The family of a republican shot dead by an alleged British agent inside the Provisional IRA has launched legal action against the Police Ombudsman after it refused to investigate the claim.
Joe O’Connor (pictured) was gunned down in west Belfast, on October 13, 2000. At the time of his death he was known to be a Volunteer with the breakaway ‘Real IRA’ in Belfast.
The suspected agent inside the Provisional IRA, whose RUC Special Branch codename is ‘Christine’, is accused of playing a major role in Mr O’Connor’s death. ‘Christine’ was a prominent member of the Provisionals at the time and later rose to a senior position at brigade level in Belfast. His status as an informer came to light after a large number of Crown Force files were taken during a break-in at their offices in Castlereagh, in east Belfast, on St Patrick’s Day 2002.
It is believed Mr O’Connor was targeted in a bid to crush the growth of the ‘Real IRA’. He was shot dead as he sat in a car outside his mother’s house in Ballymurphy. He left behind four young children.
At the time the British government supported what it described as “internal house keeping” by the Provisional IRA and loyalist groups to control their areas.
The Provisional IRA has always denied any involvement in the killing but this is rejected by the dead man’s family, which believes there was collusion in his death. In 2012 a complaint was lodged with the Police Ombudsman’s Office over the handling of the investigation into Mr O’Connor’s murder.
In September last year relatives specifically asked for the Ombudsman to investigate the role of ‘Christine’. In court papers lodged this week ‘Christine’ is described as “one of the main protagonists” in Mr O’Connor’s murder.
Continued delays in completing the investigation into the circumstances of his death have now prompted relatives to launch their legal action.
The family’s lawyer Michael Brentnall, of Brentnall Legal, said his office has “received information that an RUC Special Branch asset was involved in the murder of Joseph O’Connor”.
“We believe this information came to light as a result of the of the break in at Castlereagh Special Branch offices in 2002,” he said. “We are informed that the individual held the codename Christine.”
Mr Brentnall believes the PSNI later allowed the suspected agent to engage in criminal activity.
“We are now aware that this individual rose to further prominence within the (Provisional) republican movement after the murder, and subsequently was involved in serious criminality,” he said.
“This individual used his position, and the name of the IRA, to commit criminal activities for personal gain.
“This individual was involved in tiger kidnapping, robberies, extortion of building sites and at least one shooting, all for personal gain, and we believe he was permitted to do so by the PSNI, in order to enhance his criminal reputation and avoid further suspicion around his role as agent Christine.”
Mr Brentnall added that Mr O’Connor’s family also want a fresh inquest into his death.