Recently deceased loyalist paramilitary Joe Coggle got away with murder, says the daughter-in-law of a woman he killed nearly 40 years ago.
Elish Masterson, a 61-year-old grandmother, was standing on a pavement with her son John and daughter-in-law Ann on the Falls Road in west Belfast when a car jumped the kerb and ploughed into them. Mrs Masterson was fatally injured while Ann Masterson suffered leg injuries in the incident in the early hours of a May morning in 1986.
Coggle was driving the car that mounted the pavement and killed the woman. He received a sentence of 18 months, though Mrs Materson’s family did not find out until told by a neighbour after it was reported on the news. The family are still not exactly sure what he was charged with and sentenced for.
“He should have been done for murder and attempted murder for the rest of us. He murdered her,” survivor Ann Masterson said this week.
“We went to the police and told them he came at us direct. We told the police.”
But she told the Irish News the case was covered up because of “who his Da was. He was a DUP councillor in the City Hall.”
Joe Coggle’s father was a long time councillor, first as a member of the DUP, then as an independent and was twice High Sheriff of Belfast.
A partial court transcript suggests he pleaded guilty to minor charges. The family were not informed about any pleading or sentencing hearing.
“We knew he had been up in court a couple of times,” Ann said. “Then a neighbour comes to the door.
“’Did you listen to the news, Ann’, he says and and I says, ‘I have not heard the news all day’. He says, ‘Yer man got 18 months’ and, here’s me, ‘Who?’ and he says ‘Joe Coggles, 18 months he got, Ann’.
“And, here’s me, ‘He got f***ing 18 months. What do we do now?’ I did not know what to do. My husband was in hysterics.
“That was it. The cops never even come to tell us. That’s how we found, that’s where we were left.”
Five years later, Coggle was caught on the Falls Road with three others and two machine guns and an automatic pistol, all ready to use. As police approached the vehicle, a man in the back seat was heard to shout: “We are Prods, we are Prods”.
The group was “bent on wholesale murder”, a judge said, before sentencing Coggle to 18 years.
Coggle most recently came to public attention when, seated in a wheelchair and flanked by men in balaclavas, he was filmed burning a banner suggesting there should be a conversation on Irish unity.
His funeral last week was attended by leading loyalist paramilitaries. The funeral cortege was flanked by eight men, uniformly dressed in black paramilitary style, with a crest on their chests, and wearing beanies, also with crests.
Coggle’s coffin was draped in a ‘Protestant Action Force’ flag — a cover name for the UVF — bearing his name.
In attendance was Winston Irvine who is on bail charged in connection with a hoax bomb threat against the 26 County minister of foreign affairs, Simon Coveney in March.