Victim’s life highlights squalid world of loyalist violence

STEPHEN PAUL, who was shot dead in Belfast on Saturday, was a father at 14.

At 16, he was shot five times by the loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA, in a punishment attack for alleged criminal behaviour and told to leave his home city of Belfast.

In 1998, his uncle, notorious drug dealer, William ‘Wassy’ Paul, was shot dead by an off-shoot of the UVF, the RHC. His nephew promptly got a tattoo on his right arm: “In loving memory of Uncle Wassy murdered by a cowardly bastard.” The killer, Frankie Curry, a loyalist assassin who claimed more than 20 murders, was shot dead in March 1999.

A couple of months earlier, Paul, 22 and already a father of four, was ambushed outside his home in Bangor but somehow survived despite being hit a number of times, including once in the neck.

In 2001, Paul was sentenced to six years in prison for the serial abuse of his former wife. He admitted assault, threatening to kill and false imprisonment. On one occasion, he beat her unconscious.

Just over 24 hours before he was killed, Paul appeared in court on another charge of threatening to kill. Only recently released from prison, the murdered man is reported to have had a public row with a senior UVF figure, which probably sealed his fate, according to Belfast’s Sunday Life newspaper.

If Stephen Paul is a case study of those involved in the murderous turf wars that have plagued the loyalist working class districts for years, then Northern secretary Peter Hain could be accused of naivety when he warned loyalist paramilitaries will be left behind if they do not call a halt to the killings.

Arguably, they are so far removed from the political process, catching up is not even an issue.

Close to 100 people have been killed in faction fighting between the various loyalist groupings in the last 10 years. While there may have been a political motive for some of the earlier murders, it now involves what Mr Hain himself described as “gangsters masquerading as loyalism”.

Three people have been shot dead in Belfast in the last month in the latest explosion of violence between the UVF and smaller LVF. It’s an extension of a row that has simmered and sometimes exploded since the UVF’s former mid-Ulster commander Billy Wright formed the breakaway LVF in 1996.

Wright, who masterminded several murders and was shot dead by the INLA in the Maze prison in late 1997, always claimed to have a political viewpoint and led the breakaway because he disagreed with the direction the Belfast leadership was taking loyalism. He also claimed the UVF in Belfast was more interested in making money and drug-dealing.

It has since transpired that all the key members of the early LVF were up to their necks in drug-dealing themselves. Nowadays, the group attracts mostly criminals, many with a grudge against the more established loyalist organisations.

Hundreds of masked men claiming to be attached to the UVF openly took over a loyalist estate last week. The UVF claimed the operation was organised in response to residents’ complaints that the LVF had taken over the estate.

Now, this particular piece of turf is back in the hands of the UVF, a group, the International Monitoring Commission, concludes is “engaged in organised crime... is active, violent and ruthless and is prepared to use violence to promote what it sees are the interests of the organisation”.

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