Collusion and cover-up in Loughinisland massacre

The scene after six Catholic men were killed by a UVF death squad as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup in 1994

The scene after six Catholic men were killed by a UVF death squad as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup in 1994

Published in An Phoblacht on 17 September 2009 

A Police Ombudsman report is expected to confirm state collusion and cover-up in the  Loughinisland massacre, in which six Catholic men were killed by a UVF death squad as they watched Ireland play Italy in the World Cup on 18 June, 1994, in the Heights bar in the small Co Down village.

It is expected that in addition to confirming “major failings” by the police to properly investigate the Loughinisland attack, the report will reveal that four RUC Special Branch agents were aware that the UVF was planning the massacre.

Eamon Byrne (39), Barney Green (87), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O Hare (35) and Adrian Rogan (34) suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the back as they sat watching the game after two masked men stormed into the pub and fired up to 30 bullets from an AK-47 and a Czech-made rifle into the patrons. No-one has ever been convicted of the brutal sectarian rampage, which devastated the quiet village of Loughinisland and left nine children without a father.

The report is the outcome of an Ombudsman review into failings by the RUC/PSNI to properly investigate the massacre, launched after the victims’ families filed a complaint in 2006 following revelations by investigative media reports that the getaway car was supplied by an RUC agent. Originally scheduled to be published last summer, the report was delayed and was due to be released on Tuesday 15 September – but the Ombudsman has now delayed its release for a second time, “for several weeks”, claiming new information must be assessed.

The delay has caused more frustration for the families in that “new evidence” coming to light only days before the scheduled release of the report indicates either a failure of the Ombudsman’s investigation or else simple stalling on the release of what will inevitably be damaging information.

‘Major failings’

The families’ 21 March 2006 complaint to the Ombudsman included the allegations that:

•The investigation into the murders has not been efficiently or properly carried out;

•No earnest effort was made to identify the persons that carried out this atrocity; and

•There persists a suspicion of state collusion in the murders.

Specifically the families demanded to know if any of the suspects were working for Special Branch and why the car used by the killers to get away was subsequently destroyed by police.

Other concerns were the fact that a viable hair follicle was recovered but nobody has been charged, and the fact that investigators reported at least one of the weapons used was imported from South Africa by British intelligence’s Force Research Unit agent Brian Nelson.

A draft public statement on the investigation by the Police Ombudsman from 21 July, supplied to An Phoblacht, states the complaint that the investigation by the RUC/PSNI has not been properly carried out will be upheld.

“Major failings have been identified. There was a failure to speak to persons of interest. There was a loss of policy logs,” the draft statement says. It says the allegation that no earnest attempt was made to apprehend those responsible will be partly upheld due to the “unavailability” of police logs and interview notes. Some suspects were swabbed for DNA samples while others were not.

The draft statement also confirmed that there was no contact recorded between the RUC/PSNI and the victims’ families between 1994 and 2005 and that there was a consistent failure to update the families on developments.

Special Branch agents

Police sources revealed to the media last weekend that the investigation’s report will reveal the role of four Special Branch agents within the UVF in ordering or organising the attack. The report will mention but not name the agents; however, it has already been established that Mark Haddock and Terry Fairfield were two of the agents involved.

The RUC knew that Fairfield, an agent handled by Detectives Johnston Brown and Trevor McIllrath, provided the getaway car, a red Triumph Acclaim, used in the attack but he was not arrested and continued to work for Special Branch following the massacre.

Car destroyed

The most glaring evidence of a cover-up is the destruction of the getaway car by the police in 1996 – supposedly because of “overcrowding”. The RUC claimed it carried out forensic tests on the car in 1994 and found no useful evidence. In their complaint, the families said: “The car may have retained the prospect of evidential product in the context of developing science. It is wholly unsatisfactory and unreasonable that this crucial exhibit was wilfully destroyed by the police.”

The Ombudsman’s draft public statement acknowledged the destruction of the car “was a breach of police procedure at that time” and “it should not have been destroyed”.

Kevin Winters Solicitors, representing the families, wrote to the Ombudsman in October 2007 that the families had been advised by Detective Williamson on 11 October 2005 that “all aspects of the trail” relating to the car had been followed up in 1994 and he was “satisfied” with it.

The families’ solicitors said: “It is unacceptable that the PSNI, 11 years on in October 2005, attempted to gloss over the history and facts of this car as being a line of enquiry which was satisfactorily pursued, without recourse or mention to the involvement of one of their agents.”

Weapons’ history

At a meeting between families and the PSNI on 11 October 2005, DI Wilson said that the rifle used in the attack “was a Czech-made weapon that was one of the weapons that came to [the North] from South Africa in the late 1980s” – in the weapons consignment effected by FRU agent Nelson. DSI Williamson said at the same meeting that three murders and two attempted murders, all attributed to the UVF, had been carried out using the same weapon.

The Ombudsman’s draft statement says: “In 2006 a forensic review [of the weapons] was taken by [the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team] and PSNI Serious Crime Branch. It has not progressed and is a substantial failing by police.”

The families want to know which specific murders these weapons can be traced to; whether or not there was evidence of state collusion in these murders (including any evidence they came from the Nelson consignment); and whether or not there has been any prosecutions for the other attacks.

Failings and contradictions

While the Ombudsman’s report has yet to be released and the Loughinisland families reserve their assessment of its findings until it has been published, the draft statement shows several failings in the approach of the Ombudsman’s investigation and contradictions between its findings and its conclusions.

It claims in the provisional statement that the allegation of state collusion has not been substantiated; that there was “no preventability” – but clearly if at least four Special Branch agents knew of the massacre plans, and were directly involved, the RUC would have had prior warning the attack was going to happen if not a direct hand in it.

The fact that the report confirms a cover-up to protect agents, including the deliberate destruction of evidence, itself confirms collusion in the massacre.

The draft statement says there is no evidence linking Nelson or the South African consignment to the weapons used in Loughinisland, contradicting the previous statements made by investigating officers – and then goes on to say that the failure to establish the ballistic history is a “substantial failing” by the police.

The Ombudsman’s office failed to arrest and question the handlers of the agents involved, or the officers responsible for the destruction of evidence and says there is “no evidence of crimiality” on the part of police.

However, whether there is the basis to prosecute those responsible for the collusion and cover-up will be one of the issues that can be judged by the victims’ families on the publication of the Ombudsman’s final report.

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