(by Greg Harkin, The People)
August 25, 2002
AN RUC man jailed for murdering a Catholic in a sectarian attack is to get a police pension - despite his conviction for a catalogue of terrorist crimes, The People can reveal.
Rogue cop Billy McCaughey, 51, who was jailed along with a UVF gang for the murder of shopkeeper William Strathearn in 1977, is due a whopping entitlement despite being drummed out of the force in 1980. McCaughey, now a PUP representative in Ballymena, served 16 years of a life sentence for his part in the so-called Good Samaritan murder which caused outrage across Ulster.
Mr Strathearn, 39, a shop manager in the quiet village of Ahoghill, Co Antrim was gunned down after answering a knock at the front door in the early hours of April 19 1977.
The father-of-seven responded after hearing a man call out that he needed aspirin for a sick child. When he opened the door Mr Strathearn, who was well known in GAA circles, was shot twice at point blank range.
At his trial, McCaughey admitted helping plan the murder and said he provided the .45 pistol used in the attack and had driven the killers to the scene.
He was also convicted for his part in the bombing of a Keady pub where he shot at a customer fleeing the scene and was also involved in the kidnapping of Catholic priest Fr Hugh Murphy from Ahoghill in 1978. McCaughey, who first served in the RUC reserve, joined the full time force in 1972 and received four commendations for his police work. But after his conviction for murder and other serious crimes the then chief constable, Sir Jack Hermon set out to oppose any pension pay-out to McCaughey - but failed on a legal technicality.
McCaughey, a self-employed builder, will be due his pension within weeks because his 30-year contract period with the force, which began in 1972, is now complete.
Yesterday (Aug 17) the one time Special Branch officer, who turned his back on a promising career to take part in murder, kidnap and a string of other sectarian crimes, defended his position and said he he was entitled to the payout.
"I've earned it. I did 10 years service fair and square," he said. "And I can say that I'm not the only one with a past that has got the pension from the RUC."
The former cop, who masterminded a string of s ectarian attacks by passing on information to loyalist paramilitaries, added: "I paid into the scheme for the time I was in the force and so am entitled to the payout.
"Everybody who has passed through the RUC regardless of the circumstances that they left under will still be entitled to a police pension.
"I accept that the circumstances I left under weren't normal but I still did my day's work regardless of what went on outside hours. I've earned it"
McCaughey, who was released in 1993, rose to prominence in recent years after he was linked to the loyalist protest at Harryville Catholic church, although he denied being an organiser. He was also seen outside a court house in the town waving a Union flag in support of a number of men charged with taking tricolours down from a nationalist estate in Ballymena.
More recently, he has organised peace rallies in Ballymena and has made repeated calls for a forum to be set up to discuss the sectarian problems affecting the area.
Relatives of Mr Strathearn said they were "sickened" to hear about the payout.
One close relative said: "It's hardly fair after what he has done. He can get on with his life now with a big pension to enjoy - all we've got is a grave to visit.
This article appeared in the August 18 edition of the The People (formerly the Sunday People).