Lyttle, Thomas (‘Tucker’) (1939–95), loyalist paramilitary leader, was born in the Shankill area of Belfast and lived in Sydney Street (off the Shankill Road). He was a machinist at Mackie's foundry at the time when he became a founding member of the UDA in 1971; he later combined paramilitary activities with a part-time position as manager of a bookmaker's shop. Unlike many loyalist paramilitaries he had a number of catholic acquaintances, whom he had met through boxing and dog racing. He initially served as second-in-command and adviser to the West Belfast UDA brigadier Charles Harding Smith and acted as his spokesman. He stood as a Vanguard candidate in North Belfast in the June 1973 assembly elections, but received only 560 votes. In later life he extended the normal loyalist contempt for unionists who denounced paramilitaries while benefiting from their strength to cover all protestants who expressed admiration for loyalists but did not vote for them. He contrasted the crowds who attended demonstrations in support of republican prisoners with the skimpy turnout in support of jailed loyalists. ‘It's easy to march for God and Ulster but a lot harder to do time for it’ (Sunday World, 22 Oct. 1995).
Lyttle helped to organise the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) strike of May 1974, accompanying the UDA chairman, Andy Tyrie, on UWC delegations and helping to keep rank-and-file militants under control. He also organised the monitoring of police radio communications, and suggested the highly effective tactic of supplying paramilitaries with cameras and threatening strikebreakers who walked to work with an appearance in the UDA weekly magazine. Lyttle boasted about the strikers’ methods: ‘You may have called it intimidation – but intimidation without violence is sometimes very important’ (Fisk, 58). He took part in UDA talks with the SDLP in August 1974, and later in the decade met Liam Cosgrave and Charles Haughey (1925–2006). In November 1974 Lyttle was a member of a loyalist delegation which visited Libya.
In December 1974 to January 1975 Lyttle initially backed Harding Smith in a dispute with the East Belfast leadership under Andy Tyrie, but afterwards changed sides. Smith was severely wounded by a sniper during a meeting with Lyttle, and was deposed as West Belfast leader; Lyttle later took his place as brigadier. For many years he was the principal (anonymous) contact between the media and the UDA. In this capacity he presented himself as an affable, approachable figure, a moderate seeking to guide the UDA away from random assassination by developing a political strategy. His darker side was displayed elsewhere: he was suspected of involvement in the murder of Alexander Jamison (a UDA member who had fallen out with the organisation) in March 1976.
In January 1978 Lyttle was a co-founder of the New Ulster Political Research Group. In 1984, while Lyttle was in hospital for a period, Tyrie tried to nominate a replacement as West Belfast brigadier but was forced to back down. After the death of John McMichael (qv) (with whom he had fallen out) in December 1987 and the forced retirement of Tyrie in March 1988, Lyttle became UDA leader on a year-to-year basis, though he encountered considerable suspicion within the organisation. In summer 1988 Lyttle called for unionist parties to negotiate with the Irish government and the SDLP. He is widely believed to have ordered the murder of Pat Finucane (qv). Before the 1989 local elections he suggested to colleagues that a loyalist ceasefire might pressurise the IRA to end its campaign; he was the first senior loyalist to make such a proposal. He opposed the drugs trade (at least ostensibly), and ordered the National Front to cease operations in Belfast, even though some UDA activists were linked to the extremist group.
In August 1989 Lyttle took the decision to justify the sectarian murder of Loughlin Maginn by revealing that the UDA possessed official intelligence documents. This brought about the Stevens inquiry into policing in Northern Ireland. The Stevens team arrested Brian Nelson (qv) (1948–2003), UDA intelligence officer and a Lyttle associate, who was subsequently revealed as an agent of army intelligence. Many UDA activists, including Lyttle, were arrested. Lyttle was charged with illegal possession of police documents, and later with sending a threatening letter to Nelson's sister. While on remand he was expelled from the UDA inner council and refused recognition as a UDA prisoner. He pleaded guilty to threatening witnesses and to possession of documents likely to be useful to terrorists; he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, serving as a ‘conforming prisoner’ in Maghaberry prison rather than with hard-core paramilitaries in the Maze. His health deteriorated further in prison.
After his downfall Lyttle became a hate figure for his younger and more militant successors. He was accused of embezzling UDA funds and working for Special Branch; he denied these claims. On his release in October 1994 Lyttle moved to England, but after the ceasefires he settled in north Down; he never returned to the Shankill. With his wife Elizabeth (Lil) he had three sons and two daughters; the youngest son, John, became a prominent gay journalist in London, remaining on good terms with his father. Lyttle died of a heart attack while playing snooker in a Donaghadee pub on 18 October 1995. He did not receive a paramilitary funeral, and the UDA leadership responded to his death with public silence and private expressions of contempt.
In 1998 the journalist John Ware claimed that at an interview shortly before his death Lyttle admitted to having worked for Special Branch, claiming that his handlers turned a blind eye to the killing of Finucane. The role of Lyttle, Nelson, and other agents in the Pat Finucane killing was regularly cited by Sinn Féin spokesmen in 2001–2. Lyttle's career epitomises the violence, corruption, murky dealings, and political waywardness of loyalist paramilitarism.