Inside the UVF: Money, murders and mayhem - the loyalist gang's secrets unveiled
Two decades on from the UVF ceasefire and the terror gang is still up to its neck in murder, mayhem and dirty money.
Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the day loyalist veteran Gusty Spence — the founder of the modern day UVF — announced his “abject and true remorse” for the organisation's role in the Troubles.
But instead of fading into the background, the UVF is now recruiting more members than at any other time in its recent history — due to a forced recruitment policy — and remains heavily involved in crime.
Since the October 13, 1994 ceasefire the UVF has killed at least 32 people, 29 of whom were Protestant, the most recent being ex-loyalist prisoner Bobby Moffett in 2010.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the terror gang's ceasefire, veteran members — angry at the path taken by the current leadership — contacted Sunday Life to lift the lid on its inner-workings.
They reveal how the UVF is:
- making a fortune from racketeering and the taxing of its own men;
- hopelessly split between the Shankill Road leadership under John ‘Bunter’ Graham, and the east Belfast faction headed by Stephen ‘Mackers’ Matthews; and
- that 90 per cent of members expressed a desire to leave the terror gang during an internal debate, but were refused.
“The whole organisation is a mess, almost everyone to a man wants it to pack up and go except for the ones at the top,” said a Shankill Road member.
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“After the Bobby Moffett murder there were meetings in different battalion areas and the men were asked do they want stay or leave.
“Around 90 per cent of the membership indicated that they wanted to go, but were refused when the leadership realised it would decimate the organisation.”
The UVF's official headquarters is the Shankill Road, where Chief of Staff John ‘Bunter' Graham has ruled since the 1980s.
The area around the Shankill — known as the 1st Battalion — is divided into four companies, the leaders of which are fiercely loyal to Graham and his second in command Jackie Anderson, a convicted bomb-maker.
Harry Stockman — who read the UVF's 2009 decommissioning statement — is the overall 1st Battalion commander, with his close pal Joe McGaw controlling A Coy on the Shankill Road.
Policing partnership member Winkie Irvine, who is paid public money to help the PSNI combat crime, looks after B Coy in the Woodvale.
Mark Vinton, another policing partnership member, is leader of C Coy covering the Glencairn and Springmartin areas.
Taxi boss Paul McAlinden is boss of D Coy, which takes in Ballysillan.
The entire 1st Battalion has an approximate membership of 1,000 — however, most are UVF men in name and cash donations only.
“Of these 1,000 men only about 20 are operators, the rest are just cannon fodder,” explained one of our sources.
“When I joined the UVF it was to fight the IRA, but most of the fellas in the 1st Battalion now wouldn't know one end of a rifle from the other.”
Insiders told Sunday Life that UVF recruitment drives in recent times have brought in dozens of “undesirables”.
“Loads of youngsters were recruited during the flag protests, but the only thing these kids are good for is blocking the street.
“They wouldn't know the difference between Edward Carson and Frank Carson,” added our source.
“Drug dealers and housebreakers have also been recruited. They are given the option of having their arms broken for anti-social behaviour or joining up... nearly everyone joins up.”
Our sources say the most sinister UVF recruitment tactic centres on free drinks in bars for men who find themselves out of work.
One explained: “I know of a few fellas who have been out of work and deliberately allowed to run up tabs in UVF pubs.
“The UVF comes to them at the end of the month and says ‘pay up lads'. When they cannot they are given the option of a beating or signing up.”
When a UVF member is recruited this way they are given the option of “welfare or military”.
Most opt for welfare, which involves paying a weekly membership fee and buying tickets to a number of UVF events each year at which they have to show or face a £50 fine.
“The welfare guys are the cannon fodder,” one UVF veteran told Sunday Life.
“They are the guys you see at the big parades wearing the paramilitary uniforms and the sad faces. It only takes you to look at them to know they want out.”
In total the UVF boasts some 10,000 members across Northern Ireland.
Every UVF member is expected to contribute £1 per week to the battalion funds, with some areas like Newtownards charging £5 per week.
This might seem small but when you consider UVF B Coy on the Shankill, under Winkie Irvine, has 400 members it amounts to an income of at least £1,600 per month.
“Not only do B Coy members have to pay their weekly dues they are expected to attend five parades per year,” said a source in the unit.
“There are events in bars after the parades, which you have to buy a £5 or £10 ticket for and then are expected to drink at all night.
“There is even a rota for men to drink at a certain bar on the Shankill once every four weeks with a minimum £20 spend.
“B Coy makes more than £30,000 per year in dues from its members alone, and that's not counting the extortion, back handers from drug dealers and robberies.
“When you take it all in, B Coy, including the money from its pubs and taxi firms, is easily making £500,000 per year.”
The only UVF area that can rival the Shankill in terms of membership and funds is east Belfast. Under the control of Stephen ‘Mackers' Matthews, it has effectively split from the rest of the terror gang.
Although the east Belfast UVF, which also includes the entire north Down area, takes part in shows of strength with other battalions, this is purely for the cameras.
The UVF leadership on the Shankill sees Matthews as being out of control, especially after the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend Jemma McGrath in east Belfast last year.
“Mackers feels as if he has been hung out to dry by Bunter,” said another east Belfast source.
“The PSNI has publicly admitted they have set aside a dedicated unit to take down the east Belfast UVF.
“What Mackers wants to know is why haven't they done the same with the Shankill. Bobby Moffett was murdered on the Shankill Road in broad daylight, not the Newtownards Road, so why is the attention of the police just on east Belfast.”
Our source said that because Matthews has publicly disagreed with Bunter Graham at UVF leadership meetings about the organisation's political direction, he has become increasingly marginalised.
“Mackers isn't stupid and has seen how the UVF has dealt with internal voices of dissent in the past,” added our east Belfast source.
“The UVF ordered Billy Wright out of the country because he didn't like the way things were going.
“It also murdered Frankie Curry, shot Jackie Mahood, and tried to kill Tucker Ewing — even though they were all UVF heroes like Billy Wright.
“Mackers is very much aware that he could face a similar fate.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital