Legacy Scandal: ‘Collusion is a meaningless term used to smear security force actions,’ says Doug Beattie

Canadian judge Peter Cory, above right, was appointed by the secretary of state John Reid, above left, to examine instances of alleged collusion in murders in Northern Ireland. Judge Cory highlighted several dictionary definitions of the word including 'to co-operate secretly: to have a secret understanding' and he also added definitions of connive, a synonym of the verb collude.' Photo by Simon Graham,'Harrisons
Canadian judge Peter Cory, above right, was appointed by the secretary of state John Reid, above left, to examine instances of alleged collusion in murders in Northern Ireland. Judge Cory highlighted several dictionary definitions of the word including 'to co-operate secretly: to have a secret understanding' and he also added definitions of connive, a synonym of the verb collude.' Photo by Simon Graham,'Harrisons

In the latest essay in our series, DOUG BEATTIE says if collusion had been persistent the Troubles would have ended in the mid-70s with the death of leading IRA figures (for other essays in the series, see link beneath the article):

I wrote some months back that the charge of collusion has been thrown about so widely that it has almost become meaningless.

News Letter series for the late summer and autumn of 2018

News Letter series for the late summer and autumn of 2018

My views have not changed.

Speaking to the Irish government justice representative in June I asked them what definition they used for collusion, their answer was simple.

They do not define collusion but instead use the terms relating to any offence committed such as aiding and abetting.

Yet here in Northern Ireland the clamour for every killing or incident logged against the state or loyalist paramilitaries is to be described as collusion is deafening and completely inaccurate.

Captain Doug Beattie MC MLA is a former soldier with the Royal Irish Regiment and an Ulster Unionist assembly member for Upper Bann

Captain Doug Beattie MC MLA is a former soldier with the Royal Irish Regiment and an Ulster Unionist assembly member for Upper Bann

Indeed a letter I received from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John F Larkin QC, in response to a letter I sent him about the definition of collusion, could not be any clearer.

He said in the letter that “the term collusion is, in the absence of a clear and generally accepted definition, unhelpful. It is not a term that I now use as a descriptor”.

In simple terms there is no such criminal offence as collusion.

Yet the office of the Police Ombudsman, present and past, has used and continues to use collusion as a descriptor.

The attorney general pointed out that the “criminal law provides for various forms of participation whether by aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring, or conspiring in, or attempting, the commission of criminal offences”.

He says that he is not sure “that there is much benefit in trying to use one word (such as collusion) to cover all the ways in which an offence may be committed but I am sure that there is no benefit either in using collusion vaguely, or in using it to describe acts which are not themselves criminal”.

The attorney general is responsible for Section 8 Guidance under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004.

This applies to criminal justice organisations in the exercise of their functions in a manner consistent with international human rights standards.

Therefore where is the standardisation within the criminal justice system?

In 2003 Lord Stevens, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner said collusion ranges “from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder”.

In 2004, Canadian judge Peter Cory published six reports into alleged collusion in murders in Northern Ireland and highlighted several dictionary definitions of the word including “to co-operate secretly: to have a secret understanding” and he also added definitions of connive, a synonym of the verb collude.

However, an inquiry into the death of Billy Wright, in the Maze prison in 1997, took issue with the emphasis on connivance.

The report said

“We have been concerned throughout the inquiry by the width of the meaning applied by Judge Cory, having in mind in particular that the word is not to be found in our terms of reference.

“For our part we consider that the essence of collusion is an agreement or arrangement between individuals or organisations, including government departments, to achieve an unlawful or improper purpose.

“The purpose may also be fraudulent or underhand.”

The first police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala (now Baroness) O’Loan adopted the definitions, in 2007, of Lord Stevens and Peter Cory to examine whether there had been collusion in the murder of Raymond McCord Jnr and using those definitions, she concluded that there had been collusion.

However, her successor as police ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, applied a less broad definition in his report on the attack, in 1971, on McGurk’s Bar.

In his review of the murder of Pat Finucane, Sir Desmond de Silva said he had adopted a “working definition” of collusion less broad than that of Judge Cory and more in line with that of the Billy Wright inquiry panel, whereas Justice Smithwick gave a similar definition of collusion to that of Peter Cory.

The argument that collusion was persistent, deliberate, institutional and one-sided is easily argued away by the fact that if it was, ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland would have ended in the mid-70s with the death of those leading figures of the IRA both North and South of the border.

The fact that they did not, demonstrates clearly that the state adhered to the rule of law and continues to adhere to the rule of law, well beyond what many feel is appropriate.

Of course there were some who used their position within the armed forces or the police to act outside the law and they should face the full force of the law.

But to say that something was an example of collusion, or that RUC investigatory methods of the 70s — viewed as ineffective through the optic of the 2018 — amounted to collusion is simply fantasy.

All governments use Human Intelligence (HUMINT) sources.

During the Troubles the majority of these HUMINT sources were from within IRA.

Indeed even today, many have simply transferred their IRA credentials to Sinn Fein but continue to take the Queen’s shilling as a HUMINT source.

This is not collusion, this is effective intelligence and it is one of the reasons why the IRA is a spent force.

• Captain Doug Beattie MC MLA is a former soldier with the Royal Irish Regiment and an Ulster Unionist assembly member for Upper Bann

For other essays in the legacy series, click here