The Information Commissioner’s Office has upheld a complaint that the PSNI failed to provide information regarding a secret British agreement to blame the victims of the McGurk’s Bar massacre for the loyalist bomb attack in which 15 people were killed.
The office upheld the complaint, taken by Ciarán Mac Airt (pictured), whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine was among those who died and his grandfather John badly injured during the bombing.
The McGurk’s Bar massacre claimed the lives of 15 civilians including two children in 1971.
At the time, the British Army press office and the RUC police spread lies that the attack was an ‘own goal’ and that that the IRA had been responsible.
Local officials and the media were told it was likely to have been an IRA bomb that exploded prematurely while being built inside the pub.
In 1977, UVF member Robert James Campbell admitted being part of the loyalist gang who planted the bomb. Campbell served 15 years in prison for murder but his accomplices, including those who made the bomb, evaded justice.
Mr Mac Airt later discovered a high-level military ‘39 Brigade Operations Log’ that recorded an order from the Brigade Commander just over four hours after the explosion.
The log stated: “RUC have a line that the bomb in the pub was a bomb designed to be used elsewhere, left in the pub to be picked up by Provisional IRA. Bomb went off and was a mistake. RUC press office have a line on it – NI should deal with them.”
The Brigade Commander of 39 Infantry Brigade at the time was General Sir Frank Kitson (retired), or Brigadier Kitson as he was then, an infamous author of British military ‘counter-insurgency’ policies which included colluding in acts of terror.
Mr Mac Airt asked the PSNI for the background and minutes of the secret agreement between Kitson and the RUC as no previous historic investigation by RUC, Office of the Police Ombudsman, Historical Enquiries Team and PSNI had told the families about it.
The PSNI issued a refusal notice, citing Section 12(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and stating that it would exceed the “appropriate cost limits” to determine whether or not it held the requested information.
After being rebuffed by the PSNI for ten months, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled on Wednesday rejected its excuses and said that the PSNI was not entitled to refuse the request.
Mr Mac Airt said the British government had “buried the truth” before they had buried their loved ones.
“During his tenure in the north of Ireland, Kitson oversaw Britain’s deployment of internment without trial, in-depth interrogation techniques including torture, psychological operations, pseudo-gangs and covert Special Force units like the Military Reaction Force (MRF) that murdered civilians with impunity,” he said.
“All the heinous lies about our loved ones flowed from this secret agreement between the head of the British Army in Belfast and RUC. So, before we buried our loved ones, the British state buried the truth.
“This small victory in our battle for truth and justice proves yet again that PSNI is actively involved in the cover-up of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre over half a century later. It is defending a sectarian police force in the past and protecting General Sir Frank Kitson.”
Christopher Stanley, litigation consultant with KRW Law LLP, said information retrieval was “fundamental to establishing justice and accountability” for relatives’ victims.
“If Britain’s Legacy Bill becomes law, Freedom of Information requests such as this will become increasingly important to relatives of victims and campaigners.
“The PSNI cannot simply rely upon a stock response to such requests - including ‘Neither Confirm, Nor Deny’ - without further explanation or context.
“Neither can the PSNI rely upon exemptions within the legislation without proper examination of the application and justification for the deployment of those exemptions.
“The ICO, the statutory authority charged with regulating Freedom of Information, has, in this instance, ‘flushed out’ the PSNI which spends public money refusing and defending the vast majority of requests for information relating to the activities of the RUC during the Conflict.
“If the Legacy Bill becomes law – despite significant public and political opposition – then the protection of the Freedom of Information regime by the ICO on behalf of those who rely upon it for truth will becomes even more important.”