Who are the Loyalist Volunteer Force?

Billy Wright Billy Wright set up the Loyalist Volunteer Force

The LVF or Loyalist Volunteer Force is a Protestant paramilitary group in Northern Ireland, whose history is dominated by its former leader Billy Wright.

It was formed in a split from the much larger Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1996.

Wright, who was the UVF's commander in Mid-Ulster, disagreed with the UVF's leadership after it had declared a ceasefire in 1994.

In July 1996, when tensions at the Drumcree stand-off outside Portadown were at their height, some UVF members loyal to Wright murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick in Lurgan.

The UVF leadership is believed to have regarded this as the final straw and Wright was expelled from the UVF and ordered to leave Northern Ireland.

Confident of his own power base in and around his hometown of Portadown, Wright set up his own militia, calling it the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

Billy Wright and DUP MP William McCrea DUP MP William McCrea shared a platform with Billy Wright

It was around this time that the DUP MP Rev William McCrea shared a platform with Wright at a rally in support of the terror boss.

In January 1997, Wright was jailed for threatening to kill a woman if she gave evidence against a number of LVF members.

Murder

Despite its leader's imprisonment, the LVF continued with its campaign of murder and terror, primarily against Catholic civilians.

In December 1997, Wright was shot dead by three Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) men as the 37-year-old was being transported within the Maze prison.

That night, the LVF killed a Catholic doorman at a hotel outside Dungannon in County Tyrone.

Over the following months, it murdered several other people including Phillip Allen and Damien Trainor in Poyntzpass, County Armagh.

The two friends, one a Protestant, the other a Catholic, died after gunmen opened fire on customers at the Railway Bar in Poyntzpass.

In May 1998, the LVF called a ceasefire and urged people to vote no in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

Then, towards the end of the same year, even though it had no political wing and no clear political agenda, the LVF became the first paramilitary group in Northern Ireland to decommission any weapons.

Billy Wright and Mark Fulton Billy Wright's successor as LVF leader, Mark Fulton (right), was found hanged in prison

However, the gesture was largely dismissed as meaningless - the guns it handed in for destruction were old, and formed only a small part of of its arsenal.

In 1999, a feud broke out between the LVF and the UVF. Several people were killed, including UVF commander and Portadown businessman Richard Jameson in January 2000.

Wright's successor as LVF leader, Mark Fulton, was found hanged in Maghaberry prison in 2002. He is believed to have taken his own life.

Another feud with the UVF occurred in the summer of 2005, with it being rumoured that the UVF wanted to wipe out its smaller rival once and for all.

Four LVF members were killed.

Within hours of the news that this latest feud between the LVF and UVF was over, the LVF issued a statement that it was standing down its "military units" in response to a similar move made by the IRA over the course of summer 2005.

Few took the statement at face value, and it is widely thought the LVF was forced to disband to secure the UVF's agreement to a truce.

Recent reports by Northern Ireland's Independent Monitoring Commission described the LVF as a "small" and "loose" association of people who used its name for criminal purposes.

"The crimes committed by those with historic links to the LVF included drug dealing and sporadic violence in pursuit of crime and the proceeds appeared to be for personal gain rather than for the organisation," read the commission's 20th report.

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