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Dawn Purvis: UVF will not go away until police end investigations

By Bian Rowan

The political leader of loyalism Dawn Purvis has warned that paramilitaries won’t go away while police investigations continue into historical cases.

And another top loyalist has accused the Government of breaking its word over an amnesty deal dating back to the Good Friday Agreement.

Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, who was a senior figure in the Combined Loyalist Military Command, said continuing investigations and arrests were causing “massive problems” inside the loyalist community.

One of those recently charged was a member of the UVF’s so-called brigade staff at the time of the 1994 ceasefire announcement — its then leader in east Antrim. That brigade staff is the top tier of the paramilitary leadership.

“Guarantees were given that people wouldn’t go down this road,” Winston Rea told this newspaper.

And writing in today’s Telegraph, Ms Purvis spelt out the consequences of continuing arrests — warning that organisations such as the UVF and Red Hand Commando will remain on the stage.

“They do so in order to take responsibility and provide support to individuals that may have carried out acts of violence as instructed by the organisation,” she wrote.

Yesterday, speaking to this newspaper, William ‘Plum’ Smith accused the Government of reneging on a deal that meant that anyone involved in the conflict here prior to the Good Friday Agreement would not be prosecuted.

The former prisoners’ spokesman claimed the undeclared amnesty was “a clear understanding endorsed by (then secretary of state) Mo Mowlam on behalf of the British Government”.

Smith and Rea are associated with the Red Hand Commando organisation and both were jailed in the 1970s. They later emerged as significant leadership figures during the peace process.

“The Government has broken its word, and people don’t realise the consequences that will flow from their actions,” Rea, a son-in-law of veteran loyalist leader Gusty Spence, told this newspaper.

He was recently photographed alongside Ms Purvis as the loyalist leadership confirmed details of decommissioning.

“It’s not just the arrest of the individual, or individuals, but it involves their families,” he said.

“Welfare money is required for families. Functions are being organised to raise funds.

“We have to start running back and forward to jails. It’s creating that whole cycle again.”

And the senior loyalist agreed with Ms Purvis that while investigations continue, paramilitaries won’t go away – adding they feel “duty bound to support comrades and their families”.

But a senior police source dismissed that as “more excuse making”. Asked if he knew anything about an amnesty, the source replied: “We wouldn’t have done that (establish the Historical Enquiries Team) if there had been.”

The PSNI is currently running a major investigation, Operation Stafford — once known as Operation Ballast — which is examining paramilitary violence stretching from so-called punishment attacks to multiple murders.

That investigation covers a period both before and after the Good Friday Agreement, and will also examine the Special Branch handling of a number of UVF agents.

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