brutal killing | 

Former UDA killer calls on Unionist leaders to stop sabre rattling over the Brexit protocol

I was listening to the news a couple of weeks ago to one of the unionist leaders and I just sat and said to myself I was listening to that 50 years ago’

Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood says the same sectarian arguments which led him into the paramilitaries are being used now.

A former UDA killer has called on Unionist leaders to stop sabre rattling over the Brexit protocol. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood now a community worker says he has to live with the murder he committed as a 17-year-old. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood pictured when in jail.

A former UDA killer has called on Unionist leaders to stop sabre rattling over the Brexit protocol. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood now a community worker says he has to live with the murder he committed as a 17-year-old. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood pictured when in jail.

A Child of The Troubles by Alex Calderwood

Sunday World

A former UDA killer has called on Unionist leaders to stop sabre rattling over the Brexit protocol.

Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood says the same sectarian arguments which led him into the paramilitaries are being used now.

But he believes ordinary people who suffered during the Troubles are unlikely to be led back to violence.

He’s become a community worker and says he has to live with the murder he committed as a 17-year-old. He beat Alexander Reid to death with a breeze block in a brutal killing in 1980. Now a committed Christian, he believes God led him to confess to the killing a year later, for which he served 13 years.

Alex has revealed what caused him to commit the senseless sectarian murder and join the UDA and UFF in his autobiography A Child of The Troubles, when the 1971 murders of three young Scottish soldiers sparked a hatred of Catholics.

A former UDA killer has called on Unionist leaders to stop sabre rattling over the Brexit protocol. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood now a community worker says he has to live with the murder he committed as a 17-year-old. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood pictured when in jail.

He says communities like his on the Lower Shankill will never go back to war, but public figures should be more measured in their language over the political stalemate about the protocol.

However, he feels the protocol is potentially damaging and says he stands with parties who oppose it.

“I was listening to the news a couple of weeks ago to one of the unionist leaders and I just sat and said to myself I was listening to that 50 years ago,” he says.

A former UDA killer has called on Unionist leaders to stop sabre rattling over the Brexit protocol. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood now a community worker says he has to live with the murder he committed as a 17-year-old. Alex ‘Oso’ Calderwood pictured when in jail.

“The language could be perceived as inflammatory for those, if I can say it, who are uneducated, because it just seems to be the same old rhetoric that they used years ago.”

Tensions over the protocol have risen in the last 12 months with an attack on a peace event attended by Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney, graffiti threatening war over the protocol claimed by the Protestant Action Force, and messages proclaiming ‘no to the Irish sea border’ appearing in loyalist areas.

On Thursday, the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) released a letter warning of ‘dire consequences’ if joint authority was imposed and stating Irish government ministers should not visit Northern Ireland. The LCC represents the UDA, UVF and RHC.

“There has been a lot of sabre rattling but from the way I see it most of the people who are doing the sabre rattling are the middle-class unionists who didn’t fight the war,” says Alex.

“It was the working-class people who fought the war and it was the working-class people who ended the war. So, they can sabre rattle all they want but people now are more astute and more educated than they were 30, 40 years ago so I don’t think they’re going to be as easily led.

“In my day, if you’d put a Union Jack on a donkey the people on the Shankill would have voted for it – but I don’t think that’s the case today.”

He says the constitutional arguments are masking the issues facing ordinary people, like the cost of living crisis and drugs deaths.

“Today there are more people dying in our communities than died during the Troubles and the big issue is drugs.

“For the sake of those who are freezing every night, who can’t put their heating on, can’t put their electric or gas on, and the people on hospital waiting lists, waiting for operations, for the sake of those people we need to sort something out for the betterment of all our community.”

Alex has been involved in cross-community and grassroots projects for years and has decided to tell his story in unflinching detail.

A Child of The Troubles by Alex Calderwood

He was thrown out of school at 11 and drifted into the clutch of paramilitaries. He tried to join the Army at 16, which refused to take him because he couldn’t read or write.

He had become a mascot for a local army regiment, running errands for the soldiers, and when three of the young squaddies were murdered he was devastated.

At the age of nine he asked who’d killed them, and learned about the IRA, which he then associated with Catholics.

“So, I grew up hating Roman Catholics and that’s the honesty about it because I don’t think I was politically aware. It was basically sectarianism at its heaviest.

“I joined the UDA when I was 16 years of age, in C Company with people like Bucky McCullough, Tucker Lyttle and Jimmy Craig.

“For me, when I joined the paramilitaries it was like becoming part of a bigger family and it was your new identity. It was me coming of age.”

By 17 he was a cold-blooded killer, taking Alexander Reid’s life when the 21-year-old and his friend were dragged from a taxi on the Shankill Road by a mob who’d been told by a fellow passenger they were Catholics on their way to Ardoyne.

“I came across a group of men who had two Roman Catholics up against a wall and one of them asked me had I got a gun.

“I said no but I could get one. As he said that, one of the fellas ran away. I took the other fella and set myself up as judge, jury and executioner and took that young man’s life.

“When that happened, my life had changed forever.”

Four days later, he was in Hydebank Young Offenders’ Centre for an unrelated offence, spending six months in solitary confinement. It changed his life when he made his first Catholic friend and realised his sectarian preconceptions were based on a lie.

Three friends were wrongly jailed for the murder he’d committed, and Alex later cleared their names when he admitted to the killing.

During his 13-year sentence he took part in the 1981 loyalist rooftop protest at Crumlin Road jail when four prison officers and 13 IRA inmates were taken hostage, but by 1987 he’d asked to be taken off the paramilitary wings after finding his Christian faith.

After his release, Alex gained a degree in theology and a diploma in youth and community work from Ulster University through working with the Probation Board and met with a relative of his young victim through a project in north Belfast.

He moved to Manchester and worked the door at some of the biggest clubs there, including the Hacienda.

He married and had a daughter, now 25, and bought a pub, but it all came crashing down when he hit the drink after his dad’s death and the end of his marriage.

Alex was also put back behind bars when he was convicted of conspiracy to rob a snooker club in Bournemouth in 2009. He hopes to have that conviction referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

“I will fight that to the day I die. I don’t mind admitting something that I done but I’m not admitting something I didn’t do,” he says.

He believes the time is right to tell his story and explain how he came to take a man’s life. The former UDA man says legacy issues will be solved by people telling the truth.

“There are people who are victims who have lost loved ones and there are people who are victims of circumstances.

“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I have got to cope with what I’ve done. My faith is the thing that keeps me going today,” says Alex.

  • A Child of The Troubles by Alex Calderwood published by MWM is available now.


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