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Ex-loyalist paramilitary chief William 'Plum' Smith dies aged 62

Published 08/06/2016

William "Plum" Smith, pictured in 1994, has died

A former leading loyalist paramilitary who played a key role in the peace process has died.

William "Plum" Smith died in hospital after a short illness. He was 62.

The former Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando paramilitary was imprisoned during the Troubles for attempted murder.

During some of the worst years of the conflict he and other senior loyalists, including Gusty Spence and David Ervine, started formulating strategies to move Northern Ireland away from violence.

He was central to the process which brought the historic step of the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in 1994, chairing the press conference that announced the move.

Smith later went on to become part of the loyalist political delegation that helped negotiate the landmark Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He was a former chairman of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which has a close alignment with the UVF.

Former PUP leader Brian Ervine described Smith as a "very intelligent" man.

"I'm just very, very sorry," he said.

"I found him a very decent human being, and I found him a very forward-thinking human being and he will be a loss, certainly to the Progressive Unionist Party and the loyalist community.

"He was a clear thinker, he was left-of-centre politically, he had a heart for ordinary people, for working-class people, he tried to provide a voice, a voice which had been neglected."

Mr Ervine told Radio Ulster: "He was also happy enough to stretch over the fence and do business with traditional enemies."

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