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1976: UDR men jailed for Showband killings
Two men from the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) have each been jailed for 35 years in connection with the murders of members of the Miami Showband.

The UDR soldiers were members of the outlawed paramilitary organisation the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Imposing the longest life sentences in Northern Ireland history, the judge said "killings like the Miami Showband must be stopped."

Thomas Raymond Crozier and Rodney Shane McDowell, both from Lurgan, Co Armagh, were sentenced for their part in a UVF ambush when three members of the cabaret band were shot dead.

Players were returning from a gig in Belfast in July 1975 when their minibus was flagged down near Newry at what appeared to be a military roadblock.

Two terrorists were killed by their own bomb as they tried to plant it in the back of the band's van. Three of the players were then summarily executed.

Police said they were dismayed that the gang of UVF militants had also been locally recruited into the British Army's UDR.

In court the judge said the death penalty would have been imposed had it not been recently abolished.

"A few years ago the question of mere imprisonment would not have arisen."

Harsh sentences

He said he was imposing more severe sentences because lesser penalties had had little effect.

Speaking from Dublin about how the ordeal affected him, a surviving band member, Des 'Lee' McAlea, said he would not be returning to Northern Ireland.

"Life goes on and I have to make my own life now unfortunately...Our happiest days playing in the band were in Northern Ireland."

But he added: "Sometime in the future if the situation in Northern Ireland should get better, we could sit down and talk about going back."

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Left to right Tony Geraghty Fran O'Toole, Ray Millar, Des Lee, Brian McCoy and Steve Travers - picture courtesy Irish Showbands Archive
Last picture of the Miami Showband, summer 1975

In Context
The Miami Showband was one of the most popular touring cabaret bands from the Republic of Ireland.

It transpired that the UVF, a Loyalist paramilitary group, were attempting to frame the band as members of the IRA by planting a bomb in their minivan.

Two UVF men died when the bomb they were trying to plant exploded prematurely. The remaining gunmen opened fire on the players. Tony Geraghty, Fran O'Toole and Brian McCoy died at the scene.

Republicans have accused the British government of complicity in the Miami Showband ambush.

Such a link has never been proven in this particular instance, but the 1990 Stevens Inquiry into collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries concluded there was evidence in other cases.

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