Wednesday, February 11, 2015

AT 9am on 29 July 1974, workmen cutting grass discovered a woman’s body lying in a ditch close to the M1 motorway in Belfast at a place called Stockmans Lane.

The RUC were called and immediately sealed off the site. The woman’s body was lying half-submerged in stagnant water and it was clear to see that she had been badly beaten. She was wearing a red jumper and grey trousers but no identifying documents were found.

The local press, radio and television released details of her appearance and described the rings on her fingers, and within a few hours a social worker from Shaftsbury Square social services office contacted the RUC informing them of a meeting she was supposed to have with Ann Ogilby on 24 July. She turned up late with her daughter Sharleen but left without speaking to the social worker. She had not been seen since that time.

Ann Ogilby was a Protestant woman living in the Sandy Row area, having arrived in Belfast in 1968 from the small village of Sion Mills in County Tyrone, where she was born in 1943. Ms Ogilby was an unmarried mother of four children, but only the oldest, six-year-old Sharleen, lived with her. The three younger ones had been taken into care. All the children were the result of casual sex encounters. At the time of her disappearance and death, Ann and Sharleen were residents of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) hostel on Belfast’s Malone Road.

The social worker was taken to the mortuary and confirmed that the body was that of Ann Ogilby. Further identification was made by her brother.

Ann Ogilby was a handsome woman with long dark-brown hair. She was, as far as can be ascertained, not involved with any organisation, but she had ruffled the feathers of some because of her alleged promiscuity. These actions would usually have attracted the male members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) to administer whatever punishment was required. However, it was different in the Sandy Row area, and particularly in this case, where the finger of suspicion pointed to female members of the UDA.

We have to remember that in 1974 the UDA was a legal loyalist paramilitary organisation. So who were these women and why did they brutally murder Ann Ogilby?

Well, her first child – Sharleen – was fathered by a British soldier, who duly abandoned both mother and child and was transferred out of the area. Two further pregnancies saw her give birth to two sons, Stephen and Gary, who were put up for adoption after their birth, leaving only Sharleen in the care of her mother.

In 1972, Ann started a relationship with a man named William Young. He was a member of the UDA and the couple started living together. Young informed Ann that his marriage had already broken up and that he was waiting for his divorce to come through. Young was interned in Long Kesh in 1973, and each time Ann went to visit him, he complained that his wife Elizabeth had neither brought nor sent food parcels, despite being funded by the Loyalist Prisoners’ Association (LPA). These food parcels were a long-established UDA practice, and the organisation took immense pride from it.

When Ogilby innocently repeated Young’s complaint in a Sandy Row public house, some of the female UDA members were present and became very angry. Elizabeth was able to prove that she had been sending the food parcels to her husband.

The women’s unit considered Ann’s words a grave insult to their integrity, as they were responsible for the food parcel operation. Already disgusted by Ogilby’s relationship with Young, the women considered her remarks as contentious and morally wrong, as Ann had a reputation of frequently visiting pubs on her own.

It is time to have a closer look at the UDA women’s groups, which were recognisable by their distinctive beehive hairstyles. The first was in the Shankill Road. Their leader was Wendy ‘Bucket’ Millar, while Hestor Dunn, based at UDA headquarters in Gawn Street, was in overall charge.

In Sandy Row it was Elizabeth ‘Lily’ Douglas who was in charge, and it was this group which decided that Ogilby would pay for the affair with Young – and her remarks – with her life.

On 23 July 1974, two months after Ogilby had given premature birth to a son called Derek, who had been fathered by Young, a group of five UDA women led by Elizabeth Douglas, her 19-year-old daughter, also Elizabeth, 50-year-old second-in-command Kathleen Whitla, and Josephine Brown (18), along with Elizabeth Young (32), the wife of her lover, kidnapped Ogilby at a friend’s house in the Suffolk housing estate.

She was tried in a kangaroo court at the disused Warwick’s bakery, which was now a UDA club. It was situated at 119 Hunter Street, on the corner of Oswald Street. This was a club Ogilby had frequented with Young, an experience she generally enjoyed, mixing with the Loyalist women among the clientele. Eight women members of the Douglas ‘Heavy Squad’ and two men presided at her ‘trial’. Elizabeth Young was absent, as she was not part of this squad. Ann was grilled for more than an hour about her affair with Young and her remarks about the food parcels.

She was informed that if found guilty she would face a ‘rompering’. This referred to the notorious UDA ‘romper rooms’ set up by North Belfast Brigadier Davy Payne in the early 1970s. They were located in various empty buildings or rooms located in pubs and clubs throughout the area, where victims were tortured and beaten before being killed. Although mainly reserved for Catholics, Protestants who failed to toe the line also wound up there. The women found her guilty, but the men could not reach a verdict and ordered her release.

Ann went to Glengall St bus station and boarded a bus, which would take her to the hostel. But the women first blocked and then boarded the bus to ‘rearrest’ Ogilby. The reason later given was that she passed a sarcastic remark as she left the trial. Minutes later, a sergeant from Queen Street Police Station, having been informed of what had happened by the bus station staff, circulated the details. The car was stopped on the Malone Road by the RUC, who were amazed to find there were nine women in the vehicle. When asked who the woman was who was taken off the bus, Ogilby stated that it was her but gave no other information. The women were released at 2am. However, Ogilby returned to the station in distress, but when she failed to reveal what was wrong; she was sent back to the hostel in a taxi.

Later that day, the Sandy Row women met in a pub, where Elizabeth Douglas stated that Ogilby was a dangerous woman and had to die, and plans were set to organise the murder. Douglas was aware of the upcoming meeting with the social worker in Shaftsbury Square. She organised UDA man Albert ‘Bumper’ Graham to arrest Ogilby as she left the office. Meanwhile, the women took up a vantage point in the Regency Hotel on Botanic Avenue, overlooking the welfare office.

As Ann Ogilby and her daughter Sharleen left the office, they were ordered by Graham to get into his blue minibus while signalling to the watching women. They rushed to their transport and followed the minibus to a UDA club on Hunter Street. The child was given sixpence and told to go buy sweets, and then the women started their brutal attack on a now hooded and tied-up Ann.

First she was punched in the face and dropped to the floor, where she was continuously kicked in the head, face and stomach. This was followed by bricks being dropped on her head. The two women carrying out the beating were 17-year-old Christine Kathleen Smith and Henrietta Piper Cowan (17).

Having stopped for a drink, they started dancing until they heard the returning Sharleen screaming for her mother. She could hear her mother’s screams as she pleaded for mercy. Cowan continued the beating until Ogilby was dead. Graham then brought Sharleen back to the hostel and left her at the door. She was looked after by staff until social services found her a home. The women then left and met Douglas, telling her what had taken place. She organised the removal of the body by a UDA man to where it was eventually found.

The autopsy on Ann’s body revealed that she had been hit by 24 blows to the head and body with a blunt instrument, 14 of which caused severe fractures to the skull.

A CID detective from Springfield Road Station located Sharleen and she was questioned by female detectives and was very clear in her responses. She was taken by detectives to the Sandy Row area and had no problem locating the spot where her mother was murdered. Bloodstains matching Ogilby’s blood, documents and other evidence were found and used in the trial of the perpetrators.

This took place in February 1975 and the following sentences were handed down in front of a packed Belfast City Court: Cowan and Smith pleaded guilty to murder and were detained ‘at the pleasure of the secretary of state’. At the last minute, Elizabeth Douglas pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received ten years. Albert Graham and Josephine Brown were each jailed for three years on charges of grievous bodily harm and intimidation. Whitla got two years for intimidation. Marie Carol Lendrum, Maud Tait, Elizabeth Douglas Junior and Anne Marie Gracey received 18-month suspended sentences for intimidation.

Douglas Senior died in jail, while Whitla is also deceased. The remainder are all back on the street, most living in the Sandy Row area. The UDA condemned the killing and disbanded the women’s group that was responsible.

To most people in Northern Ireland, over all the years of brutality, this case stands out. It is the only case of the 3,500 people who were killed in that period in which a woman was tortured and killed by other women of her own religion for no other reason than jealously.

Sharleen was taken back to Sion Mills a short time later by an aunt and uncle. She is now happily married with three children. The only brother with whom she had contact was Gary, but that was lost. She knows nothing of the whereabouts of Stephen or Derek.

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By Frank White
Contact Newsdesk: +353 59 9170100

More Times Past

Ireland home and away in WWI (part 4)

Ireland home and away in WWI (part 3)