The leader of the UVF paramilitary-linked Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) Billy Hutchinson has claimed his role in the murder of two Catholic men 40 years ago ‘helped prevent a united Ireland’.
Eighteen-year-old Michael Loughran and 27-year-old Edward Morgan were shot dead in October 1974 in a random drive-by murder on Belfast’s nationalist Falls Road. Mr Hutchinson and another teenage UVF man, Thomas Winstone, admitted killing the two brothers from Cupar Street and were given life sentences.
Mr Hutchinson, who was the driver of the car, served 15 years in jail but in the 1990s emerged as one of the main political representatives of the UVF’s death squads.
In an interview with the Belfast News Letter, the elected councillor said he had “no regrets in terms of my past because I believe I contributed to preventing a united Ireland”.
“The reason I wouldn’t try to justify my actions is because I wouldn’t expect middle-class unionists to agree with what I did, but what I will say to you is that we’re not in a united Ireland,” he said.
Despite his trial hearing that the UVF men had “toured Belfast” looking for Catholic victims, the former assembly member claimed he “didn’t do anything without intelligence”.
Mark Thompson, from Relatives for Justice, described the comments as “odious”. “There are expected codes of conduct in public life,” he said.
“The constituency that Mr Hutchinson was co-opted to serve deserves better representation than that offered by him and no doubt there will be many within that constituency that will distance themselves from his remarks.”
SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness described the remarks as “totally abhorrent” and called for them to be withdrawn immediately. Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile said if Billy Hutchinson “truly wants to be ‘part of the solution’, then he should tell the UVF to go away”.
A cousin of the two men later condemned Hutchinson’s comments. He said the two men were not IRA Volunteers but labourers, as was their father -- a Protestant. “They wanted to get a black taxi down the Falls but there was only room for one. The father got in and they walked, “ he said. “You killed them because they were there.”
His full response is included lower down.
MOUNT VERNON MAN CHARGED
Meanwhile, a member of the UVF has been charged with the sectarian murders of two other Catholic workmen, in north Belfast 20 years ago.
Gary Convie, aged 24, and Eamon Fox, aged 44, were shot dead while eating lunch in their car at a building site on North Queen Street in May 1994. Mr Fox was married with six children while Mr Convie was a father-of-one.
The man charged is loyalist Jimmy Smyth from Glencairn area of north Belfast. Smyth was jailed for life in 1995 for murder and released in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
His arrest in part of a continuing investigation into the actions of the notorious Mount Vernon UVF, which carried out scores of murders killings in collusion with the RUC and PSNI police.
At the time of the shooting loyalist/RUC double agent Mark Haddock was arrested and questioned but released without charge. The evidence in the case is based on a DNA sample and a statement from an “assisting offender”, understood to be controversial UVF supergrass Gary Haggarty.
RAPE CHARGE WITHDRAWN
However, a man named as the second-in-command of the UVF in east Belfast has had a rape charge against him withdrawn following representations by the Ulster Unionist Party.
The convicted drug dealer, who claims to be a ‘community worker’, was accused of raping a woman who later took her own life. She died by suicide days after the attack, and her body was found by her 13-year-old son. McConnell’s defence barrister handed into court a number of references, including one from Ulster Unionist Party Assembly member Michael Copeland.
Local councillor Gavin Robinson - who has hit out before about the UVF and its criminal activities in the east of the city - described the ruling as “a scandal”. “Rumours of a deal having been done circulating for weeks,” he tweeted, without explanation. “I was at young mum’s funeral.”