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Would-be leaders ‘Harmless’ Stockman and Winkie Irvine are deeply disliked and mistrusted within the ranks
Terror group the UVF is preparing for a future without a leader.
There has been much speculation as to who will take the reins at the top of the largest loyalist paramilitary group, but the Sunday World understands veteran terror chief John ‘Bunter’ Graham will be the last Chief of Staff.
It had been thought Graham’s loyal right-hand man ‘Harmless’ Harry Stockman would be the man to step into the breach and at one stage one-time prominent loyalist and alleged UVF commander Winston Winkie Irvine was also in the running.
Both men are deeply disliked and mistrusted within the ranks of the UVF.
It is understood the organisation will not seek to replace Graham, who has long indicated he intends taking a less active role.
His health has deteriorated in recent years but there is also a recognition that the organisation can no longer exist in its current form as the government steps up the pressure on paramilitary groups to disband.
“What will a new Chief of Staff be taking over, leader of what exactly?” a well-placed source told the Sunday World.
He said it was likely leadership would come from Brigadiers in their respective areas, and there will be no central command.
It will also cut out the risk of the organisation being dragged down by those who refuse to transition away from paramilitary activity, and it allows for areas to step away from crime on their own terms.
Our source acknowledged there are divisions within the organisation – last month a defiant UVF warned they would “wreck the place’’ should the Protocol not be removed.
But as revealed by the Sunday World, there is a significant proportion of the membership who have no stomach for civic disruption or violence.
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has indicated he is considering the appointment of an independent arbiter to engage with paramilitary groups following recommendations contained in the annual report of monitoring group the Independent Reporting Commission.
The government is looking at ways to facilitate those who wish to transition so they are not prevented from doing so by those who don’t.
Graham is known to be in favour of the transition process and has overseen a purge of drug dealers from UVF ranks but is unable to bring the whole organisation with him.
“Take East Belfast for instance,” said our source, “you are never going to get them to stop their criminal activity – Bunter tried and failed.
“They’ll not be allowed to stand in the way of those who want to go away.”
He added that controversial amnesty legislation currently going through parliament, effectively taking prosecution off the table, had further encouraged paramilitaries now is the time to stand down.
He said the lack of creditable leadership candidates was another factor.
Stockman is not a popular figure among the membership who regard him as a “chocolate soldier’’ – someone who did not play an active role during the conflict.
He is hate figure to some because of his alleged role in the murder in May 2010 of Bobby Moffett. The former Red Hand Commando member was blasted in the face at point-blank range in the heart of the Shankill.
No one has ever been convicted of the shotgun murder of Moffett, who was a popular figure in the loyalist heartland, despite it happening in broad daylight in the middles of the day.
Moffett had had a run-in with the UVF leadership and was shot dead as he made his way to a meeting with the leaders including Stockman.
The killing was sanctioned at the very top of the organisation.
Days after the killing, Stockman was stabbed multiple times as he made his way out of a supermarket in the Woodvale area of the city.
UVF man Dee Madine was jailed for attempted murder which he said was in direct retaliation for the Moffett murder.
In an exclusive jailhouse interview, Madine told the Sunday Worldhe regretted not killing Stockman. Stockman has never faced charges in connection with Moffett’s murder.
And Irvine’s star has fallen dramatically since his arrest last year when a quantity of guns and ammunition was found in the boot of his car.
He is currently facing charges of possession of guns and ammunition in suspicious circumstances. He was once the face of loyalism, playing a leading role in the parade protests at Twaddell Avenue.