Allegations that victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer was involved in supplying arms to loyalist paramilitaries are “false”, his family said today.
A new BBC documentary has linked Mr Frazer, who died earlier this year, to the distribution of automatic rifles and rocket launchers imported from South Africa.
The weapons were reportedly used in the murders at least 70 people.
But Mr Frazer’s relatives have rejected the claims made in the latest episode of Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History, describing them as “trial by television”.
A statement issued by the family said: “We repudiate in the strongest terms the sensational claims made against William.
“It is false to say he was linked to the importation of the arms. He was never, at any stage, arrested or questioned by the RUC about such activities.”
The programme identified Mr Frazer, who supported victims of republican violence in the south Armagh area, as a key distributor of arms from the Ulster Resistance movement to loyalist terrorists.
Multiple sources were said to have confirmed his role.
However, the late campaigner’s relatives expressed shock at the “grave” allegations and vowed to defend his reputation.
“The documentary, which said it had evidence to link him to such actions, failed to provide a scintilla of evidence,” the family’s statement said.
“Their claims were based on so-called multiple sources. The sources are anonymous, untested, their number is unknown as is their calibre and reliability. They are not witnesses.
“Unlike evidence, the public have no way of knowing the truth of what these sources said, but are being asked by the BBC to accept at face value the truth of anonymous claims.
“No official document was provided by the programme makers in support of their claims.
“This was not evidence but trial by television.”
Reference was made to Spotlight journalist Many McAuley’s contact with Mr Frazer.
“The reporter concerned also visited William, whilst he was in hospital during the final stages of his illness,” the family said.
It is regrettable that she did so. During his time in hospital he was medicated, suffering from infections and was easily confused.”
The statement added: “William was a high profile figure in Northern Ireland for over two decades but at no time was any suggestion of this nature ever made, yet within two months of his death these accusations are raised for the first time in a blaze of publicity.
“This has added to the family’s distress at a difficult time.
We wish to reiterate that the Frazer family reject the false accusations against William and deplore the way the BBC has behaved towards the late William and the hurt caused to our family.”
A BBC spokeswoman responded: “Mandy McAuley met with Willie Frazer many times over a two year period. During this time he spoke to her about his role in distributing weapons to Loyalist paramilitaries across Northern Ireland. BBC Spotlight also corroborated this with multiple sources.
“BBC Spotlight takes its duty of care to contributors very seriously. We have complete confidence in the editorial integrity of the programme.”