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Church defends employing UVF serial killer Alan Oliver

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Alan Oliver. Credit: BBC Spotlight

Alan Oliver. Credit: BBC Spotlight

BBC Spotlight

Three Catholics were in a mobile shop in Craigavon in 1991.

Three Catholics were in a mobile shop in Craigavon in 1991.

Alan Oliver. Credit: BBC Spotlight

An evangelical Protestant church has defended employing a UVF serial killer suspected of carrying out 14 sectarian murders.

Victims' relatives are furious that Elim Pentecostal in Portadown has praised Alan Oliver's "exemplary service" in his church and community work, and is refusing to even meet them.

They branded the church "heartless" and "unChristian" in its attitude.

They had contacted Elim Pentecostal to say that Oliver's employment in its Helping Hands Outreach Project was causing them "undue stress and retraumatisation".

The Mid Ulster Families victims' group said Oliver had been "named many times in court documents and the press as having been involved in multiple sectarian murders of Catholic men, women and children including our loved ones".

It said the bereaved had "come into contact with him through "your church and its charity" and that he was "wholly unsuited" to a public role which involved working with kids.

The families asked for a meeting to "discuss our very serious concerns". They were stunned when the church wrote back effectively dismissing their objections and saying that the former killer had "spoken openly of his Christian conversion and determination to live a 'changed life' as a follower of Christ".

Elim Pentecostal even expressed fears for Oliver's "personal safety and potentially for our wider church community" in the wake of claims that he was involved in multiple murders.

He was named in BBC's Spotlight on the Troubles last year as "maybe one of Northern Ireland's most prolific serial killers". Oliver was first exposed back in 2014 by Sunday Life.

Among the unsolved killings the 49-year-old is believed to have carried out for Billy Wright's Mid-Ulster UVF are those of three Catholics in a mobile shop in Craigavon in 1991, and the double murder of schoolboys Gavin McShane and Shane McArdle. The 17-year-olds were shot in the head in May 1994 while playing an arcade game inside a taxi depot in Keady, Co Armagh. Their killer, who has been identified as Oliver, wasn't wearing a mask.

Gavin's sister, Alana McShane, told Sunday Life: "We are disgusted that Elim Pentecostal won't even sit down with us to discuss our concerns.

"They are hiding behind God, rather than having a face-to-face meeting where families could ask questions.

"This man is unsuited to charity work. When he looked into the taxi depot that day, he saw children. He could have walked on by, but he didn't. He went in and murdered them.

"He saw teenagers in a mobile shop in Craigavon, and he went in and murdered them too. He was a psychopath."

Gavin's father Matthew said: "It is unforgivable that Elim Church are burying their heads in the sand. I'm fighting for justice for my son for 25 years. We have hit another brick wall. Wherever we turn, Alan Oliver is protected.

"Gavin was murdered just before he sat his A-levels. His driving test was booked and I was sorting him out with a wee car. Alan Oliver has paid no price for murder while every day we go through the torture of losing Gavin."

The loyalist has denied claims that he was a high-placed protected security services agent.

Oliver has been named in court as the gunman who shot dead Katrina Rennie (16), Eileen Duffy (19) and Brian Frizzell (29) in the Craigavon mobile shop.

Eileen's brother, Brendan Duffy, said: "Elim Pentecostal Church is basically presenting Alan Oliver as an upstanding member of the community now.

"It's not as if he committed some minor misdemeanour. He has blood on his hands. He has not been punished for what he did. We need truth, accountability and justice.

"I found my sister slumped on the floor of the shop, shot in the head. Her face was swollen and blood was pumping out of her head and ears. I tried to resuscitate her, but she was gone.

"Eileen was only 19. She was buried in the dress she bought to go to dances."

Oliver is suspected of involvement in the murder of brothers Gerard (22) and Rory (18) Cairns who were shot dead in their home in Bleary, near Lurgan, in October 1993.

Their sister Paula said: "We are appalled that Alan Oliver has risen to a trusted position in this church given his background.

"Elim Pentecostal's refusal to meet us defies belief. I don't know how they can claim to be Christian when they shut the door in victims' faces. A Christian church should be the first to offer solace to the bereaved."

Paula added: "I was at university in England when the police arrived at the door to say my brothers had been murdered. It destroyed our family life. Everything has been ruined for us while Alan Oliver has the privilege of living his life as 'a devoted follower of Christ'."

The former UVF man is suspected of involvement in the murder of Charlie (63) and Tess (53) Fox who were shot dead in their home in Moy, Co Tyrone, in September 1992 as they prepared to go to bed.

Their son Patrick was an IRA prisoner, but the couple had no political involvement.

Their daughter Bernadette McKearney found her parents' bodies the next morning. "Alan Oliver turned our lives upside down," she said.

"He has refused our pleas for him to give us closure - to tell the truth about what he did and who he was working for.

"We don't even want an apology, we just want answers. The letter from his church sounds to us like 'Get on with your life and forget about it.'"

Bernadette added: "It's 28 years since I found mammy and daddy lying there but every detail is still fresh in my head. Daddy was in his pyjamas. Most of his face had been blown away.

"Mammy had been shot several times. She'd taken the sweeping brush to the gunman, trying to protect herself. He broke her jaw before shooting her.

"My 10-year-old daughter Seana was due to stay with them that night but thank God she had homework to finish and didn't."

In its letter to the Mid Ulster Families group, Elim Pentecostal General Superintendent, Rev Chris Cartwright said that Oliver had "a record of over 20 years' exemplary service in the church and serving the wider community through the work of Helping Hands" in the areas of poverty and homelessness.

"During this time, Elim have received no complaints about Mr Oliver," it said. "In fact quite the opposite - his service in helping some of the most vulnerable is invaluable and has been appreciated across different sectors of the community."

The church said the loyalist had Access NI clearance, had undertaken training, and complied with all its policies and procedures on the welfare and well-being of the community.

It said he had no involvement in frontline services nor any direct involvement with the public.

Elim Pentecostal said it understood there was "no current police or other official investigation" into Oliver concerning the serial killer allegations nor was there any pending prosecution or legal proceedings. If such an investigation took place it would "directly co-operate and liaise with the authorities".

The church voiced its opposition to "terrorist atrocities and sectarian violence" which it said had destroyed lives.

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