13 April 2006

I won't rest until justice is done ... I owe it to my boy

Belfast Telegraph

Campaigning father Raymond McCord believes an imminent Ombudsman's report will vindicate his claims about police collusion with UVF killers. He tells DAVID GORDON about his dangerous fight for justice and the murdered son who inspires his battle

13 April 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Troubles were never far away from Raymond McCord's life.

In his teens, he played in a football team that included a young Bobby Sands and two future loyalist prisoners.

He would later have constant clashes with UDA henchmen.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThen, in 1997, police called at his door to tell him his 22-year-old son Raymond Jnr had been found beaten to death in an isolated quarry.

His subsequent struggle to expose the killers has brought him countless death threats.

Aged 52, he now lives alone in a fortified house in a south Belfast estate, with a vicious-looking Japanese Akita for a guard dog.

Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan is currently finalising a report on the police investigation of Raymond jnr's murder.

It is widely expected to plunge the PSNI into a far-reaching scandal over the activities of informers within loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr McCord initially suspected the UDA had murdered his son, a former RAF airman.

But he later learned that a UVF gang from the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast had been responsible.

The more he asked people about the circumstances, the more suspicious he became.

He started to make allegations through the Press that a Special Branch agent in the UVF had ordered the killing.

"I was dismissed as a crank," he recalls. "But who would lie about their child's death?

"The turning point came when I made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman in 2002.

"I can't thank Mrs O'Loan and her team enough. If justice is done, it will be down to them."

The Mount Vernon UVF has been responsible for a string of murders.

Mr McCord says: "I know everybody who was there when young Raymond died. I even know his last words.

"The man who actually killed him is a thug who is now in charge of the UVF in Mount Vernon."

Mr McCord makes no profession of sainthood, but stresses that he has never been involved in paramilitarism.

He says his past trouble with the UDA stemmed from a fight with its Rathcoole boss John "Grug" Gregg - who was later murdered by supporters of Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair.

"I fought Gregg in a bar and he came off second best. He lost face over it, so my family and I were targeted."

It's thought this harassment led Raymond jnr to protect himself by keeping company with UVF elements. The association would cost him his life.

He was caught driving a car containing cannabis off a boat at Belfast harbour. The consignment, says Mr McCord, was for a senior Mount Vernon UVF man who was also a police informer.

"He ordered my son's murder to cover up his own involvement in drugs."

Raymond Jnr's body was found in Ballyduff quarry, Newtownabbey on Remembrance Sunday in 1997.

"I can remember police coming to my door at teatime that Sunday night. They just told me and left within a few minutes."

Despite his intense campaign, Mr McCord says it does not occupy his every waking hour.

"If you let it consume your life, you would have a breakdown," he states.

He is close to his other children - Raymond's two brothers - and speaks warmly about their mother, his ex-wife.

"She's been a good mother to my sons.

"Any father would be proud of my three sons. Raymond's brothers know I am going to get justice for him."

Mr McCord says Raymond jnr was a "quiet lad".

He adds: "There was never any hassle from him growing up. He was like any kid - I'm not saying he was an angel, but I never saw him drunk once and I never heard him swear.

"He liked clothes and going out with his mates.

"We were very close. I could do no wrong in his eyes."

Mr McCord believes the Ombudsman's report will represent a landmark victory. He also hopes it will reduce the death threats that have stopped him living a normal life.

"The report will prove that what I have been saying all along was true. Why would ordinary UVF men want to kill me after that?"

He also says: "It will be hectic when the report comes out. I hope to take a wee break somewhere afterwards.

"But there will still be a lot to do. There will have to be a public inquiry. Agents of the state - people being run by the security forces - have killed people and been allowed to get away with it."

Mr McCord says friends have warned him in the past that the odds on him surviving were not good, given the UVF's manpower.

But he adds: "I would rather be a man who fought for his son than a man who hid in the corner and did nothing.

"I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I did everything I could to get justice for my son."

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Soccer link to Bobby Sands

By David Gordon

The paths of Raymond McCord and Bobby Sands crossed in the 1ate 1960s thanks to an acclaimed cross-community youth football team called Star of the Sea.

They both spent part of their early lives in Rathcoole, in the days when it was still a mixed estate.

Bobby Sands went on to lead the IRA's 1981 hunger strike in the H-Block after being elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Mr McCord, a Protestant and a unionist, has been in the public eye for almost a decade for his campaign to expose his son's UVF killers.

"Bobby Sands was a full back for Star of the Sea and I was a centre half," he says.

"Two other guys in the team ended up doing time for UVF terrorism."

"Bobby Sands married a girl who had lived a few doors down from me in Rathcoole."

A documentary about the Star of the Sea team helped inspire a West End musical, The Beautiful Game, penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton.

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