DUP leader Peter Robinson has been accused of hypocrisy after seeking leniency for a loyalist believed by victims to have been involved in the mass murder of innocent Catholics in the 1970s.
Samuel Tweed from Newtownards was sentenced to two and a half years in jail on Friday for possessing guns and ammunition and escaping from custody in 1974. He was arrested in 2012 after spending almost 40 years on the run.
In a letter to the judge the First Minister said Tweed had “shown remorse” and that he was “urging leniency in this particular and unusual case”.
Tweed (pictured) had been accused of being a key member of the notorious UDA Baker/McCreery gang. He was one of three men arrested in February this year by the PSNI investigating the brutal ‘romper-room’ murder of Short Strand man Pat Benstead in Belfast in December 1972. All three were later released unconditionally.
Mr Benstead’s death was described by police at the time as a “grisly, revolting murder” carried out by “sadistic fiends.”
He had been shot twice in the head and a cross had been burned into his back alongside the letters ‘IRA’ and the number ‘4’ - a reference to the UDA’s savage G4 unit in east Belfast.
The gang is believed to have killed up to 22 people including eight in ‘romper room’ attacks.
His brother Colum Benstead attended Friday’s court hearing when it emerged that Mr Robinson, along with two other prominent unionist politicians, east Belfast Assembly member Sammy Douglas and Strangford MP Jim Shannon, had written letters of support for Tweed.
“To say the least it was astounding given this man was at large for so long,” Mr Benstead said.
“Given their stance with regard to other issues, it smacks of blatant hypocrisy.
“I was shocked that people who hold themselves up as the gatekeepers for law and order should come out and have so much praise for this man.”
Mr Benstead said it “beggars belief” that Tweed remained at large for so long and believes he was a British agent.
“I believe he was involved in the murder of my brother and a large amount of other murders including members of his own community,” he said.