Members of the British Crown forces were central to the orchestrated murder of prominent Catholics, according to new research based on official state investigations and military files.
The research is contained in a new book, written by Pat Finucane Centre researcher Anne Cadwallader. It has dramatically lifted the lid on large scale, systematic collusion in which 120 people were killed. The degree to which prominent nationalists were selected for murder constitute a form of ethnic cleansing, she said.
In one telling excerpt from the book, a quote from an unpublished police Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report, referring to the killings of four people in attacks on two bars in County Armagh, says: “It is difficult to believe... when judged in concert with other cases emerging at the time, that such widespread evidence of collusion in these areas was not a significant concern at the highest levels of the security forces and of government.”
Members of the RUC police and the British Army’s UDR were part of a murder organisation operating during a four year period between 1972 and 1976.
“It can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that there was systemic collusion in these cases,” Cadwallader writes.
While it was always believed collusion was a factor in sectarian killings in the North, the manner in which these victims were targeted speaks to an even more sinister agenda.
Her research suggests killings of upwardly mobile and affluent Catholics, many with strong links to the GAA and other community organisations, were more than just sectarian in nature but designed to prevent nationalists owning land or gaining influence in rural areas.
Ms Cadwallader said: “We took away all the killings from that time that were randomly sectarian in nature and then examined who was left to see if we could establish a link.
“What we were left with was a list of people, who either owned land or businesses or were in the process of buying land or building a home.
“They were what has been described as ‘uppity Catholics’ people of influence with standing in the community they lived”.
By researching military files, RUC investigations and more recently the Police Ombudsman and the Historical enquiries Team, the investigative reporter mapped out a trail of terror that links one gang to more than 120 murders.
In her book ‘Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland’ Ms Cadwallader found ballistics linked many of the weapons used directly to guns ‘stolen’ from the UDR.
“Dozens of UDR guns were going missing every week and records show that at no stage did the RUC carry out an investigation into this loss of weapons, many of which went on to be used in scores of sectarian murders”, she said.
Robin Jackson, who was believed to be personally responsible for pulling the trigger in up to 50 killings, was leader of the gang of sectarian killers.
Farms near Glenanne, near Newry, were the places where ‘the Jackal’ planned killings alongside his Crown force and loyalist conspirators.
Evidence uncovered by Ms Cadwallader shows not only were the RUC aware of Jackson’s activities from an early stage, they also went to great lengths to scupper investigations that could have placed him behind bars.
Jackson was never brought to justice and was still active shortly before his death from cancer at the age of 49 in 1998.
The number of people he killed ranges from a conservative estimate of 50 up to more than 100, along with a killer gang that included brothers John and Wesley Somerville who were also former members of the UDR.
The brothers from Moygashal were involved in murders including the deaths of three members of the Miami Show Band in July 1975.
“Certainly, if Jackson did not pull the trigger himself, he is estimated to have been involved in the murders of scores of ordinary Catholics”, said Ms Cadwallader.
“He had a corrupt and indefensible relationship with enough RUC officers to protect him from ever facing a murder charge, leaving him free to continue killing people for over two decades from 1973 to the 1990s”.
Jackson joined D Company of 11 UDR [Ulster Defence Regiment], based at Scarva Barracks, Banbridge, in August 1973 and within two months there was an arms raid at the armoury used by his unit.
He was named by a man on whose property a significant arms cache was discovered.
However, it was two weeks before his home in Lurgan was searched. By then, Jackson is believed to have shot dead Banbridge trade unionist and father of three, Patrick Campbell.
It was part of a pattern of killings of professional, influential, middle class Catholics. When the RUC eventually searched Jackson’s house they found bullets and a notebook containing details of more than two dozen people, including car registration numbers.
He would later be pointed out in a line up by the widow of Mr Campbell but never faced trial.
This charge along with those of having ammunition and personal details of Catholics were dropped by Crown prosecutors who claimed there was insufficient evidence.
The book also claims that days before the attack on the Three Steps Inn in Keady, County Armagh, the RUC knew a loyalist bomb was being stored at a farmhouse owned by a serving RUC member, and asked the British Army to put it under surveillance.
According to the book, the surveillance operation was ended and the bomb was then used in the attack, which proceded as planned, killing two people.
It also reveals that RUC Special Branch knew the identities of four people involved in the bombing, but that no arrests were made.
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan urged the British government to come clean about the state’s role in the North’s “dirty war”. The Derry-based MP warned that the failure to get the truth about Crown force complicity would result in a “dirty peace”.
Sinn Fein said the revelations added to pressure for the British government to fulfill its commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane, whose mother died last week.
And speaking about the UDR Glenanne gang, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said the activities of the Armagh gang were well known to the local community.
“The UDR based in Glenanne was a unionist militia,” he said.
“The members of the Glenanne gang were all either directly or indirectly in the pay of the British State. That is an indisputable fact.
“The families of those people murdered by the British State policy of collusion carried out on the ground in South Armagh by the UDR Glenanne gang deserve the truth.”
“There are those within political unionism today”, he added, “who were in leading roles in both the UDR and the RUC. Let them come forward and tell us what they know about collusion.”
As the book was being launched on Thursday, former RUC police were controversially being told to cease contacts with the office of the Police Ombudsman. The Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association (NIRPOA), which advises the former RUC, said it had reached the decision after some of its members had been accused of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically the right to life.
Sinn Féin policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly described it as an attempt to frustrate the work of the Police Ombudsman. And he said the timing of the statement appeared designed to attract attention away from the issue of collusion and to influence the ongoing Haass talks into dealing with the past.
“In any other society an announcement by former serving Police Officers that they will not co-operate with a state agency investigating murder would be seen an as outrage,” he said.
“But given the reality that the RUC Special Branch in particular was involved in the control and direction of loyalist gangs for years and in the cover-up of their activities this move will not come as a surprise.”
He said people would now looking to see the reaction of unionist politicians.
“The culture of concealment and cover-up which is being revealed very publicly in this statement is the very same culture and practice which gave rise to collusion, the torture of detainees, the extraction of forced confessions and the framing of innocent people by the RUC over many years,” he said.