Shankill Butchers

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The Shankill Butchers is the name given to a loyalist gang, many of whom were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The gang conducted paramilitary activities in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the 1970s. It was most notorious for its late-night abduction, torture and murder (by throat slashing) of random Catholic civilians. The Shankill Butchers killed at least 30 people (including a significant number of Protestants) in sectarian attacks, paramilitary feuds, personal grudges and bombing raids. Despite extensive police resources being channelled towards the capture of those responsible, a wall of silence, created by a mixture of fear and respect in the Shankill community, provided few leads that could be followed.

According to Conor Cruise O'Brien, the Butchers, led by Lenny Murphy, brought a new, frightening level of paramilitary violence to a country already hardened by death and destruction.[1] While the majority of the gang were eventually caught and received the longest combined prison sentences in legal history in the United Kingdom, Murphy and his two chief lieutenants escaped prosecution. He was later killed in November 1982 by the Provisional IRA, likely acting with loyalist paramilitaries who perceived him as a threat.




Much of what is known about the Butchers comes from Martin Dillon's The Shankill Butchers: A Case Study of Mass Murder (1989 and 1998). In compiling this encyclopaedic work, Dillon was given unlimited access to the case files of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now the Police Service of Northern Ireland), which eventually caught the gang. Eventually Dillon had to leave Northern Ireland for his safety, an indication that his writing and the people he referred to but couldn't name, accurately represented at least some of the gang's activities.

The commander of the Shankill Butchers gang was Lenny Murphy. At school he was known as a bully and would threaten other boys with a knife or with retribution from his two older brothers. Soon after leaving school at 16, he joined the UVF. Murphy regularly attended the trials of paramilitaries accused of serious crimes, in order to become well acquainted with the laws of evidence and police procedure.

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