A major international report has called for an independent inquiry into what senior British government figures knew about Crown force collusion with unionist death-squads in 74 murders.

The report by a four-strong team of legal experts found “credible and significant” evidence of such collusion after investigating 25 cases involving 76 murders between 1972 and 1977. They found that senior RUC police were aware of and in some cases approved sectarian crimes carried out by their juniors.

Using information already in the public domain, they also said members of the RUC police and the British Army’s UDR not only helped to train unionist paramilitaries but also provided valuable information and ammunition.

The murder operation responsible for almost all of the cases examined operated from their Glennane base in South Armagh, in the heart of the border area.

The panel, including a former International Criminal Court investigator and a professor of law at Notre Dame University in the US, urged the British government to conduct an independent inquiry to examine how much senior government figures and police officers knew about collusion.

The legal team was asked to investigate the 25 cases -- most of which focused on the mid-Ulster and border areas -- by Derry-based human rights organisation The Pat Finucane Centre.

In all but one of the cases they said that they found evidence pointing to collusion.

The panel found there was “compelling evidence that officers of the British state - in particular RUC officers, UDR soldiers and their agents - were involved in sectarian murders of Catholics”.

“There is credible evidence that their activities were known and supported, tacitly and in some cases explicitly, by some of their RUC and UDR superiors and, to some extent, by some British intelligence and army officers,” it added.

“Despite this knowledge, appropriate criminal investigations and prosecutions of these murders were not conducted, even in the face of evidence amounting to probably cause for arrest,” it said.

Members of the group spoke to former RUC officer John Weir who had previously made allegations of collusion against former colleagues and UDR members in 12 of the cases.

In most of these cases the report found that Mr Weir’s allegations were corroborated by RUC ballistics tests. The tests confirmed that some weapons were also used in a number of killings linked to RUC and UDR officers.

The report said that the Historical Inquiries Team (HET), established by the PSNI police (formerly RUC) to reinvestigate unsolved murders, did not meet “international standards for investigations”.

At a Belfast presentation of the report yesterday, law professor Douglass Cassel said: he was “shocked” by the level of collusion he found.

“The British government has a reputation around the world as one of the leading democracies and one of the longest histories of the rule of law.

“To find this extent of collusion in murders in the 25 incidents we investigated was shocking.”

Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy said nationalists and republicans in South Armagh knew “only too well” the legacy of the UDR/RUC operation at Glennane.

“This report lifts the lid on their involvement in over 70 sectarian murders and exposes the fact that senior figures in the RUC were fully aware of the killings and the role of their colleagues in them. The evidence is simply irrefutable.

“For many years Sinn Féin was a lone voice in exposing British State collusion with unionist paramilitaries. We were vilified by the political and media establishment who dismissed claims of collusion as ‘republican propaganda’. We have now been vindicated and will continue to stand with the families of those killed by the British State in their search for the truth.

“The British State is going to have to face up to its role in the systematic murder of over 1100 nationalists and republicans both directly and through their surrogates in the various unionist death squads.”

Alan Brecknell, whose 32-year-old father was murdered in a 1975 gun and bomb attack on Donnelly’s Bar in south Armagh, said the report was a “stepping stone” to finding out why the attack took place.

“In itself it’s an acknowledgement that things happened here,” he said.

“For us it’s been a long road for our family but it is a road that all the families are going to pursue.

“To date the British government has not given us any answers.

“We need to see what the security services and special branch knew what was going on.

“The report is made up of information that is in the public domain. What is actually in the security files?

“It’s not about revenge, it’s about getting meaningful answers so we can all move forward.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News