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Shankill Road turns back on UVF

By Anne Madden

The mourners following Bobby Moffett’s coffin stretched along the Shankill Road further than the eye could see.

The UVF had sent messages to the Shankill community warning them not to attend. Yesterday the community sent a defiant message back to the loyalist paramilitaries who have dogged the area for decades by turning out in their thousands.

As a Detective Chief Inspector said yesterday, the 43-year-old father-of-six was gunned down in front of “ordinary, decent people going about their business on the Shankill Road”. Many of the ordinary, decent people — men, women, children — swarmed the Shankill’s hot pavements yesterday in defiance of the gunmen.

A private funeral service took place at the home of Mr Moffett’s mother Susan, a tiny red-brick bungalow in Albany Square, off Crimea Street.

Floral tributes to an ‘uncle’, ‘brother’ and ‘son’ filled the small garden and a solitary balloon declaring, “No 1 Dad” flapped from a tree stump.

There was a tense atmosphere as mourners mixed with curious onlookers and neighbours in the small square outside the house. A loud bang from a drink can exploding caused members of the crowd to jump, but an eerie quiet descended on the square as the short service began.

Archdeacon of Belfast, Rev Barry Dodds, led the service, reading from Psalm 37. This was followed by a version of Amazing Grace sung by Jim Weir of community group Forum For Action Against Substance Abuse and Suicide Awareness (FASA).

One young woman dressed in black, sitting on the doorstep, broke down in tears as the moving words of the song drifted into the square.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, accompanied by MEP wife Diane, joined mourners near the front door, while DUP MLA for the area and Assembly minister Nelson McCausland also made an appearance.

After the service close relatives of Mr Moffett, including his elderly mother, came blinking out of the house into the glare of the sun and waiting photographers. Mrs Moffett was given a deckchair outside the house as the undertakers went in to remove the coffin.

A gasp rippled through the crowd as the coffin suddenly appeared upright in the doorway as the undertakers struggled to manoeuvre it out. Mr Moffett’s young daughter, in a black and white sun-dress, cried into a tissue as she was held close by her mother. Men in dark suits then took turns to carry the coffin to where Mr Moffett was killed.

As the cortege moved slowly out of the square, a visibly distressed Mrs Moffett was left sitting on her deckchair, too ill to follow. A group of women, wiping tears from their eyes, then ushered her back into the house.

The midday sun beat down on the sea of up to 2,000 mourners who followed the coffin along Crimea Street and the Shankill Road. Businesses pulled shutters down as a mark of respect.

The procession came to a halt for a minute’s silence beside the masses of floral tributes at the scene of the shooting near the corner of Conway Street — exactly a week to the hour since the murder. Linfield scarves and football shirts adorned the park railings in memory of ‘Uncle Bobby’, where the community have held nightly vigils. Then the coffin was driven away for burial at Carnmoney cemetery.

As one onlooker said, walking away and shaking his head: “That’s the biggest funeral I’ve seen here since the Troubles.”

Politicians join a crowd of 2,000 as loyalist heartland comes to halt for Moffett funeral

Almost 2,000 people packed the streets of the Shankill Road yesterday to send out a defiant message to the UVF murderers of Bobby Moffett.

The funeral took place just hours after the detective leading the investigation announced that the gunmen who killed the 43-year-old had “strong links to the Shankill UVF”.

The father-of-six was shot in the head and face last Friday in broad daylight on the Shankill Road, near the junction with Conway Street. Two masked gunmen walked up to Mr Moffett at 1pm and shot him three times at close range.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the home of Mr Moffett’s mother Susan in Albany Square where the funeral service took place yesterday afternoon.

A number of DUP politicians joined the mourners, including MP for North Belfast Nigel Dodds, his wife and MEP Diane Dodds, and North Belfast MLA and Assembly minister Nelson McCausland. After the funeral Mr Dodds said he hoped it would be “a watershed” for the Shankill.

“I’m not surprised at the huge crowd here today,” he said. “People are absolutely sickened and appalled by this murder. The funeral has allowed people to express themselves in a way that is very powerful.”

Archdeacon of Belfast, the Reverend Barry Dodds, conducted

the private funeral service, reading from Psalm 37. Afterwards he walked alongside Mr Dodds in the massive funeral cortege that weaved its way up the Shankill Road to the scene of the shooting. Mr Moffett was buried in Carnmoney Cemetery.

Earlier Detective Chief Inspector John McVea described the murder as “a public execution” and said that “the people who conducted this have strong links the Shankill UVF”.

He said that people had already responded to police appeals for information and said anyone providing information would receive the full protection of the law. “The answer to this murder lies with the community of the Shankill,” he said.

“I am particularly keen for people who saw the activity in Conway Street to come forward.”

He said that while the killers wore balaclavas when they carried out the murder, he believed they were not worn before or after the shooting.

The senior officer said he believed the gunmen came out of Conway Street and appealed for information about two vehicles — a silver blue Skoda Octavia and a light blue Audi A4. Two similar vehicles have been seized by police during 31 searches since the killing.

Six people have been arrested, with one person charged with terrorist-linked offences. Anyone with information can contact detectives at North Queen Street on 0845 600 4000.

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