In the aftermath of the damning Loughinisland Police Ombudsman report, further questions are being asked about a massive arms shipment linked to dozens of loyalist murders.
Ombudsman Michael Maguire found that the British Crown forces had prior knowledge of the South African arms shipment but did not prevent the weapons being smuggled, and then failed to intercept some of the shipment, despite intelligence on its whereabouts.
A senior loyalist informer, Tommy ‘Tucker’ Lyttle, was one of those who organised the arms deal, as did British Army agent Brian Nelson.
The weapons that fell into the hands of the DUP-linked Ulster Resistance group have never been recovered, while some made their way to other loyalist death squads and many remain in secret arms caches.
Maguire raised questions about why all the weapons were not intercepted as police “informants at the most senior levels within loyalist paramilitary organisations” were involved. He found that Britain had colluded in loyalist gun running, and all of those families who lost loved ones using these guns should now have recourse against the state.
The same arms shipment brought into Ireland from South Africa was used in at least 70 murders and numerous attempted murders. Civil actions against the PSNI police have already been lodged in just under 30 cases but that figure could rise in the coming months.
It comes as a panel set up as part of the ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement said last week that a new decommissioning scheme should be set up to seek to destroy remaining arms caches.
Danny Lavery, whose brother Martin (40) was killed with one of the guns in 1992, said he was shocked at the level of collusion revealed in the Ombudsman’s report.
The same weapon that killed the father-of-five was recovered after the loyalist attack in Loughinisland two years later when six Catholics were shot dead while watching a World Cup game.
Mr Lavery, a former Sinn Fein councillor, said the proposals on arms decommissioning should be placed on hold until all remaining investigations are carried out.
“It is a way of dumping evidence in a legal manner and while these killings are being looked at again it shouldn’t even be considered,” he said. “Even if further decommissioning goes ahead they can always get new guns anyway so it really is politically pointless.”
He said the murder was part of a campaign by loyalists to “wipe out” his entire family. A year later his 21-year-old nephew Sean was shot dead when UDA gunmen fired indiscriminately into the family’s Antrim Road home, hitting him three times.
While Mr Lavery said they were not surprised that Michael Maguire confirmed collusion in the Loughinisland attack, the family were shocked at the level of detail in the report.
“I’m surprised he (police ombudsman) was allowed to go as far as he did - be interesting to see how long he remains in the post now - but we as a family now have in black and white what we have always known, that there was collusion involved.
“There was no real investigation into Martin’s murder. The sledgehammer they brought with them along with bullet casings weren’t even removed from the scene.
“It was only after the press reported on it that they (RUC) even came back for them, I’ve no idea if they kept that evidence.
“After Martin’s murder we were sent word that on the night of the shooting the RUC radios were being listened into with scanners.
“The family were sent word that it was on the police radio that the gunmen were followed by the RUC to a club in Disraeli Street.
“Whoever that cop was radioed in and asked for back up to go in and recover evidence and he was told by his seniors to pull away from it.
“That was a missed opportunity to catch the gunmen and get the weapon - who ordered that and why?”
Mr Lavery claimed senior establishment figures who were aware the weapons shipment was coming into the north of Ireland and did not stop it should now be held to account.
“We’ve instructed our solicitor and the ball is rolling on that and any other action we can take on the back of this report.
“Personally I would like to see the big people behind this, those who sanctioned the arms shipment, MI5 and military intelligence, I would like to see them held to account.”
Mr Lavery added that his brother’s family were left traumatised by the murder, compounded by the fact the names of the suspects, one a well-known loyalist spokesman, were known within days of the shooting.
“When I was a councillor I passed one of the killers almost every day - that’s a hard thing to deal with,” he said. “They were protected from prosecution then and they’re still being protected now.”
Lawyer Niall Murphy, who represents the Loughinisland families and others murdered by the South African weapons, said any remaining weapons should be “subject to full forensic examination”.
“If the first wave of decommissioning was carried out in good faith then there shouldn’t be any VZ58s [guns] in circulation,” he said. “If there are and they were retained for whatever reason then if recovered those weapons must be subject to full forensic examination.”