Murdered RUC man failed by his senior officers: ombudsman

Tommy (son)  and Rosemary Campbell (widow) as  family of murdered Joseph Campbell speak to the media at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Tommy (son) and Rosemary Campbell (widow) as family of murdered Joseph Campbell speak to the media at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Senior police commanders in Northern Ireland knew of a threat to kill one of their officers but failed to warn him before he was shot dead, an investigation has found.

The high-ranking officers also did not inform detectives investigating the murder of RUC sergeant Joe Campbell of the specific threat, Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said.

The 49-year-old father-of-eight was shot on the evening of February 25, 1977 as he locked the main gates of Cushendall police station in Co Antrim and died a short time later.

Sgt Campbell’s family believe his murder involved collusion between rogue elements of the police and loyalist paramilitaries.

Dr Maguire, who investigates allegations of police misconduct, said evidence of collusion was “inconclusive”.

“On the basis of the information available I can neither discount nor substantiate the allegations of a wider conspiracy into the murder of Sgt Campbell,” he said.

But the ombudsman said if senior management in the RUC had ensured an appropriate response to concerns raised about the officer’s safety the murder could have been prevented.

“I have to conclude that Sgt Campbell, a dedicated community police officer in the Glens of Antrim, was failed by senior members of the police service of which he was a respected member,” he said.

“There is sufficient, reliable evidene that senior police officers throughout the RUC’s command structure, including the then head of Special Branch and quite probably the Chief Constable, were aware of concerns, which had been documented, about a threat to his life and failed to act upon them.

“They should have responded to the threat in a far more robust way. Sgt Campbell should have been warned, which would have allowed him to vary his routine. Police could have mounted visible police patrols in the area and if necessary posted him to an area where the threat would have been diminished or removed. None of this was done.”

The RUC Chief Constable at the time of the murder was Sir Kenneth Newman, who went on to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He told Dr Maguire’s investigators he had no recollection of the Sgt Campbell case.

In 1980 a member of the RUC’s Special Branch and a man identified in court as a police informant were arrested and charged in connection with the murder. The police officer was acquitted and the man was convicted of withholding information in connection with the murder.

The former police officer was rearrested five years ago in the wake of the ombudsman office probe but the Public Prosecution Service directed that no action be taken.

Dr Maguire said former RUC officers and others interviewed during his office’s investigation provided a picture of mounting concern for Sgt Campbell during the mid-1970s. His report identified a number of significant failings in both these investigations, claiming that all available information was not passed to the detectives.