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Second chance for Ulster ex-paramilitary

Billy McFetridge spent several years in the Maze prison for terrorist offences. Then God turned his life around ...

Billy McFetridge spent several years in the Maze prison for terrorist offences. Then God turned his life around ...

I was born in Larne, Northern Ireland, which is about 20 miles from Belfast, and I’m the eldest of two.

Dad was a lorry driver – hard working and hard drinking which was to become a problem later in his life.

I was brought up in a very staunch Protestant home. We were an ordinary working class family and went to church out of tradition.

I had a difficult relationship with my dad, especially in my early teenage years. I left school at 15 with no qualifications and got a job in a local furniture shop.

I decided that when I came of age I would join the Army and see what the world had to offer me. So I signed up for six years and saw service in Africa, Germany and England.

I was in Derry, in August 1969, with a group called the Apprentice Boys when crowds of youths began throwing stones at our parade. We needed a police escort. That was the ‘spark’ which ignited The Troubles and tore my country apart for many years.

I lost a number of friends who served in Northern Ireland. In 1972 it came to our door when my dad’s cousin was kidnapped and murdered by the IRA. I was getting ready to return to civilian life and was home on leave when this happened.

I insisted that I wanted to attend the funeral, which the Army wasn’t happy about – it was a paramilitary funeral in Loyalist Belfast. I went back to my regiment still very angry about this brutal murder.

I left the Army in early 1973 and was asked shortly afterwards about joining the UDA (Ulster Defence Association), the largest Protestant paramilitary group. I saw that as an opportunity to get revenge, so I joined that group and was involved in acts of terrorism in the East Antrim area.

Although I was never in doubt that my past would catch up with me, I tried to continue to live as normal a life as possible. I got married and started a family.

My past did catch up with me in the early hours of one September morning in 1980. I was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and interrogated for seven days, at the end of which I was broken, especially mentally. I had been charged with murder and remanded in custody to Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast.

It was during that long remand period that I thought about my life and wanted a second chance if possible. So, one night in my prison cell, I asked God to help me and give me that second chance – and he answered my prayers.

In 1982 we came to trial and I was charged with murder amongst other offences. Halfway through the murder charge was dropped to manslaughter – a real answer to the prayers of my Christian friends.

I received 12 years for manslaughter and was sentenced in total to 152 years in prison on 52 counts under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I went to the H Blocks, began to educate myself and was released in 1987.

I was divorced but interested in going to Bible college. After graduating from college I went to work for Prison Fellowship Northern Ireland which was a time of challenge and a real blessing. At this point I was living in Switzerland with my wife Martha and two children.

We returned to England in 2001. I decided that I wanted to work with the church in my local community amongst the homeless, drug addicts and ex-offenders, so I set up a community chaplaincy which is the work I’m involved with today.

Looking back over all these years I realise God gave me that second chance – and a full pardon.

  • An updated version of Billy McFetridge’s book Full Pardon is published by Malcolm Down
  • Photo (top): Premier Christian Media

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