‘No evidence of state collusion with Glenanne gang’

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Investigative reviews of atrocities committed by a loyalist unit behind more than 100 murders yielded no new leads or evidence of state collusion, the High Court heard on Friday.

Counsel for the Chief Constable said the independent Historical Enquiries Team (HET) carried out an “exhaustive” examination of 26 cases without any fresh breakthroughs.

Relatives of those killed by the so-called Glenanne gang have taken legal action against the PSNI over an alleged failure to complete an overarching report on the sectarian campaign in mid-Ulster and border areas throughout the 1970s.

They are seeking a court order that police chiefs must ensure the inquiries are finished and make the findings public.

A draft report into alleged security force collaboration with the loyalist murderers was said to have been 80 per cent finalised before being shelved.

Judicial review proceedings have been brought in the name of a brother of one schoolboy victim.

Patrick Barnard, 13, was one of four people who died in a bomb at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon, Co Tyrone on St Patrick’s Day 1976.

The murder gang based at a farm in Glenanne, Armagh allegedly contained members of the RUC and the UDR.

Up to 120 murders in nearly 90 incidents are under scrutiny.

They include outrages such as the 1975 Miami Showband massacre where three members of the popular group were taken from their tour bus and shot dead on a country road in Banbridge, Co Down, and the Step Inn pub bombing in Keady a year later, which claimed the lives of two Catholics.

Bereaved relatives again packed into the High Court in Belfast for the second day of the case.

With the HET now effectively shut down, Patrick’s brother, Edward Barnard, wants a judge to compel police to complete the full investigation and publish the findings.

But Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, argued that “detailed and searching” scrutiny of the Hillcrest Bar killings and other cases was carried out.

“There was no further evidential opportunities to be examined and no evidence of collusion,” he said.

Mr McGleenan contended that “fragments” of review summary reports from 14 different incidents that feature in the challenge do not reveal the full picture.

Only one of them resulted in a referral being made to the Police Ombudsman’s Office, the court heard.

Mr Justice Treacy was told the draft overarching report refers to 26 different cases – none of which yielded new evidence.

“That, I’m afraid, is the unfortunate reality of these cases following an exhaustive review by a body that is independent,” the barrister continued.

He questioned what more could be achieved by a completed, thematic report.

“The draft adds nothing analytical to the existing review summary reports, it adds no value,” Mr McGleenan contended.

“We are concerned that the relatives of those who have lost individuals in these appalling acts are left with the impression that there’s some panacea to be found in the entire analysis by the HET.

“The analysis has been done by the HET, and what these reports will show is that in each of these cases there’s no further evidential opportunities.”

He added: “We do question the utility of this litigation, and question the utility of asking your Lordship to make an order directing the Chief Constable operationally to conduct a task he has considered will be of no investigative value whatsoever.”

The case continues.