There was uproar last night after it emerged that a man convicted of offences arising from a UVF murder has been appointed chairman of a Co Londonderry branch of the Royal British Legion.
Members of the organisation contacted the Belfast Telegraph after Bobby Douglas was elected on Thursday night. The Coleraine man, a former UDR soldier, was acquitted of the bloody paramilitary murder of Samuel Patton in 1988 but jailed for related offences.
One member said: “There is a lot of anger about this. People aren’t happy.”
A number of members of the branch walked out of Thursday night’s meeting in protest after Mr Douglas was appointed chairman election.
And last night SDLP MLA John Dallat called for an investigation into election procedures in the organisation — a UK charity providing financial, social and emotional support to the millions who have served and are currently serving in the armed forces.
He said: “I have been inundated with phonecalls about this. I think someone in authority really needs to carry out an investigation into this. The Royal British Legion has worked hard to portray itself as a neutral organisation and something like this will undo all that work. This is something that needs to be addressed as it certainly makes it difficult for Catholics to embrace the efforts of the legion to portray itself as politically neutral.”
This is the second time the branch of the organisation has come under fire for electing a person with a terrorist past to its committee.
In 2006, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Russell Watton — who was convicted of wounding three men with intent during a gun attack on a bar in Dunloy in the 1970s — had been elected as assistant secretary of the branch.
Publicity generated by the revelation prompted Mr Watton to step down from the post.
But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Douglas said he will not be pressurised into resigning from the post.
“This is just about sour grapes,” he said. “I was voted in by a majority of the members and there is no way I will be resigning or standing down.”
During the trial into the death of Mr Patton, the court heard that four men, including Geoffrey Boyd and Brian Gamble, who were subsequently convicted of the murder, drove the victim to a field. One started firing shots at him and he shouted: “Don’t be killing me. What are you shooting me for?”
One of the men told police he thought Mr Patton was to be punished because he had angered fellow members of the UVF by refusing to hand over proceeds of a robbery he had committed and because he was suspected of giving information to the police.
No-one was available from the Royal British Legion last night to comment on the matter.