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Foiled plot would have equipped the UVF and UDA

As one of the Paris Three, Noel Little was involved in what could have been loyalism's deadliest weapons deal - but his career as an international arms smuggler was short-lived.

The trio were Markethill man Little; James King, a Free Presbyterian from Killyleagh, Co Down, and Samuel Quinn, a sergeant in the Territorial Army from Newtownards. They were arrested in Paris in April 1989 in connection to a plot to exchange missile technology from Short Brothers in Belfast for South African guns.

In the months beforehand, parts of a Blowpipe missile had gone missing from Shorts, regarded then as a unionist workplace, as well as a model of the Javelin surface-to-air missile system.

The Northern Irish trio were detained in Paris's Hilton Hotel with a diplomat from South Africa and an American arms dealer.

After two years on remand the three were convicted. Little - described in court as the main instigator - received a three-year suspended sentence and was fined 50,000 francs.

They didn't face more serious charges, as it transpired they had hoped to fob off the South Africans with the model weaponry that couldn't be classified as working.

The weapons in exchange from South Africa were destined for the UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance, which DUP leader Ian Paisley and his successor Peter Robinson had once shared an Ulster Hall platform with. The DUP broke ties with the group in 1987 when it was linked to arms finds.

Former UDR soldier Little had been arrested before, in connection with another plot in 1987, when loyalists brought in arms from the Middle East.

Weapons poured into Belfast docks from Lebanon in crates containing 'ceramic tiles', on their way to Mid Ulster.

But the UDA operation to take the arms to Belfast was farcical. 'Brigadier' Davy Payne got 19 years after an RUC checkpoint searched his car. It had been so overloaded with guns, the suspension looked ready to collapse.

Payne had Little's phone number written on his hand when he was arrested. Little was arrested, but released without charge. It's believed that the British knew about the plot all along.

In 1988, part of the UVF's share was found in north Belfast, while part of Ulster Resistance's haul was found that November. Unlike the UVF and UDA, Ulster Resistance never decommissioned.

Belfast Telegraph