Five things we know about the Shankill Butchers

Stephen Nolan’s show ‘Shankill Butchers’ on BBC last night didn’t so much bring fresh revelations about that loyalist 1970s gang as confirm what most of us have been thinking for a long, long time. Five things struck me while watching it.

1. The Shankill Butchers were terrorists. That might seem obvious when the word is used so frequently about people actively involved in what was a small-scale war during the time of the Troubles, but it helps to use words that are accurate. Some dictionaries will tell you that terrorism is the use of organised violence to secure political ends. That’s no use: all wars use organised violence to secure political ends. Other dictionaries talk about “an organised system of intimidation”: that’s nearer the mark. The defining characteristic of terrorism is that it deliberately attacks the civilian population in the hope that this will turn that population towards peace and/or surrender. By this description the Shankill Butchers were terrorists. They attacked, not the IRA or the INLA, but ordinary Belfast Catholics. The programme contended that they wanted to frighten the nationalist population into turning against the IRA and suing for peace under any terms.

2. The Shankill Butchers were cowards. As Nolan’s programme reminded us, every single one of their victims was isolated and defenceless, in a number of cases a bit drunk as well, and the Butchers always acted as a group when they abducted them. So several men against a single individual, late at night, with the victim as helpless as could be imagined. Cowardice personified.

3. The identity of the Shankill Butchers was widely known. Not to the RUC, according to former Chief Inspector Jimmy Nesbitt, but to journalists, lawyers and at least one-third of the Shankill population. And yet they were able to go on killing for a number of years.

4. The people of the Shankill were not simply intimidated into silence. That’s not to say they weren’t intimidated. As May Blood pointed out, if you didn’t want to set yourself up as the next victim, you closed your door and shut your mouth, which the people of the Shankill did. But the idea of a population who loathed the killers in their midst got shattered with the funeral accorded to at least one of them – Bobby ‘Basher’ Bates. Thousands of people lined the Shankill to pay their last respects to this shockingly cruel man.

5. The Shankill Butchers went beyond terrorism. In the brief descriptions given by Chief Inspector Nesbitt and by some relatives of the victims, in the pictures of the cleavers and boning knives they used, in the description of the torture meted out to one man who survived, it was obvious that these men hated nationalists/Catholics with a visceral, irrational, brutish hatred which went beyond mere terrorism.

There aren’t many programmes about the Troubles that make me feel like throwing up but this was one of them. When we were shown a clip of the car riddled with bullets in which Master Butcher Lenny Murphy died in 1982, it was hard not to think that, compared to his victims, he got off lightly.

34 Responses to Five things we know about the Shankill Butchers

  1. Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    “There aren’t many programmes about the Troubles that make you feel like throwing up”

    Speak for yourself

  2. Fitzjames Horse March 29, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    I taped the programme but have yet to watch it. I was a young man of 23 in West Belfast when the Butchers started. In the mid 1970s it was the nightmare scenario. An element of personal grief as I knew a victim but mostly a sense that I did not want to remember the fear or let my wife see it in my eyes. “It takes a brave man to admit hes a coward”

    • Anonymous July 1, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

      what programe

  3. Jude Collins March 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Good point, Anon. I’ll amend immediately – many thanks.

    • Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 12:26 am #

      This is well out of date,i have posted a comment on 29 june 2012.
      All i can say is i wish you well and your a brave man.
      All the best,i wish you could e mail me bk,i would be intresting to here from you.
      May be sum other topic x
      I will check if you have a book out,tell then.
      i will close with you ar a man.

    • Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 2:31 am #

      this is the 2 of july and im not being funny,i have tryed to go on google,for the past hour,with no result.
      I did not no that you ar a priest lol.
      And im talking about looking up,for your book.
      I wanted to e mail you,with my thoughts.
      But if i ever get my e mail,to you,i no i will get the answers,im looking for.
      just reading quick,When you come to th end of your days,what youll regret is not what youve done,but what you dint do.And that is true,i would love to talk to you more.
      And hope i can fix the google out.
      All my love to you,and you no im not a Catholic.
      And hope you will still give me hope.

    • Anonymous October 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      is there any chance you maybe one of those type of people who take great pride in bringing to the fore protestant wrong doings and yet forget the butcher of the shankill innocents the la mon bombing .the kingsmill slaughter.the list is endless to those with selective memory

  4. Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    You cannot help thinking they might have got away with it all if Mr McLaverty had not survived.

    • Anonymous July 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      very true,and i think they would have.

  5. Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Was Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne founder member of the SAS not Lenny Murphy’s role model. Mayne is reported to have single handedly knifed 17 sentries to death.

  6. Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    The identities of the IRA leaders were widely known. Not only to the RUC but to journalists, lawyers and at least 30% of the population. And yet they were able to go on killing for 30 years.

  7. Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    I remember the fear as a child living on the Cliftonville Road and knowing four of the victims. But what sickens me now is the way IRA supporters somehow feel morally superior because there were no Falls Butchers. They were too busy planting bombs under cars and in hotels – plenty killed and you don’t get your hands dirty.

  8. hoboroad March 30, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Patrick Liam Benstead a 32 year old retarded catholic tortured by the UDA. The inquest into his murder heard a cross had been burned on his back with the letters IRA beside it. His hands and feet had been burned and he had been severely beaten before being shot.

    • Anonymous October 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      patsy benstead lived a few streets away from me it was awful for his family to have that much hate in you to do that must be a lot to live with we should all learn a lesson

  9. Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    During ww2 my mother was a bomb maker in England. I think it caused her regrets, she would tell me some of the actual bombers would try to avoid civilian casualties. I don’t think so as the targets were civillian. The bombers were called terrorists then but I’m sure they didn’t think they were.

  10. hoboroad March 30, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    You always here from Unionist politicans that the IRA never apologized for Bloody Friday except they did.

  11. Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    And the 6th thing we know about the Shankill Butchers: that the big fish, i.e. Lenny Murphy’s older brothers William and John, escaped, while most (but not all) of the foot-soldiers went to prison. Bill.

    • Anonymous June 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      i have bean checking and watch a move resurrection man,and to my mind one has got away.
      i feel for the women that her father was one of there victims,and agree with her.
      they could have got them,quicker if they wanted.
      i watched her on youtube,and have checked up on loads of things related to this.
      and one wonders how they all got away with things.
      Inside information,and the ones still going untouched.

  12. Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    The neck of the IRA – “It will not be achieved by creating a hierarchy of victims in which some are deemed more or less worthy than others.”

    This in a statement in which they apologise only for the deaths (not murder mind you, all an accident really, nothing to see here – we planted 20 bombs but didn’t mean any harm really) of “non-combatants”.

    Presumably they don’t apologise for kiling cleaners in police stations or census collectors.

  13. Anonymous March 31, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    Did the RAF bombing of Bagdad cause you any concern? No one went to jail for those no warning bomings

  14. hoboroad March 31, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    It is therefore appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us.

    We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families.

    It looks like an apology to me it even has the words sincere apologies and condolences in it.
    And the words caused by us means they are taking responsibility for their actions.

  15. Anonymous March 31, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    One reason for supposing that Paisley and his supporters condone terrorism is that they have been unusually willing to conduct funerals for loyalist terrorists. William McCrea and Ivan Foster conducted funerals for Wesley Somerville and Horace Boyle, members of the notorious Portadown UVF cell led by Robin Jackson. Foster gave a graveside oration for Sinclair Johnston, a Larne UVF shot by the RUC during rioting in 1972. McCrea buried Benjamin Redfern, a UDA lifer who was crushed by a bin lorry while trying to escape from the Maze prison. Robert ‘Basher’ Bates, convicted of a number of vicious murders committed by Lenny Murphy’s ‘Shankill Butchers’ gang, was murdered by a loyalist in June 1997 and was buried by Free Presbyterian minister Alan Smylie. Smylie had come to know Bates through his prison chaplaincy work in the Maze. Roy Metcalfe, a Lurgan businessman who sold army surplus clothing and loyalist memorabilia, was murdered by the IRA in October 1989, purportedly because he was active in Ulster Resistance and the UVF. He was buried by Free Presbyterian minister David Creane. Revd David McIlveen buried UDA man Raymond Elder in 1994. When Billy Wright, the UVF man who founded the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Front was buried, the Reverend John Gray conducted a short service outside his home.

  16. Anonymous April 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Hoboroad – the apology only extends to “non-combatants”. My point was the neck of the IRA in condemning the notion of hierarchy of victims within a statement which establishes such a hierarchy.

  17. Anonymous April 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    If a picture speaks a thousand words then the photograph that appeared in yesterdays Sunday Life must really tell a tale. Lenny Murphy is seen standing along side John Bunter Graham a man named in a Belfast court as the Brigadier-General of the UVF.

  18. Anonymous April 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    See Flickr for that pic.

  19. Anonymous April 8, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Here you go.

  20. yulumule April 21, 2011 at 4:48 am #

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  21. Anonymous September 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Didnt really like the documentary that Steven Nolan done on the Shankill Butchers. Watching it Jimmy Nesbbit looked so Guilty to me and i think Nolan could have said alot more to him for him to tell the truth that they the RUC did turn a blind eye to these Cowardless Bastards.

  22. Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    only saw this last night having sky +ed it, the comment about making you sick is apt as it pertains to my personal feelings. I have lived away from Belfast for a long time and as i get older my mind sometimes wanders to the thought of returning to retire. This was timely, it focussed my mind on the horror, Basher Bates funeral, the lady May from the Shankill, the lady trapped in her car while the Bates funeral went on, all reminded me that it is only a kind of peace and the horror is not that far away. My Mother came from the hammer so i used to be invested in the area but no not for me. The Shankill has a lot of decent people and always did but the bigotry seems to be soaked into the brickwork and it contaminates each succeeding generation. Finally having read the books, veiwed the film, and have an understanding of the people, i firmly believe that the RUC knew and Murphy was protected in the same way that Robin Jackson was.

  23. Crusher January 7, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    I wouldn’t compare the butcher gang with the ira, although the ira commited thousands more murders. The gang were murderers pure and simple and it didn’t always matter who their victims were, they killed at least 9 protestants as well.
    The IRA were more clinical about their murders, they attacked “British targets” which is actually a euphemism for anybody they felt like attacking and most of these “attacks” resulted in Deaths or as the law abiding people see it, MURDER. Too bad the Blair Govt never saw it the same way. As far as Murphy and bates being revered as “soldiers” turns my stomach. I for one could have destroyed any of them in less than 15 mins If either of them had had the courage to take the challenge.
    A British Soldier

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  25. Anonymous May 8, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    I knew some of the boys & some of the stuff written or said down the years has been total nonsense, ruthless yes, killers yes , out of control sometimes yes, but people need to put themselves in the time of their actions, catholic murder gangs were roaming around killing Protestants in the same way and the so called Butchers were a copycat of RC Murder gangs, MD even mentioned this in his book about the Protestant lad found on templemore avenue with his Balls in his mouth.

    The truth is Murder is Murder is Murder & its all wrong but how that Murder especially Political Murder evolved in Irish History is there from all to see, Pikes, Burning, Drowning, Bombs, Guns, Knives and whatever, it doesnt matter Murder is wrong but it happened and is still happening today, all the Shankill Butchers will tell you their actions were reactionary, they acted through frustraition that the IRA were getting away with their Murders of their community,their policy was if you kill one of our people we will kill one of yours, after bloody friday & bombings on the Shankill such as the Four Step Bar & the Bayardo Bar their violence went into overdrive they felt that they were defending or even fighting what was attacking them & thats the truth, again yes Murder is wrong, but their doesnt ever seem to be an Objective view from anyone who really knew the boys, argue you with that if you want but thats the truth.


  26. Anonymous September 12, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    The Shankill Butchers were allowed by the British state to do what they did. I lived in North Belfast from the start of their activity, (although their counterparts in the UVF/UDA were also carrying out similar gruesome killings as frequently, from much earlier and on a much wider geographical base, not that much differently). How could a black taxi with three or four killers tour around a few square miles of North Belfast in the dead of night on a regular basis, for years, without being intercepted! This is utterly ridiculous. The streets were deserted by 11pm, very very little vehicles on the Rd and yet they were allowed to do what they did with impunity. This was at at time in the 1970s, when the numbers of British Army,RUC, UDR were at their height, (especially in Belfast), numbering tens of thousands. There were numerous police barracks all around north Belfast and army bases, yet these psychopaths were quite easily driving around for YEARS, on their killing sprees. If a car full of armed republicans was driving around under similar circumstances in North Belfast, how many days or weeks would they have lasted before being taken out in a hail of bullets by British army/police? From one who lived there and knew of some of the victims and felt the fear of those times, I ask this question to anyone brave enough to answer it, including the RUC detective Jimmy Nesbitt.

  27. Anonymous October 17, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    the butchers were a government made killing squad that got out of hand