Second chance for Ulster ex-paramilitary

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.


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