The Loyalist Ceasefire: Paramilitary gangs with a lust for Catholic death

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The Independent Online
SOME of the most horrific killings of the Troubles have been the work of loyalist paramilitary groups, earning them a reputation for hot- blooded savagery, writes David McKittrick.

The most notorious were the 'Shankill Butchers', a UVF gang who, in the mid- 1970s, roamed the streets of Belfast looking for Catholic victims. Members of the gang killed 17 people, many in the most gruesome fashion with knives, meat cleavers and hatchets.

In one typical instance they bundled a Catholic roadsweeper into a taxi, fractured his skull with a wheelbrace, then drove him to a quiet spot where they cut his throat back to the spine with a butcher's knife.

But an examination of loyalist killings shows this savagery was not out of the ordinary. In one well-known case, loyalist assassins chanced on a Catholic man and a Protestant woman in a car on a lonely road near Belfast. They stabbed the man 32 times and the woman 19 times in what a judge later described as 'the most horrific murder I have ever seen'. One UDA defendant told the court: 'Any Roman Catholic would have done. A lot of Protestants had been killed by the IRA. I could see the IRA taking over Ulster . . . I thought if I killed Roman Catholics it would stop them.'

Many loyalists, in statements to police and others, have demonstrated how they had de-humanised their Catholic victims with derogatory labels such as 'Fenians' or 'taigs'.

In an interview recently a Shankill Road loyalist explained how he became involved in a murder. He said: 'I had been drinking in a loyalist club and on my way home I ran into a group of men who had two Catholics against a wall.

'One of the Catholics took his chance and ran off and the men chased him. I took the hold of the other Catholic and . . . beat him to death with a breeze block.'

In another instance, a court was told how a 21-year- old Catholic man was dragged to a UDA club for interrogation. He was struck on the back with a pickaxe handle, and then stabbed in the hands with a dagger. His trousers were removed and he was stabbed in the thigh. The victim was then suspended by the ankles with a rope thrown over a beam and swung around the room being punched and kicked.

Finally he was hooded, driven to a nearby river, and shot three times in the back of the head.

(Photograph omitted)