Coggle’s funeral cortege was led by a lone piper as a black hearse paraded his remains around the streets of the upper Shankill
And as these exclusive pictures show, he didn’t really want the rest of the world to know about it.
The 47 year-old father of four chatted with other loyalist leaders at the funeral of former UVF prisoner Joe Coggle in the Shankill area of Belfast on Thursday afternoon.
He initially managed to keep himself out of public view – until our lensman caught up with him!
Until recently, Irvine – known for his close links to the UVF – was in custody awaiting trial on serious arms and ammunition charges.
He was arrested in March after a hoax bomb attack at a peace-building event attended by Irish Tánaiste Simon Coveney caused it to be cancelled.
Irvine was scooped during an undercover police surveillance operation. And when he appeared in court days later, he was refused bail and remanded in custody.
Following several failed legal challenges, he was eventually released in July by a High Court Judge after posting £750 bail and a £10,000 family surety.
There is no suggestion here that he broke any of his bail conditions.
But we can reveal Irvine mingled with paramilitary-clad loyalists performing an eight-man guard of honour at the funeral of a former UVF prisoner Joe Coggle.
In 1991, Coggle was handed an 18 year sentence for conspiracy to murder. And before that – he also went to jail for two years – for killing a Catholic pensioner when he drove a car at her when he was drunk.
A father of three, Joe Coggle (62) died nine days ago, after a short illness. His deceased politician father also Joe, was twice High Sheriff of Belfast.
Coggle’s funeral cortege was led by a lone piper as a black hearse paraded his remains around the streets of the upper Shankill.
Many leading loyalists – including Winkie Irvine – fell in behind, but well out the limelight.
Following a dramatic arrest in 1991 Coggle was convicted along with three other members of a UVF hit team of conspiracy to murder Catholics.
Shortly before Christmas, Coggle and his mates were driving along the Springfield Road in west Belfast, totally unaware they were heading straight into an intelligence-led police trap.
Heavily armed cops from the RUC’s Headquarters Mobile Support Unit surrounded his car when it reached the junction with the Falls Road. As the car stopped Coggle jumped out with his hands in the air.
And when an infrared dot suddenly appeared on his chest, Coggle shouted at police marksmen: “Don’t shoot. We’re Prods!”
Two AK-style assault rifles and an automatic pistol – all fully loaded and ready for use – were recovered from the car. In total, the police found 150 bullets stashed inside the car.
But it later emerged the men had been sold out by a leading member of the UVF who was working as a double agent in the pay of the police.
It is believed the UVF team were about launch an attack on a Catholic social club when the police intercepted them by activating an immobiliser secreted in the car.
Sending Coggle to jail for 18 years, Lord Justice Kelly described the UVF men as ‘determined and ruthless terrorists bent on murder and wholesale slaughter.”
But last Thursday – following a 45 minute service at the Bray Court home of his partner Lena – Coggle’s loyalist paramilitary credentials were again publicly acknowledged and honoured.
With ‘Winkie’ Irvine and other loyalists Tommy Harrison and Harry Stockman standing close by, the pale blue flag of the shadowy Protestant Action Force was placed on top of Coggle’s coffin.
Infamous loyalist figure Ronnie Hawthorne – named in an award-winning documentary as the chief suspect and lead gunman in the Loughinisland Massacre – was also among the mourners.
The UVF attack in the sleepy Co. Down village of Loughinisland, happened as the unsuspecting victims watched Ireland beat Italy in the 1994 World Cup Finals. Six died at the scene and five others innocents were wounded but survived.
During the course of the Troubles, the Protestant Action Force murdered at least 41 Catholics.
But historians and observers came to regard the PAF tag, as simply a flag of convenience for the UVF, especially when it engaged in blatant acts of sectarian slaughter.
Eighteen years earlier, the PAF claimed the triple killings of the Catholic Reavey brothers, shot as they watched TV in their home at Whitecross, south Armagh, on January 4 1976.
And twenty minutes after the Reavey shootings, three members of the O’Dowd family were also shot dead in their home twenty miles away at Ballydougan, Co. Armagh. Again the killings were claimed by the PAF.
But the ruthless UVF team to which Joe Coggle Jnr. belonged, was one of two based in the now closed Four Step Inn pub at the top of Belfast’s Shankill Road.
They were responsible for a string of sectarian killings in the late 80s and early 90s, claimed under the PAF flag of convenience.
On Thursday, a floral wreath commemorating the Four Step unit of the UVF was carried at Coggle’s funeral this week by a man wearing a UVF-styled paramilitary uniform.
The pub was a favourite haunt of Ulster-born British soldiers’ home on leave from Irish Regiments. And on 29th September 1971, two civilians died when the IRA planted a no-warning bomb inside.
Last summer, a wheelchair bound Joe Coggle came to public attention once more.
At an anti-Protocol rally on the Shankill, he set fire to a huge Sinn Fein poster which urged discussion on a United Ireland.
And he said: “If violence is needed to overcome the Protocol then so be it.”
Today the Sunday World can reveal details of a shocking act of violence carried out by Coggle which resulted in the death of an innocent Catholic woman on May 24 1986.
Pensioner Elizabeth Masterson was chatting with friends on the pavement at Beechmount Drive off the Falls Road. It was shortly after 1.00am and the light-hearted discussion was about to break up.
Twenty six year-old Joe Coggle Jnr. was sitting in a car parked nearby. He was heavily intoxicated and still had the engine running.
Without warning, he put the car in gear, mounted the pavement and drove straight into the people standing on the footpath. He then drove off in the direction of the Shankill.
Mrs. Masterson was rushed to hospital where she later died of serious head injuries. Another man who was also hit sustained serious injuries.
Coggle was arrested and after questioning the police planned to charge him with Mrs. Masterson’s murder.
However, after an intervention by the DPP, the charges were watered down. And Coggle eventually pleaded guilty to causing death by reckless driving, driving while drunk and failing to stay at the scene of an accident.
Coggle was given a two year jail sentence. A retired RUC officer who dealt with the case at the time told us yesterday: “Joe Coggle was a despicable person. It was murder.”
For reasons unknown, Mrs. Masterson’s death is not included on the official list of Troubles casualties.
Winston ‘Winkie’ Irvine’s case relating to the possession of firearms and ammunition will call in again in court in the near future.
A second man, 51 years-old Robin Workman from Shore Road, Larne, is currently in custody on the same charges.