14 January 2006

UVF terrorist is elected to British Legion committee

Belfast Telegraph

By Lisa Smyth
14 January 2006

There was uproar last night after it emerged that a convicted UVF terrorist has been elected as a committee member of a Co Derry branch of the Royal British Legion.

An enraged member of the legion - the UK's leading charity providing financial, social and emotional support to the millions who have served and are currently serving in the armed forces - contacted the Belfast Telegraph to complain that Russell Watton had been elected to the position of assistant secretary of the Coleraine branch.

"I think it's an absolute disgrace. I've been a member for years, but I'll not be back," said the man, who did not want to be identified.

In June 1977, Watton was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to wounding three men with intent during a gun attack on a bar in Dunloy.

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion refused to say whether Watton was a member of the organisation, and added: "We do not comment on anonymous claims. If anyone is unhappy about membership, they should be coming to us and not the Press."

But when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Watton confirmed his position as assistant secretary of the Coleraine branch.

He said: "Whoever complained has little to do with their time. I was in trouble 30 years ago, and there are other ex-prisoners in the legion.

"I have been a member for 12 or 13 years and this year I was asked to stand, and I won a democratic vote, 36 votes to 24.

"I am married with a child and a mortgage like everyone else and I'm trying to move on, but I'm never going to get away from it."

However, East Derry MLA John Dallat has called for Watton to be immediately ousted from the organisation.

"He should never have been allowed in the door, never mind be allowed to take up a high-profile position," said Mr Dallat.

"This type of disclosure runs totally against the efforts of people who want to develop the British Legion as unconnected to elements which badly tarnished its image in the past, in particular, I am thinking of when UFF killer Torrens Knight wore a poppy when coming out of court.

"To find a high-profile terrorist of this kind is not only a member of the legion, but occupies a position on the committee, is something that needs to be addressed as it certainly makes it difficult for Catholics to embrace the efforts of the legion to portray itself as politically neutral."

Passing sentence on Watton in 1977, Judge Higgins described his 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.

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