Loyalists bury first victim of new feuds

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The Independent Online

The funeral of the first victim of the latest tit-for-tat murders in Northern Ireland took place yesterday.

The funeral of the first victim of the latest tit-for-tat murders in Northern Ireland took place yesterday.

As family and friends of Bobby Mahood set off with his body from his Shankill home yesterday, another family less than half a mile away began to arrange the funeral of 21-year-old Sammy Rocket, killed in front of his teenage girlfriend and their one-year-old daughter in retaliation for the death of Mr Mahood and his friend Jackie Coulter.

About 600 people turned up outside the Mahood home in Snugville Street as a service was held inside. There were no overt martial paraphernalia, but members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) were present in their black ties and dark glasses. The killers of Mr Rocket could well have been among them.

Mr Mahood was killed outside a florist shop in the Crumlin Road on Monday as he sat in his car with Mr Coulter. A man walked out of a side street and fired. Mr Coulter was killed outright; Mr Mahood died in hospital.

Mr Mahood was a former member of the UVF and Mr Coulter was linked to Johnny Adair's Ulster Freedom Fighters. The killings were blamed on the UVF, involved in a struggle with the UFF.

Mr Rocket, who had connections with the UVF, was murdered two days later. Yesterday it was disclosed that Mr Rocket's brother was due to appear in court on arms charges after an incident linked to the feud. The Mahood family had experienced the violence of the Troubles in the past. Bobby's brother Jackie had left the UVF in protest at the Good Friday Agreement and joined the LVF.

This led to several attempts on his life by former colleagues. Bobby Mahood's wife, Jean, and sons Robert and David had asked members of the UVF to stay away from yesterday's funeral service, although a few old friends were among the mourners, keeping in the background.

But those in the forefront were the associates of Johnny Adair, re-arrested on Tuesday evening after being freed under the Good Friday Agreement from a 16-year sentence for directing terrorism. Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland , had deemed him to be responsible for stoking the loyalist civil war.

The man reputed to have taken over from Mr Adair in the UFF, Winky Dodds, was seen moving among his men. His name is believed to be on the UVF hit-list.

Mr Mahood ran the Sportsman bar, near his house and where, customers said, he banned paramilitary trappings and welcomed UVF and UFF members.

John White, a leading member of the Ulster Defence Association, political wing of the UFF, and particularly close to Mr Adair, helped carry the coffin. Afterwards he said all attempts at mediation had failed and "further loss of life was unfortunately very likely".

Mr Mahood was buried at Carmoney Cemetery. In this beautiful setting, Belfast Lough on one side and the rolling Cavehill on the other, Canon Barry Dodds spoke of redemption and forgiveness.

He said Mr Mahood had sought to prevent conflict between loyalists.

Back in Belfast, visitors came to the home of Mr Rocket with flowers and condolences. His girlfriend, Cheryl, and their daughter Georgia were being looked after by their families.

Mr Rocket was a friend of the son of Billy Hutchinson, a member of the Stormont Assembly for the Progressive Unionist Party, the political arm of the UVF. Billy Hutchinson, too, is said to be on the hit-list, of the UFF.

Yesterday Mr Mandelson said: "What are they going to do, keep on killing each other to a standstill? They must intensify their efforts to engage in dialogue and find a way to get over their differences."

But the tension and violence appeared unabated. The police arrested six men and seized weapons on the Shankill Road early yesterday and in Ballymena a woman was pulled to safety by a passing police patrol after her home was gutted by a petrol bomb.