The Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) is a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. It was formed by Billy Wright when the Mid-Ulster brigade of the UVF, which he commanded, was stood down by that organisation's leadership in Belfast. Wright subsequently broke away from the UVF to form a new rival organisation. The LVF is outlawed as a terrorist organization in the UK and Republic of Ireland. The United States has designated it a terrorist organisation also. The LVF have killed 18 people. 13 were civilians, 1 was a former Provisional IRA member, and 3 were UVF members. The LVF have also killed one of its own members.
Billy Wright was the leader of the Mid Ulster Brigade of the UVF. In October 1994, the UVF and other loyalist paramilitary groups called a ceasefire. Internal differences between Wright and the UVF's brigade staff in Belfast came to a head in July 1996, during the Drumcree parade dispute. The Orange Order was being stopped from marching through the nationalist Garvaghy area of Portadown. There was a standoff at Drumcree Church between thousands of Orangemen and their supporters on one side, and the security forces on the other. Wright was angered that the parade was being blocked, and was often to be seen at Drumcree with Harold Gracey, head of the Portadown Orange Lodge. On 7 July, a day into the standoff, members of Wright's brigade shot dead a Catholic taxi driver near Aghagallon. Wright's brigade smuggled homemade weaponry to Drumcree, apparently unhindered by the Orangemen. Allegedly, the brigade also had plans to drive petrol tankers into the nationalist housing estates and then ignite them.
For breaking the ceasefire, Wright's Mid Ulster Brigade was "stood down" by the UVF leadership on 2 August 1996. Wright then took most of the brigade members with him and set up the LVF.
Although behind many activities in the Mid-Ulster area -centred on the Lurgan/Portadown area- including many attacks on civilians, Wright was finally charged with menacing behaviour and sentenced to eight years at the Maze prison. There he demanded a separate wing for the LVF prisoners. The authorities agreed and the wing became a gathering point for various dissident shades of loyalist paramilitaries, including many from Belfast and north Down.
Death of Billy Wright:
On the morning of 27 December 1997, Wright was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) inside Maze Prison. The operation was undertaken by three INLA volunteers - Christopher "Crip" McWilliams, John Glennon and John Kennaway - armed with two pistols. The three were imprisoned in the same block as Wright. He was shot as he travelled in a prison van (alongside another LVF prisoner and two guards) from one part of the prison to another. After killing Wright, the three volunteers handed themselves over to prison guards. They also handed over a statement:
Billy Wright was executed for one reason and on reason only, and that was for directing and waging his campaign of terror against the nationalist people from his prison cell in Long Kesh.
That night, LVF gunmen opened fire on the dance hall of the Glengannon Hotel, near Dungannon. The hotel was owned by Catholics and about 400 teenagers were attending a disco there. Three civilians were wounded and one, a former Provisional IRA volunteer, was killed. Police believed that the disco itself was the intended target, rather than the ex-volunteer. Witnesses said it was "an attempt at mass-murder".
Some loyalists believed that prison authorities colluded with the INLA in Wright's killing. The INLA strongly denied these rumours, and published a detailed account of the assassination in the March/April 1999 issue of The Starry Plough newspaper.
Good Friday Agreement and ceasefire:
In March 1998, during the negotiations for the Good Friday Agreement, the LVF issued a statement expressing support for the stance of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, saying the party's leader, Ian Paisley, had got it "absolutely right". Members of the DUP - including prominent member of parliament Rev. William McCrea - appeared on public platforms with LVF leaders, including Billy Wright.
In May 1998 it called a ceasefire and urged people to vote No in the Referendum. The Northern Ireland Office accepted its ceasefire in November making its prisoners eligible for the early release scheme under the Good Friday Agreement. Later, it handed over a small amount of weapons to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The weapons; four sub-machine guns, two rifles, two pistols, a sawn-off shotgun, 348 rounds of ball ammunition, 31 shotgun shells, five electrical detonators, two pipe bombs, two weapons stocks and five assorted magazines, were destroyed and recorded via video.
The Secretary of State was moved to declare on 12 October 2001 that the government no longer recognised their ceasefire.
Wright's successor as LVF leader, Mark Fulton, was found hanged in Maghaberry prison in 2002. He is believed to have committed suicide.
Following a particularly bloody feud with the UVF in the summer of 2005, and loyalist violence in Belfast city that September, the LVF announced in October 2005 that it was standing down following the IRA's previous standing down and disarmament. In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission confirmed that the feud with the UVF was over, but said that the LVF's involvement with organized crime and drug trafficking continued, describing it as a "deeply criminal organization".
The twentieth IMC report stated that the group was small and without political purpose. Most of its violence was more criminal than paramilitary in nature. Its members who continue violent activity do so for personal gain and only associate with the organisation at large when it is expedient to do so. The report said that simple aggressive police work could damage the group's continuance.
Timeline of attacks:
In total, the LVF have killed 18 people, which included: