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'gun fanatic' Man who reactivated gun used in Sean Graham bookies massacre took own life 'out of guilt'

After Bell died, a search of his home uncovered 70 firearms and significant ammunition

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Scene of the 1992 shootings at Sean Graham bookies on the Ormeau Road

Scene of the 1992 shootings at Sean Graham bookies on the Ormeau Road

Scene of the 1992 shootings at Sean Graham bookies on the Ormeau Road

The man who reactivated one of the weapons used in the Sean Graham bookmaker massacre took his own life out of guilt at having repaired guns deployed in dozens of murders, loyalist sources have claimed.

Billy Bell was found with a single gunshot wound to his head in his Ballysillan home in north Belfast in October 2008.

Searches of the property uncovered 70 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

A second search of a paintballing centre he owned in Crumlin resulted in a number of reactivated weapons being recovered.

In total, more than 80 guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition were found by police.

At the time, it was claimed Bell had taken his own life because he had terminal cancer, but sources have said he could no longer live with the guilt of knowing that weapons he had reactivated had been used in dozens of murders and attempted murders, including the four men and 15-year-old boy shot dead in the 1992 Ormeau Road bookies attack.

On Tuesday, the Police Ombudsman released the findings of an investigation into a series of killings by the South Belfast UDA which found evidence of “collusive behaviours” by RUC Special Branch.

The Browning 9mm pistol used by one of the loyalist gunmen in the Sean Graham attack had been handed back to UDA police informer William Stobie by his RUC handler.

The Police Ombudsman did not name Stobie, referring to him as Person I, in her report into the atrocity.

Stobie was murdered by the UDA in December 2001.

The Browning pistol was also used in the killing of Aidan Wallace (22) in the Devenish Arms bar on Finaghy Road North in December 1991. An eight-year-old child was shot in the head and lost an eye in the same attack.

A gun used to murder 22-year-old Martin Moran was also reactivated by Bell. Mr Moran was shot in October 1993 as he was delivering a Chinese takeaway meal. He had taken the job for extra money after his partner had given birth to their first child five weeks earlier.

The ombudsman said the Webley revolver used to murder him had been made inoperable, but that “under circumstances that cannot be established”, it had been reactivated. The weapon was later recovered from a house in the Rathcoole Estate.

One of the guns used to kill mother-of-two Theresa Clinton in 1994 is also believed to have been reactivated by Bell.

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The 9mm Sterling sub-machine gun, which had no previous history, had been certified as inoperable.

The ombudsman was unable to establish how it came to be reactivated and in the possession of the UDA, but loyalist sources said Bell repaired it and dozens of similar weapons for both the UDA and UVF.

The weapon was recovered by police the day after Mrs Clinton’s murder, during a search in the Annadale Embankment area of south Belfast.

Another gun used in the murder of the south Belfast woman was an RUC personal protection weapon that had been reported stolen.

In her report, ombudsman Marie Anderson found that deactivating weapons and returning them to paramilitaries was a common practice.

“Covert operations, involving the deactivation of weapons for the purposes of frustrating major crime, can be an effective policing strategy if accompanied by proper control mechanisms,” she said.

“However, the policing activities relevant to this investigation were fraught with significant risks.

“It is my view that the most significant one was the unreliability of Person I, his questionable motives, and the known technical knowledge of weapons within the UDA/UFF.

“It is also my view that the police planning and contingencies that accompanied this operation were absent.”

While Bell was linked to the UVF, at the time of his death, the terror gang denied that it had anything to do with his arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

According to sources, he had been reactivating weapons for the UDA and UVF for decades.

Bell, who shot himself with an illegally held gun, was an expert described by those who knew him as a “gun fanatic” who could convert deactivated weapons intended for use as collector’s items into functioning firearms.

His skills were in demand during the 1980s and 1990s, with reactivated weapons used in dozens of murders.

Sources said that during the UDA and UVF decommissioning process, dozens of weapons that had been reactivated by Bell were handed over to General John de Chastelain’s team.

The UVF decommissioned in 2009, the year after he took his own life.

After the 1994 loyalist ceasefires, Bell continued to reactivate guns that had been certified as inoperable, selling them on to criminals for a huge profit.

He also bought and sold former military vehicles, storing them at his paintballing centre in Crumlin.The man who reactivated one of the weapons used in the Sean Graham bookmaker massacre took his own life out of guilt at having repaired guns deployed in dozens of murders, loyalist sources have claimed.

Billy Bell was found with a single gunshot wound to his head in his Ballysillan home in north Belfast in October 2008.

Searches of the property uncovered 70 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

A second search of a paintballing centre he owned in Crumlin resulted in a number of reactivated weapons being recovered.

In total, more than 80 guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition were found by police.

At the time, it was claimed Bell had taken his own life because he had terminal cancer, but sources have said he could no longer live with the guilt of knowing that weapons he had reactivated had been used in dozens of murders and attempted murders, including the four men and 15-year-old boy shot dead in the 1992 Ormeau Road bookies attack.

On Tuesday, the Police Ombudsman released the findings of an investigation into a series of killings by the South Belfast UDA which found evidence of “collusive behaviours” by RUC Special Branch.

The Browning 9mm pistol used by one of the loyalist gunmen in the Sean Graham attack had been handed back to UDA police informer William Stobie by his RUC handler.

The Police Ombudsman did not name Stobie, referring to him as Person I, in her report into the atrocity.

Stobie was murdered by the UDA in December 2001.

The Browning pistol was also used in the killing of Aidan Wallace (22) in the Devenish Arms bar on Finaghy Road North in December 1991. An eight-year-old child was shot in the head and lost an eye in the same attack.

A gun used to murder 22-year-old Martin Moran was also reactivated by Bell. Mr Moran was shot in October 1993 as he was delivering a Chinese takeaway meal. He had taken the job for extra money after his partner had given birth to their first child five weeks earlier.

The ombudsman said the Webley revolver used to murder him had been made inoperable, but that “under circumstances that cannot be established”, it had been reactivated. The weapon was later recovered from a house in the Rathcoole Estate.

One of the guns used to kill mother-of-two Theresa Clinton in 1994 is also believed to have been reactivated by Bell.

The 9mm Sterling sub-machine gun, which had no previous history, had been certified as inoperable.

The ombudsman was unable to establish how it came to be reactivated and in the possession of the UDA, but loyalist sources said Bell repaired it and dozens of similar weapons for both the UDA and UVF.

The weapon was recovered by police the day after Mrs Clinton’s murder, during a search in the Annadale Embankment area of south Belfast.

Another gun used in the murder of the south Belfast woman was an RUC personal protection weapon that had been reported stolen.

In her report, ombudsman Marie Anderson found that deactivating weapons and returning them to paramilitaries was a common practice.

“Covert operations, involving the deactivation of weapons for the purposes of frustrating major crime, can be an effective policing strategy if accompanied by proper control mechanisms,” she said.

“However, the policing activities relevant to this investigation were fraught with significant risks.

“It is my view that the most significant one was the unreliability of Person I, his questionable motives, and the known technical knowledge of weapons within the UDA/UFF.

“It is also my view that the police planning and contingencies that accompanied this operation were absent.”

While Bell was linked to the UVF, at the time of his death, the terror gang denied that it had anything to do with his arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

According to sources, he had been reactivating weapons for the UDA and UVF for decades.

Bell, who shot himself with an illegally held gun, was an expert described by those who knew him as a “gun fanatic” who could convert deactivated weapons intended for use as collector’s items into functioning firearms.

His skills were in demand during the 1980s and 1990s, with reactivated weapons used in dozens of murders.

Sources said that during the UDA and UVF decommissioning process, dozens of weapons that had been reactivated by Bell were handed over to General John de Chastelain’s team.

The UVF decommissioned in 2009, the year after he took his own life.

After the 1994 loyalist ceasefires, Bell continued to reactivate guns that had been certified as inoperable, selling them on to criminals for a huge profit.

He also bought and sold former military vehicles, storing them at his paintballing centre in Crumlin.

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