By RFJ CEO Mark Thompson
The large crowd in attendance yesterday, in rain and windswept Belfast, for the 25th anniversary of the UDA murder of Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson is testament to the high esteem in which he was held and of how he is fondly remembered.
Despite his young age of 25 years Paul Thompson was already well known throughout the west Belfast community and beyond. Affectionately known as “Topper” Paul worked voluntarily around the West Belfast Festival and was always on hand to help out on the then main festivities in Springhill with staging, backdrops and not least assisting Gerry ‘Mo Chara’ Kelly and his band of talented political artists on their famous mural work. No task was too small or too great – he just got on with what he was asked to do to the best of his ability.
The motto of Bobby Sands; “Everyone, Republican or otherwise, has their own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small; no one is too old or too young to do something.” summed up Topper.
Topper was a real Belfast character – full of life, craic, and pranks. His close friends and comrades talk with great affection and laugh at the things he and they got up to…at his wake they each found tapes, records, CD’s, socks, T-shirts and other trinkets in Topper’s bedroom, supposedly ‘lost’; the laughter at these finds helped ease the pain of their loss and above all that of Topper’s beloved mother Margaret and brother Eugene. That fondness was evident again at the commemoration when they said it was Topper who ensured we all got soaked through – but even the awful weather didn’t dampen the smiles and laughs despite the sad occasion.
Topper had a passion for reggae and especially Bob Marley. Marley’s writings, songs and music inspired him and echoed his own politics.
Topper worked for a local taxi service as a dispatch operator. He was shot and killed by loyalists as he was catching a lift home at the end of a shift from one of the drivers who had gone to Springfield Park to collect a fare. It was here that loyalists lay in wait, opening fire on the car as it turned in the cul de sac at the top of Springfield Park, before they scurried away. They’d used a radio scanner to tap into the taxi-depot’s frequency and track the car en-route as they planned their cowardly attack.
The sectarian killers had made use of an opening left in the ‘security’ fence that segregated the nationalist Springfield Park community from the loyalist Springmartin estate – a fence along the so-called peaceline we were told was for our own safety.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had responsibility for the fence and its maintenance. However, it was during work repairs and it remaining open that local resident and community activist Brenda Murphy noticed the potential that the breach posed. Fearing the inevitable, and to her eternal credit, Brenda did all humanly possibly to ensure that it was sealed and secured.
“Paul’s killing was completely preventable…” Brenda told yesterday’s gathering. And she is absolutely right. “25 years on and nothing has changed regarding the killing – no inquest, no investigation worth talking about – no prosecutions – no accountability – no justice – nothing, only cover-up. It makes me so angry.”
Brenda rang the NIO and the RUC in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this time, they’d do something, but they did absolutely sweet nothing. But unknown to them, Brenda had recorded the calls for in reality she knew full well they’d do nothing. So what if another Catholic is killed or a family attacked such was the ambivalence of the RUC and NIO towards the nationalist community.
Given the level of attacks and relative ease with which loyalist paramilitaries were able move to and fro across the so-called peace-line carrying out sectarian attacks. the casual inaction – at the least careless disregard – was predicable.
But this didn’t stop Brenda. Fearing an attack she printed off and distributed leaflets to all the residents alerting them to the danger of an attack and to be vigilant.
At around 10pm on April 25th 1994 Paul’s killers struck. Using weapons supplied by MI5, British army intelligence and RUC special branch the killers – safe in the knowledge that they would not be apprehended – carried out their cowardly attack.
For how else would the armed killers feel safe as they lay in wait in proximity, and presumably sight, of the nearby British army military barrack instillation – the Henry Taggart?
This same heavily fortified barrack, situated at the very entrance to Springfield Park, with all its high-rise sophisticated listening devices and cameras towering hundreds of feet into the sky recording the movements of local residents.
What if these same loyalists had been mistaken for republicans planning an attack on the barracks? We have to assume that this was not a calculated risk on their part at all.
On hearing the gunfire Brenda Murphy, and other residents emerged from their homes, and instinctively went towards the gunfire and to the aid of Paul and Patrick ‘Packy’ Elley, the taxi-driver also wounded, despite the dangers. This was both selfless and heroic.
Paul died in Brenda’s comforting arms. Her prophetic fears realised.
There was no immediate response from the RUC despite the calls and proximity of the barracks. When they eventually arrived they did not pursue the route the killers took or properly seal the crime scene.
When later asked by some media why the authorities failed to act on warnings by local residents regarding the vulnerability in the security fence and the threat posed, the NIO and the RUC denied receiving any such calls.
When asked if the numerous surveillance cameras and listening devices had recorded the attack or any suspicious activity they said they were either broken or switched off.
The sectarian murder of Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson was claimed by the UDA, the largest loyalist paramilitary grouping.
The UDA had been heavily penetrated by all branches of the so-called ‘security forces’ including MI5.
One of the many state agents secreted into the UDA was Brian Nelson, himself a British soldier. Nelson ran the UDA’s intelligence section and with the assistance and direction of the Force Research Unit (FRU) selected people for political assassination in addition to wider sectarian attacks on the nationalist community.
These attacks formed part of the overall policy of collusion – to terrorise the nationalist population and intensify killings during this period – as potential peace talks took place privately between the IRA and the British government in the run into a ceasefire, before public talks and inevitable negotiations. It was to pressurize the nationalist community and in turn the IRA.
Despite being arrested by the time of Paul’s murder Nelson’s legacy within the UDA remained fully in tact. The vast arsenal of weaponry he procured from South Africa and the intelligence files and systems supplied by the British army’s Force Research Unit remained. Indeed, we learned from the de Silva Review that 85% of all intelligence in the hands of UDA came from the ‘security forces’.
We do not know for sure if Paul or Packy were the actual intended targets – however, we do know that the taxi-depot and its staff were.
Taken collectively the evidence tends to conclude that collusion was, like so many loyalists murders of the time, a factor in the attack. The weaponry alone, given Nelson’s key role in procuring it as a state agent under direction, is evidence enough.
A community inquiry into the murder took place in September 1994 and included the London based human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce and US judge Andy Somers amongst the panelists. That inquiry held that the authorities failed to protect the residents and that collusion was a factor in the murder.
In summing up Judge Somers said:
“I have reviewed the evidence presented to our inquiry and have concluded that the death of Paul Thompson and the wounding of Patrick Elley could have easily been prevented by a minimum of police vigilance. I have also concluded that the shootings that took place on April 27 1994 were part of a pattern of violent abuse focused upon the Catholic nationalist community in West Belfast and that the police conduct in this case and others reflects permissive and cooperative conduct which has aided loyalist murder gangs in their intimidation of the Catholic community. Such conduct in my opinion constitutes collusion in the murder conspiracy.”
We do know that one of those arrested, questioned and then released without charge is a DUP representative.
A preliminary inquest hearing into Paul’s murder was adjourned abruptly when Brenda Murphy was able to produce recorded evidence exposing the NIO and RUC lies about not being contacted.
That same inquest has never reconvened. The irony that the DUP denied inquest funding to block families’, including the family of Paul Thompson, right to a proper hearing is not lost. That at the same time of blocking truth and justice the same DUP gave the UDA group Charter, the organisation responsible for Paul’s murder, £1.7 million in funding is also not lost.
Solicitor Gemma Murray, from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), who is representing the family will, along with RFJ, raise the case and ongoing delay with the UN next week in Geneva to which the UK government will have to respond.
Gemma has been pursuing disclosures in the case from the PSNI/MoD and NIO. She has also been busy ensuring that a schedule for hearing the inquest, including that all relevant witnesses and not least from the NIO and RUC are amenable before the court, and that the full circumstances and facts concerning Paul’s murder are ventilated and adjudicated on in compliance with the legal requirements placed upon the UK.
These are also in accordance with the wishes of Margaret, who never gave up on Paul’s case and who sadly passed away prematurely as a consequence of Paul’s murder.
To Margaret and Paul’s memory, Topper’s friends and comrades, and those of us privileged and humbled to assist and support Eugene in securing truth and accountability we too will never give up!
As Bob Marley said:
“Truth is the light, so you never give up the fight.”