A deceptive police report into the McGurk’s Bar bomb atrocity is to be quashed in its entirety, concluding a titanic legal battle between victims of the atrocity and the PSNI.
At the High Court, Justice Humphreys ordered a review by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to be scrapped because findings within it were “irrational”.
He said: “It is not possible to remedy this legal wrong by mere excision.”
The verdict represents a major victory for relatives of those killed in one of the worst attacks in the history of the conflict.
Fifteen civilians were murdered and many others injured when a bomb detonated on December 4, 1971, causing the building to collapse. The unionist paramilitary UVF were ultimately held responsible, but British forces initially blamed the IRA.
At the time of the attack it was claimed by the then RUC police and other British agencies that it may have been an IRA “own goal”.
In 2011 the Police Ombudsman identified what it described as “bias” in how the RUC handled the case. It concluded that the police had been focused on the false argument that the IRA was to blame.
A separate HET review in 2014 absurdly claimed there was no evidence of any bias on the part of the RUC investigators. Those findings were challenged by Brigid Irvine, whose mother Kathleen was among those killed in the attack.
Despite the PSNI chief at the time, George Hamilton, admitting fault by opting not to contest the Police Ombudsman’s conclusions, Ms Irvine’s lawyers were forced to take legal action to ensure the HET report was quashed in full.
At a hearing last month it emerged that the PSNI had finally accepted that the finding of no bias was irrational and contrary to the weight of evidence.
The judge said those concessions rendered the HET’s conclusions on the issue “wholly ill founded, unsustainable and illogical”.
“It is rare for a public authority to admit that it has behaved irrationally” he said.
Justice Humphreys also decided against calls to simply edit the report, and said its findings had been “infected by irrationality”. The PSNI had sought that parts of the report be retained.
The McGurk’s families said they had been vindicated in their battle to have “this failed, irrational and therefore illegal report” quashed.
“It remains disgraceful, though, that the PSNI dragged us through the courts for 7 long years before today’s ruling,” they said.
“The PSNI has done nothing but re-traumatise our families. It also comes at a time that PSNI has admitted it is still withholding critical evidence relating to the police fabrication of lies and the subsequent cover-up of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre.”
Pat Irvine, whose mother was killed, said the massacre had hugely affected her family.
“I was 14 at the time of the explosion in McGurk’s Bar. I attended the scene not knowing that both my parents were lying under this scene of total destruction. I cannot even begin the describe the horror of what I saw. My mother Kitty was killed. My father John was pulled from the rubble and survived. Our lives were totally destroyed by this,” she said.
“All the family members of those killed in McGurk’s not only suffered the loss of their loved ones, but this loss was compounded by the stigma of having their family members labelled as being responsible for the explosion.
“All the families have endured over 50 years of suffering along with the lies, the denials and the delays in finding the truth. We are delighted with the court’s judgment.”
Ms Irvine said the report should have been quashed earlier.
“The chief constable has continued to defend this case for almost eight years, and stood over a HET report that he must have known could never have been acceptable to the families of those killed in McGurk’s,” she said.
Pat Irvine’s son and Kitty’s campaigning grandson, Ciarán Mac Airt said relatives “are vindicated in their battle to have this failed, irrational and therefore illegal report to be quashed”.
“It remains disgraceful, though, that the PSNI dragged us through the courts for seven long years before this ruling,” he said.
“The PSNI has done nothing but re-traumatise our families.”
Mr Mac Airt said relatives will continue their campaign. “We do not know where collusion ends and incompetence begins so our fight for truth and justice continues,” he said.