THERE were suspicions within the RUC about how the IRA had the precise information to plant a bomb which killed four officers transporting a Brinks Mat security van in 1985.
The RUC had taken over escorting the van from a Garda escort at the border on the main Belfast to Dublin road, close to Killeen, on May 20, 1985 when a 1,000lb bomb detonated
Four young officers – William Wilson, 28, Stephen Rodgers, 19, David Baird, 22, and 21-year-old Tracy Doak – were all killed.
A former RUC Special Branch detective constable who was based in Newry at the time agreed with a barrister at the Smithwick Tribunal yesterday that there were suspicions as to how the IRA knew where and when to place the remote controlled device in a parked trailer.
The witness, who was granted anonymity by the tribunal and referred to by the letter Q, agreed with barrister Richard Smith, representing former Army spy Kevin Fulton, also known as Peter Keeley, that the IRA unit had to have had precise information to leave a 1,000lb bomb in the right place at the right time.
Witness Q, giving evidence via video link from Belfast, said: “I would agree with that, yes.”
Mr Smith continued: “Was there some concern within the RUC as to how the IRA unit came by the information?”
Witness Q said: “There would have been concern yes, it was the sort of incident that would have taken lots of planning.”
The witness said information pertaining to the movement of patrols would have been “highly confidential”.
Witness Q said that following both the Brinks Mat bomb and a mortar bomb attack on Newry RUC station in February 1985, he and a colleague – who previously gave evidence to the tribunal as Witness Z – were tasked to find out as much information as they could to help with both investigations.
Nine police officers were killed in the mortar bomb attack on the Corry Square station in Newry – the RUC’s biggest loss in a single incident. A cousin of DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson was among the dead.
Witness Q, along with Witness Z, received intelligence from ex-informer John “Big Note” McAnulty in the aftermath of the two incidents that Garda Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan had been passing information to the IRA.
This information was recorded in an RUC intelligence document – called an SB50 – and is one of the central pieces of evidence in the Smithwick Tribunal probing allegations of collusion between the Garda and the IRA.
The SB50, dated June 1985, records that a Sgt Corrigan had been passing to “the boys” (IRA) whenever he could.
Witness Q described the intelligence as of medium value and believable.
He said he had been talking to Mr McAnulty for two years before receiving this intelligence from him.
Witness Q said he was not sure but thought that Mr McAnulty had contacted the RUC with the intelligence rather than they having approached him.
Witness Q described Mr McAnulty as “mixing with high ranking and lower echelons of the IRA”.
“He gave me the impression of being anti-violence,” Witness Q told the tribunal, and confirmed that Mr McAnulty did not receive money for the intelligence he provided, only occasional expenses.
“He was a very sociable big man, very easy going, very easy to talk to, you could enjoy being in his company.”
Counsel for Mr Corrigan, Jim O’Callaghan, challenged Witness Q over the reliability of the SB50.
Mr O’Callaghan said the intelligence had been rated C6 and challenged if this could be considered medium grade. Witness Q conceded that C3 might be, but not C6.
Senior counsel to the tribunal, Justin Dillon, asked Witness Q if he believed Mr McAnulty had been murdered by the IRA for informing.
Mr O’Callaghan objected to the question, saying it was leading – however, Judge Peter Smithwick allowed it.
Witness Q agreed: “I have asked myself that question, why otherwise would he have been murdered?”
Mr O’Callaghan asked Witness Q if he believed Mr Corrigan had any part in the murder of Mr McAnulty. Witness Q replied: “Absolutely not.”
Mr O’Callaghan also asked why he had come to give evidence to the tribunal – which is specifically probing claims of collusion in the March 1989 murders of RUC men, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan – after initially refusing to do so.
Witness Q said: “I have been very deeply affected ethically and emotionally about this.
“I have been approached by counsel for one of the bereaved families. I feel I have a duty taking all things into consideration.”
Counsel for the PSNI, Mark Robinson, said police would neither confirm nor deny evidence given by Witness Q.
Mr Corrigan is one of the last witnesses expected to give evidence.
He is currently suffering from ill health.