Teens' brutal murders are sad story with a twist

Sunday, 23 February, 2003

Teens' brutal murders are sad story with a twist

By Jim Dee, The Irish Times

TANDRAGEE, Northern Ireland - It's an all-too-familiar Northern Irish tale: claims that police are colluding with murderers to shield an informer inside the murky paramilitary underworld. But this tale has a twist. Protestants, not Catholics, are making the charge.

"I have nothing to fear from the IRA or the Catholic community," said Paul McIlwaine, a Protestant whose 18-year-old son, David, was brutally murdered three years ago. "Our fears lie with maniac loyalists and the government - the hidden agendas, collusion and corruption."

The bodies of David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb, 19, were found on a country lane outside the village of Tandragee in 2000.

Their stab wounds were so severe that police first thought David had been hit in the face with a shotgun blast. The killings were the result of a feud between two pro-British loyalist paramilitary outfits, the Ulster Volunteer Force and a UVF splinter group, the Portadown-based Loyalist Volunteer Force.

A month earlier, the LVF had killed top Portadown UVF man, Richard Jameson. The McIlwaine and Robb slayings were initially seen as the UVF's revenge, but neither boy was in the LVF. The two were casual acquaintances, who'd only hooked up by chance after leaving a Tandragee club.

They were looking for a house party when they mistakenly knocked on the door of a Tandragee UVF man who knew Robb.

And then, possibly because of rumors that a relation of Robb's assisted in the Jameson slaying, that man allegedly got five other UVF men - including the UVF's Tandragee commander - and the two boys were taken away and killed.

The UVF man on whose door the victims knocked was arrested, but charges were later dropped when the director of public prosecutions deemed the evidence too weak.

That evidence included: fibers from one of his garments matching fibers at the murder scene; worn-tread car tire marks that matched his car; green-plastic particles found at the murder scene matching some found in his house; and an eyewitness who spotted the victims entering and leaving the suspect's house with him just before the murders.

The Tandragee UVF commander - whom police investigated but never charged - had worked for years as a building contractor in area army and police barracks. He'd also been allowed to carry a gun for protection, which is striking given his known paramilitary links.

He'd also allegedly sworn to avenge the LVF's slaying of Richard Jameson, his best friend.

Alan Steele, David McIlwaine's uncle, believes police won't pursue this man for fear of what he may reveal if charged. Steele thinks the man may be either a police mole inside the UVF or someone they previously fed targeting information to help kill alleged IRA members and their sympathizers when the conflict was raging.

"Without a doubt, there's a cover-up," said Steele. "Before, we thought all this carry-on about security force collusion and cover-ups was all a republican agenda. We thought, `Don't talk nonsense. It doesn't happen.' We could not believe that this happened to us. It's only now that we realize how stinking the police and the government are."

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Todd of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said of cover-up allegations, "That denies the hours, days, weeks and months we've pumped into this inquiry."

He said, "We spent a lot of time just trying to separate the wheat from the chaff - and there was a lot of chaff."

Paul McIlwaine and Steele accept the Belfast-based UVF leadership's claim that it didn't sanction the killings. But they still believe police brass are blocking the full pursuit of the lower-ranking UVF men they believe carried out the killings.

"It's not a witch hunt for the police," McIlwaine insisted. "I have a lot of friends who are police. And I have every respect for the police on the ground. They try their best. But I think they are just facing an uphill task against the higher authorities above them."

Steele said the case highlights the perverse nature of Northern Ireland.

"If you have an 18-year-old innocent child (and) he goes out for a night and monsters take him and butcher him, this is what you can expect in Northern Ireland," he said. "This is what you can expect from the police and . . . from the British government.

Protestants aren't meant to go against the police. Protestants aren't meant to go against the state," he said. "We don't care about that. We care about David McIlwaine and catching his killers."

Copyright © 2003 The Irish Times