson and Harris Boyle. He was named by Weir as the leading gunman in the Reavey family shootings.
McConnell was killed by the IRA on 5 April 1976.
Laurence McClure — a UVF volunteer and RUC SPG officer, having joined the Armagh SPG in May 1975. He was a close neighbour of James Mitchell and owned a repair garage adjacent to the farm. McClure was named by Weir as having taken part in several sectarian attacks including those at Donnelly’s Bar and the Rock Bar, the latter for which he was convicted and received a two-year sentence, suspended for three years. Weir alleges that McClure had helped assemble the bombs used in Dublin.
McClure admitted being a getaway driver for those involved in the Donnelly’s Bar bombing and to have waited in the car with Lily Shields; the two acting as a “courting couple”.
McClure was charged with withholding information in relation to the attack on Donnelly’s Bar. The barrister for the UDR and the police … said he had obtained a nolle prosequi sentence, a Latin legal phrase meaning “to be unwilling to pursue” (amounting to “do not prosecute”) against the charge. The only person who can authorise a nolle prosequi is the Attorney General.
James Mitchell (c. 1920 – May 2008) — an RUC Reserve officer and the owner of the Glenanne farm. He joined the RUC Reserve in September 1974 and was stationed at Markethill. He left the force on 1 July 1977 for “personal reasons”.
Weir named him as a UVF member who regularly participated in paramilitary activities.Weir claimed that Mitchell admitted being involved in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and went on to claim that he had seen Mitchell mixing home-made ammonium-nitrate-and-fuel-oil explosive in the farmyard on one occasion.
He was convicted for possession of weapons found on his land after an RUC raid in December 1978. In an RUC interview on 9 August 2000, he staunchly denied Weir’s allegations and referred to him as
“a damned liar and convicted murderer”.
Mitchell died, aged 88, in May 2008 at Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry. Willie Frazer attended his funeral and told media
“I’m not saying he was lily–white but he was a decent man”.
Robert John “R.J”. Kerr (c. 1943 – 7 November 1997) — UDA commander. He was charged with having weapons and ammunition in suspicious circumstances in 1972; later found guilty of armed robbery on 10 March 1973. Kerr was sentenced in 1974 in relation to the intimidation and assaulting of two men in 1973 and received 18 months in jail. Kerr was named as one of the killers of William Strathearn by Weir and McCaughey. The court was told by an RUC officer that Jackson and Kerr were not before the court as part of “police strategy”.
He died in a mysterious explosion, his body having been found in the vicinity of a burnt-out boat that was being towed on a trailer on the main Newry to Warrenpoint Road.
Harris Boyle (1953, Portadown – 31 July 1975, Buskhill, County Down) — UDR soldier and UVF volunteer. Boyle was unmarried and worked as a telephone wireman. He was charged with having weapons and ammunition in suspicious circumstances in 1972. Boyle was killed when a bomb he had placed on the Miami Showband bus exploded prematurely.
He was implicated in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and the killing of IRA volunteer John Francis Green in County Monaghan. According to submissions received by Mr Justice Barron, the Monaghan bomb was assembled at his home on Festival Road in Portadown’s Killycomain estate.
Wesley Somerville (born County Tyrone – died 31 July 1975, Buskhill, County Down) — UDR soldier and a UVF lieutenant. He was a textile worker by trade. He was killed when a bomb he had placed on the Miami Showband bus exploded prematurely.
Wesley Somerville was also charged along with two others for kidnapping two bread deliverymen. The kidnapping charge was connected to a bomb attack at Mourne Crescent, Dungannon.
Weir named Somerville as having been involved in the 1974 bombing in Monaghan.
Gary Armstrong — RUC sergeant, given a two-year suspended sentence in relation to the kidnapping of a Catholic priest, Father Hugh Murphy, in retaliation for the murder of a policeman. Armstrong was named by Judge Barron as one of the group of RUC members who carried out the gun and bomb attack on the Rock Bar.
Joseph Stewart Young — UVF volunteer from Portadown. His name appears on the Garda suspects list for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. John Weir claims that Young had been part of the unit that carried out the Monaghan bombing. When questioned, Young denied the allegation. He was also suspected of involvement in the attack on Donnelly’s bar.
Captain John Irwin — UDR intelligence officer. Weir declares in his affidavit that Irwin provided the explosives for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and delivered them to Mitchell’s farm, where they were then assembled.
Lance corporal Thomas Raymond Crozier (born 1951, Lurgan, County Armagh) — C Company, 11th Battalion UDR, and UVF volunteer, he worked as a painting contractor. He was convicted in October 1976 in relation to the Miami Showband killings. He was also arrested in 1975 along with Samuel Fulton Neil and Robin Jackson in possession of four shotguns.
Sergeant James Roderick McDowell (from Lurgan, County Armagh) — also C Company, 11th Battalion UDR, and UVF volunteer, he was an optical worker; convicted in October 1976 in relation to Miami Showband killings.
John James Somerville (died January 2015) — former UDR soldier from Moygashel, County Tyrone; brother of Wesley (see above); worked as a lorry-helper; convicted on 9 November 1981 in relation to the Miami Showband killings. Somerville was also charged along with two others with kidnapping two bread deliverymen. The kidnapping charge was also connected to a bomb attack at Mourne Crescent in Dungannon. He was also convicted of an armed robbery on a CIÉ bus in Aughnacloy and causing approximately £12,000 worth of damage to the bus. He was named by Weir as having been involved in the Monaghan bombing.
Sarah Elizabeth “Lily” Shields — Mitchell’s housekeeper. She was named by Weir as having provided the getaway car for those who attacked McArdle’s Bar and Donnelly’s Bar. Charges were later brought against her for withholding information regarding the latter attack. However, the trial judge and DPP brought a nolle prosequi against the charge in April 1981.
Norman Greenlee — UDR soldier and UVF volunteer. The Star pistol (serial number 344164) used in a number of Glenanne gang attacks was found at Greenlee’s farm in Richhill, County Armagh in 1979. A large number of other weapons and ammunition was also found. He subsequently received a seven-year sentence for possessing the weapons and a concurrent four-year sentence for UVF membership.
George Moore was found guilty of the attempted killing of Patrick Turley, assault, and possession of a gun and ammunition.
Gordon Liggett — Ulster Defence Association (UDA) commander. He was found guilty of causing grievous and actual bodily harm to Patrick Turley; as well as armed robbery and possession of a gun and ammunition.
William Ashton Wright — UDR soldier. He was charged with having weapons and ammunition in suspicious circumstances in 1972. He was later found guilty of armed robbery, which had taken place on 10 March 1973. Wright was sentenced in 1974 in relation to the intimidation and assaulting of two men in 1973 and received a six-month suspended sentence.
George Hyde — charged in connection with the attempted murder of Patrick Turley; he was later found beaten to death in prison.
Edward “Ted” Sinclair (from Dungannon) was convicted of possession of a Luger pistol (serial number U 4), a .38 ACP pistol, homemade machine guns, gelignite and ammunition in 1976. He was released in 1979. Sinclair was arrested again in 1980 and charged with possession of a .45 revolver and ammunition. However, charges were withdrawn by the DPP. Sinclair was also charged with the 1976 killings of Peter and Jane McKearney (a married couple mistakenly believed to be the parents of an IRA volunteer with the same surname, Margaret McKearney, although there was no relation).
In 1982 (the following year), these charges were also dropped by the DPP.
Garnet James Busby was convicted of the killings of Peter and Jane McKearney in October 1975 (see above). He was also convicted of the killings of Andrew Small, James McCaughey, Joseph Kelly and Patrick Barnard at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon. He planted the bomb at O’Neill’s Bar in Dungannon. During his trial an RUC inspector told the court that the same UVF gang was responsible for the attack on the Miami Showband.
William Parr was convicted of Denis Mullen’s killing.
Billy Corrigan was named as taking part in Denis Mullen’s killing during the trial of William Parr. Corrigan was killed by the IRA in 1976.
Henry Garfield Liggett was convicted of the killing of Patrick McNeice.
Dorothy Mullan was convicted of driving the car to the site of Patrick McNeice’s killing.
Garfield Gerard Beattie was convicted of the killings of Denis Mullan, Jim McLoughlin and Patrick McNeice at the Eagle Bar in Charlemont; also convicted of the attempted killings of other patrons in the Eagle Bar.
David Henry Kane was convicted of the killing of Jim McLoughlin and the attempted killings of the other patrons in the Eagle Bar.
Joey Lutton — UDR soldier convicted of the attacks on the Eagle Bar and Clancy’s Bar in Charlemont.
Samuel Fulton Neill (died 25 January 1976) — brother-in-law of Robin Jackson, arrested in 1975 alongside Jackson and Thomas Crozier in possession of four shotguns. He was fatally shot five times in the head after leaving a Portadown pub, allegedly by Jackson, for having passed on information to the police about the people involved in the Miami Showband attack.
Trevor Barnard was charged along with two others with the kidnapping of two bread deliverymen. The kidnapping charge was also linked to a bomb attack at Mourne Crescent in Dungannon.
Laurence Tate — UDR soldier. He was convicted along with two others of the bombing of an empty bungalow near Dungannon. He was also convicted of the bombing of Killen’s Bar in Dungannon. He was arrested as part of the Miami Showband investigation.
Harold Henry McKay was convicted along with two others of the bombing of an empty bungalow near Dungannon. Also convicted of the bombing of Killen’s Bar in Dungannon. He was arrested as part of the Miami Showband investigation.
John Nimmons was convicted along with two others of the bombing of an empty bungalow near Dungannon. Also convicted of the bombing of Killen’s Bar in Dungannon. He was arrested as part of the Miami Showband investigation.
William Thomas Leonard — UDR soldier convicted of the killings of James and Gertrude Devlin, a married couple. He was also convicted of the bombing of Killen’s Bar in Dungannon, and of the armed robbery of the CIÉ bus in Aughnacloy which caused approximately £12,000 worth of damage to the bus.
Sammy McCoo was named by McClure and Shields as being involved in the attack on Donnelly’s bar. McCoo’s name later appeared on the Garda suspects list for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
Ian Mitchell — RUC officer, received a two-year sentence, suspended for three years in relation to the attack on the Rock Bar. Ian Mitchell was one of the investigating officers into the killings of Betty McDonald and Gerald McGleenan at the Step Inn, Keady, County Armagh.
David Wilson — RUC officer, received a one-year sentence, suspended for two years in relation to the attack on the Rock Bar.
Alexander McCaughey — father of Billy McCaughey, given a one-year suspended sentence in relation to the kidnapping of Fr. Murphy.
On The Hidden Hand programme made by Yorkshire Television in 1993, it was claimed that Robin Jackson was controlled by Nairac and 14th Intelligence.
In May 1977, Nairac was kidnapped by the IRA in Dromintee and taken across the border into the Republic where he was interrogated for more than an hour and pistol-whipped in Ravensdale Woods, County Louth. Nairac was then shot dead by Liam Townson.
Pte Ian Leonard Price, 2nd battalion, The Queens Reg Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, lifted the proscription against the UVF on 4 April 1974, but it was made illegal once again on 3 October 1975; therefore, during the period between April 1974 and October 1975, membership of the UVF was not a crime. The largest loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was also not proscribed at the time.
Attacks attributed to the Glenanne gang
In 2004, the Pat Finucane Centre asked Professor Douglas Cassel (formerly of Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago) to convene an international inquiry to investigate collusion by members of the British security forces in sectarian killings in Northern Ireland committed during the mid-1970s. The gang’s involvement in the killings was to be investigated in particular.
The panel interviewed victims and their relatives, as well as four members of the security forces. The four members of the security forces were: RUC SPG officers John Weir and Billy McCaughey; psychological warfare operative Colin Wallace and MI6 operative Captain Fred Holroyd. They all implicated the Glenanne gang in the attacks. In seven out of eight cases, ballistic tests corroborated Weir’s claims linking the killings to weapons carried by the security forces. The interviews revealed many similarities in the way the attacks were carried out, while various documents (including the Barron Report) established a chain of ballistic history linking weapons and killings to the gang. Justice Barron commented in reference to the gang:
“This joining of RUC and UDR members with members of Loyalist paramilitary organisations is emphasised by the use of the same or connected guns by intermingled groups of these organisations.”
The Glenanne gang has been linked to the following attacks and/or incidents:
1972 and 1973
4 October 1972: killing of Catholic civilian Patrick Connolly. He was killed and his mother and brother were injured when a grenade was thrown through the window of their house in Portadown, County Armagh. The family were Catholics living in a mixed area of the town. The grenade was of a type manufactured in the United Kingdom “for use by the British Armed Forces”. According to reliable loyalist sources, UVF members were responsible.
20 February 1973: an armed robbery on a CIÉ bus in Aughnacloy, which caused approximately £12,000 worth of damage to the bus.
10 March 1973: attempted murder of Patrick Turley in Portadown.
10 March 1973: armed robbery, for which Glenanne gang members were later jailed.
24 May 1973: bombing of Killen’s Bar in Dungannon, County Tyrone. UDR soldiers Laurence Tate and William Thomas Leonard were convicted, along with two others.
5 August 1973: killing of Catholic civilians Francis and Bernadette Mullen. They were shot dead by two gunmen at their farmhouse in Broughadoey, near Moy, County Tyrone. Their two-year-old son was also wounded by gunfire. The “Ulster Freedom Fighters” claimed responsibility but it is believed UVF members were responsible.
28 October 1973: killing of Catholic civilian Francis McCaughey. He was wounded by a booby-trap bomb at a farm in Carnteel, near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone. He died on 8 November. The “Ulster Freedom Fighters” claimed responsibility but it is believed UVF members were responsible.His brother-in-law, Owen Boyle, was later shot dead by the Glenanne gang.
29 October 1973: killing of Catholic civilian Patrick Campbell. He was shot dead by a gunman who arrived at the door of his house in Banbridge, County Down. The “Ulster Freedom Fighters” claimed responsibility but it later emerged that UVF members had been responsible. Although Robin Jackson was arrested and Campbell’s widow picked him out as the killer at an identity parade, murder charges against him were soon dropped.
17 January 1974: gun attack on Boyle’s Bar in Cappagh, County Tyrone. Two gunmen entered the pub and opened fire indiscriminately on the customers. Catholic civilian Daniel Hughes was killed and three others wounded.
19 February 1974: bomb attack on Traynor’s Bar at Aghinlig, between Blackwatertown and Charlemont, County Armagh. Catholic civilian Patrick Molloy and Protestant civilian John Wylie were killed. Two other civilians were wounded. In 1981 a serving UDR soldier, a former UDR soldier and a former UVF member were convicted of the murders.
7 May 1974: killing of Catholic civilians James and Gertrude Devlin, who were shot dead near their home at Congo Road, near Dungannon, County Tyrone. They were driving home with their 17-year-old daughter. As they neared their house, a man in a military uniform stopped the car and opened fire on them. James and Gertrude were killed outright and their daughter, Patricia, in the back seat, was wounded. UDR soldier William Thomas Leonard was convicted for the killings. His membership in the UDR was withheld from the courts by the police.
3 September 1974: shooting of T.J. Chambers in Mountnorris, County Armagh.
3 September 1974: shooting incident. The 9 mm Luger pistol used in the incident was the same often used in other Glenanne gang attacks, including the murders of the Reavey brothers.
27 October 1974: killing of Catholic civilian Anthony Duffy. His body was found at the back of a farmhouse at Mullantine, near Portadown, County Armagh. He had been beaten, strangled and then shot by UVF members after taking a lift from Lurgan to Portadown, together with a friend who managed to escape.
20 November 1974: gun attack on Falls Bar at Aughamullen, near Clonoe, County Tyrone. Catholic civilian Patrick Falls was killed and another wounded. UDR soldier James Somerville was convicted for the attack.
29 November 1974: attacks in Newry and Crossmaglen, County Armagh. A bomb exploded in a hallway of Hughes’ Bar in Newry, injuring many people. Catholic civilian John Mallon died of his injuries on 15 December. At the inquest an RUC witness said the pub was used by all sections of the community and had no links with any organization. Another bomb exploded in the hallway of McArdle’s Bar, Crossmaglen, injuring six. Catholic civilian Thomas McNamee died from his injuries almost a year later, on 14 November 1975.
According to reliable loyalist sources, UVF members were responsible for both attacks.
10 January 1975: killing of IRA volunteer John Francis Green, who was found shot dead at a farmhouse in Tullynageer near Castleblayney, County Monaghan. In his statement, Weir claims that the gunmen were Robin Jackson, Robert McConnell, and Harris Boyle.
10 February 1975: gun attack on Hayden’s Bar in Gortavale, near Rock, County Tyrone. A gunman entered the pub and opened fire indiscriminately on the customers. Catholic civilians Arthur Mulholland and Eugene Doyle were killed while four others were wounded.
1 April 1975: killing of Catholic civilian Dorothy Trainor. She and her husband were shot by at least two gunmen as they walked through a park near Garvaghy Road, Portadown. Two of her sons were later killed by loyalists.The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility.
3 April 1975: killing of Catholic civilian Martin McVeigh. He was shot dead near his home at Ballyoran Park, off the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, as he cycled home from work. Robin Jackson was later arrested in possession of the murder weapon, but the RUC did not question or charge him with the murder. The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility.
11 April 1975: killing of Catholic civilian Owen Boyle. Gunmen shot him through the window of his house in Glencull, near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone. He died on 22 April 1975. The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility.
21 April 1975: killing of Catholic civilians Marion Bowen (who was eight months pregnant), and her brothers, Seamus and Michael McKenna, by a booby-trap bomb left in Bowen’s house at Killyliss, near Granville, County Tyrone. Seamus and Michael were renovating the house, which had been unoccupied for almost a year. The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility.
27 April 1975: gun attack on a social club in Bleary, County Down. Gunmen burst into the Catholic-frequented darts club and opened fire indiscriminately. Catholic civilians Joseph Toman, John Feeney and Brendan O’Hara were killed while others were wounded.
The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility.
24 May 1975: bomb attack on the home of the Grew family in Moy, County Tyrone. Much of the house was destroyed and six children were injured. In 1981 a serving UDR soldier, a former UDR soldier and a former UVF member were convicted of partaking in the attack.
1 August 1975: gun attack on a minibus near Gilford, County Down. The minibus had been travelling from Banbridge to Bleary with nine people on board; all were Catholics and most had been returning from a regular bingo session. Like the Miami Showband attack, gunmen in British Army uniforms stopped the minibus at a fake military checkpoint.
They then opened fire, wounding seven people.Catholic civilian Joseph Toland was killed outright and another Catholic civilian, James Marks, died of his wounds in January 1976. According to reliable loyalist sources,UVF members were responsible.
2 August 1975: shooting at Fane Valley Park, Altnamachin, County Armagh.
22 August 1975: gun and bomb attack on McGleenan’s Bar in Armagh. A masked gunman burst into the crowded pub and opened fire while another planted a bomb. It exploded as they ran to a getaway car, causing the building to collapse. Catholic civilians John McGleenan, Patrick Hughes and Thomas Morris were killed while many others were injured. According to reliable loyalist sources, UVF members were responsible.
24 August 1975: killing of Catholic civilians Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer, who were found shot dead at Altnamachin, near Newtownhamilton, County Armagh. They were driving home from a Gaelic football match in Dublin when they were apparently stopped at a fake military checkpoint by men in British Army uniform.
They were found shot dead a short distance away. Earlier that night, three RUC officers in an unmarked car had been stopped at the same checkpoint but had been allowed through. However, the officers suspected that the checkpoint had been fake. After receiving radio confirmation that there were no authorized 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. The HET said the original police investigation “barely existed”, describing the police’s failure to interview eyewitnesses as “inexplicable”.
Weir claims that an RUC officer confessed to partaking in the attack, alongside a UDR soldier and UVF members. The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility.
1 September 1975: killing of SDLP member Denis Mullen, who was shot dead by two gunmen who called at the door of his home in Collegeland, County Armagh.
4 September 1975: gun and bomb attack on McCann’s Bar in Ballyhegan, County Armagh. Catholic civilian Margaret Hale died of her wounds on 22 September.
23 October 1975: killing of Catholic civilians Peter and Jane McKearney. They were shot dead by gunmen who arrived at the door of their house in Listamlat, near Moy, County Tyrone. The gunmen may have mistaken the couple for the parents of an IRA member with the same surname — Margaret McKearney — but they were not related. Margaret McKearney was wanted by Scotland Yard and the UVF had threatened to “eliminate” her.
A contemporary newspaper article reported that “Army issue ammunition” was used. Among the first on the scene were neighbours Charles and Teresa Fox, who were both later killed by the UVF in 1992.
19 December 1975: attacks in Dundalk and Silverbridge. At 6:20pm, a car bomb exploded outside Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk, Co Louth on the southern side of the border. Catholic civilians Hugh Watters and Jack Rooney were killed and more than twenty others were injured. Three hours later, gunmen attacked Donnelly’s Bar and filling station in Silverbridge, less than ten miles away on the northern side of the border. They fired at people outside the building, then fired on the customers and threw a bomb inside.
Two Catholic civilians (Patrick and Michael Donnelly) and an English civilian (Trevor Brecknell, married to a local woman) were killed. The “Red Hand Commando” claimed both attacks and it is believed they were co-ordinated. It is believed the Siverbridge attack was carried out by the Glenanne gang while the Dundalk bombing was carried out by other members of the Mid Ulster UVF, probably with some help from Belfast UVF members. RUC officer Laurence McClure admitted involvement in the Silverbridge attack. UDR Corporal Robert McConnell was also involved, according to John Weir and Lily Shields. Credible evidence from the RUC officer who led the investigation indicates that police believed they knew who the killers were and that the killers included RUC and UDR officers.The RUC refused the Garda Síochána access to a key witness in the Dundalk bombing.
Vallely’s pub in Ardress
26 December 1975: bomb attack on Vallelly’s Bar, Ardress, County Armagh. Catholic civilian Seamus Mallon was killed.
4 January 1976: Reavey and O’Dowd killings. At about 6pm, gunmen broke into the Reavey family home in Whitecross, County Armagh. They shot brothers John, Brian and Anthony Reavey. John and Brian were killed outright while Anthony died of a brain hemorrhage less than a month later. Twenty minutes after the shooting, gunmen broke into the O’Dowd family home in Ballydougan, about twenty miles away. They shot dead Joseph O’Dowd and his nephews Barry and Declan O’Dowd. All three were members of the SDLP. Barney O’Dowd was wounded by gunfire. RUC officer Billy McConnell admitted taking part in the Reavey killings and accused RUC Reserve officer James Mitchell of being involved too. According to Weir, UDR Corporal Robert McConnell was the lead gunman in the Reavey killings and Robin Jackson was the lead gunman in the O’Dowd killings. The “Protestant Action Force” claimed responsibility for the two co-ordinated attacks.
7 March 1976: car bomb attack on the Three Star Inn, Castleblayney, County Monaghan. Civilian Patrick Mone was killed. The bomb was placed in a car next to that of Mr Mone’s and was not intended for him. According to Weir, the attack was carried out by RUC officer Laurence McClure and UDR soldier Robert McConnell, using explosives provided by UDR Captain John Irwin and stored beforehand at James Mitchell’s farmhouse. A memorial to Patrick Mone is near the site of the bombing in Castleblayney.
8 March 1976: bomb and gun attack on Tully’s Bar in Belleeks, County Armagh. RUC officer John Weir admitted helping to plan the attack and accused RUC Reserve officer James Mitchell of being the mastermind.
17 March 1976: car bomb attack on Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon on Saint Patrick’s Day. Four Catholic civilians – Joseph Kelly, Andrew Small and 13-year-olds Patrick Bernard and James McCaughey – were killed. Twelve others were injured.
15 May 1976: attacks in Charlemont, County Armagh. Gunmen detonated a bomb in the hallway of Clancy’s Bar, killing three Catholic civilians (Felix Clancy, Sean O’Hagan and Robert McCullough) and injuring many others. They then shot into the nearby Eagle Bar, killing a Catholic civilian, Frederick McLaughlin, and wounding several others. Locals claimed that the UDR had been patrolling the village for a number of nights beforehand, but were absent the night of the attacks. UDR soldier Joey Lutton was later convicted of partaking in both attacks.His s tatus as a member of the security forces was withheld from the courts by the police.
5 June 1976: attack on the Rock Bar near Keady, County Armagh. Gunmen arrived at the pub and shot Catholic civilian Michael McGrath in the street outside. They then fired at customers through the windows and threw a nail bomb inside, but it only partially exploded. The HET said the RUC investigation is “cursory, ineffective and even fails to interview the only witness, who survived being shot down”.
RUC officers William McCaughey, Laurence McClure and Ian Mitchell confessed and were convicted for the attack, while RUC officer David Wilson was convicted for withholding knowledge that the attack was to take place. However, only McCaughey served time in prison. According to the book Lethal Allies, the officers were wearing their police uniforms underneath boiler suits.
25 July 1976: killing of Catholic civilian Patrick McNeice, shot dead at his home in Ardress, County Armagh.
16 August 1976: car bomb attack on the Step Inn, Keady, County Armagh. Catholic civilians Elizabeth McDonald and Gerard McGleenon were killed and others were injured. Ten days before the bombing, the RUC asked the Army to put Mitchell’s farmhouse under surveillance because they had intelligence that a bomb was being stored there. According to Weir, the bomb was to be detonated at Renaghan’s Bar across the border in Clontibret, County Monaghan. On 15 August, Weir scouted the route to the pub but was stopped by Gardaí, who told him they were mounting extra security due to a warning from the RUC. Weir told the rest of the gang and they decided to attack Keady instead. The Army surveillance operation was ended and the bomb attack went ahead. Weir, Mitchell and the others involved were not arrested by the RUC and were allowed to remain in the force.
25 February 1977: killing of Catholic RUC officer Joseph Campbell, who was shot dead outside the RUC base in Cushendall, County Antrim. Weir claims that the killers were alleged RUC Special Branch agent Robin Jackson, RUC officer William McCaughey, and R.J. Kerr.
19 April 1977: killing of Catholic civilian William Strathearn, a chemist, who was shot dead at his shop in Ahoghill, County Antrim. RUC SPG officers John Weir and Billy McCaughey were convicted for the killing.
18 June 1978: kidnapping of Father Hugh Murphy. This was in retaliation for the IRA’s kidnapping and killing of an RUC officer the day before. Murphy was eventually released unharmed after appeals from a number of Protestant ministers, including Ian Paisley. Sergeant Gary Armstrong and Constable Billy McCaughey, both of the RUC (along with the latter’s father, Alexander McCaughey), were convicted for the kidnapping.
29 February 1980: killing of Catholic civilian Brendan McLaughlin, who was killed in a drive-by-shooting on Clonard Street, Belfast. He was killed with the same Sterling submachine gun used in the Miami Showband, O’Dowd family and Devlin family killings.
Glenanne gang weapons linked to attacks
The Glenanne farm and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings
James Mitchell, RUC reserve officer and owner of the Glenanne farm
It is claimed in the Barron Report that Billy Hanna had asked James Mitchell for permission to use his farm as a UVF arms dump and bomb-making site.Information that loyalist paramilitaries were regularly meeting at the farm appeared on British Intelligence Corps documents from late 1972.
According to submissions received by Mr Justice Barron, the Glenanne farm was used to build and store the bombs that exploded in Dublin and Monaghan. The report claims they were placed onto Robin Jackson’s poultry lorry, driven across the border to a carpark, then activated by Hanna and transferred to three allocated cars. These cars exploded almost simultaneously in Dublin’s city centre at about 5.30pm during evening rush hour, killing 26 civilians. Ninety minutes later a fourth car bomb exploded in Monaghan, killing another seven civilians.
Mitchell and his female housekeeper, Lily Shields both denied knowledge that the farm was used for illicit paramilitary activity. They also denied partaking in any UVF attacks. In his affidavit, John Weir affirms that the farmhouse was used as a base for UVF operations that included the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
Weir also stated that on one occasion an RUC constable gave him two weapons to store at the Glenanne farm:
“He then offered me the two sub-machine guns because he knew about my connection to Loyalist paramilitaries. I accepted them and took them to Mitchell’s farmhouse”.
In his affidavit, Weir recounted when in March 1976 he had gone to the farm where between eight and ten men dressed in camouflage had been parading in the farmyard. Inside he had discussed with Mitchell and others the details of a planned bombing and shooting attack against a nationalist pub, Tully’s in Belleeks. Mitchell had shown him the floor plans of the pub’s interior which he had drawn up highlighting the lack of escape routes for the pub’s patrons. The plan was temporarily called off when it was discovered that the British Army’s Parachute Regiment was on patrol that evening in the area.
Weir returned to Belfast the next day and the attack went ahead that evening, 8 March. There were no casualties, however, as Mitchell’s floor plans had been inaccurate, and the customers had fled into the pub’s living quarters for safety once the shooting had commenced outside, and the bomb only caused structural damage to the building.
Mr. Justice Barron concluded in his report:
“It is likely that the farm of James Mitchell at Glenanne played a significant part in the preparation for the attacks [Dublin and Monaghan bombings]. It is also likely that members of the UDR and RUC either participated in, or were aware of those preparations.”
On 31 July 1975, four days after Hanna’s shooting and Jackson’s assumption of leadership of the Mid-Ulster brigade, the Miami Showband’s minibus was flagged-down outside Newry by armed UVF men wearing British Army uniforms at a bogus military checkpoint. Two UVF men (Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville) loaded a time delay bomb on the minibus but it exploded prematurely and killed them.
The remaining UVF gunmen then opened fire on the bandmembers, killing three (Brian McCoy, Anthony Geraghty and Fran O’Toole) and wounding two (Stephen Travers and Des McAlea). Two of the three men convicted of the killings and sentenced to life imprisonment were serving members of the UDR, and the third was a former member. The Luger pistol used in the attack was found to have been the same one used to kill Provisional IRA member John Francis Green in January 1975 and was also used in the O’Dowd killings of January 1976.
The following May, the security forces found Jackson’s fingerprints on a home-made silencer attached to a Luger. Although charged, Jackson avoided conviction. A Sterling 9mm submachine gun was also used in the Miami Showband killings. The 2003 Barron Report suggests that the guns were taken from the stockpile of weapons at the Glenanne farm. The Luger pistol used in the Green, Miami Showband, and O’Dowd attacks was later destroyed by the RUC on 28 August 1978.
Liaison officer Captain Robert Nairac has been linked to the Miami Showband killings and the killing of John Francis Green. Miami Showband survivors Stephen Travers and Des McAlea both testified in court that a man with a “crisp, clipped English accent, and wearing a different uniform and beret” had been at the scene of the explosion and subsequent shootings.
Martin Dillon in The Dirty War, however, adamantly states that Nairac was not involved in either attack. The Cassel Report 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”.
Although Jackson had been questioned by the RUC following the Showband attack, he was released without having been charged.
Reavey and O’Dowd killings and the Kingsmill massacre
The co-ordinated sectarian shootings of the Reavey and O’Dowd families, allegedly perpetrated by the Glenanne gang and organised by Robin Jackson, was followed by the South Armagh Republican Action Force retaliation with a sectarian attack the following day. It stopped a minibus at Kingsmill and shot dead the ten Protestant passengers, after being taken out of their minibus which was transporting them home from their workplace in Glenanne.
In 2001, an unidentified former Glenanne gang member (a former RUC officer who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the gang’s killings) revealed that the gang had planned to kill at least thirty Catholic schoolchildren as revenge for Kingsmill.
It drew up plans to attack St Lawrence O’Toole Primary School in the South Armagh village of Belleeks. The plan was aborted at the last minute on orders of the UVF leadership, who ruled that it would be “morally unacceptable”, would undermine support for the UVF, and could lead to civil war.
The gang member who suggested the attack was a UDR soldier; he was later shot dead by the IRA. The UVF leadership allegedly suspected that he was working for the British Intelligence Corps, and that military intelligence were seeking to provoke a civil war. In 2004, former gang member McCaughey spoke of the planned retaliation and said that the UVF leadership also feared the potential IRA response.
The Cassel Report states that convictions were obtained in only nine of the 25 cases it investigated and that several of those convictions are suspect as erroneous and incomplete. A month before Nairac’s killing, a Catholic chemist, William Strathearn, was gunned down at his home in Ahoghill, County Antrim. SPG officers Weir and McCaughey were charged and convicted for the killing. Weir named Jackson as having been the gunman but Jackson was never interrogated for “reasons of operational strategy”.
The Special Patrol Group was disbanded in 1980 by the RUC after the convictions of Weir and McCaughey for the Strathearn killing.
In December 1978 the authorities raided the Glenanne farm and found weapons and ammunition. This made it necessary for the gang to seek an alternative base of operations and arms dump. James Mitchell was charged and convicted of storing weapons on his land. Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Robert Lowry presided over his trial on 30 June 1980.
The farm had been under RUC observation for several months before the raid.
On 16 October 1979, Robin Jackson was arrested when he was found with a number of weapons and hoods. In January 1981 he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for possession of guns and ammunition, but was then released in May 1983.
John Weir stated that the Glenanne gang usually did not use the name “UVF” whenever it claimed its attacks; instead it typically employed the cover names of Red Hand Commando, Red Hand Brigade or Protestant Action Force.
A judicial review into the actions of the gang was announced by the High Court in Belfast in February 2015. This review found, in July 2017 that the decision by PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott had effectively prevented an “overarching thematic report” into the activities of the Glenanne gang had breached the victims’ families’ rights as defined in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court had been told that there was evidence of collusion by elements of the British state in at least three of the cases and Mr. Justice Treacy said that there was a “credible expectation of collusion” in the remaining cases. Therefore, he concluded, the decision of the Chief Constable to end the broader review into the activities of the Glenanne gang and the alleged collusion of elements of the British state in those murders had resulted in a “real risk that this will fuel in the minds of the families the fear that the state has resiled from its public commitments because it is not genuinely committed to addressing the unresolved concerns that the families have of state involvement.”
Mr Justice Treacy gave the parties until the start of September 2017 to try to reach an agreement on the appropriate form of relief.
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.
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”
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
UK Home SecretaryRoy 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.