Belfast Telegraph

Home News

The UDA's killer wing: murder goes by any name

As the UDA announces it is standing down its military wing after hundreds of killings, Jonathan McCambridge traces the murderous history of the terror group

The UFF was the cover name used by UDA killers responsible for murders and attacks stretching over more than three decades in Northern Ireland's bloody past.

The UDA was formed in 1971 as an umbrella for loyalist vigilante groups which claimed to defend Protestant communities from IRA violence. In 1972, which had the highest death toll of any year in the Troubles, the organisation claimed 71 victims.

By the following year the UFF name emerged as a cover for the UDA, which was considered a legal organisation until 1992.

The UDA/UFF campaign of violence raged throughout the 1970s. One of the most infamous cases was the murder of SDLP politician Paddy Wilson in June 1973. Mr Wilson and a female companion were shot and stabbed repeatedly in what a judge described as a "psychotic outburst". The UFF claimed the murder and UDA member John White was later convicted; years later he was to become a high profile political figure within the organisation and a key ally of Johnny Adair.

At its peak in the mid-1970s the UDA was believed to have between 40,000 and 50,000 members and was directly involved in the Ulster Workers' Strike in 1974 which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement.

John McMichael soon emerged as the most prominent figure in the UDA. Through 1980 and 1981 a number of republican targets hand-picked by McMichael were assassinated by UFF gunmen. McMichael himself was later killed by a car bomb at his home in Lisburn in 1987.

For many years the UDA/UFF was not well armed, but this changed in 1988 when they benefited from a major shipment of weapons from South Africa, including rocket launchers, rifles, pistols and grenades.

The same year UDA member Michael Stone murdered three Catholics and injured 60 at a republican funeral in Milltown Cemetery. Stone attacked the crowd with grenades and a pistol. He was convicted and later released as part of the Good Friday Agreement, but was rearrested last year following his botched Stormont raid.

In 1989 the UDA/UFF carried out a notorious murder which gave rise to long-running allegations of collusion which still resound today. Catholic lawyer Pat Finucane was shot dead in front of his family as he had dinner in his north Belfast home.

Brian Nelson, a British intelligence agent operating as the intelligence chief of the UDA later claimed he had been asked by the UDA to compile information about the lawyer's movements and said he told his Army handlers about the matter.

In the early 1990s the UDA carried out two of the most notorious massacres in Ulster's history. On February 5, 1992, UFF gunmen attacked the Sean Graham bookmakers' shop on the Ormeau Road. Five Catholics were killed and seven others injured. At least 44 shots were fired at the 15 customers and staff. The massacre was carried out in retaliation for the IRA bombing which killed eight Protestant civilians at Teebane.

The next year two UDA gunmen launched a Halloween attack on the Rising Sun bar in the predominantly Catholic village of Greysteel, Co Londonderry killing eight and injuring 19. It said the attack was in reprisal for the IRA Shankill bombing which killed nine a few days before.

The UDA announced its first ceasefire in 1994. But it remained active with its members becoming more involved in criminality and internal conflicts.

This period saw the rise within the UDA of the celebrity gangsters, revelling in their ill-gotten gains, notoriety and street-level power. The most notorious of these was Johnny Adair who established himself as the head of UDA/UFF's 'C Company' based on the Shankill. He was jailed for directing terrorism in 1995 and was one of the loyalist leaders who met then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam when she went into the Maze. He was later freed under the Good Friday Agreement.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph