Willie Frazer ferried Ulster Resistance guns to UDA commander Johnny Adair, resulting in multiple murders across Northern Ireland, BBC Spotlight will on Tuesday night reveal.
The BBC said that the extraordinary revelation was informed by multiple conversations with Mr Frazer before his death earlier this year and was backed up by a series of other sources.
Mr Frazer, a high-profile campaigner on behalf of victims of the IRA, will tonight be shown to have himself been involved in terrorism on a major scale.
Spotlight said that the Markethill man, who at one point worked as a haulier, became involved with loyalist terrorists after his father and four other relatives were murdered by the IRA.
It said that his contact within the UDA was Adair, one of the most infamous of the loyalist terror bosses who as well as murder was involved in drug-dealing and intra-loyalist blood feuding.
Spotlight said that it had obtained a secret police report into Adair and his role in directing terrorism which shows that he was receiving weapons from Ulster Resistance in the early 1990s.
Ulster Resistance had been set up in November 1986 at a rally in the Ulster Hall which was chaired by Sammy Wilson – then the lord mayor of Belfast and now the DUP MP for East Antrim.
It was also addressed by then DUP leader Ian Paisley and deputy leader Peter Robinson and its stated aim was to “take direct action as and when required” to end the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The DUP had claimed to have severed links with the group in 1987 after it became clear that it was importing guns.
However, three years ago a police ombudsman report revealed RUC intelligence that in December 1986 – the month after it had been set up by senior DUP figures – Ulster Resistance began collaborating with the UVF and UDA to jointly import weapons.
Those weapons were then divided between the three groups, but the UDA and UVF caches were quickly seized by the authorities, meaning that only the Ulster Resistance guns remained in circulation.
Alluding to her conversations with Mr Frazer, Spotlight reporter Mandy McAuley – whose programme tonight is part of a seven-part series re-examining the Troubles – says in the film that Willie Frazer “believed Ulster Resistance had taken the war to the IRA”.
She said that “multiple sources had confirmed that he was Ulster Resistance’s key distributor of automatic rifles and rocket launchers”.
Those South African Ulster Resistance weapons were used to kill at least 70 people.
Adair told Spotlight that the guns had been “a godsend” for the UDA in a period where there was a sudden increase in loyalist attacks. He said: “Our organisations did not have an assault rifle, and it wasn’t until these weapons came, this shipment came in, that the UDA, UFF, then took control of assault rifles.
“With that armoury of weapons and stockpile of weapons came confidence to the men. Where they were no longer running into these areas with shotguns or 38 special hand-guns, they were now going in with assault rifles, deadly assault rifles.”
Among the loyalist atrocities in that period was the 1992 massacre of those in the Sean Graham bookmaker’s shop on the lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, the 1993 UDA massacre of revellers in Greysteel and the 1994 Loughinisland massacre of people watching a World Cup match in the Heights bar.
The Rev Ivan Foster, who when involved in the founding of Ulster Resistance was a DUP Assemblyman and a Free Presbyterian minister, told Spotlight: “It was basically a DUP-sponsored – parented – movement.”
Tonight’s Spotlight includes footage of future DUP leader Peter Robinson speaking from the platform at the launch of Ulster Resistance where he said: “Though none of the speakers here this evening is a commander of this body, we are satisfied, knowing as we do those who are, that they are in earnest and will do nothing to engage the displeasure and judgment of God, the dissatisfaction of our people or bring dishonour to our great cause.”
Ian Paisley told the same rally: “I intend to give this movement of Ulster Resistance my undivided support.” To roars of approval, he added: “I will give it whatever political cover it needs.”
Ulster Resistance member Noel Little travelled to Geneva and Paris in early 1987 to meet a representative of a South African arms company named Douglas Bernhardt.
Spotlight revealed statements made by Bernhardt to the French secret police at the time where he told them that Little had come to him with a shopping list of weapons including Ak47 assault rifles, 9mm pistols, APG7 machine guns, grenades, mortars, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He said that after the payment of $120,000 a shipment was smuggled into Northern Ireland at the end of 1987.
Little has never been convicted by a UK court and the BBC said that he had denied all the allegations put to him.
The DUP ultimately came to disassociate itself from the paramilitary organisation before it became public knowledge that it had been involved in criminal activity. Ian Paisley later said: “I didn’t set up the Ulster Resistance. That was untrue. The Ulster Resistance was set up by the leadership of Ulster Resistance ... I promised I would give them political cover”.
At the time of the police ombudsman’s report three years ago, the DUP declined to apologise around the part it had played in setting up the group which imported guns.
When asked if the party would apologise for its role in founding Ulster Resistance, the DUP would only say in a brief statement: “The party’s stance is consistent, that anyone involved in illegal activity should be investigated and face the full weight of the law.”
Episode five of Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History will be broadcast tonight at 9pm on BBC One NI and BBC Four.