17 January 2006

Ex-terrorist resigns post on Legion after furore

Belfast Telegraph

Telegraph revelation forced him to quit

By Lisa Smyth
17 January 2006

A convicted UVF terrorist has resigned from his post on the committee of a Co Derry branch of the Royal British Legion.

On Saturday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Russell Watton - who in 1977 was sentenced to life imprisonment for a gun attack in Dunloy - had been elected to the position of assistant secretary of the legion in Coleraine, leading to a complaint from a disgusted member of the charity.

Last night, Watton said publicity the revelation generated prompted him to step down from the post, although he claimed he has continued support from members of the legion and will remain a member of the charity.

"I resigned from the post on Sunday, I just don't need the hassle," he said.

"It was very upsetting for my family, especially my 13- year-old son who had to read about what I did 30 years ago in the newspaper.

"I was asked to stand for assistant secretary and I was elected in a democratic process but someone went to the trouble of phoning the Belfast Telegraph, and although they are only one person, it is still one person too many, so I felt I had to resign. I don't want the legion dragged down.

"I have been a member for years though, and I have no intention of leaving as I have never caused any problems."

A spokesman from the legion refused to comment on the matter and said: "I think the resignation answers it in full."

In 1977, Watton was one of 13 men sentenced for their part in a string of terrorist crimes in the Coleraine area.

Watton, who was said to have been the commander of the UVF unit in Coleraine at the time, pleaded guilty to wounding three men with intent during a gun attack in a bar in April, 1976.

Passing sentence on the Coleraine man the following year, Judge Higgins described the UVF group as a "nest of terrorists" who had been responsible for grave and wicked crimes during 1975 and 1976, including the burning of Catholic-owned premises, the armed robbery of two post offices and bomb attacks on three bars.

The judge also said that Watton was responsible for planning the offences and involving others in them.

However, Watton stressed that he has turned his back on violence and defended his fellow members for his election despite his past.

"There is no politics in the legion, that is all left at the front door, politics are not discussed there at all," he said.

"I admit that I held strong loyalist views but the war is over and finished now, violence is not the way.

"Catholic members of the legion are disgusted about all of this, they accept me for what I am now, not what I was 30 years ago.

"These people are my good friends and realise that is was a lifetime ago and that we have all moved on."

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