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UVF provide answers to bereaved family 50 years after west Belfast murder

A man whose father was killed by loyalist paramilitaries 50 years ago says he has secured the answers his family searched for – from the group which carried out the murder.

John Crawford, a father of nine, was killed in January 1974 at his furniture workshop in west Belfast.

It was unclear for many years who had killed him, with the Official IRA initially blamed as well as false allegations he had been behind two murders.

His son Paul has emphasised the importance of clearing his father’s name both in a Historical Enquiries Team report and an acknowledgement by the UVF that their information had been flawed.

John Crawford with his wife Eileen
John Crawford with his wife Eileen (Family handout/PA)

The UVF’s involvement became clear in 1977 when Raymond Glover, a man with UVF connections, confessed to involvement in the killing and was jailed.

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The Crawford family went through an inquest, a criminal trial, a Police Ombudsman report and an HET report.

However, Mr Crawford’s son Paul said he secured the answers his family wanted by talking to the UVF via interlocuter Winston Irvine.

The process started in 2016, and Mr Crawford worked with Mr Irvine to ask questions and receive answers as well as verifying what he was told.

One of those questions was around the family’s long-held belief that there had been collusion in the killing.

The report from the UVF said there had not been collusion in terms of there having been no joint enterprise involving other groups or agencies.

However, they said they now accept that the information they acted on was flawed.

The process, described by Queen’s University academic Professor Kieran McEvoy as “a first” for loyalism, is the subject of a new report.

Professor McEvoy said the closest comparison to the process is the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR), through which the IRA and INLA have provided information to help try to find the remains of the ‘disappeared’.

Northern Ireland Troubles
Paul Crawford (left) sits alongside Queens University Belfast professor Kieran McEvoy (right) at the launch of the report (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Crawford said the process with the UVF delivered “absolutely full answers and full resolution of what I was seeking”.

“My father was an innocent man who was brutally murdered in a sectarian assassination for which no organisation ever claimed responsibility,” he said.

“My mother Eileen, now deceased, told journalists immediately after the murder in 1974, ‘we want to know who did this and why it should happen to him’. Like many families who lost loved ones, that has remained our quest in the ensuing five decades.”

Paul blasted the original investigation as “poor” and that the brief inquest in 1974 merely confirmed the cause of death.

“One man, James Glover, was convicted in 1978 of the murder after he was arrested for something else and confessed to being involved in my father’s killing and several others.

“However, because he pleaded guilty at trial there was no cross examination and opportunity to learn anything further,” he said.

“A subsequent Police Ombudsman investigation, during the tenure of Al Hutchinson as ombudsman, was a complete waste of time.

Ian Jeffers
Victims Commissioner Ian Jeffers praised Paul Crawford (Liam McBurney/PA)

“A Historical Enquiries Team report confirmed that my father was an innocent man but that determination was undermined by the fact that one of the original investigating RUC officers was dead and another refused to cooperate.

“After all of these processes, we still had many questions and I concluded that those questions could only be answered by the group responsible, the UVF.

“The process took a long time as it involved agreeing a set of ground rules, with me setting out clearly the information that I was seeking, including that I was not looking for the names of those involved, and then the information being relayed back and forward over many scores of meetings via the interlocutor.

“Ultimately, my family and I received answers to the questions we were seeking and a formal written acknowledgement of responsibility for the murder from the UVF.

“I do not believe in closure – my father was brutally and unjustifiably taken from us and that is a wound that will never heal – but as far as I am concerned this process has delivered absolutely full answers and full resolution of what I was seeking.”

Victims Commissioner Ian Jeffers commended what Mr Crawford has done as “tremendously brave”.

“From my point of view, it shows that with the right tenacity and the right approach you can get information – but the reality is leaving that up to the victim to do seems very, very cruel and that’s something we must address as a civil society,” he said.