Watchdog probing loyalist murders finds evidence of ‘collusive’ police acts

A police watchdog investigating a series of loyalist murders during the Troubles has found evidence of collusive behaviour among some officers but said the Royal Ulster Constabulary had no prior knowledge of the attacks.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 12:01 am
Updated Friday, 14th January 2022, 8:50 am

The Police Ombudsman’s report raised “significant concerns” about the conduct of the RUC in relation to 19 murders and multiple attempted murders carried out by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) between 1989 and 1993.

Concerns included RUC Special Branch’s use of informants that were themselves suspected of murder.

The 11 attacks examined by Ombudsman Marie Anderson included the notorious massacre at the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel, Co Londonderry in October 1993 – an attack that claimed eight lives.

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The scene of the loyalist massacre that claimed eight lives at the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, Co Londonderry in October 1993. Photo: Pacemaker archive

She also probed four murders committed in March of that year in the village of Castlerock, also in Co Londonderry.

Only one of the murders under investigation – the killing of Sinn Fein councillor Eddie Fullerton in Co Donegal in May 1991 – happened outside the north west of Northern Ireland.

All of the crimes were carried out by the north west unit of the UDA/UFF.

Publishing a 336-page investigation report, Mrs Anderson said she had identified a number of significant concerns and was of the view that concerns raised by bereaved families about collusive behaviours were legitimate and justified.

Her findings included:

– Intelligence and surveillance failings which led to the arming of the North West UDA/UFF with military assault rifles.

– Failure to warn a number of individuals of threats to their lives.

– Failure by police to adequately address UDR officers passing information to loyalist paramilitaries.

– Deliberate destruction of records relating to informants who were suspected of having been involved in serious criminality including murder.

– Failure to disseminate all relevant intelligence to police officers investigating a number of the attacks.

– Failures in the use and handling of informants suspected of being involved in serious criminality including murder.

The ombudsman’s report was not wholly critical of the RUC and said that generally the investigations into the crimes were “prompt and thorough”.

She highlighted that a number of people responsible for the attacks had been brought to justice and convicted.

“The majority of intelligence obtained by Special Branch was shared with murder investigation teams in a timely manner,” she said.

“Arrests were made and, where evidence existed, files submitted to the DPP A number of individuals were prosecuted and convicted”.

The ombudsman said she had identified a number of instances where the RUC’s Special Branch had obtained information from informants which may have disrupted the activities of the UDA/UFF and “may have saved lives” as a result.

Mrs Anderson said she had found no evidence that any police officer had committed a criminal offence by protecting an informant from arrest and/or prosecution.

However, the ombudsman sent two evidence files on other suspected criminality by two former police officers to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

One was suspected of passing sensitive information to loyalist paramilitaries and the other of failing to disclose in a file to the then Director of Public Prosecutions that a suspect was also an informant.

The PPS has directed that neither of the former officers should be prosecuted.

Mrs Anderson said her investigation was “complex and lengthy”.

The watchdog found that the RUC had been aware of the growing threat posed by the North West UDA/UFF from early 1989 onwards, with intelligence indicating that the paramilitaries had acquired military assault rifles from a loyalist weapons importation in 1987.

These weapons were first used in the murder of Gerard Casey in Rasharkin, Co Antrim in April 1989.

She added: “My investigation has established that weapons, believed to have been part of this importation, were subsequently used in other North West UDA/UFF attacks between 1989 and 1993, following the murder or Mr Casey.”

The ombudsman said an initial failure by the RUC to ensure that it had adequate intelligence about the activities of the North West UDA/UFF led to an inability “to effectively counteract the threat posed by them which began to emerge in 1989”.

She said the paramilitary grouping had been involved in “significant intelligence-gathering activities” during this period, with the names of hundreds of people from the republican and nationalist communities discovered in loyalist “intelligence caches” between November 1989 and February 1992.

“I am of the view that police were aware of the growing threat posed by the North West UDA/UFF from 1989 onwards,” said Mrs Anderson.

“This increased threat, however, was not initially accompanied by a policing response proportionate to the increased risk to members of the republican and nationalist communities.”

The ombudsman expressed concern that a number of individuals whose names were discovered in the hands of loyalists received no warning from police that their lives might be at risk – something that contravened RUC Force Orders.

She said there was also no evidence that police conducted risk assessments on these individuals.

The ombudsman said of the 11 attacks investigated, seven involved the targeting of individuals whose names had appeared in the loyalist caches.

Six of the 19 people murdered were on the lists, as was the survivor of one of the attacks, Patrick McErlain.

The ombudsman said she was unable to conclude that threat warnings would have been sufficient to protect these people. However, she said warnings would have enabled them to review their personal safety measures.

Mrs Anderson raised a variety of concerns about the use and management of informants.

She said police had continued to use a number of informants when they ought to have been aware that those people had failed to provide information about the activities of the North West UDA/UFF.

Mrs Anderson said some informants were allowed to continue in their roles despite Special Branch possessing intelligence that they were involved in serious criminality, including murder.

“I am of the view that this illustrated a practice on the part of some RUC Special Branch officers to recruit, and continue to use, informants suspected of involvement in serious criminality, including murder, contrary to applicable RUC policy at the time,” she said.

The ombudsman also expressed concern that police had failed to deal appropriately with members of the security forces suspected of passing information to loyalists.

She said while some of these rogue security force members had been properly investigated, there were instances where RUC and UDR personnel were not subject to criminal probes, despite intelligence linking them to serious offences.

The ombudsman said these individuals were instead “dismissed or repositioned”.

“I am of the view that the RUC response to these matters was both inconsistent and inadequate,” she said.

Mrs Anderson referred in particular to a failure to properly investigate suspicions that UDR members and RUC officers in the north west had passed information to terrorists or had otherwise assisted their activities.

”I am of the view that allegations of RUC officers passing information of use to terrorists was a serious matter that should have been investigated robustly and consistently,” she added.

• The Police Ombudsman’s investigation examined police actions in relation to a total of 19 murders and multiple attempted murders.

These were:

• The murder of Gerard Casey at Rasharkin, Co Antrim, on 4 April 1989

• The murder of Eddie Fullerton at Buncrana, Co Donegal, on 25 May 1991

• The murder of Patrick Shanaghan at Castlederg, Co Tyrone, on 12 August 1991

• The murder of Thomas Donaghy, at Kilrea, Co Londonderry, on 16 August 1991

• The murder of Bernard O’Hagan at Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, on 16 September 1991

• The attempted murder of James McCorriston at Coleraine, Co Londonderry, on 14 February 1992

• The murder of Daniel Cassidy at Kilrea, Co Londonderry, on 2 April 1992

• The attempted murder of Patrick McErlain at Dunloy, Co Antrim, on 28 August 1992

• The murder of Malachy Carey at Ballymoney, Co Antrim. Mr Carey was shot on 12 December 1992 and died the following day as a result of his injuries

• The murders of Robert Dalrymple, James Kelly, James McKenna, and Noel O’Kane at Castlerock, Co Londonderry, on 25 March 1993. A fifth man, Gerard McEldowney, was seriously injured

• The murders of John Burns, Moira Duddy, Joseph McDermott, James Moore, John Moyne, Steven Mullan, and Karen Thompson at the Rising Sun Bar, Greysteel, Co Londonderry, on 30 October 1993.

An eighth victim, Samuel Montgomery, died as a result of injuries sustained in the attack on 14 April 1994.

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