Loyalist leaders were British agents, court hears

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Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) founder Billy Wright was a state-sponsored agent, Belfast Crown Court has heard. It was alleged that the man known as ‘King Rat’ was just one of a number of unionist paramilitary bosses on the British payroll.

The claims emerged in tapes played in the trial of Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, the former leader of the Red Hand Commando (RHC), a loyalist paramilitary organisation closely identified with the UVF.

The charges against Rea (left) are based on contributions the prosecution say he made to an oral history project at Boston College in the United States. The charges include involvement in the murders of two Catholics - John Devine in 1989 and John O’Hara in 1991.

The prosecution in the Diplock-style non-jury trial claim that the voice which can be heard on the tapes, identified as “interviewee L”, is Rea.

The interviewee said that he thought “Billy Wright was, is, also an agent and at a later date it will be clearly exposed”. But he said that Wright remained “untouchable” because of the powerful supporters he had, and that a blind eye was being turned to what he was doing.

He also alleged that the LVF leader (right), executed by the INLA in 1997, was not the only paid agent among the loyalist leaders, and while he did not have the evidence, he said: “I think in later years that all this will come out”.

“I think there’s a brave few yet has to come out of the cupboard,” the interviewee added.

The speaker said that while some may have suspected, as he had, “deep-down”, no-one wanted to believe what was going on because “they didn’t want Prods killing Prods”.

According to the speaker, another matter that was “abundantly clear, was that these so-called people were able to get away with literally murder and I believe that the biggest majority of them again worked for the state”.

And because they fed a diet of information against the mainstream loyalist paramilitaries, a blind eye was turned, and again at a later date, I think that the things I am saying here will come true,” the last of the tapes concluded.

Asked if he thought if it was inevitable what he was saying would be exposed as true, ‘L’ continued: “someday that it will come to an end, but when that end will be, I couldn’t have put a date on it”.

Earlier in the trial, the court heard the interviewee say that innocent Catholics were considered legitimate targets for slaughter.

He said the RHC was “prepared to enter enemy territory” – nationalist areas – to target their victims. He regarded ordinary Catholics as murder targets because they were seen putting money into the “wooden collection boxes” at church gates as they left Mass. He believed this money went to the IRA.

However, he drew the line at the mutilation of victims in the manner of the notorious Shankill Butchers.

“My recollection is... at the time of the Shankill Butchers the leadership should have moved in to prevent what was happening. But unfortunately they didn’t and the reason why I’m saying... because if I had been the man to make the call I would have.”

He added: “I believe that if you needed to kill someone you did it as swift as possible.... I don’t want to sound callous... but you put a gun to the back of his head and you blow their brains out... but you don’t butcher them”.

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