Ombudsman to investigate ‘Dirty War’ killings

Allegations that British military intelligence and Special Branch police sanctioned their informers and agents within the IRA to carry out certain killings are being investigated by the North’s Police Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman is about to launch an inquiry into claims that human-car-bomb victim Patsy Gillespie was killed to protect a British agent in the IRA.

Human rights group group British-Irish Rights Watch has compiled evidence that British Crown forces masterminded the human-bomb strategy which killed Mr Gillespie, a civilian security base worker, and six soldiers in 1990. it is believed the attacks, which caused widespread criticism, were planned to bolster the credibility of the informers while generating public hostility towards the IRA’s armed struggle.

The case is believed to be just one of six incidents that the ombudsman’s office will investigate amid claims that Crown forces -- including RUC police Special Branch -- protected informers within the IRA from prosecution. To ensure that agents remained trusted by the IRA they were allowed to take part in murders and other operations with impunity.

The ombudsman’s last report was an indictment of Special Branch handling of agents in the unionist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. It said the RUC/PSNI police were in involved in up to 15 murders over 12 years.

Several new cases are understood to focus on the role of Freddie Scappaticci, former head of the IRA’s internal security unit, who has since been exposed as a British army agent. The cases are being investigated individually but may be rolled together if evidence emerges that they are linked.

The family of John Dignam has approached the ombudsman’s office and asked for his death to be re-examined. Dignam was one of three IRA volunteers shot dead by the organisation in 1992. The family claims two men killed as RUC informers including Mr Dignam, were in fact killed to protect an RUC informer.

Last week a former RUC Special Branch officer -- occasionally described as a ‘whistleblower’ -- was arrested by the ombudsman’s investigators in connection with a separate case after he declined to come forward with information.

The case of murdered Newry republican Eoin Morley is also to be put under a spotlight after it was found that Special Branch withheld crucial information from detectives investigating the murder.

It is also known that one of the cases that the ombudsman has already looked at is that of British soldier Stephen Restorick, who was the last soldier to be shot dead in the North of Ireland.

His mother Rita launched a campaign to get to the bottom of his murder amid claims that his killing was allowed to go ahead to protect an informer in the IRA.

Meanwhile, the family of another Belfast IRA man murdered as an informer have vowed to take their case up with the ombudsmans in a bid to clear his name.

Anthony McKiernan’s daughter Sharon Murtagh said it was the only way to finally get her father’s name cleared.

The family have claimed McKiernan had been due to meet Freddie Scappaticci - then a Special Branch agent - hours before he was shot in the head.

“In some of these [ cases] there are suggestions that people were protected by the police from arrest and prosecution,” Mrs O’Loan told BBC Radio yesterday. “On the republican side the allegation was that there was protection of republican criminals and there was in some cases [ protection of] a republican informant.”

The allegations involved “police failure to investigate [ and that] police knew the murder was going to happen and did nothing about it”, she said. “If what is being alleged transpires to be the truth, that would be collusion.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News