Bradford, Robert John (1941–81), unionist politician and methodist minister, was born 8 June 1941 in Ballykelly, Limavady, Co. Londonderry, seventh child of his father, who sold his milk business while his mother was in hospital giving birth to Robert. Having moved to Grove St., Belfast, his mother contracted TB at the end of the second world war, and he was fostered out to the Nicholson family in Hunter St., Belfast. He attended Blythe St. primary and Linfield secondary intermediate schools. He left school at 15 to become a professional footballer in England and was on the books of Sheffield Wednesday for a time. Within a short period he came back to Belfast, where he later played soccer for Glenavon, Distillery, and Queen's University.
At 17 he resumed his education at Edgehill College, the methodist training centre for Ireland, and later graduated from QUB with a B.Th. He was ordained a methodist minister (1963) and, after short ministerial stays in Cork and Fermanagh, he was given a ministry in Cregagh, near Belfast. In the early 1970s he joined the unionist party but left to join the Vanguard party, standing unsuccessfully in the 1973 assembly elections. In the February 1974 general election he won a 4,000-vote majority as an anti-Sunningdale candidate over a pro-power-sharing unionist, and within months had resigned from the methodist church, accusing its leaders of hypocrisy. In the October 1974 election he extended his majority to 18,000, and won one almost as large in 1979.
During his time at Westminster, Bradford regularly indulged in sensationalism. Initially influenced by Enoch Powell (1912–98), he grew increasingly close to Ian Paisley (qv), whom he regarded as a kindred spirit, despite the fact that he joined the official unionist party from the mid 1970s, unsuccessfully contesting its leadership (1979). In May 1978 he used parliamentary privilege to cite eight workers at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital as IRA sympathisers. He believed politics was inextricably linked to religion, advocated the shooting of terrorists, supported the use of the death penalty, claimed the UDA had been infiltrated by communists, and spoke out trenchantly against homosexuality, pornography, and massage parlours. He later moderated his professed opinion that the loyalists of Ulster were descendants of the lost tribe of Israel. A tireless constituency worker, he was immensely popular with grassroots loyalists, combining his extreme views with a mild, shy demeanour. He married (5 December 1970) Norah; they had one daughter, Claire. On 14 November 1981 he was shot by the IRA when holding an advice session at a community centre: the first assassination of a unionist politician in Ulster, marking a major escalation in violence. The secretary of state for Northern Ireland, James Prior, was attacked at his funeral, which was marked by strikes and rioting across the province.