The story of Robin Jackson, UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade leader and alleged RUC Special Branch agent.
For decades journalists and television broadcasters were afraid to mention him by name, referring him only by his sinister soubriquet “The Jackal”. But he has been dead for almost 16 years and the name Robin Jackson has come to symbolise the senseless violence and sheer bestiality that the Troubles wrecked upon the island of Ireland and beyond. Dubbed by Kevin Dowling “Lord High Executioner of the North’s notorious murder triangle”, over 50 murders have been attributed to him including some of the worst atrocities carried out in the thirty years of the conflict. In addition to being an Ulster Volunteer Force leader, it has been suggested by HET and several judicial inquiries that he worked as an RUC Special Branch agent.
The biographical details fail to reveal much of this man who inflicted so much suffering on his victims, the majority of whom were strangers to him, although he did not flinch at shooting dead his brother-in-law (for allegedly informing) and his paramilitary comrade Billy Hanna, from whom he took over as leader of the ruthless UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade. Born Robert John Jackson on 27 September 1948 in Donaghmore, County Tyrone, he was brought up in a Protestant family whose roots in the area ran deep. In 1972 he joined the UDR and sometime after that the Ulster Volunteer Force. He was married and earned his living by delivering chickens for Moy Park’s food processing company. It is alleged he killed his first victim in October 1973. Although he was arrested for the murder of Patrick Campbell and the latter’s widow picked him out at an identity parade, charges against him were dropped in January 1974, leaving him free to help perpetrate the deadliest atrocity in one single day of the Troubles: the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings on 17 May 1974 which left a total of 33 people killed and close to 300 injured. Journalist Joe Tiernan maintains that Jackson transported the bombs across the border in his poultry lorry and that together with the operation’s mastermind Billy Hanna, delivered them to the drivers of the designated bomb cars at a North Dublin car park. Before the devices exploded that evening in Dublin’s Parnell, Talbot and South Leinster streets, Jackson and Hanna were already back at a Lurgan soup kitchen where they handed out food parcels it being the third day of the UWC strike.
The following year 1975, after he reportedly shot Hanna dead and assumed command of the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade, he himself organised what is probably the most senseless and baffling incident throughout the conflict which left three members of the popular Miami Showband lying dead in a field and the other two injured, one gravely. The band’s minibus was ambushed at a bogus UDR checkpoint at Buskhill, County Down outside Newry by armed UVF members wearing British Army uniforms. When the bomb they had loaded onto the van exploded prematurely killing two of the gunmen, the remaining UVF gang opened fire on the bewildered band members. Jackson’s finger prints were later found on the silencer of the Luger used to kill trumpeter Brian McCoy. And although he was taken into custody at Crumlin Road jail and went on trial charged only with possession of the silencer, he was acquitted on 11 November 1976.
Described as sardonic and dedicated, Jackson was a small, well-built man with receding dark hair and strange dead-looking blue eyes. He was highly suspicious by nature and so paranoid that he destroyed almost all photographs of himself including family and school pictures. Intelligence officers acquainted with Jackson stated that he was a psychopath who would dress up and attend the funerals of his victims because he felt the strong need to “make sure they were dead”. He often carried out his killings whilst delivering his chickens as RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir alleged in an affidavit. Weir who, together with another RUC SPG officer, was convicted of the 1977 murder of Catholic chemist William Strathearn, maintained that Jackson was the actual triggerman in the killing and after shooting Strathearn dead on his doorstep, drove off to deliver some chickens in his lorry. He was never questioned about the murder. An RUC detective said he was not interrogated for “reasons of operational strategy”. Weir however, insisted that Jackson was “untouchable because he was an RUC Special Branch agent”. Despite all the murders and bombings attributed to Jackson which also included the Reavey and O’Dowd shootings, the execution of IRA member John Francis Green and the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk, Jackson was only convicted once: of weapons possession in 1981 and served just a little over two years of a seven year’s prison sentence.
Was Jackson a protected RUC Special agent, with a licence to kill and wreck mayhem on the innocent people of Northern Ireland and the Republic? We will most likely never know. He died of lung cancer at his Donaghcloney home on 30 May 1998. His funeral had none of the militaristic trappings and gun-volleying accolades normally bestowed on dead paramilitaries. Instead his burial at a Church of Ireland graveyard in Lurgan was a private affair attended by only close friends and family members and the odd member of the murky world of Intelligence.