Hundreds of people have commemorated the 25th anniversary of the murder of five people by unionist paramilitaries at a betting shop in south Belfast as well as the separate murder three at a Sinn Fein office in west Belfast.
Sean Graham’s bookmakers on Belfast’s Ormeau Road was filled with 13 customers shortly before 2.30pm on February 5, 1992 when two masked loyalist gunmen burst through the door.
In less than 20 seconds the gunmen fired 46 rounds hitting all but one of those trapped in the tiny room.
Jack Duffin (66), William McManus (54), Christy Doherty (52) and Peter Magee (18) were all killed outright as one gunman opened fire with an assault rifle while an accomplice walked through the shop shooting the dead and injured as they lay defenceless on the ground.
Fifteen-year-old school boy James Kennedy died on arrival at hospital.
The attack was carried out by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a cover name for the UDA.
“The scene was horrific with bodies everywhere,” paramedic Harry Whan recalled following the 1992 attack.
“In that confined space there was the smell of gunfire and all the bleeding and whatever that you couldn’t describe... for other ambulance men it was worse; they were knee deep in it, dealing with the dead and dying.”
Immediately after the attack the gunmen calmly walked back across the Ormeau Road to a waiting getaway car.
Despite eyewitness identification of the killers and forensic evidence recovered from two getaway cars no one has ever been brought to justice for the atrocity.
Families said that the Police Ombudsman is due to publish a report into the murders at Easter. Tommy Duffin, whose father Jack was one of those killed, said the report is the “only way we have to go” in terms of justice.
“We’ll have to take into account what it says and where it leaves us as families, and then decide where we move from there. We’re waiting with baited breath to a certain extent, to know exactly what it’s going to say and what it’s going to reveal to us.”
A report, compiled by the victims’ families and Relatives for Justice support group, has cast major doubt over the original RUC police investigation into the atrocity.
In 2003 it was revealed how one of the weapons used in the murder had been in the possession of RUC Special Branch three years before the attack but that they had handed the gun back, unmodified, to the UDA.
The Browning pistol was subsequently used in a gun attack on the Devenish Bar in west Belfast in December 1991 in which Catholic civil servant Aidan Wallace was shot dead dead and an eight year-old boy was blinded in one eye after he was shot in the face by gunmen.
Six weeks later the weapon was used in the Ormeau Road attack.
Special Branch later claimed it had deactivated the weapon before handing it back to UDA Quartermaster Billy Stobie in November 1989.
However victims’ families uncovered court documents five years ago which contradicted the Special Branch claims and supported claims that no serious effort had ever been made to catch the UDA killers.
In 2015, there was outrage after it was discovered that the assault rifle used in the murders had horrifically been put on display in the Imperial War Museum in London.
Lower Ormeau Resident’s Association spokesman John Gormley read a message on behalf of the families in which they thanked the community for their support and he praised them for their “constant dignity in the face of injustice”.
“The families are absolute in their pursuit for truth and justice and we support them in doing this,” he said.
A large commemoration was also held to honour three men who were shot dead by an off-duty RUC officer at a west Belfast Sinn Fein advice centre 25 years ago.
Michael O’Dwyer died along with Sinn Fein members Pat McBride and Paddy Loughran when an RUC man opened fire inside the offices on February 4, 1992 as part of a murder suicide.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams gave the main address at the commemoration on Saturday.
“Sinn Fein remembers our friends and their families. But I accept that others can tell a similar story and I acknowledge that families who have been bereaved by republican actions have their narrative,” he told those gathered.
“However, I do not give the same leeway to those who in the British government directed or condoned these strategies.
“The attack on the Falls Road Sinn Fein office, like other similar attacks, were part of British government counter insurgency strategies aimed at suppressing dissent to British rule.”