WATCH – IPLO murder 30 years on: Random Protestant victim Billy Sargent had survived Nazi machine gun attack only to be shot while having a pint

During 1944, William ‘Billy’ Sargent was battling through occupied Europe when his unit encountered a Nazi machine-gun position.

By Adam Kula
Thursday, 5th May 2022, 11:08 am
Updated Thursday, 5th May 2022, 12:10 pm

In the ensuing carnage, the north Belfast man was wounded in the knee, but survived – unlike some of his comrades.

Some 48 years later, he was a 66-year-old father of three enjoying a pint of Bass in his local pub when someone walked up behind him and shot him twice in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

Now one of his sons, Robert, has spoken out about the random gun attack exactly 30 years after it happened.

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PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE 92 637/92 MAY 1992 SCENE OF SHOOTING BY THE IPLO IN THE MOUNT INN IN TIGER'S BAY

One of the distinguishing things about the murder was that it marked the beginning of the end for the IPLO: the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation.

An offshoot of the INLA (which in turn had been an offshoot of the Official IRA), the IPLO dissolved into internal feuding shortly afterwards from which it never recovered.

The group is little remembered today; according to Ulster University’s Troubles death archive CAIN, it was behind 24 murders – a bodycount which was far eclipsed by the PIRA (over 1,700) and the INLA (over 110).

But if the gunman on the night of May 5 in 1992 had better aim, its death toll would have been higher still, Robert recalled.

A logo of a type sometimes used by the IPLO and its fellow travellers, and Billy Sargent pictured in his WWII uniform; 48 years later he was killed in a random tit-for-tat shooting

KILLER WITHOUT A MASK:

He said a taxi had been hijacked in the Cliftonville area, and the driver threatened that if he reported the car stolen his family would be hurt.

At about 9pm it was then driven to the Mount Inn pub in Tiger’s Bay, a loyalist-dominated district just across the road from the republican stronghold of the New Lodge.

“I spoke to two people who were in the bar,” Robert said.

Robert Sargent pictured today outside Carrickfergus Castle

“They said the guy just walked in with a baseball cap on, no mask, a bomber jacket on, and stood there.

“He pulled the zip down, and pulled out a revolver.”

The gunman fired several shots, killing his dad and wounding others.

Robert was 29 at the time, and was at home when he heard a knock.

Billy Sargent in his later years

He saw the silhouette of a man fiddling with his hat through the frosted glass of the front door.

It was an RUC officer, who went on to tell Robert his dad had been killed.

“I laughed at the policeman and told him to stop raking about,” recalled Robert.

Then he went down to the scene.

He wanted to look inside, but was advised not to because there was so much blood.

He was told that his father “never knew what hit him – it was lights out”.

The next day Robert went into the pub, stood on the same spot as his dad, and ordered a pint of Bass.

It was “a wee type of defiant thing”, he said.

But ever since then, despite passing the pub on a regular basis, he has been loathe to set foot inside again.

Billy had been a member of the Orange Order in his younger days, and worked as a security guard at an animal feeds depot before retiring.

During the war, he served with the Royal Ulster Rifles’ 2nd Battalion, then in the field came under command of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment.

He almost never spoke about his wartime ordeals and Robert thinks he may have had PTSD.

Following his murder, Robert said the family struggled to get any kind of recompense from the authorities.

Robert also believes the IPLO gunman himself was also later shot dead, as was the man thought to have ordered the attack, Gino Gallagher.

He is not sure what happened to the getaway driver.

“I have anger. It’s still there. I don’t think it will ever go away,” he said.

“But I’m not angry at nationalist communities or Roman Catholics. I’m angry at these terrorists.

“I don’t believe time is a great healer. We’ve all been scarred for the rest of our lives.

“Once that happened to our dad, part of us was murdered as well.”

FACTIONAL FIGHTING MADE IPLO OUTCASTS:

The IPLO killed its first victim on November 10, 1986: policeman Derek Patterson, aged 39.

According to the CAIN database, eight the 23 other people whom the IPLO murdered were fellow republican paramilitaries.

After Billy Sargent was shot in May 1992, the IPLO went on to kill another three people – all as part of its feud with the INLA.

The in-fighting was so bad that in October 1992 the IRA launched an offensive against the IPLO because it had become such an embarrassment, beating, shooting and exiling many of its members and affiliates.

The INLA itself continued to stagger on for years, wracked with ill-discipline and internal disputes, and continued killing fellow republicans well into the new millennium.

The group maintains a semblance of structure right up to today, and is a frequent target of PSNI organised crime detectives.

The IPLO claimed Billy Sargent had been “executed” in 1992 in retaliation for the UDA murder of Catholic civilian Philomena Hanna about a week earlier.

Robert said this is an “absurd” attempt at justification.

“They claimed to be trying to liberate the Irish people,” said Robert.

“How were they liberating the Irish people whenever they were running about shooting innocent pensioners who were only standing having a pint?”

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