February 6th, 1992


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Five men were shot dead in a Belfast bookie’s 20 years ago by the UDA, which claimed the attack was in retaliation for an IRA bomb which had killed eight Protestant workmen three weeks earlier. Gerry Moriarty spoke to survivors and witnesses. – JOE JOYCE

THE PUNTERS in Seán Graham’s betting office on the Ormeau Road in Belfast were trying to pick the winner of the 2.30pm three-mile hurdle from Ascot when two gunmen walked in and opened up indiscriminately with a rifle and a handgun.

Mr Paul Doran (56) had just walked into the shop to pick up a football coupon for Saturday’s matches and was caught in the gunfire, suffering wounds to his buttocks and foot. “The gunmen just wouldn’t stop shooting,” he told his son Jimmy from his Belfast City Hospital bed yesterday. “They just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. Everybody in the place was hit,” he said.

Jimmy Doran was relieved that his father suffered relatively minor injuries but he says he’ll never forget the horror of what he saw after he entered the shop to check on his condition.

“It was the worst I have ever seen. These men had nowhere to go to escape. The floor was covered with thick black blood . . . there wasn’t a sound. The police were shaking. The ambulance men were shaking. It was unbelievable.”

The scene was all too typical for Northern Ireland. RUC Land Rovers and army vehicles were at the scene; police officers and soldiers taking position on the Ormeau Road and neighbouring streets, ambulances ferrying the injured to hospital, the four people then known to be dead left temporarily in the betting office.

A local priest, the Rev Anthony McHugh, gave the last rites to the dying.

He said he and everyone else in the area was in a state of shock. Asked what he saw in the betting office, he said: “I saw too much horror, too much blood and death, too much for anyone in any one day. It was horrific.”

One of the survivors agreed: “It was like a butcher’s shop in there. There was blood everywhere. The place is absolutely riddled. They just came in and opened up on everybody. People were dividing for cover but they just couldn’t get out of the way. Nobody stood a chance,” he said.

Mr Alan Murray, the chief ambulance officer, said the situation in the shop after the shooting was one of “controlled chaos”. There were so many dead and injured that initially ambulance men had some difficulty getting them on to stretchers. There was no panic, but with so many lying on the floor of the office, and relatives trying to get in to check on the conditions of the victims, there was difficulty getting the situation organised.

One woman saw two men running from the office and crossing the road into a car on University Avenue, which sped away. She ran to the shop to be confronted by what she felt was an almost indescribable scene. “There were bodies lying everywhere,” she said.