In January 2007, the then Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, issued her long-awaited report into allegations of collusion between members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in North Belfast. UVF members based in the Mount Vernon estate enjoyed RUC Special Branch protection for murders and other serious crimes as they worked as informers for the Special Branch.
Special Branch (SB) officers ensured the murderers were not caught and even “baby-sat” them during police interviews to help them avoid incriminating themselves when questioned by CID officers. The same SB officers “created false notes” and blocked searches for UVF weapons.
Mark Haddock, one of the leaders of the UVF unit in Mount Vernon, was even paid almost £80,000 by the SB. Haddock is due to go on trial at Laganside Courts in Belfast on Tuesday for the murder of a rival paramilitary figure, Tommy English of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), during a vicious feud in 2000. Ironically, two former comrades of Haddock’s, David and Robert Stewart, have informed on the former informer and are to give evidence against him. Both men are doing time for their own role in English’s murder. Thirteen other members of the Mount Vernon UVF will stand trial alongside Haddock.
The UVF attempted to assassinate Haddock in May 2006 when he was exposed as a tout. He survived the attempt despite being shot six times. He has been in protective custody since then.
In the past week, banners condemning supergrass trials have appeared in loyalist areas of Belfast where the UVF are strong. The organisation hopes to capitalise on resentment that most police ‘historic enquiries’ into murders and other crimes committed during the Troubles seem to involve loyalists disproportionably.
The UVF have lost a lot of popular support since the murder last May of Bobby Moffett in broad daylight on the Shankill Road in Belfast.
The war is over, most Ulster people say, so what is the UVF for?
Evidence at the trial is likely to dent the UVF’s overblown self-image as ‘the people’s army’, so it’s reasonable to expect a violent reaction from its embattled leadership in another bout of rioting on the streets of North Belfast.
There may be trouble ahead…