The campaign to find the truth behind the truth of the murder of the two Cairns brothers in 1993 will continue despite a controversial finding by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan that there was no evidence of British Crown force collusion in the killings.
However, Mrs O’Loan revealed that, among numerous questionable decisions. the so-called RUC/PSNI police ‘investigation’ of the double murder was wound up within weeks, with officers ‘losing’, destroying and withholding forensic evidence and suspects’ statements.
Gerard Cairns (22) and his brother Rory (18) were shot dead by two masked gunmen who burst into the family home at Bleary, near Lurgan, Co Armagh, on October 28 1993.
The two brothers had posed for a family photograph to celebrate their sister Roisin’s birthday just an hour earlier.
The 11-year-old had thought the two gunmen were playing a Hallowe’en prank as they sneaked through the family’s kitchen but they shot her brothers dead as they watched television in a living room.
The unionist paramilitary UVF claimed the killings. Nine UVF members were quizzed on the murders but released without charge.
Recent evidence has come to light to indicate that there was extensive co-operation between the UVF and British Crown forces at the time. However, yesterday Mrs O’Loan said she had been unable to find evidence of collusion.
Mrs O’Loan said that the RUC/PSNI probe was “flawed” and had been wrapped up too quickly. Forensic evidence and interviews with the suspected killers were all destroyed after being allegedly contaminated with asbestos while being stored in a warehouse. RUC/PSNI Special Branch was also found to have deliberately withheld intelligence.
Following the announcement, Eamon and Sheila Cairns were with their three surviving children when they said their family’s campaign for the truth would continue.
“Nuala O’Loan found evidence that the RUC investigation was flawed, poor and devoid of any real determination to bring those who killed Gerard and Rory to justice,” said Mr Cairns.
“She found that the Special Branch withheld evidence and the RUC not only supposedly lost all the forensic evidence and suspect statements but effectively wound up the entire murder inquiry just weeks after Gerard and Rory were killed. It seems hard to believe that a professional and highly experienced police force could be accused of such a high degree of incompetence.
“Rather than dismissing collusion, I suggest Mrs O’Loan’s report actually raises further suspicions that there was collusion.
“It provides ample evidence of a subsequent cover-up after the murders to ensure any evidence would never come to light.
“We believe that the restricted terms of reference which Nuala O’Loan was forced to work under meant that she was never going to be allowed to identify collusion.
“However, the facts are that weapons used to murder my sons were smuggled into the north through British army agent Brian Nelson.
“Vital forensic evidence, suspect statements and security-force logbooks were all either destroyed or mysteriously lost by the RUC.
“A retired policeman identified a key suspect as having bought the car used in the murder but his evidence was never acted upon.
“That suspect was arrested [two weeks later] in a van in possession of a loaded weapon but never went to prison.
“All the interviews of him supposedly being questioned about my sons’ murders were mysteriously destroyed, just like all the other records of the police interviews with the main suspects were destroyed.
“If this is not evidence of a cover-up I don’t know what is.
“You only have to ask why the whole investigation was wound up after a matter of weeks to see that someone was being protected.
“The policemen who were supposed to be catching my sons’ killers were more interested in trying to get me to spy on local republicans.
“Every time they came and told me they were getting closer to catching the killers they were just lying through their teeth.
“We knew from day one that Nuala O’Loan wasn’t going to be allowed to publicly identify those who killed Rory and Gerard because they were police agents.”
Mr Cairns appealed for former and serving officers to come forward with evidence.
“We are appealing for the people who know who killed Gerard and Rory to come forward,” he said.
“All we want is justice for our sons. We want to know where this collusion cover-up started and where it finished.”
Sinn Féin assembly member John O’Dowd said many nationalists remained convinced of Crown force collusion in the murders.
“Many nationalists and republicans believe that a UVF unit acted with impunity in the north Armagh area in the early 1990s,” he said.
“This report shows that after the murder of these two young brothers, who were murdered simply because they were Catholics, the RUC displayed a lack of vigour and determination in catching their killers.”