A Police Ombudsman’s report has found that the British Crown forces could have prevented the killing of an RUC police sergeant in 1977, but failed to do so. Sinn Fein has said the murder was allowed to proceed to protect the identity of an informer.
RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell, described as a “dedicated community police officer” in the nationalist Glens of Antrim, was shot dead as he closed Cushendall RUC station in County Antrim in 1977.
Since then, his widow and children have campaigned for more information about the circumstances surrounding his death.
The Campbell family believe that the killing was carried out by a notorious loyalist paramilitary - Robin Jackson - aided by certain elements of the so-called ‘security’ forces.
Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire said he uncovered systematic destruction and removal of RUC documents during his investigation.
The Police Ombudsman’s investigators heard from RUC Special Branch police who had also passed their concerns about Sgt Campbell’s safety on to their superiors, including that “Joe was to be lined-up to be murdered”.
One RUC man was told by a member of the public that there was a link between a bank robbery in Cushendall in early 1977 and the murder of Sgt Campbell several weeks later. He passed this statement on, and said he was always surprised that he was never asked about it.
The Ombudsman described investigations into the killing as “very poor”. As a result of one such investigation, a so-called “rogue” member of RUC Special Branch in Ballymena, County Antrim, was arrested and tried for the murder, but was acquitted.
Mr Maguire said he found both the victim and his family were failed by the actions of the RUC before and after the shooting.
“I have to conclude that Sgt Campbell... was failed by senior members of the police service, of which he was a respected member,” he said. There was “sufficient, reliable evidence that senior police officers throughout the RUC’s command structure” were aware of the threats to Sgt Campbell’s life and “failed to act upon them”.
Mr Maguire said some retired RUC men refused to cooperate with his investigation. He said the head of special branch at that time knew about the threat to Campbell’s life and it was “highly likely” that the RUC chief at the time, Kenneth Newman, also knew.
However, he stopped short of confirming the widespread local belief, shared by the dead man’s family, that the murder had been a well-signalled act of collusion.
Joe Campbell Jr told BBC Radio that he had been in his father’s police station in connection with an unrelated matter shortly before the murder.
“He came down to the station, he was unexpected there and as I was leaving, he opened the gate for me and told me to get home quickly,” Mr Campbell said.
“I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but not more than 10 minutes later he was murdered at the gates he had let me out of.”
Another son, Tommy, said his father’s moods had changed dramatically in the months before the murder.
“He had become more conscious about his own personal security. He was careful about what we were doing and where we were about,” he said.
“It’s well documented that on the night this happened, a phone call was received.
“He went to the station. He put on his own personal protection weapon, which he never wore. He just didn’t wear a gun at all at any stage.
“While we are aware at the time that something a bit different was going on, it’s only after the murder, and in latter years, that we could contextualise it.”
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the report confirmed what republicans have said about the RUC Special Branch for many years.
“This force within a force showed complete disregard over decades for the lives and safety of the nationalist community.
“However, in the case of Joseph Campbell it was also clearly prepared to sacrifice the life of one of its own officers to protect an informer.
“This case details the rotten core of the RUC going back almost four decades.
“As the report clearly demonstrates, this cannot be explained away by pointing the finger of blame at individual RUC officers.
“The head of Special Branch and probably even the Chief Constable knew of the threat to Sgt Campbell’s life and took no action to prevent his killing.
“Once again, like other investigations into collusion and wrongdoing by the RUC, former officers have refused to co-operate with the Ombudsman and key files have been destroyed.
“These continued attempts to block the truth, only adds to the pain and suffering of the victims.”
He said the case shows once again the need for mechanisms such as those contained within proposals to deal “comprehensively” with the issue of the past.