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Ulster braced for loyalist bloodbath as LVF's deadly feud spirals out of control; REVEALED: INVESTIGATION INTO THE BLOODY STRUGGLE BETWEEN PARAMILITARY TERROR CHIEFS.

Byline: MICK BROWNE

A BATTLE between rival factions of the LVF in mid-Ulster is set to plunge Ulster into a vicious loyalist bloodbath.

Sunday People has learned that some of the main paramilitaries in the renegade splinter group's twin powerbases of Portadown and Lurgan, have clashed violently over the last few weeks.

Sources have confirmed that the Lurgan LVF has now decided to take overall control of the organisation.

News of the clash emerged this week when sources revealed that Portadown loyalist Gary Fulton was recently savagely beaten by members of the Lurgan LVF, closely associated with Robin 'Billy' King.

It is claimed that Fulton was left nursing a broken leg after a bloody fracas broke out.

The feud is said to have erupted when Fulton dished out a brutal beating to a Lurgan LVF member who, sources claim, played a prominent part in the murder of investigative journalist Martin O'Hagan.

Sources have said that the victim of the beating was the man who burnt out a car straight after O'Hagan's death, in a cynical attempt to throw murder squad detectives off the scent of the silver car said to have been used for the driveby shooting.

O'Hagan, 51, was killed last September for 'crimes against the loyalist community' according to a Red Hand Defenders statement which was issued to claim his death.It is widely accepted that the Red Hand Defenders is a cover name for the LVF/UFF, who have forged an alliance over recent years due to their mutual interests in the Drumcree protests and drug-dealing.

Now sources have told Sunday People that the recent attack could have deadly repercussions for the broader community.

They claim the beating given out by Fulton was so fierce that King and his colleagues came to their comrade's rescue. They in turn gave Fulton a severe beating.

Feelings were said to be so high in the aftermath that Fulton needed a police escort from the Scottish hospital where he was initially treated for his wounds, to his plane, and that he was met with a police escort in Northern Ireland after it touched down.

Sources have confirmed that with prominent loyalists Mark 'Swinger' Fulton and his cousin Jim Fulton, now both in jail awaiting trail on various charges, a vacuum has been created at the head of the organisation, which the Lurgan leadership is now trying to fill.

"With his cousins in jail Gary's now isolated.

"He's had it now. Apart from anything else Robin King has more support with Belfast loyalists.

"And with Swinger and Jim out of the road he's obviously making moves to take over the group for good," one source claimed.

Such is the level of bitterness that each side is now blaming the other for recent security force successes, including massive drugs seizures, and a hitherto unreported hauls of arms and explosives.

Sources insist that security forces carried out a raid on a disused house in Lurgan some three weeks ago, which was not publicised.

They claim "a significant amount of weapons and explosives, including shotguns, pistols, pipe-bombs, and pipe-bomb making equipment was taken away by the security forces."

They say speculation is growing within loyalist circles that the haul belonged to the Lurgan LVF, and was revealed to the security forces by Portadown rivals in revenge for the beating given to Fulton.

However, the Lurgan LVF are said to have taken their revenge by tipping off police about the recent massive drugs haul - said to be worth about pounds 2m - destined for the Portadown LVF, which was intercepted close to Glenavy last week.

The LVF was created by Billy 'King Rat' Wright in 1996, prior to his expulsion from the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The UVF was about to reveal the extent of Wright's drug-dealing activities, in particular his control of the Ecstasy market in Ulster.

It had compiled a dossier on Wright which revealed that throughout his murderous reign as a UVF killer, he had secretly been an agent for the security forces.

Speculation has always existed as to who took over his leadership role, after his murder by the INLA while in the Maze Prison in 1997.

For a period after Wright's death power within the group resided in the hands of the Portadown leadership. Amongst those suspected of inheriting leadership of the organisation then is Mark 'Swinger' Fulton, 41, from Hobson Park in Portadown, a close associate of Wright's.

He is now on remand accused of conspiracy to murder after being arrested by detectives investigating the murder of human rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson, although the charge is unconnected to her case.

It is understood he may also face other serious charges, including directing a terrorist organisation.

His brother Jim Fulton is also facing serious charges.

Last summer he was arrested in Plymouth and flown into Northern Ireland to be questioned by detectives from the Nelson investigation team.

He was subsequently charged with the murder of a local Protestant woman in a pipe bomb attack in June 1999.

He is also charged with the attempted murder of four policemen in 1998 and of two other people in 1999, and also faces two charges of causing explosions.

It appears now that the Fultons' chief rival for Wright's crown is Robin 'Billy' King.

Ironically when King, also from Lurgan, was found not guilty two years ago of the murder of fellow LVF member David Keys, in the Maze in 1998, his spokesman on the day of his acquittal was Gary Fulton - Swinger's cousin

King had been on the LVF wing of the Maze serving a 16-year sentence for conspiracy to murder and firearms offences.

A third source revealed that only last week a deadly trap was set, which lured Fulton out of his home:

"One ex-LVF member spent last weekend trying to lure Gary out from his home by dishing out beatings to fellas in Portadown who would be known to be LVF supporters. But Gary wouldn't take the bait," he said.

Asked about the depth of bitterness between the groups, one mid-Ulster source close to loyalist paramilitary thinking, confirmed: "There is a lot of bad blood about still, from the time Billy split from the UVF, and that won't go away until some things are settled."

He also confirmed that while Fulton had been in a local hospital he had received a PSNI guard.

Other sources have confirmed that weapons were recovered from a house in Lurgan.

"That's 100 per cent true, and the bomb squad was there. The house has been empty for about the last year.

"Yet this raid hasn't been publicised. Why not?"

UVF chiefs have been watching the LVF split from the sidelines.

But there has been much more interest from the security forces who are said to have agents inside BOTH camps.

It's thought that as many as three of the LVF members involved in the murder of journalist Martin O'Hagan could be working for various security force agencies.

Recently one was named in gable wall graffiti - only for it to be removed within an hour.

CAPTION(S):

Fulton was later attacked by King's associates in the Lurgan LVF, and left with a broken leg. The men are involved in a struggle over the leadership of the loyalist terror group; BITTER ENEMIES: Gary Fulton of Portadown LVF, who sources claim attacked and injured an associate of Lurgan rival Robin 'Billy' King.
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 21, 2002
Words:1231
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