Jan 03, 2022
19 mins read
In this excerpt from my work in progress on another book I examine the events surrounding the horrific murder of Tom Madden in August 1972. The full chapter, with a working title of 'Frontier Land', looks at the excesses of loyalist violence in North Belfast in July and August 1972, the months following the Rev. John Stewart's declaration that Protestants were facing a 'high noon' situation. It is harrowing and often disorientating trying to get to grips with this period of the Troubles which will soon be in people's minds again with a 50th anniversary approaching.
The harrowing details of the deaths of Catholics killed in reprisal for IRA violence by loyalists demonstrates the chaotic, unrefined and often nightmarish nature of militant loyalist violence during this period. The desire to try to find out more about the lives and deaths of people like Tom Madden has always been gnawing at me; the impetus to finally integrate these stories into my research came last January and February when I engaged in some hauntological walks through the very streets of North Belfast which once bore witness to the bloodshed of 1972. I have tried to treat these people's deaths as tastefully as I did when I wrote about the killings of the McCleave brothers in 1973 and 1979.
I am not one for moralising or scaremongering, but before the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s the vicious 1920s conflict must have seemed like ancient history to many people. With some of the low-level disturbances we witnessed in Belfast last year, I genuinely worry that people who engage in dangerous rhetoric (a big theme of my new work) don't fully appreciate the forces they may unleash.
As the oft-used line from Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner reminds us, 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.'
*Needless to say this is a very rough excerpt from a very rough draft
The brutal killings of innocent Catholics continued sporadically throughout the summer, leading to a frenzy of paranoia and fear in the nationalist working-class communities of Belfast. Paddy Devlin, the Chief Whip of the SDLP, launched a scathing attack on the Secretary of State: ‘So neglectful has Mr. Whitelaw been that it could almost be said that with regard to Catholics being butchered after being caught at U.D.A. road checks, he should be charged with being an accomplice after the fact.’ Devlin’s assertion might have appeared over the top, but there were many Catholics who would have wholeheartedly agreed with him. Whitelaw was becoming an increasingly hapless figure who on the one hand provided a continuing source of ire and parody in the pages of the loyalist newssheets and on the other had seen his agreement with the Provisionals turn to dust before his eyes. Now the moderate nationalist politicians of the SDLP were criticising him in the strongest terms possible, arguing that his dithering over the loyalist vigilantes was costing innocent people their lives.
While the murders of Catholics such as O’Neill, McCartney, Arthurs, McGerty, Corr and McStravick had certainly instilled fear into communities few could have foreseen the horrific murder of Thomas Madden who was found dead on the Oldpark Road in the early hours of 13 August. When he was captured by his killers Madden was brought to an unknown location in the vicinity of Louisa Street. He was stripped and suspended with a rope from a wooden beam. His assailants chipped at his flesh with a knife and he was stabbed 147 times. A local woman later told the coroner:
On Saturday night August 12th I was at the Disco in the band hut in Butler Street along with [redacted] who lives in [redacted]. I left the Disco at 3.30 am on Sunday morning after tidying up. We went to [redacted] for a cup of tea and then I came home. My two daughters were at the disco and had left earlier. When I got home the younger daughter was at home but the elder was not at home. We waited until about 4.45 am and my young daughter and I went to see where my other daughter was. We looked round the corners and then walked up the Oldpark Road on the left going from the city. It was daylight and I saw what looked like a bundle of clothes lying in the doorway of Sloan’s shop on the right hand side of the road. I didn’t know what it was and I was afraid to go over so I went up to the soldiers at Louisa Street and reported it to them.
At the inquest into Madden’s death an RUC sergeant stationed at Oldpark recalled how he had come to discover the dead man:
At 5.55 a.m. on Sunday, August, 13th, 1972, I was on duty in the local D.M.P. car. I received a communication from Police Control to check out a report that a body was in the doorway of Sloan’s Paper Shop. The Military were present at the shop when I arrived. I saw the body of a male person lying face downwards with his feet up in the air against the door of the shop. There was blood coming from underneath the body and ran onto the footpath. There was an iron gate, approximately 6′ high across the doorway. It was apparent from the shape of the body that it had been dumped over the top of the iron gate. The body appeared to be dead and I called for a doctor to pronounce life extinct. I also arranged for Detectives, S.O.C.O. and [redacted] to be informed. A soldier pointed out what appeared to be a trail caused by something being dragged across the ground. I followed this trail across the Oldpark Road into Baden Powell Street. The trail then led into the entry between Baden Powell Street and Hillview Street. About half-way down the entry I saw false teeth lying on the ground amongst blood and the remnants of what appeared to be a paper bag. I told Constable [redacted] who was with me, to remain with these items and I continued to follow the trail. The trail appeared to end at the rear of [redacted]. I entered the house but could find nothing. I then searched the back yard of [redacted] and I found a shoe which later proved to belong to the dead man. I also found an empty wine bottle in the entry. I handed both the shoe and the empty bottle to Constable [redacted] S.O.C.O., at the scene.
There is no doubt that whoever was involved in killing Madden was somebody who enjoyed using a knife to inflict pain. The trail of blood that the sergeant had followed led to an alleyway near the by now infamous Yarrow Street area. The house which was searched by the RUC sergeant was less than a two minute walk from where Arthurs had been abducted in the early hours of 22 July 1972.
Madden had experienced a torrid summer. His brother Hugh had been shot dead by loyalists eight weeks before he himself was killed. In the weeks between his brother’s murder and his own death Thomas appeared distracted and agitated. He had good reason to be. Not only was he mourning the loss of his brother, but he was also being tormented by militant loyalists at the same time. Mary McGillen from Cliftonpark Avenue was his landlady, but she was also a friend and confidante and regarded Madden as very much part of the McGillen family. She was able to describe the fear which had gripped Madden’s every waking moment in July and August and later told an Irish newspaper:
Tom was a simple man. He had the mind of a child – he had never grown up. He worked in Ewarts Mill on the Crumlin Road in the looming section and sometimes earned some extra money by doubling as a night watch-man.
He was always a punctual person, but three weeks before his murder he came home late one night and I asked him what had happened. He was white-faced and terrified. He said he had been picked up by the U.D.A. at Yarrow Street and interrogated.
The U.D.A. men asked him about the murder of his brother […] They asked him if he was looking for revenge and if he had any clue about who killed his brother. He said he hadn’t and was leaving it to the police.
The U.D.A. men took a holy medal and another religious object from him as well as a packet of cigarettes, and then let him go. The experience was one of the things which made him a very frightened man. On the night before his murder he didn’t want to go to work. He told me he was afraid to go outside the door because he was certain he would be killed. He said: ‘I know they’re after me.’
At the inquest into Madden’s murder a member of staff at one of his favourite pubs, the Meeting of the Waters in Manor Street, recalled:
On Saturday the 12th August 1972, I was working in the bar of The Meeting of the Waters. I recall Tommy Madden calling here about 6.30 p.m. The boss, [redacted] went for his tea about half past seven and he had been talking to Tommy before he left. Tommy had been watching television and left here just before nine, probably about 8.45 p.m. as he said that would leave him up to his work about nine. He always worked on Saturday night as a gate man at William Ewarts on the Crumlin Road. I know he had gone down and along Century Street and up the Crumlin Road in the past but in recent times because of the killings the customers had advised him to go up through the ‘Bone’ and across the Brickfields as it was safer. He was also known to go across Louisa Street.
In fact Madden was supposed to have started his shift at Ewarts at 6 p.m. but even after he left the Meeting of the Waters at 8.45 p.m. he didn’t turn up. Mrs McGillen gave further insight into Thomas’s state of mind and what had happened to him in the previous weeks:
The interrogation by the U.D.A. was not the thing which produced a noticeable change in him, that happened some time earlier. During the Twelfth of July celebrations he disappeared for three days. Members of his family and friends searched for him everywhere but he couldn’t be located. When he did come back he was a changed man. He said he had been in Ardoyne, but as far as I know no one ever saw him there at any time.
It is thought that during the three days he was with the U.V.F. – but that is something we shall never know for sure. What we do know is that just three weeks before he died he was definitely in the hands of the U.D.A.
After the murder of Madden the fear factor increased exponentially among the Catholic community of North Belfast. On the day of Madden’s funeral Kevin McCorry of the Civil Rights Association spoke to the BBC about a dossier that had been prepared on the recent killings for William Whitelaw. ‘I think it’s very serious’, McCorry stated, ‘since direct rule we have estimated that there’s somewhere in the region of sixty killings. In the last few months there have been twelve killings in the Oldpark Road, Crumlin Road area; and of the sixty we reckon about half of the killings since direct rule there has been an element of torture...’ Probed on whether this meant that there was a gang or gangs specifically targeting Catholics, McCorry responded that he believed that the tight geographical concentration of the killings indicated that an organisation was responsible and that its members were based in the Oldpark and Crumlin Road area. ‘If the security forces are to bring the people responsible to justice they would be well worth intensifying their enquiries in this particular area.’
The intensity and brutality of the sudden upswing in violence had taken many people by surprise. Most journalists, aside from a few brave exceptions, still peddled the narrative that the sectarian assassinations were ‘motiveless’, something which the police had originally declared in an attempt to highlight how difficult it was to solve the killings. McCorry strongly disagreed with this theory:
There’s clearly a sectarian motive involved in the killings. I myself have talked to people who have gone through quite horrific experiences, having been shot a number of times … the terrible stories I’ve heard from them, accounts of their experience, the motive clearly has been a sectarian one; either they were believed to be members of the IRA or they were Catholics, or lived in an area which was associated with the IRA or something like that.
The Whitelaw administration was desperate for the killers to be apprehended and on the day of Thomas Madden’s funeral Lord Windlesham, Minister of State for Northern Ireland, announced a £50,000 bounty for any information which led to their capture and conviction. NICRA guardedly welcomed the financial incentive but Paddy Devlin who had strongly admonished Whitelaw over his inaction on militant loyalist vehicle checkpoints was critical of it, declaring that more needed to be done on the ground in the form of house to house searches. ‘My belief is that the reward is no more than a good gimmick to cover up the inactivity of both the RUC and the army’ Devlin stated. ‘A few weeks ago they let it be quietly known that 100 Special Branch men had been put on the trail of the killers. That is a lie. I don’t believe there are even 25 of them on the cases.’ Most Catholics would have agreed with Devlin’s sentiments. Those living on the coalface near the UDA vehicle checkpoints in North Belfast would have wondered why the UDA was permitted to stop cars and ask for driving licenses and force passengers to remove themselves from vehicles for inspection.
Just over a week after Madden’s death the Ministry of Home Affairs, undoubtedly under pressure from the British Government, produced an internal briefing note on ‘UDA road checks’. The author cited the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act 1851 which stated that ‘Any person who shall in any manner wilfully or by negligence or misbehaviour prevent or interrupt the free passage of any person or carriage on any public road or street or crossing shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 20/- (£20)’, commenting that ‘Members of the UDA who create an obstruction are, therefore, generally speaking committing an offence.’ Most tellingly the author explicitly states that ‘For a prosecution to succeed under the 1851 Act it would be necessary to bring witnesses to prove that members of the UDA were actually preventing or interrupting traffic.’ With witness depositions from the murder of Arthurs clearly demonstrating that he had been taken with force from the taxi in which he was travelling and man-handled across the Crumlin Road and into Yarrow Street was unsurprising that nationalist alienation from the security forces was increasing.
All eyes were on the tight network of streets between the Crumlin and Oldpark roads which had been dubbed ‘assassin’s row’ by the press, and although a trail of blood had led to the back of a house in Hillview Street after the murder of Thomas Madden no-one had been arrested or even questioned about his torture and death. Almost a year after Madden was killed the BBC’s Scene Around Six news programme dispatched reporter Brian Walker to the Oldpark area to report on the dramatic effect that the violence of 1971 and 1972 had had on the district. Accompanying him was the community relations officer for the area, Brendan Henry. Henry, a native of Cookstown, had left his post as a primary school teacher in 1970 ‘to follow a career in youth and community work, putting himself at the heart of efforts to forge cross-community links at time when the troubles were starting to ignite.’ During the report which was filmed in some of the most volatile parts of the Oldpark – Heathfield Road, Louisa Street, Glenpark Street – Henry sadly summed up how the area had rapidly deteriorated in a manner which encapsulated the broader problems in the country:
It is a cock-pit, and a microcosm of all the troubles in Northern Ireland … This being an interface area there’s a tremendous amount of shooting across from behind us and from in front of us […] [the residents] moved out and the houses became derelict, and the kids wrecked them. This is the Louisa Street end of the Oldpark, the interface area between the Bone and Louisa Street. As we come up here [Glenpark Street], you can see on your left one of the most famous riot spots – the gap – we had rioting there in the 1920s, the 1930s and the 1960s. Now as a result of the rioting here the army put a post there…they’ve another one at the top of the street…which increased the violence to a certain extent causing these people here, right along this street, to move out. Again, we go back to the old thing – just a few of the older people and maybe one or two young couples living here.
Yes, but if you listen to the UDA and listen to all the talk over the years, Louisa Street was a proud frontier that people were prepared to defend and yet they’ve had to move out like everywhere else.
As frontiers collapsed the human condition inevitably led to conflict. Men like Thomas Madden were swept up by the fear and hatred created by the flux. Whereas a year previously Protestants had angrily burned the houses they had been forced to vacate in Ardoyne loyalist militants were now killing Catholics in the most horrendous manner and leaving their bodies near the interface as a warning.
Police in this small part of Belfast were under a huge amount of pressure. As the number of deaths due to the conflict began to grow at an exponential rate many of the bodies were being discovered in this new frontier land. It was a canvas for historical political and social unrest, and the job for police in 1972 was an unenviable one. In response to the excessive violence of July and August 1972, along with the apparently random nature of many of the loyalist killings over the summer, a confidential telephone service was set up by the RUC. The new service was unlikely to yield any success however given that the government’s promise of a £50,000 reward for information about the ‘apparently motiveless murders’ had provided no significant leads.
While there were many Protestants who would have agreed with the woman in East Belfast that spoke to Peter Taylor – that it was reassuring to see loyalists mobilising in defence of the communities – there were very many others who lived in a constant state of fear. The idea of picking up a telephone to report the slightest hint of suspicious behaviour in their midst was not an attractive proposition. The likelihood of reprisal was all too real and £50,000, despite being a life-changing amount of money, was insufficient recompense in the event that a Good Samaritan or their family fell into the hands of the killers who were still at large. The loyalist paramilitaries knew how to deter people from offering information and in a January 1973 issue of the Ulster Constitution a warning was published which addressed potential informers with a chillingly ambiguous ultimatum: ‘A number of persons have been using the ‘robot phone’ in order to tip-off the security forces to loyalist arms caches. We warn these people that this is treason and will, if detected, be punished by the usual sentence for this crime.’ What the ‘usual sentence’ was remained chillingly ambiguous and would have been enough to persuade working people to keep their mouths shut.
The Stormont Government had offered financial incentive in 1969 for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for making and planting explosives while two years later, after the murder of the three young Scottish soldiers, a £25,000 reward which increased to £50,000 was offered for information which led to the capture of the killers of army and RUC personnel. No information was ever offered and no money was ever paid out. People in Northern Ireland had learned to keep their heads down and try to ignore the nightmare that was unfolding around them.
The summer of 1972 was proving to be a watershed period in the emergence of militant loyalist violence, particularly in Belfast. Police put out information to the press during the months of July and August that a small group of people had been responsible for the killings of Catholics in Belfast since the turn of the year. This was undoubtedly the case, but they weren’t all associated and most certainly didn’t agree on the methods being used to kill. The reality was that killing didn’t come naturally to most young men in Northern Ireland. Those who were responsible for the shootings and mutilation were all deemed to be psychopathic in blanket analyses of the killings even if the press didn’t know who the individuals were or what their psychological motivations happened to be. Many loyalist teenagers had to gear themselves up to shoot a fellow citizen, even if they were Catholic and viewed as the ‘enemy’. A much smaller number reveled in bloodshed and torture. The historian Ian Wood has noted that some who joined the UDA during its early years soon found that with the descent into extreme violence they had ‘little relish’ for what was involved in its paramilitary role, ‘especially as killers capable of psychotic violence against their own community as well as Catholics were let off the leash.’ While many of the people who joined en masse remained in prisoner welfare and community development roles, those who did relish killing such as Davy Payne treated the areas they commanded as their own personal fiefdoms. Payne had already demonstrated what he was capable of doing to Catholics with his involvement in the torture and murder of McCartney and O’Neill, but it was his treatment of fellow loyalists which perhaps most clearly highlights the kind of genie which had been released from the bottle of militant loyalism. Two former prisoners, one from the RHC and the other from the WDA, told me about Payne’s penchant for punishing his own men in Long Kesh by attaching electrodes to their genitals and turning up the current. Until his internment in 1973 Payne was the UDA’s Provost Marshall; the man in charge of internal discipline.