Legacy of "Shankill Butchers" survives in Belfast memory
ALTHOUGH by no means one of Northern Ireland's most prolific killers. "Basher Bates gained an extraordinary degree of notoriety for his membership of the Shankill Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) unit which became known as the Shankill Butchers. The unit fully earned its name as it used butchering knives to mutilate and cut the throats of Catholics.
Between 1976 and 1978 the gang was probably responsible for the murders of 15 to 20 Catholics, mostly in north Belfast. Most of the victims were abducted by being dragged into cars and then taken to the Shankill Road where they were often tortured before having their throats cut.
The torture killings instilled a sense of fear that is still alive, particularly among the Catholic population of north Belfast. The horrible detail of the murders, graphically recounted in newspapers and books, has helped keep the Shankill Butchers' reputation fresh in many people's imagination.
Bates and his associates were largely out of control as the leadership of the UVF had collapsed by the mid-1970s. Their leader was an extremely violent sadist, Hugh Leonard "Lennie" Murphy, who started the throat-cutting, which was continued by his lieutenants, Bates and William Moore, after he was imprisoned on a firearms charge.
Aside from the sectarian torture murders, the gang also had a habit of becoming involved in violent rows with other loyalists in pubs and clubs on the Shankill Road, some inevitably leading to murder. Six of the murder charges brought against Bates concerned Protestants.
In January 1977 Bates and his friends killed a member of the rival loyalist paramilitary association, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), James Moorhead, at the Rumford Social Club, off the Shankill Road. Bates and two others clubbed and hacked Moorhead to death with a large spanner and carving knife during a row. None of the killers could later remember what caused the dispute or why it was decided to kill Moorhead. All involved had been drinking heavily.
After another row on the Shankill in November 1975 between UVF members led to two murders, a feud started that continued to flare up into serious violence for years after. The episode began when a UVF man, Archie Waller, shot dead a local man who was due to be kneecapped for a burglary at the home of an elderly local woman. The man due to be shot in the leg apparently panicked and tried to escape from his UVF abductors. Waller shot him in the back, killing him.
As the dead man had loyalist paramilitary connections it was decided to avenge his death, and Waller, a close associate of Bates and his gang, was shot dead. One of the men who shot Waller was Noel Shaw, an 18-year-old UVF member from the Shankill.
Shaw was, in his turn, abducted and taken to a UVF shebeen in Lawnbrook Street, on the Shankill Road. Bates took part in his abduction and beating. Finally Shaw, badly bruised, bleeding and tied to a chair on a stage in the middle of the cabaret room, was shot through the head in front of an audience of UVF members who had drawn up chairs to witness the execution at close hand.
Bates was present when Lennie Murphy abducted and killed a Catholic man in his 50s, Thomas Quinn, in February 1976. Bates told police that while he actively took part in abducting Quinn from a north Belfast street and beating him until he stopped struggling, it was Murphy who cut Quinn's throat. The wound in Quinn's throat extended inwards to the spine, almost severing the head from the body.
The other "Butcher" murder in which Bates admitted involvement was that of Francis Rice, who was abducted as he walked home along the lower Antrim Road, a stretch which became known as "Murder Mile", largely because of the activities of Bates and his accomplices.
On the evening of February 26th, 1976, Bates and three accomplices and two of their girlfriends dragged Francis Rice, a 24-year-old unemployed labourer, into a hackney cab, beat him unconscious and dumped him in an alleyway off the Shankill Road.
In the alleyway, Murphy set about Rice and cut his throat back to the spine. Bates recollected that in both these killings Murphy prevented his gang from actually beating their prisoner to death so the victim would still be alive while he was cutting his throat.
Bates also admitted being involved in the machine gunning of clients in the Clorane Bar, a Catholic-owned public house at Smithfield in June 1976. The bar had a mixed clientele, and when Bates and his fellow gunmen entered they ordered Protestants present to go to the back of the bar.
There had been sectarian attacks on public houses in Belfast since the early l970s, and the Clorane drinkers were clearly afraid the Protestants among them were being separated for assassination by republican gunmen. The Protestant drinkers, including one middle-aged man from the Shankill Road, did not separate quickly enough and were caught in the machine gun fire. Five middle-aged men were killed, three of them Protestants.
Bates was also involved in a machine gun attack on a builders' van on the Shankill Road in February 1976. The UVF gang, of which Bates was a member, wrongly believed the driver and helpers in the lorry were Catholics and decided to assassinate them. All the lorry crew were, in fact,
Protestants. Two men, Archie Hanna and Raymond Carlisle, were killed and two others injured.
After being sentenced to life imprisonment, with the recommendation that he be released only in the event of suffering a terminal illness, Bates "found the Lord" and converted to evangelical Protestantism.
He was baptised back into the faith by another Shankill loyalist, Kenny McClinton, in a bath at the Maze Prison shortly after his imprisonment. Loyalists say Bates never reverted to involvement in the UVF and on his release last year continued to keep to himself his main interest being the running of the prisoner rehabilitation centre at Ballygomartin, in a loyalist area of north-west Belfast.