A former British soldier linked to 32 murders is no longer wanted by the PSNI because he committed them for the IRA and went on to secure an OTR letter, it has emerged.
The legacy inquest into the Kingsmills massacre heard yesterday that suspect S97 is linked by intelligence to Kingsmills, the Narrow Water massacre and the murders of three Scottish soldiers in Belfast in 1971.
PSNI documents read in court showed that the police wanted him for questioning in relation to a string of murders in 2003, but that after he secured a government ‘on-the-run’ (OTR) comfort letter, the PSNI circulated guidance in 2007 that he was no longer wanted for questioning.
Alan Kane QC, acting for the families, said S97 had served with the British forces from 1957-64 and first came to the notice of the security forces in 1970 for IRA quartermaster activity and training IRA personnel in the Republic of Ireland.
He was also linked by intelligence documents to the murder of 18 paratroopers at Narrow Water in Warrenpoint, the murder of the three Scottish soldiers in 1971, and a bomb attack on Enniskillen customs station in 1970.
At one stage he had been on the run and living in Dublin, the court heard.
However, he remained very active and sometimes came into Northern Ireland for attacks such as Kingsmills and Narrow Water in 1979.
A letter from the PSNI dated March 3, 2003 to Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Alasdair Fraser included three lists of people for consideration for on-the-run letters, which assured republicans they were not wanted by the security forces for terrorism.
The PSNI letter said S97 “should have received an OTR letter” in 2003 and that he is “currently wanted by the PSNI” for interview in relation to terrorism offences. The court heard he was linked by intelligence to a total of 32 murders.
However, a further internal PSNI letter dated May 10, 2007 regarding Operation Rapid – or the OTR scheme – said that “this man is no longer to be circulated as wanted”.
Mr Kane asked witness and former Bessbrook-based RUC constable and Army-Gardai liaison officer, Charles Hamilton, if he was surprised how attitudes had changed to S97 as a result of the OTR letter.
“We did not know this before today,” Mr Hamilton replied. “I cannot make any comment” he said, before agreeing that he was indeed surprised.
Suspect S97 was named Suspect E by the Historical Enquiries Team. Mr Kane said suspect S77 had also secured an OTR letter in the same way.
The legacy inquest is probing the murder of ten Protestant workmen as they travelled home from work in south Armagh in 1976. The PSNI blame the IRA but it has never claimed the attack, which was claimed using the covername of the South Armagh Reaction Action Force (SARAF).
The inquest has heard it was very difficult to get information on IRA men in south Armagh during the Troubles because the terrorists came from a network of interlinked families who would not betray each other, an inquest has heard.
Former Constable Charles Hamilton told the inquest that he carried out normal police duties across all south Armagh from 1960 onwards and personally knew all the republican families and their children – many of whom went on to become leading IRA figures.
But individual members often felt they could not provide information because it could be incriminating their brother, cousin or brother-in-law, he added.
The court heard that one Kingsmills suspect had “laughed and joked” about cutting the throat of Joseph McCullough in February 1976. He was reported as saying he would never wash the Protestant’s blood off his knife.
Alan Kane QC for the families noted that one Kingsmills suspect was linked to an IRA attack on the Protestant-owned Pit Bar in Bessbrook shortly before Kingsmills.
Another sectarian murder was claimed by both the South Armagh Reaction Force (SARAF) and PIRA; Mr Hamilton said SARAF did not exist but was a cover name used by PIRA because it claimed to be non-sectarian.
He noted that working at Bessbrook Mill from 1960-77 the Garda would not converse with him if a British army officer was present. No Garda intelligence ever led to the arrest of any terrorist suspects, he said.
Appealing for people to come forward, coroner Brian Sherrard said the Kingsmills inquest was “remarkable” for being the only legacy inquest where the court had not heard from those responsible for killings.