Northern Ireland news

Tommy West was former British soldier

Dr Aaron Edwards
Connla Young

Former British soldier Tommy West was a former senior figure in the UVF.

The veteran loyalist sat on the UVF's ‘Brigade Staff' in the 1970's and was involved in meetings with the Provisional and Official IRA.

It is believed he served in the British army during the post-war period and was a champion marksman.

It emerged yesterday that he has been identified to the Coroner Service as a loyalist sniper alleged to have killed several innocent Catholics during the Ballymurphy Massacre in August 1971.

From the Shankill area, it has been reported he died of natural causes in 1980.

It had previously been thought that only members of the Parachute Regiment were involved in the killings.

Relatives of eleven people who died over three days have said they are sceptical of claims that the UVF was involved.

Along with figures like Billy Mitchell and Jim Hanna, Tommy West was a key figure in the UVF's leadership in the mid 1970's.

Author of the bestselling ‘UVF: Behind the Mask', Dr Aaron Edwards, said West operated at the top of the organisation.

“Tommy West was a very senior UVF commander in the early to mid ‘70's and one of the main reasons for that would have been his previous experience in the British army where he would have proficiency in arms and explosives,” he said.

“There is a rumour that he would have been a champion shot in the British army.”

It is believed that West would have left the military by the late 60's.

Dr Edwards says that West was one of several former soldiers who came to prominence within the UVF in the early 70's.

“These were very experienced people and that's what they came to prominence in the organisation,” he said.

“These people did exist, they were an elite in the organisation.”

Dr Edwards said that the UVF view of the “Ballymurphy episode was that it was defensive”.

He says it is unusual for the organisation to discuss the activities of an individual member.

“It has admitted to things in the past but it has never given up people,” he said.

“Why are they giving up names?”

He added that the organisation may be attempting provide its own narrative on what happened in Ballymurphy.

“It might be about them setting the record straight but setting it straight on their own terms.”

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