Belfast hardman refuses to give in to son's murderers

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The Independent Online

In a tough city with more than its fair share of tough characters, Raymond McCord stands out as one of Belfast's toughest and most personally driven men.

He deliberately and repeatedly taunts one of the big loyalist paramilitary groups. His message, drilled home in dozens of statements and interviews in Belfast newspapers, is: "I am not afraid of you. You know where I live - come and get me if you dare."

This form of very public defiance breaks all the rules of Belfast's paramilitary underworld, for such groups generally react violently to such open challenges to their authority.

But he has calmly taken a decision to put his life on the line. This is because he holds the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) responsible for killing his son, Raymond, 22, who was beaten to death six years ago.

He repeatedly names one of its north Belfast commanders as being behind the killing. He also makes a far more explosive claim: that the man is not only a senior UVF figure but also a high-level police informer. Mr McCord pulls no punches. "This man is a drug dealer, extortionist and Special Branch agent, who has been allowed to get away with murder," he said. "He has been involved in many murders, and he has been totally immune from prosecution." The authorities do not confirm the charges made by Mr McCord but many with knowledge of the case take seriously at least some of what he says. There is palpable sensitivity and nervousness in security circles about the affair.

Mr McCord is a hard man but not a paramilitary: he uses his fists rather than guns. He has been arrested many times for assault, rather than paramilitary or drug offences.

His attitude is extraordinary, simply refusing to accept the power of the paramilitaries. He is probably the city's champion bare-knuckle streetfighter. In one apparently true tale told about him, he was set upon by a large group of loyalists who broke his legs. When he got out of hospital he hobbled, still on crutches, to the door of a senior loyalist and challenged him to a fight. The man actually rang the police.

In those days he fought against the Ulster Defence Association, but since his son's death his war has been with the UVF.

He describes his record thus: "I was arrested many times on the complaints of paramilitary men - they said I was beating them up. I went to court for assaulting three of them, who said I beat them up and wrecked a house. I was convicted but I won my appeal. I was never a member of any organisation, yet they wanted to tell me what way I would live my life. It was because they had an organisation behind them and they had guns. But they were thugs; out-and-out thugs, gangsters.

"Most of the times I got into trouble with the police was for trying to help people. To help them I had to stand up against paramilitaries and I had to fight them. I went to their doors and asked them what they were at. They'd try to be sort of big men. They'd get hit, simple. I wouldn't change that for anything. I'm glad I hit them.

"I've got a good name throughout Belfast - not as a bully boy but as a person that won't accept being walked on or being intimidated, and who is prepared just to stand up to these thugs. They're not real men. Real men rap your door and use their knuckles. They don't come in the middle of the night with baseball bats with nails through them, or guns in their hands and wear balaclavas. Any time I was arrested for fighting, there was no balaclava on my face."

Mr McCord tells anyone who will listen that his son agreed to ferry in drugs for the north Belfast commander, who later killed him to cover up his drug activities. He concedes his son was among a number questioned about a murder, but says the young man was not involved. "My son was questioned for a few hours and released," he insists.

A loyalist paramilitary source says of Mr McCord: "I can understand his anger about his son but he went totally the wrong way about this. The UVF agreed to carry out an inquiry but he went straight to the media and that was the end of it. They're a secret organisation and they can't have people giving out information in the press."

Mr McCord has had numerous police warnings that his life is at risk. The latest, delivered last Wednesday, said: "Loyalist paramilitaries may carry out an attack against Raymond McCord. This is in response to McCord's continual allegations against them."

He responds: "These people are panicking and they'll try for me. As far as I'm concerned, the sooner the better." Mr McCord, 49, has moved away from the rest of his family and lives in a quiet Belfast suburb - in essence, waiting for a UVF attack. He lists his security precautions. "The windows are bulletproof and I have cameras and sensors. I have an alsatian out the back - it's like a wolf; it would eat you."

He says of the north Belfast chief: "The man's just a butcher; an animal. I asked the UVF, 'Put him in a room with me, we'll lock the door.' There's only going to be one result - I'll be walking out of the room."

Asked if he knows other men who think and act as dangerously as he does, he ponders before replying: "No. There are some hard men but they're frightened of being shot."

Mr McCord is determined to pursue his potentially lethal attention-seeking. He knows the risks, but is convinced this is the way to avenge his dead son. He vows: "I will have justice for young Raymond."

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