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Loyalist mural ‘hero’ Joe Coggle shot dad dead as he said the Rosary, family reveal

The wall mural honouring Coggle and McClelland is part of a new initiative to commemorate UVF killers on Remembrance Sunday.

Joe Coggle mural on the Shankill Road

Reporter Hugh Jordon at the Joe Coggle and fellow UVF member Paul McClelland depicted in the new mural on the Shankill Road

Joe Coggle burning a flag in the Shankill

David Braniff

Joe Coogle funeral in Belfast

Sunday World

Loyalist ‘Hero’ Joe Coggle gunned down a dad of 13 as he said the Rosary, the Sunday World has learned.

After extensive investigations this week, we can reveal that 63-year-old David Braniff was shot dead by Coggle and his UVF accomplice Paul McClelland.

Brandishing two high-powered pistols, the pair fired a total of nine shots and all of them hit their target.

Yesterday, David Braniff’s son Tommy told us: “My dad didn’t stand a chance. He was shot dead saying his prayers.”

Still holding his Rosary beads, Mr Braniff died in his home as his distraught wife tried desperately to save him by spreading herself over his body.

David Braniff

Andlast week his killers – who are both now deceased – were commemorated on a new poppy-wreathed loyalist wall mural unveiled on Belfast’s Shankill Road.

It was completed just days before Remembrance Sunday.

The mural features Coggle – who died just two months ago – brandishing an AK47 assault rifle, while McClelland – who died a number of years ago – is seen cradling a Uzi-style machine-gun.

Above the UVF gunmen, the mural also shows a poppy wreath with the words: ‘UVF S Company 1969-2022 1st Battalion.’

They had both been part of two UVF killer teams based in the now demolished Four Step Inn on Belfast’s Shankill Road.

The wall mural honouring Coggle and McClelland is part of a new initiative to commemorate UVF killers on Remembrance Sunday.

But despite scouring the Shankill area this week, we failed to find a single mural marking the crimes of psycho-killer Lenny Murphy or any other members of the Shankill Butchers murder gang.

At the time of the Braniff murder, Coggle was 29 years of age, while Paul McClelland – who had been sexually abused in Kincora Boys Home – was a young man.

Their victim was gunned down in front of his wife Mary as they said the family Rosary with their daughter in their home in Alliance Avenue, Ardoyne.

A steel erector by trade, Mr Braniff had been born and brought up in staunchly Protestant Snugville Street off the Shankill.

But he had converted to Catholicism after meeting his wife Mary.

The couple were deeply committed to their faith and along with their large family, they regularly attended Mass in nearby Holy Cross Catholic Church. And each evening the Braniffs said the Rosary before going to bed.

On the evening of March 19, 1989 at exactly 10 minutes to nine, David and Mary Braniff and one of their daughters were deep in prayer when UVF terror twins Coggle and McClelland burst in brandishing handguns.

Mary and her daughter were filled with horror as the two-man killer gang fired without warning, hitting their loved one on the forehead, chest and arm.

And as Mary tried to save her husband by spreading herself over him, Coggle and McClelland continued to fire, hitting the father of 13 another six times.

Joe Coggle burning a flag in the Shankill

The car used by the UVF men had been stolen on the Shankill Road. And after the killing, it was abandoned in the nearby Woodvale area.

Another UVF man, who had played a relatively minor role in Mr Braniff’s murder, was later charged and convicted of involvement. He received a six-year prison sentence when he appeared in Belfast’s Crown Court.

A police officer told the court that while in custody, the defendant had repeatedly cried every time he thought of “the wee man saying his prayers”.

Yesterday, the Sunday World met members of the Braniff family and we revealed the identity of their father’s killers for the first time.

David Braniff’s son Tommy said his father’s murder had devastated the family, particularly his mother Mary who has since passed away.

As he cast an eye over family photographs, he said: “We don’t even have a picture of our father in the house. Perhaps there’s one somewhere, but it would be too sad to have it out.

“Our father and mother were deeply religious and the family Rosary in the house meant a lot to them,” he said. “He had absolutely no chance.”

Tommy Braniff also revealed the family home had been targeted by loyalist gunmen days before his father’s killers struck.

“The gunmen had tried to attack the house the previous weekend, but they had called on the Saturday night when no one was in.

“That’s why they came back on the following Sunday night. They were determined to kill,” he said.

Sunday Worldinvestigations this week also revealed a legally-held shotgun belonging to a man living close to the Braniffs had been seized by police two weeks before the murder.

And yesterday Tommy Braniff said his family has engaged the services of a top Belfast law firm as they are convinced there was police collusion in their father’s murder.

“I don’t want to go into detail at the moment, but we are determined to get to the truth about what happened. We are convinced there was police collusion,” he said.

The loss of their father wasn’t the only tragic event to hit the Braniff family during the Troubles.

On September 27, 1981, the body of David Braniff’s son Anthony was found in a laneway off Oddessa Street in the Falls area.

A 27-year-old married man who lived with his wife at Etna Drive in Ardoyne, Anthony had been shot by the IRA which claimed he had been operating as an informer inside the terror group.

Few people in Ardoyne believed the IRA claim. And in a powerful demonstration of defiance days later, Anthony Braniff’s five sisters carried his coffin.

At his graveside, a close relative told a huge turnout of mourners: “The people of Ardoyne have come here today in force and they don’t believe he was an informer.”

In a book Milestones in Murder published 20 years ago, this Sunday Worldreporter carried out an in-depth investigation into IRA informers operating in the Ardoyne area.

I discovered a rogue RUC officer had passed information to an IRA contact wrongly claiming Anthony Braniff was a police tout. And it was this misinformation IRA investigators used to build a case against him.

Reporter Hugh Jordon at the Joe Coggle and fellow UVF member Paul McClelland depicted in the new mural on the Shankill Road

A chapter in the book concluded there was no evidence to support the case that Anthony was an informer. And it also stated most senior IRA people in Ardoyne knew that to be the case.

Just over a year later – finally succumbing to relentless pressure from the Braniff family – the IRA publicly admitted Anthony wasn’t a police informer and he had been wrongly executed. Yesterday his brother Tommy said: “The information in the book helped us get the apology.”

Following Joe Coggle’s funeral two months ago, the Sunday World revealed the 62-year-old loyalist had previously killed a Catholic pensioner by driving a car at her when he was drunk.

Grandmother Elish Masterton was chatting with friends and family in the Beechmount area when Coggle mowed them down. and drove off. Mrs Masterson died in hospital the following day. Ms Masterton’s family claim Coggle drove at her deliberately and should have been charged with murder.

But when he appeared in court, Coggle was handed a mere 18-month sentence.

Sunday World investigations this week revealed that at the time, according to sources, Coggle’s unionist politician father, also Joe, had attempted to pressurise senior police officers over the case against his son.

And this week, Elish Masterton’s family expressed anger at her killer being permanently glorified in a poppy-wreathed mural on the Shankill.

Elish’s daughter-in-law Ann – who was with the grandmother when she was fatally injured – said the mural was “really hurtful”.

“Why should he go up on a wall when my mother-in-law died?” she demanded.

Coggle and his killer accomplice Paul McClelland were finally snared in an RUC undercover sting operation in 1991.

As they and two other heavily armed UVF men were on the way to shoot up a Catholic-owned bar in the Springfield Road area, their car was surrounded by officers from the Headquarters Mobile Support Unit.

Coggle and McClelland jumped from the vehicle with their hands in the air. And when a red dot from a police officer’s powerful machine-gun appeared on Coggle’s chest, he screamed: “Don’t shoot we’re Prods”.

When they appeared in court charged with conspiracy to murder, the UVF men received 18-year jail sentences.

After a long illness, Coggle succumbed to cancer in September.

Coggle was also known as a gangster who repeatedly demanded money from shopkeepers who were already paying protection money.

To the end, killer Joe Coggle remained committed to violence.

Last July he arrived in a wheelchair to light a 12th of July bonfire in Shankill area,

He defiantly stated: “If it takes violence to defeat the Protocol, then so be it!”

Later, he hurled a petrol bomb at a Sinn Féin united Ireland banner.

NOTE: This article originally incorrectly stated Paul McClelland was still a teenager when Mr David Braniff was murdered.

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