WE THINK IT’S NOW TIME AL HUTCHINSON FOR YOU TO RESIGN ” COLLLUSION IS NOT AN ILLUSION”
If the Police Ombudsman’s report into the McGurk’s Bar attrocity
highlighted his reluctance to grapple with collusion, his report into
Loughinisland is startling by its absence of another crucial piece of
the picture: the role of Special Branch both before and after the
Mr Hutchinson states that he studied all “available intelligence”
connected to the killings but important intelligence-related aspects of
the case are not even mentioned in the report, raising questions over
just how deep his investigation went in this case and, again, drawing
attention to a “civil war” within his own office.
One example is the sightings of the killers’ car in the south Down area
in the weeks before the attack – clearly the domain of Special Branch,
clearly a critical avenue for Mr Hutchinson to explore; but there is not
a single reference to this: the context of the sighting; whether or how
the information about it was dissipated within police circles; and
whether it provided leads for the investigation.
Also, more than 10 years ago police told the families that they had
recovered a hair follicle on one of the killers’ balaclavas.
The families were assured that police would be able to bring the killers
to justice if just one bead of sweat was recovered from the balaclavas
and boiler suits recovered.
But despite the hair follicle appearing to be one of the most important
forensic lines of inquiry there is no mention of it anywhere in the
The 56 page report – surprisingly only 26 pages of which is devoted to a
five year-long investigation – provides no clarity on the Police
Ombudsman’s relationship with Special Branch and the level of access he
has achieved into Special Branch during this investigation; a pronounced
contrast to the work of Nuala O’Loan on Omagh and the Mount Vernon UVF,
which majored on the role of Special Branch in murders in which it was
alleged that informers were protected from prosecution.
Omagh and the Mount Vernon cases spanned the period of 1993 – 1998 and
the Police Ombudsman found Special Branch activities in that era
protected killers. Loughinisland occurred within the same timescale:
June 1994 – yet still the role – or not – of Special Branch remains
unexplored anywhere in this investigation.
What is public knowledge, although unacknowledged in the Loughinisland
report is that:
* in September 1994 there were 814 officers in RUC Special Branch;
* that by 1994 Special Branch had heavily penetrated both loyalist
and republican groups, including the UVF in East Belfast;
* that the Loughinisland attack was mounted by the East Belfast UVF;
* in Omagh and Mount Vernon UVF cases and the murders of Pat
Finucane, and Rosemary Nelson that Special Branch withheld information
from the CID murder investigations.
The apparent removal of this dimension from the Hutchinson approach has
caused a deep split within the Police Ombudsman’s office – referred to
recently by the ” Committee on the Administration of Justice “(CAJ)
The Loughinisland investigation, in particular, has been known to be a
source of anxiety internally, with some senior staff distancing
themselves from the ombudsman’s perceived loss of independence.
It also ties in with broader developments in investigations into the
past: The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry reported back four weeks ago and the
word “collusion” was not mentioned, allowing the Secretary of State,
Owen Paterson to say that it therefore had not happened.
Nationalists, led by the SDLP, have protested at the transfer of
Northern Ireland Office personnel into senior positions within key
agencies within the criminal justice system following the devolution of
justice last year – and claims that a new agenda is playing out, aimed
at shutting down sensitive areas of enquiry, particularly in the
So where does all this leave the relatives of the six men who died in
The Heights Bar 17 years ago and who went to the Police Ombudsman’s
office back in 2006 as their last hope for answers?
One of the key questions they wanted addressed was: “the suspicion that
collusion pervaded the circumstances of the attack … and the subsequent
police investigation”. After an investigation lasting six years, has
this fundamental question been answered?
Tomorrow a political row is likely to play out on what turned out to be
the focus of the report: the actual investigation by CID and Mr
Hutchinson’s conclusions that it lacked leadership and commitment and
failed to properly investigate all available lines of inquiry to bring
the killers to justice. There’s little doubt that the quality of the
Ombudsman’s investigation will itself become the focus of intention.
Will anyone be satisfied with Mr Hutchinson’s final verdict on the
subject of collusion in Loughinisland and his certainty that it didn’t
happen in this case?
Image by Paul Watson via Flickr
The Following is a Statement by Former RUC Sergent John Weir :
Weir worked in Co Armagh in a Specialist anti-terroiest unit ( SPG ) Special Patrol Group.
He was part of a Paramiltry Group made up of the RUC, UDR and other Loyalists wo carried
out a bomb and gun attack at the Rock Bar near Keady but that the bomb failed to go off.
Weir said he’d learnt that a farmhouse owened by an RUC Reservist at Glenanne called
James Mitchell had been used for many of the attacks. He also stated that a UDR intelligence
Officer had provided the explosives for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
A gang known as the Glenanne gang had carried out the murders of two men returning from
a GAA match in Dublin. They also carried out a bomb and gun attack on Donnelly’s Bar at
Silverbridge killing two men and a teenage boy and on the same night it carried out a bomb
attack in Dundalk which killed two men.
Also in 1976 it carried out an attack on the Reavey family home killing three brothers
John 24, Brain 22 and left thinking they had also killed Anthony 17 but he survied being
left for dead. On the same night it carried out a gun attack on the O’Dowd family home
were three were shot dead and one was seriously injured this was latter to be claimed
by the ( RHC ) Red Hand Commdandos.
Also another loyalist group known as ( DOW ) Down Orange Welfare was manufacturing
weapons at the farmhouse in Glenanne and that they were sold onto the UVF.
In 1977 Sergent Weir and Constable Billy McCaughey and two other notorious UVF
men carried out an attack known as the ” The Good Samaritan Murder; William Strathearn
ran a grocery store in Ahoghill and lived with his wife and seven childern above the shop.
He was awoken in the early hours with someone knocking on the door downstairs and
called out the window to ask what the person wanted. The man said he needed some aspirin
for a sick child. They shot him dead on his doorstep. The gang seemed to injoy attacking
large catholic familys,
Mc Caughey and Weir both received life sentences after admitting to their part.
Mr Justice Henry Barron in 2003 and 2006 also.
This also was held up by the European Court of Human Rights in 2008.
Ballistics evidence from all the attacks emeraged a complex and sinister web that showed
the same weapons turning up again and again in the killings.
They also found that arms found on RUC Reservists James Mittchells farm belonged to
the UVF and he was convicted of storing arms and sentenced.
Justice Barron also found that the farm owned by James Mitchell was the hub of a loyalist
gang which consisted of members of both the RUC and the UDR, and that the gang was
involved in multiple murders including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and that the
security forces in Northern Ireland knew all about the Mitchells farm from as far back as
1976. HE WAS NEVER CONVICTED OF ANY MURDERS !
Pat Finucane murder: a scary admission by the state
Hearing ‘state collusion in murder’ acknowledged from the dispatch box is a sobering experience. The fact that it is rare only serves to make it more so.
The Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Paterson, makes a statement in the Commons on the killing of Pat Finucane. Photograph: PA Wire/PA
State collusion in murder is routinely alleged, often on flimsy evidence that doesn’t stand up to daylight. The public admission of “state collusion in murder” by a member of the cabinet is a rare event, to put it mildly.
It happened on Wednesday a few minutes after most MPs filed out of the Commons chamber after prime minister’s questions, leaving the Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Paterson, to utter the chilling words.
Yes, we are talking about the killing of Pat Finucane, the republican solicitor who was gunned by down by a hitman in front of his family during Sunday dinner at home in Belfast in February 1989.
A loyalist, Ken Barrett, was later sentenced to 22 years for the crime, but how did it happen? Who knew? Who did/didn’t do what?
As was pointed out during the Commons exchanges, many shocking things were done on both sides in the 30-year Troubles, during which3,500 people were killed. But the killing of Finucane was one of the most bitterly contested, not least because lawyers were regarded as untouchables under the informal rules of the conflict, also because a then minister, Douglas Hogg, of later “moat-cleaning” fame, made highly prejudicial remarks about the victim.
It’s all a long time ago and the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir John (now Lord) Stevens, investigated the crime between 1999 and 2003, took 9,256 witness statements and created an archive with 1m pages.
Stevens concluded there was collusion with “rogue elements” of the state – a handy phrase sometimes is “rogue elements” – which placed the trigger man where he was. So did Canadian judge, Peter Cory (appointed by London and Dublin) in 2004, the year Tony Blair’s government promised the Finucane family a public inquiry.
It was never held because terms of reference acceptable to all sides could never be agreed.
Memories are long in Northern Ireland – the Battle of the Boyne (1690) was only yesterday – and what strikes English voters as history, best forgotten as life moves on, still matters to those directly involved.
Loyalists are just as intransigent as the republican side though they feel – said so again yesterday – that the IRA, its leadership (no names please!) and allies have got favoured treatment during the peace process.
What has brought it back into the news – though there’s been little coverage on this side of the Irish Sea – is that David Cameron invited Finucane’s widow and family to Downing Street on Tuesday to apologise in person and offer a way out of the impasse.
The nationalist (non-violent) SDLP’s leader, Margaret Ritchie, asked him about it towards the end of PMQs on Wednesday. He can read the exchange here along with Owen Paterson’s statement.
What Paterson proposed on Cameron’s behalf was a formula which the Finucanes had rejected 24 hours earlier, as the Guardian reported here. Here’s a BBC Northern Ireland backgrounder to the case which, as you’d expect, got plenty of coverage this week in the province.
What the coalition proposes to do is get Sir Desmond de Silva QC, a veteran of UN war crime prosecutions in Sierra Leone and other challenging briefs like the Gaza flotilla controversy, to “carry out an independent review to produce a full public account of any state involvement” by – Paterson’s own words – “the army, the [then] Royal Ulster Constabulary, the security service or other UK government body”.
You can probably see the government’s problem. Truth is the great healer, as Cameron told MPs on Wednesday, and sunshine – open evidence – is a great disinfectant too.
But the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday dragged on for years and cost £200m, a sum many may not feel was good value. Truth also has consequences, sometimes for institutions (see how the British army’s generally honourable record has been damaged by abuse in Iraq), sometimes for people whose own safety is threatened by their willingness to testify about what they know.
Don’t believe me? This is what Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has driven the backbench campaign against excesses by the Murdoch empire, told Paterson: “The former intelligence officer and private investigator Philip Campbell Smith has admitted to hacking the computer of another intelligence officer on behalf of Alex Marunchak of News International.
“Campbell Smith was arrested for witness intimidation of the very same intelligence officer, who was supposedly the only officer from the intelligence community co-operating with the Stevens inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane.
“It is alleged that when he was interviewed by the police he admitted that a special branch officer working on the Stevens investigation gave that personal information.
“I welcome the secretary of state’s commitment to allowing Sir Desmond access, presumably, to the police statement that was given, but if Sir Desmond wants to interview that special branch officer and that officer refuses, what powers will Sir Desmond have to get to the truth?”
Paterson’s answer was polite, if unsatisfactory. Such issues would be for the QC to resolve, but the MP should not imagine that Stevens and similar public inquiries – there have been several — got all the answers: Ian Paisley was once fined £5,000 for not turning up to give evidence he clearly didn’t want to give.
So Whitehall has come up with a rational solution: De Silva is a serious and experienced lawyer, who will spend the next year or so – his deadline is December 2012 – sifting the evidence, interviewing people and balancing the interests of the state, the Finucane family and the rest of us with a report that (with luck) satisfies everyone.
Does that formula satisfy them this week? As you can imagine, Tory and Unionist MPs endorsed the plan, the SDLP – Sinn Féin MPs don’t attend Westminster, they just draw the salaries and any expenses due from the hated British state – and Labour MPs argued that progress in the province is always made by consensus. If the Finucanes – and the Dublin government (which has its own police collusion murder probe under way) – won’t accept it, then it won’t work.
Even the saintly Paul Murphy, ex-secretary of state and a notably decent man, concluded ministers have made a mistake. Don’t forget that Cameron has generally done well over Northern Ireland – the tone of his apology for Bloody Sunday was well received in Catholic Derry.
But don’t forget either that assorted breakaway IRA men are restless – there was a bomb attack overnight on the City of Culture office in Derry – while Stormont’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness (now his career would make an interesting public inquiry!), is on a sabbatical standing for the presidency of Ireland. Just because the situation is currently manageable doesn’t mean it will remain so. Public spending cuts will hit Northern Ireland hard too.
We’ll see what happens next. But hearing “state collusion in murder” acknowledged from the dispatch box is a sobering experience. The fact that it is rare only serves to make it more so.