Brandon Sullivan & Winnie Woods 🔖team up to deconstruct the testimony of a former RUC member.


Part Two - From Sectarian Thuggery to Outright Terrorism

Armstrong wrote that although him and his colleagues knew who the IRA were, and that they would beat and torture them, they could never convict them. One wonders if this is because in Armstrong’s dysfunctional, abusive, sectarian mind-set, politically uninvolved nationalists were indistinguishable from IRA members. Later events lend credence to this theory. However, in the chapter with the misnomer title “The Terrorist Lawman” Armstrong acknowledges his decision to “throw his lot in with the Protestant terrorist organisation.” 

Armstrong, in common with many loyalist paramilitaries, described shooting up and bombing pubs in Catholic areas as “terrorising the terrorists.” In this case, Armstrong is claiming to have terrorised the South Armagh bridge of the IRA. Students of the Troubles will understand how inane this claim is. What is true, however, is that Armstrong and others terrorised law-abiding Catholic communities in Armagh. Anne Cadwallader in her detailed and meticulously researched book Lethal Allies noted that many of the politically uninvolved Catholic families targeted were aspirational, business-minded, often upwardly mobile people.

The instances of Armstrong seeking out Catholics to harass and beat up are simply too numerous to recount, and the obvious pride he takes in recounting his “Mickey hunting” makes a mockery of any claims to bona fide Christianity, except perhaps a version from many centuries previous. There is also a confusing claim of allowing a bomb to detonate in a Chinese take-away.

On p40 of his book, he openly admits to what would later be described as “collusive activities” which involved some senior RUC members saying to others that named, identified IRA men’s assassinations would result in investigations that were “far from exhaustive.” Interestingly, immediately after this, he noted that most Protestant terrorists confessed under little duress, and this contrasted with his “grudging respect” for the IRA men who stayed silent being put through the “wrack of mental and physical torture” meted out to them by him and how fellow RUC officers. Armstrong goes on to note his “hatred” for the RUC CID who secured convictions against loyalist paramilitaries. Former RUC officer and convicted murderer John Weir also claimed that senior RUC officers turned a blind eye to the criminal and terrorist actions of their junior ranks.

After a trip to New York in 1978 during which he and fellow RUC officers indulged in fighting, cocaine use, and hard drinking, he returned to his duties, whereupon shortly afterwards the South Armagh brigade attacked two RUC officers, one of whom was found dead, and the other confirmed missing. The missing man was Billy Turbitt, and was in fact already dead, but his body hadn’t been released. Using the modus operandi employed in the murder of pharmacist William Strathearn, Armstrong and another RUC officer decided to call upon a Catholic Priest pretending to be parishioners in need of assistance. They then kidnapped the elderly man, a former member of the RAF, with the intention of holding him hostage to secure the release of Mr Turbitt. Armstrong heeded Ian Paisley’s call to release the priest who was physically unharmed. Analysing Paisley’s motives for calling for Father Murphy’s release are outwith the remit of this review, but it could be a worthwhile exercise.

A fellow RUC officer named Willy in the book, and who may or may not be Billy “The Protestant Boy” McCaughey, named Armstrong as being part of the gang who kidnapped Father Murphy. Sergeant Armstrong finds himself in the Crum, where he quickly finds God, invents some bullshit reason about how he can be a man of God but still not confess to all of this crimes, and is ridiculed by the IRA’s commander in the Crum as “not being able to do his whack.” He’s also threatened by the IRA with assassination inside, which as we shall see, were not idle threats.

At his trial for kidnapping Father Murphy, Lord Lowry gave him a suspended sentence, taking into account his RUC record (which detailed numerous disciplinary infractions as well as citations), and his being a recipient of the Queen’s Gallantry medal. Lord Lowry was a complex figure, who the same year as giving Armstrong a suspended jail term, also freed Gerry Adams in court.

Armstrong describes his humiliation at having to sign on for the dole, and also details an IRA operation, which was foiled, aimed at assassinating him at the dole office. One of the would be assassins died at the hands of the security forces, and others are convicted. He doesn’t’ say who.

The parts of his book dealing with the religious conversion are so boring and far-fetched as to be virtually unreadable. But one part does stand out. He describes “being at the scene” of a gun and bomb attack on an unnamed bar (presumably the Rock Bar), where the bomb failed to explode: only the detonator goes off. This supposed man of God named this chapter “Unfulfilled Potential” and, offers up the failure of a bomb aimed at murdering civilians he was sworn to protect whilst breaking the laws he was paid to uphold as an analogy for the unfulfilled potential of those who could be “saved” by converting to his faith.

Armstrong was a member of the Elim church. The same one as former UVF man, and alleged mass-murderer, Alan Oliver. One doesn’t have to be a hater, harasser, and killer of Catholics to join the Elim church, but if you are, it doesn’t appear to be held against you.

A telling example of the sincerity of this low-life’s legacy and religious conversion is his stating that he has spoken to “almost all” denominations of Christianity about the importance of becoming saved.

One can guess at the group of Christians he hasn’t preached to.

As frequent readers of this blog know, I can often be found asking for nuance to be extended to the RUC. That this man, and many others, led a wide-ranging campaign of sectarianism, ranging from thuggery to torture to kidnapping, murder, and bombing is a damning indictment of the force. That it was decent, professional RUC officers who brought this wretched man to court is in some ways a blessed relief.

The difference in quality and content of their character, along with professional effectiveness and propriety could not be more striking.

The fortitude, integrity, dignity and humanity of the many survivors and relatives of those attacked by the likes of Armstrong stands in stark contrast to the boastful, immature, self-serving nature of the ridiculous but sinister author of this book. It is a slim book, full of the deluded beliefs of a man who in any other society would simply have been the drunken fool picking fights at the end of a night out.

Gary Armstrong, 1991, From Palace To Prison. Published by Freedom Publishing. ISBN-13:978-0947852849

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys. 

⏩ Winnie Woods is a recently retired housewife with an interest in human rights & politics.

Confessions of a Uniformed Ulster Bigot @ II

Brandon Sullivan & Winnie Woods 🔖team up to deconstruct the testimony of a former RUC member.


Part Two - From Sectarian Thuggery to Outright Terrorism

Armstrong wrote that although him and his colleagues knew who the IRA were, and that they would beat and torture them, they could never convict them. One wonders if this is because in Armstrong’s dysfunctional, abusive, sectarian mind-set, politically uninvolved nationalists were indistinguishable from IRA members. Later events lend credence to this theory. However, in the chapter with the misnomer title “The Terrorist Lawman” Armstrong acknowledges his decision to “throw his lot in with the Protestant terrorist organisation.” 

Armstrong, in common with many loyalist paramilitaries, described shooting up and bombing pubs in Catholic areas as “terrorising the terrorists.” In this case, Armstrong is claiming to have terrorised the South Armagh bridge of the IRA. Students of the Troubles will understand how inane this claim is. What is true, however, is that Armstrong and others terrorised law-abiding Catholic communities in Armagh. Anne Cadwallader in her detailed and meticulously researched book Lethal Allies noted that many of the politically uninvolved Catholic families targeted were aspirational, business-minded, often upwardly mobile people.

The instances of Armstrong seeking out Catholics to harass and beat up are simply too numerous to recount, and the obvious pride he takes in recounting his “Mickey hunting” makes a mockery of any claims to bona fide Christianity, except perhaps a version from many centuries previous. There is also a confusing claim of allowing a bomb to detonate in a Chinese take-away.

On p40 of his book, he openly admits to what would later be described as “collusive activities” which involved some senior RUC members saying to others that named, identified IRA men’s assassinations would result in investigations that were “far from exhaustive.” Interestingly, immediately after this, he noted that most Protestant terrorists confessed under little duress, and this contrasted with his “grudging respect” for the IRA men who stayed silent being put through the “wrack of mental and physical torture” meted out to them by him and how fellow RUC officers. Armstrong goes on to note his “hatred” for the RUC CID who secured convictions against loyalist paramilitaries. Former RUC officer and convicted murderer John Weir also claimed that senior RUC officers turned a blind eye to the criminal and terrorist actions of their junior ranks.

After a trip to New York in 1978 during which he and fellow RUC officers indulged in fighting, cocaine use, and hard drinking, he returned to his duties, whereupon shortly afterwards the South Armagh brigade attacked two RUC officers, one of whom was found dead, and the other confirmed missing. The missing man was Billy Turbitt, and was in fact already dead, but his body hadn’t been released. Using the modus operandi employed in the murder of pharmacist William Strathearn, Armstrong and another RUC officer decided to call upon a Catholic Priest pretending to be parishioners in need of assistance. They then kidnapped the elderly man, a former member of the RAF, with the intention of holding him hostage to secure the release of Mr Turbitt. Armstrong heeded Ian Paisley’s call to release the priest who was physically unharmed. Analysing Paisley’s motives for calling for Father Murphy’s release are outwith the remit of this review, but it could be a worthwhile exercise.

A fellow RUC officer named Willy in the book, and who may or may not be Billy “The Protestant Boy” McCaughey, named Armstrong as being part of the gang who kidnapped Father Murphy. Sergeant Armstrong finds himself in the Crum, where he quickly finds God, invents some bullshit reason about how he can be a man of God but still not confess to all of this crimes, and is ridiculed by the IRA’s commander in the Crum as “not being able to do his whack.” He’s also threatened by the IRA with assassination inside, which as we shall see, were not idle threats.

At his trial for kidnapping Father Murphy, Lord Lowry gave him a suspended sentence, taking into account his RUC record (which detailed numerous disciplinary infractions as well as citations), and his being a recipient of the Queen’s Gallantry medal. Lord Lowry was a complex figure, who the same year as giving Armstrong a suspended jail term, also freed Gerry Adams in court.

Armstrong describes his humiliation at having to sign on for the dole, and also details an IRA operation, which was foiled, aimed at assassinating him at the dole office. One of the would be assassins died at the hands of the security forces, and others are convicted. He doesn’t’ say who.

The parts of his book dealing with the religious conversion are so boring and far-fetched as to be virtually unreadable. But one part does stand out. He describes “being at the scene” of a gun and bomb attack on an unnamed bar (presumably the Rock Bar), where the bomb failed to explode: only the detonator goes off. This supposed man of God named this chapter “Unfulfilled Potential” and, offers up the failure of a bomb aimed at murdering civilians he was sworn to protect whilst breaking the laws he was paid to uphold as an analogy for the unfulfilled potential of those who could be “saved” by converting to his faith.

Armstrong was a member of the Elim church. The same one as former UVF man, and alleged mass-murderer, Alan Oliver. One doesn’t have to be a hater, harasser, and killer of Catholics to join the Elim church, but if you are, it doesn’t appear to be held against you.

A telling example of the sincerity of this low-life’s legacy and religious conversion is his stating that he has spoken to “almost all” denominations of Christianity about the importance of becoming saved.

One can guess at the group of Christians he hasn’t preached to.

As frequent readers of this blog know, I can often be found asking for nuance to be extended to the RUC. That this man, and many others, led a wide-ranging campaign of sectarianism, ranging from thuggery to torture to kidnapping, murder, and bombing is a damning indictment of the force. That it was decent, professional RUC officers who brought this wretched man to court is in some ways a blessed relief.

The difference in quality and content of their character, along with professional effectiveness and propriety could not be more striking.

The fortitude, integrity, dignity and humanity of the many survivors and relatives of those attacked by the likes of Armstrong stands in stark contrast to the boastful, immature, self-serving nature of the ridiculous but sinister author of this book. It is a slim book, full of the deluded beliefs of a man who in any other society would simply have been the drunken fool picking fights at the end of a night out.

Gary Armstrong, 1991, From Palace To Prison. Published by Freedom Publishing. ISBN-13:978-0947852849

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys. 

⏩ Winnie Woods is a recently retired housewife with an interest in human rights & politics.

2 comments:

  1. I found while in prison quite a few loyalists would turn to god. Billy Mitchell was one of them but he seemed the exception to the rule in that his Christianity reminded me of Liberation Theology. Roy Garland felt this was too liberal an interpretation on my part. Most of them were those bible bashing fundamentalists, some of whom used their religiosity as a way to continue hating Catholics without risking doing more jail time as a result of the hatred. They were merely into Hate Theology.
    Great work, Brandon & Winnie. Hopefully more ink shall flow from your pens.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anne's book "Lethal Allies" is a chilling read.
    I met her on a speaking tour of Aotearoa NZ.
    She joked "It's not bed time reading.

    https://belfastchildis.com/2015/06/09/the-shankill-butchers-documentary/

    ReplyDelete