On October 4th 1972, there was an assassination attempt on the life of the Unionist leader of Vanguard, William Craig.
William Craig, was driving on Hillhall Road, Lisburn, when his car was attacked - apparently from an overtaking car - and hit with 3 bullets. One hit the boot and the others hit the off-side mud-guards
The former hard-line Minister for Home Affairs in the Unionist government and Stormont Member of Parliament for Larne, was dismissed from Cabinet in 1968 and then had the Ulster Unionist Party whip removed in 1970.
Craig formed the Ulster Vanguard Movement in February 1972 and most may remember him for his inflammatory speeches at a time when the conflict was becoming more vicious and Stormont was prorogued. At a massive Vanguard rally in Ormeau Park in March 1972, Craig said:
"We must build up the dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy
The Assassination Attempt
Craig was quoted in the Irish Press the following day:
"I think the shots must have come from the car which overtook me. I wasn't really aware of it at all... Three shots rang out just as the car was overtaking me. There was a man and woman in it, but nothing else attracted my attention. I could see no gun."
The article reported that Craig was convinced that the assassination attempt was by the Irish Republican Army (IRA):
"I don't know what they wanted - whether to kill a loyalist leader or produce a loyalist backlash... there are signs that they are trying to bring out the two communities at each other's throats."
The Belfast Telegraph quoted a Vanguard Press Officer on the night of the assassination attempt:
"We regard this without a doubt as an attempt on the life of the Vanguard leader by the IRA."
The IRA, of course, was the obvious suspect as this was the second reported attempt on Craig's life and the IRA (Official wing) had shot and nearly killed the then Minister of State for Home Affairs, John Taylor, earlier that year. The IRA had also targeted and killed a number of political representatives throughout the conflict.
Nevertheless, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) investigating the shooting may not have believed that the IRA tried to assassinate William Craig.
A secret RUC report to British Military Intelligence discovered by Paper Trail alleges that the police considered different culprits.
Police Division R covering the area of the alleged assassination attempt reported:
An attempt was made on the life of William Craig... Three shots were fired at the car Craig was in, the shots were aimed low (probably from a .38 pistol). Some confusion still seems to exist as to where the shots came from. Craig himself believes they were fired from a dark green Corsair travelling in the same direction as himself. There were two people in the car - a woman passenger and a male driver."
The RUC has further surprising/disturbing comment to make:
This would seem to be a very half-hearted attempt at an assassination. From the angle and position of the shots it would have been easier to fire through his window indicating it may well have been a put up job [author's emphasis].
It is interesting to note that George Morrison, local leader of the Vanguard, just happened to be at the RUC station Lisburn when Craig arrived there. Craig is shortly to appear in Court at Lisburn for Drunken and Dangerous Driving charges.
The RUC, it appears, did not think that the IRA tried to assassinate one of the leading Unionist politicians of the day - in this instance at least.