RUC chief met leader of banned UDA: Mayhew denies negotiations with paramilitaries took place in Belfast

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A SENIOR RUC officer met a leader of the illegal Ulster Defence Association to stop the loyalist violence last weekend.

Even though there have been official denials that the two met, the encounter took place in the home of a loyalist councillor and involved the UDA 'brigadier' in charge of the Protestant districts of west Belfast, according to reliable sources in Belfast. A senior loyalist politician and several councillors were also in the house.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, yesterday denied the fact of the meeting. He told reporters: 'I can only of course go on what I'm told, but I'm told by the Deputy Chief Constable that although there was a house in which a meeting took place with representatives of political parties, to which a certain person came, that person did not speak to the RUC and there was no discussion between any representative of a paramilitary organisation and the RUC.

'It is not the policy of the RUC to meet with any representative of any proscribed organisation. That is all I'm going to say about it,' he said.

The authorities are embarrassed by the revelation that a police officer met a representative of an organisation which was banned last August. That embarrassment has been heightened by the fact that the Government took such public exception to last month's fleeting handshake between the Irish President, Mary Robinson, and the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.

The Government has always made clear that it would not negotiate with the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

The 'certain person' referred to in Sir Patrick's comments is believed to be the UDA 'brigadier'. Despite the version of events relayed by Sir Patrick, the fact of the face-to-face meeting has been verified by a number of sources. Those include not only loyalists but also a security source with detailed knowledge of the meeting.

All agree that a short encounter took place with the UDA leader speaking directly to the RUC officer, as well as follow-up contacts involving loyalist councillors.

In this instance the police officer involved was apparently concerned to defuse a situation which had led to widespread public disorder and dozens of attacks on the police. The UDA called an end to its violence; disturbances on succeeding nights were the work of other loyalist groups.

The sequence of events began last Wednesday with UDA complaints of RUC 'harassment and jackboot tactics against loyalist paramilitaries and their families'. With the funeral of a paramilitary due to take place the following Friday, a statement warned that 'any unprovoked attacks or acts of brutality towards loyalists by police will be met with decisive action'.

Within hours of Friday's funeral the UDA launched a wave of attacks on RUC stations and patrols in the greater Belfast area; guns and grenades were used in more than 30 incidents and dozens of vehicles were hijacked and burnt out.

The UDA-RUC meeting took place in the kitchen of a councillor's house on Saturday afternoon. The leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the Rev Ian Paisley, was in the house for a time but did not speak to the UDA man. Loyalist sources said the UDA representative had complained to the RUC officer of 'police harassment and brutality,' detailing a number of incidents and calling for 'normal policing' to be resumed.

Relations between the RUC and loyalists have been particularly tense in recent months, especially in the Shankill Road district. An upsurge of loyalist violence has led to an increase in security force surveillance on paramilitary suspects, which in turn has led to occasional back-street clashes. In the first three months of this year more loyalists than republicans have been charged with terrorist offences.

A Unionist MP, Ken Maginnis, yesterday strongly criticised the idea of contacts between the security forces and paramilitaries. 'If these are people who are involved in illegal activity, in sectarian murders and attacks on the security services, then I would deplore that sort of activity. It is not helpful and it sends out totally the wrong signal.'

In reality, scores of contacts take place weekly involving police, soldiers, government officials and both loyalist and republican activists. These take place in prison, in security bases and in the street, and cover many different purposes.