A former trustee of the RUC George Cross Foundation has described many informers inside paramilitary organisations as “deeply flawed heroes” who saved lives, as he defended the police in the face of a wave of criticism.
Trevor Ringland was speaking after a report from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) criticised the RUC’s dealings with informers in the case of the Loughinisland massacre, when the UVF sprayed a pub with gunfire, killing six people.
Mr Ringland, whose father was an RUC Chief Superintendant, cried when he heard of the murders in 1994, he said.
“But people need to remind themselves that it was not the paramilitaries giving up violence and deciding to go down the path of the peace process – they were forced to go down that path by the security forces and Special Branch in particular,” he said.
The RUC were writing the rules on handling informers as they fought the IRA, he said.
Without the RUC Northern Ireland would have had civil war, he added.
He said: “Many informers were deeply flawed heroes but their actions, and often their bravery, saved lives.”
They didn’t tell their handlers everything they did, he said, because this would have led to their deaths.
The security forces charged 8,000 loyalists and 12,000 republicans with terrorism, he said.
Over 1,000 of those killed were members of the security forces and three-quarters of their murders have never been solved.
Mr Ringland also stressed the fact that the PONI report had found the RUC did not have advance knowledge of the attack. Instead, the report had found that there was “collusion” in the sense that some officers later protected informers from investigation over the bloodbath.
“The PONI report concluded there was no prior knowledge of Loughinisland by the security forces,” he said.