October 23rd, 2014

Raymond McCord to stand down as victims campaigner

Northern IrelandBy Richard Sullivan
Raymond McCord
Raymond McCord

Raymond McCord is standing down as a victims campaigner.

The man who took on the UVF and won has revealed it’s time to stand down. 

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World the 60-year-old grandfather says ‘enough is enough’ as he prepares to rebuild what he describes as a ‘normal life.’

The north Belfast man has survived dozens of death threats, attempts on his life, and a 20 year hate campaign as he uncovered the murky world of security force collusion and championed victims’ rights.

In that time he has become the unofficial spokesman for victims and their families, a thorn in the side of politicians and paramilitaries alike.

It’s impossible to say how many lives he has saved, certainly it runs to the hundreds.

But it has come at a huge price. He freely admits his health has suffered, he has had dark days of depression, he can’t remember the last time he had an undisturbed night of sleep.

His family, sons Gareth and Glen and former wife Vivien, with whom he maintains a strong relationship, have lived under intense pressure since Raymond’s murder fearful for their own safety and that of McCord.

“The whole thing has put my family through the ringer, it’s been a long road for them, I owe it to them to step back.”

A recent development in which saw a UVF figure give a statement to the Police Ombudsman detailing his own involvement and that of others in the Raymond’s murder means there may be light at the end of a very long tunnel. He has decided to devote his energies to finally winning justice for his son.

“I go to bed with a headache and get up with one, it’s been like that for years,” he said.

“When I go home at night I’m on my own, I can’t relax, it’s there all the time and it has had a big impact on my health, I want to have a decent quality of life while I still can.”

It was a ‘career’ he hadn’t asked for until fate dealt him and his family the most cruel of hands. 

His son Raymond jnr, pictured right, who had left home for a career in the RAF was murdered by the UVF, lured to Ballyduff Quarry on the outskirts of Belfast he was bludgeoned to death.

The killing was the work of Mount Vernon UVF, ordered by local commander Mark Haddock, set up by Darren Moore who had been a friend to Raymond jnr, and carried out by Willie Young and John Bond – no-one has been convicted of the killing and all four were later unmasked as RUC informers, touts.

They had been protected by their police handlers. For McCord, dealing with his son’s murder was a fast learning curve.

“It didn’t take me long to realise there was no interest in solving Raymond’s murder,” he said.

 

“What I couldn’t believe was the depth of collusion in the police, how far they were prepared to go to protect people like Haddock and Young.”

 

Up to that point McCord had been an ordinary working class man, brought up on York Road and in the sprawling Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, he had a reputation as a hard man always ready to use his fists.

 

“I’ve dropped a few over the years, but that’s how it was then, that’s how you sorted disputes.”

Now he was thrust into the world of politics.

“The police were bad enough, don’t start me on politicians. Not one unionist politician came to Raymond’s funeral, not one came to express their sympathies, it was nine years before Ian 

Paisley agreed to see me and then it was only 10 minutes at Stormont.

“I spoke to David Trimble (then UUP leader) on the phone for three minutes, I rang his office to set up an appointment and I’m still waiting for them to come back to me.”

From the moment his son drew his last breath, McCord himself became a target for the UVF. 

He has lost count of the amount of times police have visited his home to inform him his life was under threat, he has escaped at least two serious attempts to kill him, a booby trap bomb planted under his car and one attempted abduction thanks to a friendly tip off from within the UVF.

“Just because someone is in the UVF doesn’t make them a bad person, I know lots of people in the organisation some of them are my friends, but I have never been tempted to join any of them, I have spent my life fighting them, standing up to them.

“I’m no angel, I’ve done a few things in my time but never a paramilitary, never.”

His campaign to expose his son’s killers became a magnet for the hundreds who have lost loved ones but found themselves without a voice, it was the first time victims and their families had come together as a cohesive ‘force’ and it was their pressure and lobbying that contributed to the publication of then Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report into Mount Vernon UVF.

It was the first official confirmation of what McCord had been saying for years – loyalist killers were being allowed to get away with murder because they worked for the police.

It still didn’t provoke unionist politicians who saw it was an attack on the RUC rather than an opportunity to support victims.

“The political parties talk a lot about victims and the past but don’t actually do anything about it, we don’t even have a Victims Commissioner at the moment, even after all this time victims don’t have a voice.”

McCord’s has been the one consistent voice. 

He has taken his message to the Capitol Hill, he has briefed American presidents, addressed the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis wearing his father’s sash and locked horns with a succession of Chief Constables and political leaders.

“Nobody ever asked the victims what they wanted, nobody ever spoke to the likes of Michael Gallagher who lost his son in the Omagh bomb about what was needed. There’s a decent, decent man who has done so much behind the scenes, why isn’t he being used?”

Four years ago in partnership with Paul McIlwaine who lost his son David to UVF killers in 2000 he formed HELP, a victims support group, within weeks they were inundated with work, and it wasn’t just dealing with the past, victims are still being created every week in Northern Ireland.

In recent years has spent much of his time negotiating on behalf of young people under threat from paramilitary groups over allegations of drug dealing and anti-social behaviour – and the calls come 24 hours a day.

“I’ve been blindfolded and taken to meetings with armed men, I’ve met republican and loyalist paramilitary leaders on behalf of people under threat of being shot or put out of the country. It’s a role I’ve fallen into, but if I didn’t do it what would happen to these young people? I really worry about that now that I’m stepping back.”

Even as he speaks to the Sunday World this week he’s contacted by a young man north Belfast under threat of being shot by dissident republicans.

“I’ve made promises to certain people that I will see their cases through, but I have to draw a line. I’ve got 550 case files at home, thousands who have contacted me or HELP over the years, there are people in those files who would be dead today had we not intervened, who’s going to help them now?”

When funding for HELP was withdrawn in 2012, McCord knew the clock was running down. 

“I’ve been thinking about this for some time. I want to spend time with my grandchildren, I’d love to be able to do normal things, go for a walk, go out for dinner without someone heckling me or threatening me.”

Any regrets?

“After Raymond was killed I was approached by the UVF with a message from [UVF commander] Bunter Graham to see what they could to settle everything. I told them give me Young, Haddock, Moore and Bond one by one and put us in a locked room and we’ll see who comes out.

“Either I don’t come out or they don’t, either way it would be over. He refused, he could have saved us both a lot of hassle.”