Comments on the Launch of the Police Ombudsman’s section 62 Public Statement on the Murders at the Heights Bar, Loughinisland 18th June 1994.
Niall Murphy Partner KRW Law LLP
Ramada Hotel, Belfast 9th June 2016
This report is one of the the most damning expositions of State collusion in mass murder, that has ever been published. It joins the ever growing library of indictments of Stalker, Stevens, Cory, Saville, de Silva and O’Loan, but these reports cannot sit on a shelf gathering dust and being examined by academics. There must be accountability.
The documented catalogue of explicit incidents of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism by police officers, in the report, is terrifying.
The report incredibly provides a continuum of evidence of collusion from the 1970’s, through to the 1980’s to the 1990’s. From Glenanne to South Africa, to the worst examples of informer handling in the 1990s, which conclude in the murder of 6 men, who were just watching a football match on TV, as many of us will do in the coming weeks.
SOUTH AFRICAN ARMS SHIPMENT – INDEFENSIBLE INTELLIGENCE FAILURES
The lethality with which loyalism was able to increase its capacity to kill is traced by this report, to the South African Arms shipment.
This report proves that Special Branch had reliable intelligence that there was to be an arms importation in 1987/88 and further that police informants were involved in the procurement, importation and distribution of these arms. That the RUC failed to stop this is described by Dr Maguire as a ‘significant intelligence failure’. The report also states that
“an individual who performed a central role in UDA attempts in 1985 to acquire firearms from South Africa whilst in the employ of the RUC’s Special Branch as an informant remained in a senior position within the UDA.” 4.166
That this arms shipment from South Africa, was stored at the very same farmhouse owned by James Mitchell from which the Glenanne Gang operated is a disturbing fact, and is now a feature of the factual matrix which informs our history.
Even more disturbing is the finding that despite two cars being stopped at Mahon Road on 8th January 1988, wherein the first ever VZ58’s in Ireland were recovered, that within 2 hours of the cars being stopped, James Mitchell was warned that police intended to search his farm, as a result of which the remaining weapons were moved to Markethill. It is from this batch, that the weapon used to murder the 6 men in Loughinisland came from.
The report also states
“Despite being linked by intelligence in the importation of these weapons, senior members of the UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance were not the subject of police investigation. Given the gravity of the conspiracy and the impact of that the importation has had on so many lives, this decision was indefensible” 4.200
SOUTH DOWN SECURITY FORCE LOYALIST SYMPATHIES
The lack of focus by the RUC on loyalist paramilitaries specifically in Newcastle and South Down, resulted in a heightened risk to members of the local community. (5.7)
Intelligence that would have been of value to investigators of related murders and attempted murders, was marked as ‘Not For Downward and Dissemination’ (NDD) and / or ‘Slow Waltz’, a remarkable phrase and concept for intelligence management. (5.11)
Dr Maguire finds that the failure to disseminate information to investigators was an attempt to protect the sources of that information. (page 3)
The remarkable state of RUC corruption is exemplified by the fact that a Detective Inspector, who might be described as a good apple in a rotten orchard, decided that in investigating a murder, he required to search Clough Orange Hall, but that in doing so, he was conscious that it could be compromised by leaks from within the local security forces in the Newcastle sub division. (5.79)
The report finds that the security forces had been compromised principally from the UDR but also from within the local RUC, through either direct involvement with loyalist paramilitaries, associations or sympathies, that at least three individuals and their families directly associated with the UVF unit in South Down were members of the UDR and also had close family members working locally at RUC establishments and within the police force itself.
This inherent organisational loyalist sympathy would come to infect the Loughinisland investigation, when members of the gang, were informed on 21st August 1994 that they were to be arrested the next morning. The report notes at para 7.155 that intelligence states that the source of this warning was a police man. No efforts were made to investigate this intelligence.
At para 7.158 the report confirms that one of the suspects was not only an informant for the RUC at the time but continued in this role for a number of years after the Loughinisland attack.
Despite having the names of the main murder suspects, within hours, their houses weren’t searched for 4 weeks and no arrests were made for 4 weeks. Why?
Dr Maguire comments generally that
“It is my view that the nature of the relationship between the police and informants undermined the investigative process in a number of ways”. Page 6
What is disgustingly incredible is the fact that ‘Special Branch continued to engage in a relationship with sources they identified in intelligence reporting as likely to have been involved at some level in the Loughinisland atrocity’. Page 7
A PERNICIOUS COUNTER NARRATIVE?1
In a key note speech on Dealing with the Past, in February, the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told an audience that we today faced “a pernicious counter narrative”. This allegation in itself was pernicious and deeply hurtful.
The comment parallels the British Government’s position of granting itself a National Security veto, that extends to all of the cases wherein a VZ58 was used to murder. As I stated at the outset, there must be accountability. The Ombudsman can merely issue a report and can only report on the role of the RUC. There is an accountability gap in terms of British Army intelligence and the role of MI5 in the weapons importation. The absence of the Rule of Law and the perfunctory and cosmetic nature of investigations as evidenced in this report, is akin to the state endorsed death squads, which operated in Central and Latin America at the same time.
It is remarkable that the Prime Minister of the time John Major is in Belfast today. He should be called to account today, for the actions of the agencies of which he was in charge, and he should apologise for the facts that have been laid bare today.
Villiers in her speech would go on to say that there were some who proposed a
“version of the Troubles that seeks to displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism and place the State at the heart of nearly every atrocity and murder that took place”
She went on to say that
“It wasn’t the RUC or the Army who pulled the trigger at Loughinisland.”
But it was the Army whose agent was involved in importing the weapons and it was the RUC who failed to follow intelligence on those weapons leaving them in circulation to commit these atrocities including the murder of at least 70 people.
It was RUC paid agents who pulled the triggers and it was the RUC who failed to investigate the atrocity, with houses not searched and no arrests made for a month, despite having names within a day. Alibis weren’t checked out and evidence was persistently destroyed by the police. It was the RUC who destroyed the getaway car after 10 months denying future police investigations the opportunity to test for DNA.
This report is not a pernicious counter narrative. It evidences catastrophic and indefensible investigative failings which amount to a corruption of the criminal justice system.
It is, as was described so eloquently last week in the Kingsmill Inquest, by the sole survivor Alan Black, the unvarnished truth.
This Unvarnished Truth, has, after the debacle of 2011, redeemed public confidence in the integrity of our Police Ombudsman’s office, and has most importantly redeemed the dignity of the memory of those murdered in this awful atrocity, and to the families of the deceased, whose tenacity and courage in pursuing this truth, the most credit and respect must be paid.