Revealed: Scottish terrorist’s role in Belfast bar bomb that killed 15

An Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) mural in East Belfast. Picture: PA
An Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) mural in East Belfast. Picture: PA
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A SCOTTISH terrorist is alleged to have been behind the bombing of a Belfast pub which killed 15 people and injured 17 in December 1971.

A new book claims William “Big Bill” Campbell, leader of the Glasgow wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force, smuggled into Northern Ireland the ­explosives that were used to destroy the two-storey pub.

Ciaran MacAirt, author of The McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Collusion, Cover Up and a Campaign for Truth, claims that Special Branch officers in Glasgow informed the Royal Ulster Constabulary that two Scottish members of the UVF were involved in the bombing six days after the attack.

But he says the now defunct RUC deliberately ignored the tip off because it did not fit the theory favoured by the police and the British government that the IRA had accidentally killed 15 Catholics in the heart of their own community.

Yesterday MacAirt, who has spent seven years researching the bombing in which his grandmother Kathleen Irvine was killed, said: “Six days after the McGurk bar bombing the RUC actually received from Glasgow police, who had received it from their snitches in the criminal world, the names of two Scots criminals who were members of the UVF and who were directly involved in the McGurk’s bar bombing.

“They were going around town staking their claim on the atrocity. The RUC just ignored that completely. One of those names has been shown to be Big Bill Campbell, who was the head of the UVF in Scotland.”

It has since been claimed that the RUC deliberately directed the blame away from the UVF and towards the IRA in order to avoid having to arrest Protestants under the controversial laws of internment directed at the Catholic community. It was not until 1977 that Robert Campbell (no relation to William Campbell), a senior UVF member, was arrested and confessed to playing a part in the bombing but refused to name his conspirators. In 1979 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

While MacAirt was told by a former UVF member about William Campbell’s role in smuggling explosives across the Irish Sea, the fact that Glasgow police briefed the RUC was uncovered by the Historical Enquiries Team, a unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who have yet to publish their report into the McGurk’s Bar bomb.

Yesterday a spokesman for the Historical Enquiries Unit said: “The HET has agreed with the families concerned not to discuss in public any details of the HET findings.”

However in February last year the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland published an interim report that concluded that the RUC’s investigation was biased towards pinning the blame on the IRA and that RUC officers gave “selective” and “misleading” briefings to both the British government and the press.

Although William Campbell’s involvement has never been officially acknowledged in Northern Ireland, MacAirt claims that at home in Scotland the terrorist boasted of being involved in the McGurk’s bar bombing. As leader of the Glasgow wing of the UVF, Campbell went on to co-ordinate bomb attacks on two Glasgow pubs in 1979, the Old Barns bar in Calton and Clelland bar in the Gorbals.

Campbell and his fellow terrorists were arrested after they planted a bomb in the Clelland Bar between a jukebox and a gaming machine. The UVF member who placed the explosive was remembered by bar staff because of the unusual drink he ordered – a pint of beer and a glass of sherry.

Giving evidence at his trial, one UVF volunteer said of Campbell’s command: “When he arrived on the scene things got tougher and more unpleasant. I was told to get the finger out and try harder.”

Campbell was sentenced to 16 years’ jail. When he died of natural causes at 54 in 1997, thousands lined the route of his funeral and police closed off streets in Bridgeton to allow the cortege to pass.

His nephew Jason Campbell, now in his late thirties, slashed the throat of Celtic fan Mark Scott, 16, in an unprovoked attack in Glasgow in 1995. He was paroled last year. Anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth was set up as a direct consequence of Mark’s murder.