Sean Graham bookmakers' shooting
|Sean Graham bookmakers' shooting|
|Part of the Troubles|
The scene of the attack
|Location||132–134 Ormeau Road,|
|Date||5 February 1992 |
|Perpetrator||Ulster Defence Association|
UDA South Belfast Brigade
On 5 February 1992, a mass shooting took place at the Sean Graham bookmaker's shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, opened fire on the customers, killing five civilians and wounding another nine. The shop was in an Irish nationalist area, and all of the victims were local Catholic civilians. The UDA claimed responsibility using the cover name "Ulster Freedom Fighters", and said the shooting was retaliation for the Teebane bombing, which had been carried out by the Provisional IRA less than three weeks before.
The start of 1992 had witnessed an intensification in the campaign of violence being carried out by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) under their UFF covername. The group's first killing that year was on 9 January when Catholic civilian Phillip Campbell was shot dead at his place of work near Moira by a Lisburn-based UDA unit. The same group killed another Catholic civilian, Paul Moran, at the end of the month and a few days later taxi driver Paddy Clarke was killed at his north Belfast home by members of the UDA West Belfast Brigade.
However, the Inner Council of the UDA, which contained the six brigadiers that controlled the organisation, felt that these one-off killings were not sending a strong enough message to republicans and so it sanctioned a higher-profile attack in which a number of people would be killed at once. On this basis the go-ahead was given to attack Sean Graham bookmaker's shop on the Irish nationalist Lower Ormeau Road. This was a major arterial route in the city and was near the UDA stronghold of Annadale Flats. According to David Lister and Hugh Jordan, the bookmaker's shop was chosen by West Belfast Brigadier and Inner Council member Johnny Adair because he had strong personal ties with the commanders of the Annadale UDA. A 1993 report commissioned by RUC Special Branch also claimed that Adair was the driving force behind the attack.
The attack occurred at 2:20 in the afternoon. A car parked on University Avenue facing the bookmakers and two men, wearing boiler suits and balaclavas, left the car and crossed the Ormeau Road to the shop. One was armed with a vz.58 Czechoslovak assault rifle and the other with a 9mm pistol. They entered the shop—in which there were 15 customers—and opened fire, unleashing a total of 44 shots on the assembled victims.
Five Catholic men and boys were killed: Christy Doherty (52), Jack Duffin (66), James Kennedy (15), Peter Magee (18) and William McManus (54). Nine others were wounded, one critically. Four of them died at the scene although 15-year-old Kennedy survived until he reached the hospital, his final words being reported as "tell my mummy that I love her". Kennedy's mother Kathleen died two years later after becoming a recluse. Her husband, James (Sr.), blamed his wife's death on the shooting by claiming "the bullets that killed James didn't just travel in distance, they travelled in time. Some of those bullets never stopped travelling".
One of the wounded described the shooting to British journalist Peter Taylor:
There was a right crowd in [the betting shop] and I cracked a joke with a couple of them – they were like that, always laughing and carrying on. I had only been in for about twenty or twenty-five minutes when the shooting started – I was standing next to the door with a docket in my hand studying the form. At first I thought it was a hold-up but then the shooting started and somebody yelled, 'Hit the deck'. I just lay there and prayed that the shooting would stop. It seemed to go on for a lifetime. There wasn't a sound for a few seconds – everybody was so stunned, but then the screaming started. People were yelling out in agony. You could hardly see anything. The room was full of gun smoke and the smell would have choked you.
In a separate incident, a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had travelled to the area at the time of the attack with the intention of killing a local Sinn Féin activist based on intelligence they had received that he returned home about that time every day. The attack was abandoned, however, when the car carrying the UVF members was passed by speeding Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) vehicles and ambulances. The UVF members, who had already retrieved their weapons for the attack, were said to be livid with the UDA for not co-ordinating with them beforehand and effectively spoiling their chance to kill a leading local republican.
A UDA statement in the aftermath of the attack claimed that the killings were justified as the Lower Ormeau was "one of the IRA's most active areas". The statement also included the phrase "remember Teebane", suggesting that they intended the killings as retaliation for the Teebane bombing in County Tyrone less than three weeks earlier. In that attack, the IRA had killed eight Protestant men who were repairing a British Army base. The same statement had also been yelled by the gunmen as they ran from the betting shop. Alex Kerr, who was then UDA Brigadier for South Belfast, released a second statement about a month after the attack in which he sought to justify the killings. Kerr stated that "the IRA was extremely active in the lower Ormeau and the nationalist population there shielded them. They paid the price for Teebane". He added that if there were any further bombings like that at Teebane then the UDA would retaliate in the same way as at Sean Graham's.
The idea that the killings were justified because of Teebane was shunned by Rev. Ivor Smith, a Presbyterian minister who was based in the area and who worked with the families of the bomb victims. He said that the UDA claim was "like a knife through the heart. We were absolutely appalled at the thought that somebody would try to do something like that and justify it by bringing in Teebane. As far as the families were concerned, it was very definitely not 'in my name'". A letter expressing deep sympathy from Betty Gilchrist, a Protestant whose husband had been killed at Teebane, was read out at the funeral of Jack Duffin. Alasdair McDonnell, a general practitioner and Social Democratic and Labour Party councillor in the area, also suggested that the attack had been in response to Teebane. However, he was strongly rebuked by the Lower Ormeau Residents Action Group, a residents' association with Sinn Féin links, for seemingly justifying the killings with this claim.
When a July 1992 Orange Order march passed the scene of the shooting, Orangemen shouted pro-UDA slogans and held aloft five fingers as a taunt to residents over the five deaths. The claim is corroborated by Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack. The images of Orangemen and loyalist flute band members holding up five fingers as they passed the shop were beamed around the world and was a public relations disaster for the Order. Patrick Mayhew, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the actions of the marchers "would have disgraced a tribe of cannibals". The incident led to a more concerted effort by Lower Ormeau residents to have the marches banned from the area, which later succeeded.
No one was ever convicted for the killings although, locally, blame fell on Joe Bratty and his sidekick Raymond Elder, the two leading UDA figures in the Annadale Flats. It has been suggested that although Bratty had been the brains behind the attack, he did not take part in the attack himself. Lister and Jordan, however, claim that one of the gunmen was actually from west Belfast and was supplied to Bratty by Adair. Elder was identified by numerous witnesses as one of the gunmen and fibres from the getaway car were found on his denims. He was charged with involvement in the attack but the charges were withdrawn. Johnny Adair also allegedly provided a C Company gunman to take part in the attack. Following his release from custody, Adair organised a lavish celebration party for Bratty and Elder in Scotland where he allegedly gave Bratty a gold ring inscribed with the initials UFF.
The IRA did not immediately retaliate although in a statement they claimed to know the identity of the killers and claimed that they would "take them out when the time was right". When Bratty and Elder were shot dead by the IRA in July 1994, revellers in the Lower Ormeau hailed the attack as revenge for Sean Graham's.
On 5 February 2002 a plaque was erected on the side of the bookmaker's shop in Hatfield Street carrying the names of the five victims and the Irish language inscription Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a n-anamacha ("May God have mercy on their souls"). A small memorial garden was later added. The unveiling ceremony, which took place on the tenth anniversary of the attack, was accompanied by a two-minute silence and was attended by relatives of the dead and survivors of the attack. A new memorial stone was laid on 5 February 2012 to coincide with the publication of a booklet calling for justice for the killings.
Historical Enquiries Team findings
The attack was one of a number to be investigated by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) in 2010. It found that a Browning pistol used by the gunmen had been given to them by the police. UDA quartermaster and police agent William Stobie had handed the gun to police and the police had given it back to him. Police "may have thought they had tampered with it to prevent it from being used". According to the HET report this operation "would have required both the authority of a senior police officer and a recovery plan, generally short-term and where possible supported by the security forces within a short period of time. Clearly in this case, there was a significant failure and the repercussions were tragic and devastating". The gun was, the report continued, also used in other UDA killings.
Alex Maskey, a Sinn Féin MLA for the area, commented that "the finding by the HET that the Browning pistol used by the UDA in this attack was handed back to them by the RUC will come as no surprise to the people of the Lower Ormeau area who have long known that a high degree of collusion took place in this attack".
In February 2012 Jackie McDonald, the incumbent commander of the UDA South Belfast Brigade (the area in which the shop is located), admitted that the victims of the shooting had been innocent. However, McDonald said that he could not apologise for the attack, arguing that as he was imprisoned at the time he played no part in what had happened. In an earlier interview with Peter Taylor, McDonald suggested that it was the rise in sectarian killings and attacks such as that at Sean Graham's that "brought about the ceasefire at the end of the day".
- McDonald & Cusack, p. 221
- McDonald & Cusack, p. 222
- Lister & Jordan, p. 134
- February 1992 – A storm of death and repression
- Wood, p. 159
- McDonald & Cusack, pp. 222–223
- List of Victims of the Troubles 1992, Conflict Archive on the Internet
- McDonald & Cusack, p. 223
- Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. pp.218–219
- Cusack & McDonald, p. 285
- Bookies victims 'innocent' – UDA
- McDonald & Cusack, p. 224
- Wood, pp. 159–160
- "Chronology of the Conflict: July 1992, Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
- McDonald & Cusack, p. 225
- "Sean Graham full report" (PDF).
- Taylor, p. 231
- Wood, Ian.S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press. p. 159.
- Wood, p. 160
- McDonald & Cusack, p. 270
- South Belfast – Memorials
- Relatives remember bookies' victims
- Plea for justice over attack on Belfast bookmakers
- Bookies' massacre gun 'given by RUC'
- Murder weapon discovered in Imperial War Museum display
- Cusack, Jim & McDonald, Henry, UVF, Dublin: Poolbeg, 1997
- Lister, David & Jordan, Hugh Mad Dog – The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and C Company, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2004
- Henry McDonald & Jim Cusack, UDA – Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Dublin: Penguin Ireland, 2004
- Taylor, Peter, Loyalists, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000
- Wood, Ian S., Crimes of Loyalty – A History of the UDA, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006