THE author of a best-selling book on the Shankill Butchers has rejected fresh claims the police could have stopped the killings much sooner.
Martin Dillon said the detectives tasked with catching the ruthless murder gang were “a very special group of people” who were “working in a very unusual and dangerous atmosphere”.
He was responding to Monday night’s BBC documentary on the string of barbaric murders carried out by Lenny Murphy’s UVF henchmen during the 1970s, which included claims the police failed to protect Catholics.
The officer who led the hunt, Jimmy Nesbitt, said his team of detectives did “everything possible” to catch every killer in Belfast “and religion didn’t come in to it”.
Praising the senior detective Mr Nesbitt who led the investigation, Mr Dillon said: “Nesbitt is a very special individual, there’s no doubt about it.
“Jimmy never really gives himself much praise but I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. I met him and the guys that worked with him when I was researching the book.
“It’s too easy to demonise the detectives involved and say they could have done better and more at the time but nothing was easy,” he said.
Before writing several Troubles-themed books — including Shankill Butchers: A Case Study of Mass Murder — Martin Dillon was a news reporter and BBC editor.
Rejecting the claims made by victims’ relatives that the police failed in their duty to protect life, the author said: “That’s just entirely untrue. This was such a brutal period and some people find it all very hard to contemplate.
“Can you imagine what it’s like to be a relative of one of the victims? Their emotions are very different than ours.”
The author said the case took an emotional toll on everyone involved including Jimmy Nesbitt.
“He had a lot to deal with. He was a man of great compassion and can you imagine going along and looking at some of those tortured bodies? This was never an easy thing.”
Also speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Nesbitt said his team of detectives did “everything possible” to catch every killer in Belfast “and religion didn’t come in to it”.
The former investigator said the saddest aspect of the programme was hearing people say he could have done more to prevent the murder of their loved ones.
“Unfortunately there are people in our society who live with their historical myths and you’re not going to change their minds,” he said.
Commenting on the documentary’s interview with the daughter of victim Joseph Morrisey, Mr Nesbitt said: “The most sad thing I saw in the whole programme, unfortunately, was Charlotte Morrisey.
“It’s an awful, awful thing to have your father killed like that, but then to believe that it was allowed to happen, and that if it had been Protestants being killed then it wouldn’t have happened — that’s very sad.”
Lenny Murphy and his gang are believed to have carried out of over 30 murders between them.
The retired detective said the BBC editors left out much of his tribute to the officers trying to bring the “savages” to justice.
“I told them [the programme makers] that I worked with a team of totally dedicated, highly professional and experienced detectives who sacrificed their personal lives and their family lives to carry out these investigations — and that a seven-day working week was the norm and an 18-hour day not unusual, but that didn’t come out in it either.”
Referring to the attempted murder of Gerard McLaverty in 1977, Mr Nesbitt said it was hard to explain how people could watch the documentary’s reconstruction of the efforts to identify those involved and yet still say the police did nothing.
“We were professional detectives. If people are being murdered you give everything to try solve them and catch the killers. We weren’t interested in was killed — the religion part only came into it because it provided us with a motive.
“The people who believe we did nothing will continue to believe that, and the people who thought that we did a good job will continue to believe that.”
Another aspect of the documentary singled out for criticism was the claim by former Sunday World editor Jim Campbell that “everybody knew” who was responsible for the killings while they were going on.
“If he’d known at the time I wish he’d come and told me. There wasn’t even rumours going about. They were a tight, closely-knit gang who were terrified of Murphy,” Mr Nesbitt said.
“We couldn’t have done any more.”