Vindication, but what next?

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A self-censored report by the Police Ombudsman has played down what it described only as ‘collusive behaviour’ and ‘collusive activity’ by the Crown Forces in the murders of 19 civilians by the North West UDA between 1988 and 1994.

The attacks were designed to undermine nationalist resistance to British rule as negotiations were taking place towards the end of the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle.

The 11 attacks examined by Ombudsman Marie Anderson included the notorious ‘trick or treat’ massacre at the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel, County Derry in October 1993, an attack that claimed eight lives, and the murders of four workmen at Castlerock, County Derry in March of the same year.

The report is laced with euphemisms, pseudonyms and deliberate omissions. Written in the dry language of the civil service, it plays down the gravity of the ‘dirty war’ campaign and fails to identify those behind the collusion.

Among the more incriminating findings are that some loyalist paramilitaries continued to be employed as agents and informers, even after they had been involved in the killings of innocent nationalists.

Families of victims felt vindicated in their long campaign for pursuit of truth and justice, but there was little faith that it would lead to prosecutions against those members of the Crown Forces who worked hand-in-glove with UDA death squads to kill their loves ones.

In a statement issued by Relatives for Justice on behalf of the families of eight victims and two survivors of the attacks, they said: “We stand vindicated in our persistent claims of collusion, in particular by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment), in the murders of our loved ones.”

In her report, Anderson expressed “significant concerns” about police conduct, but said there was a lack of documentation that the RUC had prior knowledge of the attacks considered in her report.

She noted, however, that those suspecting of colluding in loyalist killings were “dismissed or repositioned”, and have never faced a criminal investigation.

“I am of the view that the RUC response to these matters was both inconsistent and inadequate,” she said.

Despite a litany of findings of “collusive behaviour”, the report failed to refute continuing claims by the British government that those involved were “a few bad eggs”.

The ombudsman sent only two evidence files on suspected criminality to Crown Prosecutors, who have already refused to take action against the two RUC men involved.

The failure to being charges is in line with efforts by the British political establishment to bring an end to all legal actions stemming from the conflict before 1998, and to cover up war crimes such as those Anderson was tasked to investigate.

The Ombudsman also refused to say how many loyalist paramilitaries worked as Crown informers in the north-west at that time.

The report identified, but failed to name, two informers. One, ‘Person H’, was recruited by Special Branch despite intelligence and evidence that he was involved in a series of murders. The report also fails to identify those who colluded with him.

It “is unclear if he was de-registered by police when he continued to be involved in murders”, the report casually notes, adding that the serial killer “later resumed providing intelligence to police and continued as an informant for several years”. It also notes that Special Branch records relating to him were destroyed.

Relatives of the victims of the UDA Greysteel and Castlerock massacres are now planning to take a civil action against the PSNI over the evidence. ‘Person H’ is believed to be convicted UDA gunman Torrens Knight, who was convicted of 12 of the 19 killings investigated by Anderson.

Among the other findings were that “intelligence and surveillance failings” enabled the UDA to secure guns and other weapons from known loyalist arms caches.

There were also “failings” in regard to passing on loyalist threats to some of those killed, and a “reluctance” to take action against openly loyalist members of the Crown Forces who took part in intelligence briefings and then passed the information on to the murder gangs.

The Ombudsman’s office identified the deliberate destruction of files in regard to informers and state agents, but again made no recommendation for action against those involved. She also noted the “failure” of RUC Special Branch to share information with those investigating the attacks, but stopped short of describing it as collusion.

Eddie Fullerton, a Sinn Féin councillor shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries who crossed the border to County Donegal in 1991, was one of the killings investigated.

In 2006, the Fullerton family made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman alleging that RUC members had colluded in his murder and failed to assist the investigation by the 26 County Garda police.

Despite accepting that RUC Special Branch had not responded to a number of requests for intelligence from the Gardai, Anderson inexplicably concluded that RUC inquiries on behalf of An Garda Síochána were in general “completed in a timely and thorough manner”.

Mr Fullerton’s daughter Amanda Fullerton, who was 27 when her father was murdered, said she had mixed emotions about the findings.

“I feel sad but I welcome the report as the ombudsman has vindicated our position all along,” she said.

She said her father had been aware his life was in danger. “When you have security forces colluding with loyalist paramilitaries there’s very little you can do to avoid the outcome,” she said. “They are intent on murder and that’s what happened.”

Another Sinn Féin councillor to die was Bernard O’Hagan. Mr O’Hagan’s son Fionnbharr O’Hagan, who was five when his father was shot dead, also voiced concerns about the report.

He challenged the claim that there are “no records of witness statements having been recorded” by people who heard the gunshots that killed his father.

“I have at least two names of people who say they marked on maps or filled in questionnaires and were never once contacted again despite the fact they wanted to be,” he said.

In a typical entry, the report expressed the view that “efforts by police to prosecute those responsible for Mr O’Hagan’s murder were thorough”.

Mr O’Hagan says he intends to question the ombudsman on this part of the report.

“How can they say that when they are saying they don’t have witness statements, how can they say that if they don’t know if there was forensics done?” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn has called on the Dublin government to act on the report “and demand that the full truth of British state collusion across the island of Ireland is revealed.

“They must also insist that the amnesty for British state forces is stopped and that the legacy mechanisms in the Stormont House Agreement are implemented in a human rights compliant manner.”

The list of incidents examined include: the murder of Gerard Casey at Rasharkin in April 1989; the murder of Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton at Buncrana in May 1991; the murder of Patrick Shanaghan at Castlederg in August 1991; the murder of Thomas Donaghy at Kilrea in August 1991; the murder of Sinn Féin councillor Bernard O’Hagan at Magherafelt in September 1991; the attempted murder of James McCorriston at Coleraine in February 1992; the murder of Daniel Cassidy at Kilrea in April 1992; the attempted murder of Patrick McErlain at Dunloy in August 1992; the murder of Malachy Carey at Ballymoney in December 1992; the murders of Robert Dalrymple, James Kelly, James McKenna and Noel O’Kane at Castlerock in March 1993; and the murders of John Burns, Moira Duddy, Joseph McDermott, James Moore, John Moyne, Steven Mullan, Karen Thompson and Samuel Montgomery at Greysteel in October 1993.

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