The East Antrim DUP MP said that “every arm of the state” must be brought to bear on the renegade wing of the group, whose members have just been found responsible for the long-unsolved murder of Mark Gourley.
Mr Wilson was speaking in the wake of an inquest into the death of Mr Gourley – nicknamed ‘Judge’ – who vanished without a trace 12 years ago.
Gourley had been a UDA member himself, but later descended into a drug-fuelled spiral of insanity; for instance, in the lead-up to his kidnap, he had been seen walking around barefoot and kept talking to an uncle who wasn’t there.
His body has never been found.
Rumours have circulated for years in his hometown of Carrickfergus, with some people speculating he had been buried in Woodburn Forest.
Even though there was no corpse the inquest into his death still went ahead, and the findings – received by the News Letter late last week – state that he was killed by paramilitaries, and his body dumped at sea.
Mr Wilson voiced frustration that the gang responsible is still active and that its members “seem to be exempt from police action”, adding that this “shouldn’t be allowed to continue”.
‘DEAL WITH THIS GANG OR EXPECT MORE VICTIMS’:
Whilst most inquest findings are quite simple and short, setting out only the bare basics of an individual’s death, the findings in the Gourley case run to a full eight pages, and reveal a world of danger, dope, and despair in which the murder victim had existed.
The South East Antrim UDA’s powerbase stretches from north Belfast to Larne, with some members in Newtownards too.
Due to an internal feud, this wing of the UDA has long been seen as separate from the main body of the organisation, headquartered in south Belfast.
Despite police efforts (which have included help from the National Crime Agency, the UK version of the FBI) the faction remains active, and has killed several people in recent years.
Most recently members beat to death Glenn Quinn, a terminally-ill 47-year-old with no known paramilitary involvement, in his Carrick home in January 2020.
Mr Wilson – who has represented East Antrim in Parliament for 16 years – said it is “well-known of course that paramilitary groups have been involved in drug-dealing and loan-sharking”, meting out beatings to anyone who “falls foul” of the organisation.
“The people who are most likely to be targeted by these individuals are vulnerable,” he said.
“Every arm of the state must be used to rid society of such people, whether that’s surveillance, going into detail into their means of support and how they justify their (in many cases) expensive living – whatever means have to be used.
“Otherwise we expect more victims like those.”
He dubbed such groups “evil”, adding: “I sometimes get surprised at how clear some of the evidence it against some of them, yet they seem to be able to walk away.”
This could be down to an “inept legal system” he suggested, or “slack” punishments when members do sometimes get caught.
“We’ve heard these promises before: ‘we’re going to bear down on them’, and everything else.
“But it doesn’t seem to change much. The same people seem to be popping up time and time again.
“It does cause a great deal of despair for people who have to live in those vulnerable areas.
“I canvass these areas; 90% of the people are decent hard-working individuals who live in the shadow of this kind of gangsterism.
“It shouldn’t be allowed to continue.”
He added that “if the Americans could get rid of Al Capone and his network in the 1930s,” then with the benefit of modern technology it must surely be possible for the PSNI to “deal with these people” – whether it be Provos in south Armagh, or the paramilitaries of east Antrim.
DRUGS, DEBT, FALSE ALLEGATIONS – AND A DESCENT INTO MADNESS:
The inquest file says that Mark Gourley (sometimes called Marcus) had lived in Carnhill Walk, Carrickfergus.
It is part of the little Castlemara estate, which has a heavy UDA presence.
The coroner goes on to state that members of Mr Gourley’s family had been put out of the estate in November 2008.
According to Mr Gourley’s parents, he was on medication for schizophrenia, suffered hallucinations, and during his final days of life he could be heard trying to talk to an uncle who had been dead for two years.
Mr Gourley was aged 36. He had harmed himself in the past, and had also attempted suicide.
He also took illegal drugs on a daily basis according to those who knew him – mainly cannabis during the week, ecstasy at the weekend.
This was financed by borrowing cash from local moneylenders, leaving him in debt.
At one point the inquest file states that when a friend saw him in the lead-up to his disappearance, he had “a substantial number of ecstasy tablets with him, approximately 50-60, although this was not unusual”.
In the days before he vanished, he kept telling people that he needed to find his shoes.
Wandering about in confusion, he had gone house to house in his neighbourhood, waking people up in the middle of the night to look for them.
This had riled up some residents against him.
A detective told the inquest that “the deceased had been a member of the South East Antrim UDA in the 1990s, [but] due to the deceased’s mental health problems police believed he would not have been considered an active UDA member at the time of his disappearance”.
On March 7, 2009, the day after his delusional late-night shoe search, Mr Gourley was reported missing by his mother.
The police had intelligence suggesting that he was forcibly disappeared “because he had been causing problems for the UDA”.
In his summing up, the coroner found at the time Mr Gourley was abducted he was in the grip of a “mental health crisis,” and that he “had confronted a named individual the week prior to his disappearance threatening to disclose information relating to the UDA”.
A rumour had been started in the area that Mr Gourley was a “child molester” – but the coroner insisted this allegation was “completely without foundation”.
Sammy Wilson said that gangsters often made false claims about their victims, trying to “blacken” their name by calling them a “pervert”.
“They’re very good at doing this – covering up their own sordid activities by pointing the finger at others and trying to make out they were bad people, and somehow or other these ‘enlightened’ gangsters were freeing society from some corrupt individual,” he said.
Ultimately the coroner made this ruling: “I find that the deceased met his death on a date between March 7 and 10, 2009, and that he was killed by members of a paramilitary organisation...
“I further find that his body has been disposed of at sea.”
The exact reason for his killing still remains unknown, although it could well be a combination of all of the above motives.
No-one has ever been charged with his death.
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