The assassination of Eddie Fullerton
The assassination of Eddie Fullerton



A Police Ombudsman investigation is reported to have uncovered serious concerns about collusion in the murder of Sinn Fein councillor Eddie Fullerton. A look back at an infamous assassination, 24 years ago this month.


On 25 May 1991 at 2.30am, a front door in Buncrana, County Donegal, was sledgehammered down. Two men entered the house and headed straight upstairs. [They passed five doors on the way, until they reached the left-hand door at the bottom of the corridor.] They clearly knew the layout of the house as well as the occupants.

Eddie Fullerton, Sinn Fein councillor, was in his bed with his wife. She said that as soon as Eddie heard the noise he was up out of bed like a whippet. Eddie, at 57, had the body of a 35-year-old, the doctor who subsequently examined his remains remarked. Broad and strong, the ex-professional boxer had a stomach for a fight. There was a melee in the tiny, narrow corridor. Shots were fired. His body took five bullets.

The killers fled the way they had come in - around the back of the house to a hijacked car in the driveway of an empty house, vacated only a few weeks previously, when the elderly female inhabitant had been taken into the care of the health board. Eddie’s daughter and son lived in another two houses in the cul de sac. The night before the attack, Eddie’s daughter had moved to Derry. She had left the house spic and span. Hours before the attack it was noticed that the door had been kicked in. Afterwards, Eddie’s son Albert went into the house and discovered that there were rubber trainer sole marks over the previously clean floor and cigarette ash, but no butts, on the windowsill.

The killing was claimed by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) by another name. Author and journalist Sean McPhilemy claims in his book, ‘The Committee’, that LVF leader Billy Wright, another leading loyalist and a high ranking RUC officer, were among those who planned Fullerton’s assassination. In the book, a named Derry loyalist also alleges crown forces involvement. He claims that a four-man gang, led by a man identified as ‘BM’, were transported in two D-40 Gemini high-speed rubber dinghies across Lough Foyle to Muff, from where they were taken in two cars to Fullerton’s home on Cockhill Road in Buncrana.

After the killing, the book alleges, the gang was driven out of the seaside town at high speed before dumping their weapons and clothing in a disused farmhouse in Muff, after which the two cars took different directions - one to North Derry, the other to Strabane.

The Garda response to this killing is at best questionable in terms of appropriate police work. The distraught family was not allowed into the house as Eddie Fullerton lay dead in a pool of his own blood. This would be understandable were the gardai protecting the scene for forensic examination, but the family insists that instead of combing the house for clues as to the identity of the killers, the Garda Special Branch used the opportunity to ransack the Fullerton house and remove any documents or papers of Eddie’s.

The family is fired by huge sense of injustice that the Gardai, at the very least, failed to protect a citizen. That same citizen was an elected representative who had received two death threats after he was effectively implicated by the Gardai of involvement in an IRA intelligence-gathering operation.

I heard this story as I sat in the house where the killing took place, nearly 23 years ago. Albert, Eddie’s son, who still lives in the house, spoke to me about how the family have not received a single piece of correspondence from the Gardai in nine years about the killing of their father.

The family is convinced that Garda “news management” had put Eddie in the frame as the information leak that allowed the IRA to target UDR man Ian Sproule in Castlederg in 1990. It had been alleged that information on Sproule’s whereabouts and routine had been passed to the IRA in the council offices in Lifford. Whether or not this is true is another matter but it was in the public domain. The Gardai then stated publicly that they had interviewed all of the Donegal county councillors and that all of them bar two had been fully cooperative. At that time there were two Sinn Fein councillors on Donegal County Council. Just to narrow it down a bit further, the Gardai also stated that information on Sproule had been passed to a journalist at a roadside meeting in Bridge End, the main route into Inishowen, on the way to Eddie Fullerton’s home.

Not long after this, Eddie Fullerton received a death threat in the post from the “Maiden City Action Force”. He did nothing or said nothing publicly about it. He then received a second threat and went public with it.

After the second death threat, things around the Fullerton household became strange. A very fit looking man was observed in a green boiler suit standing up the field behind the Fullerton house. Albert one day borrowed his father’s car and is convinced he was followed all the way from Manorcunningham to very close to the Fullertons’ street.

One month before the attack, there was a knock at the door, Albert recalls, and his dad went to answer it. He came back into the kitchen and said: “It’s a lad selling cards for cancer research - do you have 50p?” Eddie then went out with the money and came back in looking very angry. When Albert asked what was the matter Eddie told him that when he went out, instead of standing at the porch door, the ‘charity collector’ was jumping down from the stairs inside the house. The family are convinced that this was intelligence gathering as to whether or not Eddie had any metal gate security on his stairs.

After this, they knew that the Fullerton house was unprotected. The attack could now go ahead. Eddie said to Albert that the man had a County Derry accent. This would tie in with the voices of the men who commandeered a B&B several miles from the Fullerton home at the time of the attack. The couple who were taken hostage in their own home stated that there were “seven or eight” masked people, one of which looked like a female, and that most of them spoke with South Derry accents. One of them didn’t.

The woman of that house is convinced that the voice of the man giving the orders in the group was the same voice she heard subsequently from an unmasked man on a television interview - Billy Wright. The intruders knew the layout of the B&B intimately. They asked for keys to the car. The man of the house (who has asked that his name not be used) offered them the keys to an old blue working van but they told him they wanted the keys to his new Mitsubishi. This car was only a few weeks old. They knew that he had a sledgehammer and where it was kept. It was this sledgehammer that was used for the door of Eddie Fullerton’s house.

The killing was claimed by the UFF as revenge for the killing of Ian Sproule. The family is convinced that the loyalist killers had high-level assistance in setting up this well planned assassination. The level of planning and timing involved was not the usual hallmark of loyalist killers when they operate unassisted.

Eddie Fullerton’s widow has said that she believes the claims of collusion between the crown forces and her husband’s killers contained in Sean McPhilemy’s book. The book also links Fullerton’s death to his arrest and detention in Strand Road RUC barracks in Derry a few months before his killing. Mrs Fullerton is also demanding that all the people implicated in her husband’s killing and named in ‘The Committee’ should be questioned about their alleged involvement.

Sinn Fein has called on the Department of Justice in Dublin to reopen its investigation into the killing. Particularly, the family wants an inquiry that will focus on the role the Gardai played in investigating the killing and why their version of events does not fit with the facts in the house.

Firstly, at the top of the narrow stairs there is a hot press. This was covered in blood. The Gardai said that this was Eddie’s blood and that he was, therefore, shot at the top of the stairs. Yet Eddie’s body was found around the corner at the end of a very long corridor. Mrs Fullerton has said that her husband flew out of the bed and there was a melee outside the bedroom door and that’s where all the shots were fired. The family believes that one of the killers took a round from either his own gun or the gun of the other shooter as Eddie Fullerton fought for his life.

Around the corner on the way down the stairs, just before you reach the hot press, there was a picture hanging which was glass paned. There was a bloody hand print smudge all the way down it. Then the smooth, gloss painted hot press doors were covered in blood. In the porch there was a bit of plaster missing from the sharp edge of a wall - with human hair stuck in it.

As far as the family are concerned the Gardai have written a version of events to explain the bloodstains and where they were found. Also the story of the first garda on the scene does not fit as far as the family is concerned. The timings, says Albert, between getting the call and arriving at the scene do not seem to fit.

The family has also received information that exactly one week before the killing the Gardai received a call at the local barracks that “a man had been shot in Cockhill”. This is, of course, what happened a week later. Was this to test the response time, or to make a real call a week later seem like another hoax? The guards have denied to the family that such a call was received. Again, these are matters that would fall within the remit of a proper inquiry.

Years after the killing, Albert was taking a short cut around the back of the house on a disused railway line. It wasn’t his normal route. He tripped on a protrusion in the ground. He looked down and was surprised to see a basic wooden structure - a platform near ground level insulated by blue polythene sheeting nailed to planks of wood. It was the length of a man and you could lay on it and not get cold from the ground. Albert described it as a “tree house at ground level”. He got into it and lay down. He was amazed to discover that he could look straight into the Fullerton kitchen from this vantage point. Albert said that the timber looked old and that the polythene looked bleached pale from years of weathering. He firmly believes that this was an observation hide used by the people who planned the killing of Eddie Fullerton but qustions why the Gardai never found it.

The family told me that a senior Garda source in the county had told them that they know who killed Eddie Fullerton, where they lived and where they worked. Despite this, An Garda Siochana has yet to send a single letter to the Fullerton family about the murder of their father. Apart from ransacking the house of Eddie’s papers, walking past clues and devising an unlikely scenario to explain the trail of blood upstairs, the Special Branch also tried to distract the family from the source of the murder. They were told very soon afterwards by a Special Branch detective that “this looks like it’s internal”. He was asking the family to believe that the IRA had killed Eddie Fullerton. The Gardai also said this to Sinn Fein Councillor Jim Ferry.

The killing, of course, was the work of loyalists, but it is highly unlikely that these loyalists acted alone. This week, I interviewed two of Eddie’s closest friends. Firstly, I spoke with Liam McElhinney, a Sinn Fein member of Donegal County Council with Eddie at the time of the killing. Liam says that the lack of any official recognition of the life of Eddie Fullerton was shameful. “If it had have been a member of Fianna Fail - or any other party - there would have been bronze statues all over the county,” he said. “There is one small photograph of Eddie in the council chamber, and I had to fight to get that!”

Liam was the last friend to see Eddie alive. Fullerton had left Liam’s home that night around 11pm. Liam stressed that this must have been a very well planned attack, as Eddie kept no set routine, not for any security reasons but just because he was Eddie. A non-drinker, Eddie would ape the behaviour of guys going on a bender; just by meeting someone and drinking tea till the small hours.

Liam recalls that that about a year before Eddie was killed a cache of British security force documents had been recovered in Derry in loyalist hands. There were a substantial number of long range camera shots of leading republicans. There was a picture of Liam, one of John Davey of Bellaghy and one of Eddie. These three pictures had been marked out for special attention. Across each of them had been written “DEAD AS DOORNAILS”.

Liam wasn’t informed of this until after Eddie’s death. John Davey had been killed by pro-British forces in 1989. Liam also confirmed Eddie’s conviction in the weeks leading up to his killing that he was being followed. Eddie told McElhinney that on at least two occasions when he was leaving Liam’s cottage late at night he was sure that he was followed to Inishowen from Lifford, where Liam lives.

Another close friend and comrade of Eddie’s is Pat Doherty, Sinn Fein Vice President. Like everyone I spoke to in preparing this article, the mention of Eddie opened a storeroom of warm memories of this most charismatic of men and his ways. Then comes the anger and the purpose. “Given what we knew then about collusion and all that we have learned about this British policy in the succeeding years, it is clear that this was a killing carried out with a high degree of collusion,” said Pat. “There is a pressing need for an independent public inquiry to ascertain the full facts. The family also wants a full public inquiry with the appropriate powers to requisition documents and call witnesses. They deserve no less. Only in this way will justice be secured for Eddie Fullerton.”

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