The killing of Loughlin Maginn
The killing of Loughlin Maginn

To the outside world he was just another innocent statistic of the Troubles - the 3,051st person murdered in the conflict.

But the killing of Loughlin Maginn was to spark a chain reaction of events that would finally lift the lid on security force collusion with loyalists in the murder of dozens of nationalists. Within hours of the father-of-four being shot dead the UFF attempted to justify the killing claiming he had been a Provisional IRA intelligence officer.

The claim was rejected by the RUC, who insisted that Mr Maginn was an innocent victim of a sectarian killing. Desperate to defend the murder, the UFF posted intelligence files of republican suspects, which it had received from members of the RUC and British army, on walls in loyalist areas of west Belfast.

One of those pictured in the montages was Loughlin Maginn. While there had been previous allegations of security force collusion, this was the first definite evidence that British army and RUC files had been passed to loyalists.

Within weeks of the murder two UDR soldiers appeared in court charged with the killing.

Security minister John Cope denied that it was operating a policy of cooperation between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

“Our policy is to stamp out any collusion and that is why we are investigating all the allegations very thoroughly,’’ he said.

Soon after the soldiers appeared in court the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher defended the UDR as ‘a very, very, very brave group of men’ during a specially arranged visit to Northern Ireland.

At the time 16 members of the regiment were serving life for murder. Within days the British army was forced to admit that another soldier convicted of possession of intelligence files passed to the UVF had rejoined his regiment.

Corporal Cameron Hastie was allowed to continue as an army instructor despite being given an 18-month suspended sentence for stealing the documents, which the court was told had later been passed on to the UVF by a female UDR soldier.

With growing nationalist and Irish government calls for the UDR to be disbanded, the British government announced in September 1989 that deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire John Stevens (now Lord Stevens) was being called into investigate the theft of security force files from Ballykinlar UDR base and Dunmurry RUC station. Stevens Inquiry detectives were initially told their investigation would last just three weeks but as evidence emerged that hundreds of security force files had been passed to loyalists, the investigation snowballed. It would last 20 years and become the longest running police investigation in British history. Within weeks of his arrival Lord Stevens had arrested 28 UDR soldiers for involvement in collusion. Detectives uncovered evidence that the British army’s Force Research Unit (Fru) had used its agent Brian Nelson to provide the UDA and UVF with intelligence files on nationalists.

In January, mysteriously, Lord Stevens’s offices inside Carrickfergus RUC station went on fire just as he was preparing to arrest Nelson and other senior UDA figures. A former member of Fru, Martin Ingram, would later claim that his unit had set fire to the offices. Lord Stevens would ultimately recover 2,600 security force documents which had been passed to loyalists.

In May 1990 Stevens published his first report, confirming that some security force members had “gravely abused their position of trust” by passing on information to loyalists.

However, he said there was no evidence of any orchestrated plan of collusion. Nationalists branded the report a whitewash, while unionists dubbed it a “cynical political exercise”.

Eventually 59 people would be charged by Stevens - all bar one of those charged were either members of the UDR or UDA. In January 1992 Brian Nelson pleaded guilty to five charges of conspiracy to murder and 14 charges of possessing information useful to terrorists. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment but only served five. His decision to plead guilty meant that Nelson’s key role as a conduit between the British army and loyalist paramilitaries was never fully exposed. Lord Stevens was to return for a second time to Northern Ireland in April 1993 after a BBC Panorama programme, The Dirty War, revealed that Nelson had warned his army handlers in late 1988 that Pat Finucane was being targeted by the UDA. It further revealed that far from being a lone ‘bad apple’ Nelson had been assisted by his handlers in collating intelligence and had been provided with the personal details and photographs of intended targets for the UDA. Although Stevens II lasted nearly three years little is known about what new evidence, if any, was uncovered. It is known that four reports went to the DPP, but failed to result in prosecutions. Nationalists branded the report another whitewash. Lord Stevens was forced to return to Northern Ireland for a third time in May 1999 after allegations of security force collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane refused to go away. It would later emerge that four security force agents, Brian Nelson, Billy Stobie, Tommy Lyttle and Ken Barrett had all been linked to the murder. In April 2003 it was announced that Brian Nelson had died in Canada. Six days later Stevens published a summary of its third and final inquiry. Summing up his 15-year investigation into security force collusion in the murder of nationalists, Britain’s most senior police officer said: “My three inquiries have found all these elements of collusion to be present. “The coordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor. “Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes. “Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected. Crucial information was withheld from Senior Investigating Officers. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved.”

Lord Stevens announced that he had forwarded 25 files to the Public Prosecution Service recommending charges against security force members. In June 2007 the PPS announced that no serving or retired member of the security forces would face charges arising out of the three Stevens inquiries.

After 20 years and costing more than #20 million, Britain’s longest ever police investigation has failed to secure the prosecution of a single RUC officer or regular soldier for collusion.

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