Sunday Life

Loyalists at war: No boundaries to evil
Night tranquillity of Donegal was shattered by murder...

19 September 2004

THE brutal murder of a Sinn Fein councillor in Co Donegal in the early 1990s was the work of one of the UDA's top hitmen, drafted in from Co Antrim to carry out the assassination.

The gunman - known as 'the Gravedigger' - was believed to have been behind at least 10 murders during his reign of terror across Ulster, but has never been convicted of a terrorist offence.

A leading RUC Special Branch and Force Research Unit agent working inside the UDA also knew about the murder plot, before the father-of-six was gunned down in front of his wife.

Just last month, the Republic's Department of Justice appointed a senior garda to probe new evidence into the murder.

On 25 May 1991, a special UDA unit, comprised of members from Lisburn and Belfast, broke into a house belonging to 56-year-old Sinn Fein councillor Eddie Fullerton.

The four-man murder squad was taken to Fullerton's home, at Cockhill Cottages in Buncrana, in the back of a trailer belonging to a local Protestant farmer, who, like many of his co-religionists in the county, loathed Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Local Protestants had offered help and information through the UDA's north west 'brigade', some of whose members in Derry had family ties across the border in Donegal.

Among the team lying in hay bales, en route to the Sinn Fein councillor's home, was one of the most senior UDA members in Northern Ireland, accompanied by another Lisburn man, 'the Gravedigger'.

The UDA commander directed the killers into Fullerton's house with a series of hand signals.

Once inside, the Lisburn UDA men ran up the stairs and into Fullerton's bedroom, where he was gunned down in front of his English wife.

The unit then fled the scene in a hijacked car.

Within 15 minutes, they were back in the relative safety of Northern Ireland.

The UDA claimed they'd selected Eddie Fullerton for assassination, because he allegedly passed on a missing Garda file to the IRA.

The result, the UDA alleged, was the death of Ian Sproule, a 23-year-old Protestant shot at his parents' house in Castlederg, Co Tyrone.

Justifying the Sproule murder, the IRA leaked a photograph allegedly handed over to them by the "Free State police", along with information he was a loyalist suspect.

Eddie Fullerton's family have since proposed an alternative theory about why he was sought out by the UDA.

They allege he had upset powerful vested interests, both in business and in the police in Donegal, and was about to expose a major corruption ring in the county.

The Fullertons claim it was these powerful interests who set up the Sinn Fein councillor, using local Protestants on the Donegal side of the border to help carry out the hit, although the shooting was solely the work of the UDA unit.

While the UDA has dismissed these allegations, pointing out loyalists would never be foolish enough to trust "Free State citizens" offering intelligence, fearing they were in turn being set up, there remains one mysterious and controversial aspect to the Fullerton murder.

The killers chosen for the operation came not just from nearby in the UDA's Derry brigade, but also from south Belfast and Lisburn.

And although he was not himself on the team in Buncrana that night, one of the UDA's most senior members in Lisburn was aware that Eddie Fullerton was about to die.

This same man, Ned Greer, was an agent for both the RUC Special Branch and the Force Research Unit.

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