Soldier left army and joined UDA, inquiry is told

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The Independent Online

A former soldier who was a member of The Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday admitted yesterday that he later left the army and signed up for the extremist Ulster Defence Association.

Soldier 203, who appeared anonymously before the Saville inquiry into the killings, had been recalled to give further evidence after the discovery of his involvement in the loyalist group.

During the troubles, the UDA was responsible for the deaths of more than 400 people; the majority of them were Catholic civilians. Between 1975 and 1978, the time Soldier 203 admits having UDA connections, the paramilitary organisation was responsible for 84 killings.

Soldier 203, who was born in Northern Ireland, told the inquiry he joined the UDA after leaving the army in 1975, "for social reasons" and not because of a hatred of nationalists.

He faced cross-examination when he appeared for the second time at the inquiry, which is investigating the events of 30 January 1972, when 14 civilians were killed by troops in the Bogside area of Londonderry.

Barry MacDonald QC, representing the families of some of the victims, put it to Soldier 203 that he joined the UDA to get the opportunity to kill Catholics, or get others to kill Catholics. The former soldier replied: "That is incorrect."

Although he was an arms storeman for The Parachute Regiment in 1972, he denied stealing or attempting to obtain arms on behalf of terror groups.

He said that, in the summer of 1971, he had been asked by his father-in-law if he could get hold of weapons or ammunition.

"When I refused there was a row which involved my wife and children. A senior NCO wanted to interview me about this, I wanted to rescue my children and I struck the NCO, which resulted in my receiving 28 days' detention," he said.

Mr MacDonald said that Soldier 203 had joined the paramilitary group in 1975, suggesting he would have supported the use of lethal force against Catholics at the time of Bloody Sunday, three years earlier.

He said: "What it makes more likely is that he was prepared to countenance and cover up or facilitate in some other way the use of orchestrated violence against Catholics in 1972.

"So it is important to know whether he is the sort of man who really just joined the UDA because it provided perhaps a bridge club for him or some sort of knitting circle he could join, or if he was actually involved in the killings on a mass scale of Catholics."

Asked if he had played a leading role in the UDA's sectarian murder campaign, Soldier 203 replied: "No. In 1972, I was a serving member of The Parachute Regiment. That is where my loyalty was."

The former soldier confirmed he served a sentence in the Maze prison for firearms offences in 1977. He said he wounded a member of a rival loyalist group at a UDA social club. When police raided his home, they found a pistol.

He said he grew disillusioned with the strategy of the UDA after that and had no further involvement.