Exposure sealed fate of notorious activists

Johnny Adair is not the first loyalist from Belfast's Shankill Road to attract so much attention that they became the targets of enemies seeking to kill them or put them behind bars.

Johnny Adair is not the first loyalist from Belfast's Shankill Road to attract so much attention that they became the targets of enemies seeking to kill them or put them behind bars.

The Shankill has thrown up a series of activists who became particularly notorious for their paramilitary activity. Some survived but for others the exposure turned out to be lethal.

Among the best-known of these was Lenny Murphy, who was leader of the UVF Shankill Butchers gang. They were responsible for a large number of murders that make up what are probably Belfast's most notorious sequence of killings.

The deaths, which stretched over many years, included both sectarian killings and loyalist feuds. They involved shootings, bombings and, in particular, killings carried out with knives and beatings. Lenny Murphy is believed to have been directly involved in at least 18 of them.

The savagery of some attacks earned a place in public memory as being among the most horrific of the Troubles. Sentencing 11 of the gang, a judge said their actions "will remain forever a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry".

While Murphy did not take part in all the killings, he was seen as the gang's leader and driving force even when he was in prison. An RUC detective said of him: "He was a ruthless, dedicated terrorist with a sadistic streak, regarded by those who knew him well as a psychopath. He inflicted terror on those around him."

The IRA eventually killed Murphy, whose mother famously said of him: "My Lenny would not have hurt a fly."

Another well-known Butchers gang member, Robert "Basher" Bates, was given 10 life sentences for murders. In prison he became a reformed character while serving more than 15 years behind bars. Released in 1996, he was shot dead near the Shankill by the son of one of his Protestant victims.

One well-remembered Shankill figure was Jim Craig of the UFF, who was eventually killed by his own outfit. It was said that his notoriety and range of enemies meant he could have been killed by almost any paramilitary group, loyalist or republican.

As well as his role in killings, Craig was known as Belfast's foremost paramilitary extortionist, running rackets and collecting protection money from many businesses. He was also reputedly actively involved in colluding with republican groups - including the IRA and INLA - to have other loyalists killed. This sealed his fate.

The most recent Shankill paramilitary legend to be killed was Frankie Curry, who was shot by other loyalists last year. One of the most active loyalist assassins of the Troubles, he claimed to have killed 16 or more people. The killings began in 1972 and continued until shortly before his death.

But not all Shankill paramilitary careers end in infamy and death. Gusty Spence, jailed in 1966 for a pre-Troubles killing, was an icon of militancy. But he mellowed during his long jail term and in recent years has been influential in leading loyalist groups away from violence.

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