The gun used in the Loughinisland atrocity was used in the mass murder attempt of eight workmen just months earlier, it has been revealed.
The revelations have added to public outrage at Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson’s controversial report into the killings, in which he appeared to conceal the truth behind the Loughinisland massacre of six innocent Catholic men.
The weapon involved, an automatic rifle brought into Ireland by an MI5 agent, was previously used in an attack that left building contractor Joseph Reynolds dead and his two brothers fighting for their lives.
Mr Reynolds, a father of five, died instantly when loyalist gunmen ambushed the van he was travelling in on his way to work at the Shorts complex in east Belfast in October 1993.
His two brothers, Patsy and Gerard, were badly injured.
Five people, including three other members of the Reynolds family, escaped injury in the UVF attack.
A Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigation into the attempted mass murder of the workmen, found that the same informer, codenamed ‘the Mechanic’ was involved in both attacks and the weapon used was an eastern European made VZ 58 rifle, according to a report in the Irish News.
The HET detectives told the Reynolds family they had discovered that the Mechanic, a Catholic from north Belfast who joined the UVF, had bought the car at an auction in Carryduff a week before the attack.
The gun was one of batch of weapons brought into the north of Ireland by military agent Brian Nelson. A lawyer acting for both the Reynolds and Loughinisland families has now called on Al Hutchinson to publicly state if he was aware of the link when he released his report last week into the UVF murders at Loughinisland.
Families reacted angrily to the report that said there was insufficient evidence to support claims of collusion in the murders of six men who died when loyalist gunmen sprayed the bar with bullets during Ireland’s first game of the 1994 World Cup.
Niall Murphy, of Kevin Winters and Company law firm, said the latest revelations, uncovered by the cold case team tasked with probing unsolved murders from the conflict, were further proof of police collusion in Loughinisland and the murder of Mr Reynolds.
Paula Reynolds, whose father Patsy was shot in the chest in the UVF attack on the Catholic workmen, said if the shooting had been properly investigated at the time then Loughinisland could have been prevented.
“If the informer, the Mechanic, admitted to his handlers that he bought the car used in the attempt to wipe out six members of my family at Shorts how could police not have traced and convicted the killers?” Ms Reynolds said.
“And if the loyalist gunmen had been arrested at the time and put before the courts the people who were murdered in the Heights Bar in Loughinisland need never have lost their lives, some of them could have been sitting with their families today.
She said that based on the information given to them, they now believed there was RUC collusion in the attack on the workmen.
The ballistics history of the automatic weapon used in the murders at the Heights Bar was not detailed by Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson when he released his controversial report into the atrocity last week.
Solicitor Niall Murphy said the Loughinisland victims’ families had challenged the ombudsman at a meeting held on Tuesday night as to why he had withheld vital information in his report.
“The police ombudsman confirmed that his office had reviewed intelligence in relation to the linked murders and still he maintained the position that he could find no evidence of the role of informers in the Loughinisland attack,” he said.
“The facts confirmed by the HET’s revelations to the Reynolds family now make that assertion fundamentally incredulous.
“This information is proof positive that the RUC had the ability to stop the Loughinisland attacks.
“What we have here is an attack bearing all the same hallmarks of Loughinisland carried out months earlier with what appears to be all the same key players involved.
“We know that the car used in Loughinisland was provided by ‘the Mechanic’. This person was never arrested or questioned about his role in supplying the vehicles used in both these attacks.
“Did the ombudsman question the Mechanic’s handlers about what knowledge they had after the Reynolds murder from the informer? And if not why not?”
Mr Murphy said the ombudsman must also “clarify Special Branch’s relationship with the murder gang”.
“The families had feared that the other linked murders would exhibit similarities in terms of more general symptoms of collusion but never in their wildest nightmares did they believe that the same informers would be providing the getaway cars and be permitted to get away with murder with the exact same flimsy excuses,” he said.
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has become part of the cover-up over the Loughinisland massacre, the Stormont Assembly was told last week.
Former Executive minister, Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane, said “by protecting agents” the current PSNI boss “is now unwittingly or wittingly part of the cover-up”.
In a special debate at the Assembly, Ms Ruane said the families of the Loughinisland victims had not got justice and had been failed “at every level” by the State.
“They have been failed by the RUC, the PSNI and now by the Police Ombudsman. Despite the fact that the getaway car, the murder weapons, the balaclavas - one containing a hair follicle - gloves and boilersuits were found, no one was ever charged,” the South Down Assembly member said.