Belfast Telegraph

Net closing in on terrorists who were 'untouchables'

A trio of UVF 'supergrasses' threatens to end the loyalist godfathers' immunity from prosecution, says Alan Murray

We shouldn't underestimate the capacity of the disparate elements of the UVF to generate mayhem and destruction within our community - particularly in north and west Belfast - nor their inclination to do so.

For the past 16 years, the UVF's leadership and those who gave 'political advice' to the terrorist grouping have effectively either turned the blind eye, or - in the case of the leadership - condoned or approved the brutality that was dished out.

Now 27 murders later, a day of reckoning may be beckoning for some of the killers - and perhaps some of those who despatched them to dispense death.

Feud murders, vengeance killings, beatings, threats and other aspects of criminality have been at the forefront of this organisation - in spite of its declared ceasefire in October 1994.

Hitherto, their gambit in blatantly advancing this violent strategy has been that, as an integral part of the peace process, the UVF was untouchable.

But now the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and a posse of PSNI detectives is in pursuit of many of the brutal characters associated with the UVF's murder campaigns in north and west Belfast and the heat is on the organisation.

Armed with copious statements from at least three potential supergrass-type witnesses, for the first time since the 1994 ceasefire the UVF figures who decided to remain active terrorists have real reason to fear.

Uncorroborated supergrass evidence from accomplices is usually deemed unsafe to secure convictions in our courts.

But those expecting the knock on the door from the HET or the PSNI will already have noted that some of their arrested comrades have failed to make bail.

And, as more UVF activists are arrested, there is the increasing risk that some - as Johnny Adair did - will opt to cop a deal in the expectation of receiving less severe prison sentences and perhaps yield even more information.

That's a judgment call they will have to make next year and the year after that and perhaps beyond then as more admissible evidence is accumulated for major terrorist trials.

The response from UVF quarters is neither unexpected nor unusual. Street rioting in Rathcoole a fortnight ago was the expected knee-jerk response, with subsequent minor bomb attacks at homes in west Belfast a slightly more calculated reaction.

Neither form of agitation will deter either the HET or PSNI from pursuing those in their sights who have been named in the volumes of statements made by former close associates.

Some within the ranks of the Progressive Unionist Party bemoan the fact that few within the Provisional movement who similarly committed murders during and since the Troubles are being pursued in the way UVF members are.

The crucial difference appears to be that the Provisionals clearly got the message after 'Stormontgate' and the Northern Bank robbery: that the political institutions at Stormont wouldn't withstand continued IRA activity. The UVF, on the other hand, just didn't get the message.

Now its leadership is reaping the consequences of not dealing with Mark Haddock's activities in north Belfast, in particular, and similar activities carried out by other senior UVF members in other parts of the city.

But it's quite possible that the UVF leadership is so emasculated that it cannot do anything to prevent further manifestations of frustration from its haemorrhaging ranks - even if it wanted to.

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