Hardman recruited by mid-Ulster mob behind forecourt murder of crime boss McKeown
A sectarian killer has been accused of acting as an enforcer for a cross-community drugs gang terrorising mid-Ulster.
Stevie ‘Fatson’ Watson, who was jailed for seven years for the 1983 manslaughter of Catholic civilian John McConville in Lurgan, was seen at a recent meeting of notorious criminals in the town.
The group, known as ‘the Firm’, carried out the 2019 murder of rival drugs boss Malcolm McKeown in Co Down and was behind a gun attack at the home of prominent dissident Colin Duffy.
Its leaders are from the staunchly loyalist Mourneview area of Lurgan and the nearby republican Kilwilkie estate.
Watson, who has a hardman reputation despite approaching his 60th birthday, was witnessed laughing and joking in their company during a recent pub get-together.
Sources say he has been acting as an enforcer for the Firm, even travelling into the Kilwilkie estate, where his victim John McConville was from, to collect debts.
Former UDR man Watson was one of three drunken loyalists who beat the 22-year-old to death with a crash helmet almost 40 years ago in an attack that a judge said was motivated by sectarian bigotry.
Jailed alongside him for manslaughter was ‘Mad’ Mick Orr, another ex-UDR member, who was handed 10 years, and Colin Doak, who was given five.
Although a convicted sectarian killer, Watson has no issues with inviting the drug-dealing son of a prominent Lurgan IRA figure into the Mourneview estate, where the UVF has a strong presence.
“Loyalists have complained about this to the Lurgan UVF boss, but he won’t do anything because he is too frightened to take on the Firm,” said one local.
“He prefers to hide out in his new home and is rarely in Mourneview. The Firm controls this estate. Watson had trouble with the LVF years ago when it destroyed his car in an arson attack, but it doesn’t have any presence in Mourneview. It’s the Firm that’s on top, even though there are quite a few UVF members living here.”
Republicans in Lurgan are also angry at how sectarian killer Watson has been spotted around the Kilwilkie area.
But they are reluctant to do anything because of his friendship with the drug-dealing son of a former Provisional IRA leader who is close to Colin Duffy.
It is these links that saved the crime boss from revenge attacks when the Firm shot up Duffy’s home in 2019.
Our source added: “Loyalists in Mourneview are threatening to confront Stevie Watson, while republicans in north Lurgan are furious that he is strutting about Kilwilkie.”
Other senior members of the Firm seen drinking with Watson during its summit last month include the relative of an RUC officer murdered by the IRA.
The gang has around a dozen members, with another 50 associates stretched out through north Armagh and Co Down.
It supplies drugs to dealers in Lurgan, Portadown, Craigavon, Banbridge and Lisburn, sourced from either criminals in Dublin or the mid-Ulster loyalist Drew King.
The Firm murdered rival gangster McKeown (54) because he was extorting money from its dealers.
Four men are currently before the courts charged with his killing — Simon Smyth (32), Stevie-Lee Watson (33), Jake O’Brien (27) and Andrew Martin (26). They deny involvement.
Police have said his murder is tied to a drugs-related feud between rival criminal groups.
McKeown was shot dead while getting into his car, which was parked behind the rear of a service station in Waringstown. He was blasted six times in the head and body. The getaway car used by his killers was burnt out near the Mourneview estate in Lurgan.