A public inquiry must be held into the notorious Glenanne death squad whose members included UVF paramilitaries, British Army soldiers and RUC police, a coroner’s court has heard.
Lawyers for one of the estimated 120 victims of the Glenanne gang have insisted only a major state probe or inquest covering all the deaths can get to the truth of the most controversial collusion allegations.
The police’s own Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found “indisputable evidence” of Crown force collusion in the murderous group.
The call for another investigation into the actions of the death squd, which operated out of farms in counties Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s, was heard as a fresh inquest took place into one attack it carried out began in Belfast.
Mother-of-three Elizabeth “Betty” McDonald and sportsman Gerard McGleenan were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in the village of Keady, County Armagh, in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured in the blast.
Aside from claims of direct Crown force involvement in the bomb team, it has been alleged that RUC Special Branch and British Army surveillance personnel also knew the bombing was being planned by the gang, but failed to intervene.
Senior coroner John Leckey has been asked by a lawyer for Mrs McDonald’s widower, Malachi, to consider an all-encompassing thematic inquest or recommending a public inquiry. Peter Corrigan insisted the collusion claims in the Glenanne case were systematic.
“This wasn’t just a few bad apples, this was collusion and this was policy,” he said.
Mr Corrigan said it was vital the new inquest went beyond what happened in Keady to an examination of all the gang’s activities.
“In order to reach the truth in relation to Betty McDonald’s death we must look at the broad circumstances in relation to links to the Glenanne series,” he said
“You can’t look at Betty McDonald’s death in isolation from all other deaths linked to this gang.”
Outside court, a tearful Mr McDonald described the hearing as “one more step” toward justice.
“It is a hard path but one we are forced to take because those who were paid to protect life were the organisers and perpetrators of the car bomb explosion which went off without warning on our family home of husband, wife and three children, aged seven, four and one and a half.”
He added: “The powers that be should be ashamed of themselves, if they know what shame is -- they kept silent, they said nothing, but they knew and could have prevented all this but they didn’t do it.”
In a statement, Robert McGleenan and his family said: “The family want to say they were never informed police could have prevented the bombing, nor were they informed until recently that RUC Special Branch officers knew the identity of all those involved.
“The HET report has called this investigation and the whole process ‘catastrophic’ and it has indeed been catastrophic for these two families.”