1970-1979 | Northern Ireland

Ulster Defence Regiment gunmen murder a Catholic couple

Photo showing a typical country road near Dungannon.
P. Flannagan – CC License – via Georgraph.

7 May 1974

On 7 May 1974, a Catholic couple, James Desmond Delvin, a bar manager aged fourty five, and his wife Gertrude, a librarian aged fourty four, were driving to their home in Dungannon in County Tyrone, with their seventeen year old daughter Patricia. Suddenly, a man dressed in what appeared to be a soldier’s uniform stepped out on to the narrow country lane, signalling them to stop. Moments later, James and Gertrude were killed in a hail of gunfire, which also wounded Patricia in the right thigh and forearm and covered her in blood.

Over a year later, on 19 August 1975, William Thomas Leonard, a 21 year old phone engineer, who was also serving as a soldier in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), was arrested. He confessed to the murder of the couple and a string of other brutal terror attacks, including bombings which had injured six people and the abduction of two bread deliverymen.  However, at no time in the subsequent court proceedings was his membership of the UDR ever mentioned by the prosecution, nor was it referred to in the file presented to the judge when determining his sentence.

Another suspect named by Leonard, a twenty seven year old farmer and part time soldier in the UDR,  was subsequently arrested but all the papers relating to his arrest and subsequent court appearance subsequently disappeared.  The Historical Enquiries Team, a police unit set up to investigate unsolved murders in Northern Ireland, later noted in 2009 that ‘the reason for the removal of his conviction and sentencing details cannot be established.’1


  1. Anne Cadwallader, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, Mercier Press, Cork, 2013, pp 62-66.

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