Shankill Butchers author brands republicans ‘delusional’ over RUC

The body of Catholic man Joseph Donegan lying in the Shankill Road area after being murdered by remnants of the Shankill Butchers gang in October 1982
The body of Catholic man Joseph Donegan lying in the Shankill Road area after being murdered by remnants of the Shankill Butchers gang in October 1982

A Belfast-born best selling author has branded republicans who denigrate the RUC over the Shankill Butchers’ killings as “delusional”.

Martin Dillon researched the story of the notorious, sectarian murder gang for a book on the subject and spent time with some of the Belfast detectives who eventually brought most of the gang to justice in the late 1970s.

The front cover of Martin Dillon's book The Shankill Butchers

The front cover of Martin Dillon's book The Shankill Butchers

He has previously spoken of his respect for the team of investigators who largely chased shadows, with no leads or inside information, across some of the most dangerous streets of the troubled city.

However, his failure to embrace what the author calls the “conspiracy nonsense” that the RUC conspired with the UVF gang, has led to him being criticised in the An Phoblacht publication.

In a review of Dillon’s recently released memoir – Crossing the Line: My Life on the Edge – the Sinn Fein publication says the Belfast-born former journalist “flatly denies the likelihood that the authorities knew the identities of the Shankill Butchers”.

The fresh criticism prompted Dillon to recall the Sinn Fein reaction to his book on the killing spree when it was first published in 1989.

“I recall once going to Sinn Fein HQ and being verbally abused for not writing in The Shankill Butchers book that the RUC conspired with the Butchers,” he said.

“The Provos have a tendency to live with the same conspiracy nonsense, which has now become part of their oral history of the period.

“The fact is that the Tennent Street detectives who brought most of the Butchers to justice were not part of a conspiracy to permit [Lenny] Murphy and his crew to kill Catholics and Protestants.

“Anyone who makes such a claim is delusional.”

In a lengthy Facebook response to the An Phoblacht article, Dillon goes on to say: “Were mistakes made during the investigations? Yes, but the legal system itself was also an obstacle to bringing them all to justice.

“The people who make these worthless claims should read the book. Engaging in such speculation only serves to distort the truth of the period.”

He adds: “My late friend, the detective Jimmy Nesbitt who brought most of the Butchers to justice, was an honourable professional.”

Speaking to the News Letter following the death of former Detective Chief Inspector Nesbitt in 2014, Dillon said: “It’s too easy to demonise the detectives involved and say they could have done better and more at the time but nothing was easy.”

DCI Nesbitt was also described by the author as “a very special individual”.

Three years before his death, the retired senior detective spoke to the News Letter after a television documentary featured a relative of one of the Butchers’ 19 victims claiming the detectives could have done more to save lives.

Mr Nesbitt, who contributed to the BBC programme, was badly stung by the comments. He said afterwards that the programme-makers had left out much of his own tribute to the officers who helped bring the “savages” to justice.

“I told them that I worked with a team of totally dedicated, highly professional and experienced detectives who sacrificed their personal lives and their family lives to carry out these investigations – and that a seven-day working week was the norm and an 18-hour day not unusual,” he said.

“We couldn’t have done any more,” to prevent the crimes of such a tight-knit and feared gang, Mr Nesbitt added.