19 April 2007 Edition
Sectarian killer McFerran protected by Special Branch
Less than three months after the publication of the report into RUC Special Branch collusion in killings in North Belfast, the Ombudsman is facing another investigation into the murderous activities of a Special Branch agent and UDA commander in South Belfast.
Following the publication of the McCord report in January, republicans warned that evidence of state collusion revealed by O’Loan was the “tip of the iceberg” and predicted that the dynamics behind the activities of UDA killer Mark Haddock had been replicated in areas throughout the Six Counties and beyond.
Last week a similar scenario began to emerge after a series of killings were linked to a South Belfast UDA leader and Special Branch agent, Stephen McFerran. The families of three of the victims have called upon the Ombudsman to investigate allegations of Special Branch ‘protection’ despite McFerran’s involvement in numerous sectarian killings in South Belfast throughout the 1990’s.
Jim Clinton, whose wife was murdered by the UDA in 1994, said he wanted to know if McFerran had been protected from prosecution because he was a Special Branch agent.
“I want to know how long he was working for them and if he was protected by his handlers despite evidence that he was involved in dozens of murders. As a family, we have always suspected that the people who killed Theresa were being protected after the identities of four eye witnesses were made known to one of the main suspects during an ID parade,” said Clinton.
Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey said McFerran’s role must be fully investigated. The UDA in this area in the late 80’s and 90’s were responsible for scores of killings, he said.
“For years McFerran has been named as a leading suspect in many of these killings yet appeared to lead a charmed life when it came to avoiding arrest and conviction. It has now been revealed that McFerran was a highly placed Special Branch agent,” said Maskey.
McFerran had been exposed as a Special Branch agent during a court appearance in February. McFerran was on trial in connection with the 2003 murder of another UDA member Roy Green. McFerran’s trial followed a scenario reminiscent of both the trial of the late Special Branch agent and UDA quartermaster William Stobie and that of FRU operative and UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson.
Stobie exposed his role as an agent to offset serious charges relating to the murder of defence lawyer Pat Finucane. Nelson pleaded guilty to lesser charges to curtail further exposure likely during a lengthy trial. Exposure of McFerran’s Special Branch role was accompanied by an unexpected guilty plea that conveniently curtailed further murderous revelations.
But McFerran’s activities were too widely known for the story to end there. Established by the court as working for Special Branch, the apparently charmed ability of McFerran to avoid investigation and prosecution to a series of killings to which he had been linked, took on a whole new dimension.
McFerran has been linked to more than 20 killings carried out in South Belfast during the 13-year reign of terror spanning 1990 to 2003 and including the 1992 bookmaker’s massacre, the killing of Catholic taxi drivers and the murder of two women. At the same time McFerran was acting as UDA ‘Commander’ in the Ormeau area, it has now emerged that he was working for Special Branch.
Amongst the killings carried out by McFerran’s gang are the sectarian murders of Emmanuel Shields in September 1990, John O’Hara in April 1991, Harry Conlon, John McGuigan and William Johnston in October 1991 and James McCaffrey November 1991.
In February 1992 the gang attacked a betting shop on the Ormeau Road killing five Catholics and injuring seven others. Those who died were Peter Magee, Christy Doherty, William McManus, Jack Duffin, James Kennedy.
Other sectarian killings included Michael Gilbride in November 1992, Anthony Butler in January 1993, Martin Moran in October 1993, Desmond Doherty January 1994, Larry Brennan and Benedict Hughes in January 1998.
The two women killed by McFerran’s gang were Protestant mother of three Donna Wilson who was beaten to death in 1992 and Catholic mother of two Theresa Clinton shot dead in 1994.
In 1996 McFerran kicked UDA man Thomas Annett to death after a row outside a loyalist bar and despite eye-witness and forensic evidence escaped conviction. In January 2003 Roy Green was shot dead as he stood talking to McFerran outside the Kimberly Bar on the Ormeau Road.
The UDA claimed Green was passing information to Johnny Adair. It is widely believed that McFerran lured Green to his death but he was not charged until March 2005. Fingerprints belonging to a Special Branch officer were found amongst a weapons cache, which included the weapon used to murder Green. Following Green’s death, McFerran’s Special Branch handlers had flown him to Liverpool in an attempt to prevent his arrest.
Earlier this year McFerran was sentenced to five years imprisonment after pleading guilty in relation to the Green killing and is due for release next year.
A spokesperson for Nuala O Loan confirmed that the Ombudsman is considering an investigation into what he described as “very serious allegations”.