PSNI suspected republican leaders sanctioned 2015 murder, says former Chief Constable

Police had “reasonable grounds to suspect” that the murder of Kevin McGuigan in 2015 was sanctioned by top republicans, former Chief Constable Sir George Hamilton has said.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 7:01 am
Sir George Hamilton had shared a stage in West Belfast with Martin McGuinness just six days before Kevin McGuigan’s murder

In a new book Sir George, who retired from the PSNI in 2019, goes much further than police did in public at the time.

Mr McGuigan’s murder at his home in Belfast’s Short Strand was reportedly revenge for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison in Belfast three months earlier.

At the time, Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddis said that “a major line of inquiry...is that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in this murder. I have no information at this stage to say whether that was sanctioned at a command level or not, and am not prepared to speculate on that.”

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A day later, Mr Hamilton said that the PSNI had no information to suggest that “violence as seen in the murder of Kevin McGuigan” was “sanctioned or directed at a senior level” in the republican movement.

The murder, and the police link to the IRA, caused a major political crisis which saw the UUP walk out of government and the DUP begin a process of in-out ministers, before returning to government.

Sir George’s comments come in a new book, Political Purgatory, which examines the period between Stormont’s collapse in January 2017 and its restoration three years later.

In the book, by the veteran journalist Brian Rowan, Sir George said: “McGuigan had been an active member of the IRA and fallen into dispute with other senior republicans.

“Within a short period of time, the investigation team were pursuing a strong line of enquiry that McGuigan had been murdered by members of the IRA.

“As the investigation developed, it became clear that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that this was with the knowledge and concurrence of senior figures within the republican movement.”

Sir George recalled how just six days before Mr McGuigan’s murder he had broken new ground by attending the West Belfast Festival for a public meeting on policing where he shared a stage with Martin McGuinness and senior republicans – including Bobby Storey and Martin Lynch – were prominent.

The former police commander said he was aware that his attendance “would be seen by parts of loyalism and unionism as me pandering to mainstream republicanism. I was aware that this could backfire on me.”

The former Chief Constable said that when he took the job he knew that while parts of policing in Northern Ireland were identical to elsewhere, “the big difference, especially for a Chief Constable, was that policing in NI is an integral part of maintaining and building the peace.

“This place has a fragile, complex and dynamic political infrastructure in which policing ofttimes becomes either a stumbling block or a stepping stone in maintaining some momentum in our collective slow journey towards a normal society.

“In accepting the role of Chief Constable, I knew that this ‘bigger’ responsibility would rest on my shoulders for five years.

“I was determined to play my part, as Orde and others had done before me.”

However, Sir George said that while he was “prepared to stretch myself to do uncomfortable things to nudge us along in the right direction...I was a police officer and legally obliged to go where the evidence took the investigation.”

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