Secret war with IRA: ‘Loughgall ambush deflated republicans’

The van used by the IRA bomb team at Loughgall in 1987

The van used by the IRA bomb team at Loughgall in 1987

Despite repeated claims that the IRA 1987 gun and bomb attack on Loughgall police station could have been thwarted without fatalities, William Matchett said the joint RUC/SAS operation was “the only tactical option” available.

As Dr Matchett recalls in his new book – ‘Secret Victory: The Intelligence War That Beat The IRA’: “When you look at the weaponry these people had, the cross-border element, how can you actually stop these people or catch them, or prevent them from committing further murders. This is one of those very rare occasions where everything else the police normally do is not an option.”

Dr Matchett said the intelligence around Loughgall led to a plan of action being submitted to the head of Special Branch before the approval by the chief constable – all without any political interference, he said.

“It is only once they have agreed to it do they then notify the NIO, out of courtesy, not to ask if it was okay to go ahead. It was solely a law and order issue.

“That East Tyrone/Monaghan unit had been running amok for quite a while ... but they were running out of quality people.

“Some say Loughgall was a recruiting sergeant for the IRA but it was quite the opposite. To have that really ambitious outfit compromised, or brought down in such spectacular fashion, totally deflated them without a shadow of a doubt – although the republican movement will not admit it.”

In the book, he says the leaders of the IRA unit had murdered enough soft targets to become deluded and, “intoxicated by republican myths ... had lost touch with reality”.

He added: “They did not appreciate that the first time they came up against soldiers trained in combat without having the element of surprise as an advantage would be their last.”

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