Over four months after police said the net was closing on the murderers of an ex-IRA man, the writer who co-authored his life story has said police should drop the case.
Mick McGovern said Eamon Collins’ IRA violence, followed by his later renouncement of his old comrades, meant the victim would find little sympathy among either republican communities or the police, and is deeply sceptical about whether justice will ever be done.
In late January, to mark 20 years since Mr Collins was killed, the PSNI said advances in DNA technology meant they were “close to identifying” at least one man who was involved in the fatal attack, and appealed for the Newry/south Armagh community to help.
The PSNI said “in the weeks ahead... those responsible should expect police attention”.
Since then, three men in their 60s were arrested, but all have been released unconditionally.
Newry man Mr Collins was a former intelligence operative for the IRA, working as a customs officer in his day job.
In his book Killing Rage, he said growing disillusionment with the IRA led him to admit to a litany of crimes – only to then recant his testimony.
He was shunned in republican circles afterwards, and went on to publicly renounce and attack the IRA in his book (which contained a number of embarrassing exposures about the group).
He refused to leave Newry despite threats, and was killed while walking his dogs.
He had been stabbed in the face about 20 times.
Mr McGovern, who used to live in the UK but later moved to Germany, and who does not often speak publicly about the subject, was asked if he believes the killer/s will ever be caught.
“Anything’s possible in Northern Ireland, I suppose,” he said. “It depends on what resources they’re putting into it. However, I can’t imagine that solving the murder of a former Provo is high on their priorities list.”
He said police probably regard it as being “about the same ranking as hunting down the bloke stealing underwear off washing lines” on the criminal spectrum.
“Let’s face it: half the PSNI would probably like to put Eamon’s murderer forward for an OBE – as indeed would half the republican movement (if the OBE wasn’t a bauble of the hated Crown).
“All the same, if what they’re saying about the DNA sample is true, then I’d have thought they’ve got a 50/50 chance of putting someone in the dock eventually.”
However, he believed the PSNI’s statement had the ring of mere “PR” about it, adding: “Over the last 20 years there have been other occasions – or at least one other occasion – when arrests have been made and properties searched (in south Armagh, I seem to remember)...
“I was told a long time ago by a solicitor with contacts to the police that the latter had a good idea of the identities of at least half the team that had carried out the operation. But knowing is not the same as proving.
“I think the police like to rattle a few cages now and again, partly to say to some of the guilty ‘We know, you know’, and partly as a PR exercise to show people they’re doing something and that they don’t forget.
“To be honest, if Eamon didn’t have Killing Rage to his name, his case would have been forgotten long ago, as with all those other unsolved crimes committed by everyone involved in the Troubles.
“Personally, I think the police should just drop this case now: nothing’s going to be served by pursuing it and, like I said, most of the time, the police announcements have the ring of a PR exercise.”
Deputy head of the police’s Legacy Investigation Branch, Superintendent Stephen Wright, said: “The PSNI is committed to carrying out full and thorough investigations into all crimes and bringing offenders to justice. This is at the core of what we do.
“I want to reassure the family and loved ones of Eamon Collins that we are committed to catching his killers.
“On the 20th anniversary of Eamon’s savage murder, on January 27th of this year, we appealed to those who were involved, or heard accounts of what happened, either in the immediate aftermath or indeed over the years, to think about the devastating effect this has had on Eamon’s family and to do the right thing.
“A number of people were involved in Eamon’s murder. They know who they are and they are going to have to live with that for the rest of their lives. While they are not before the courts today, I want to reiterate that police will continue the investigation with the objective of putting them there.”
He called on anyone with information to call detectives in Legacy Investigation Branch on 101, email LIBEnquiries@psni.pnn.police.uk, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.