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.

Disaster developing in Sri Lanka’s Tamil camps

Tamils at Kadirgamh camp

Tamils at Kadirgamh camp

Published in An Phoblacht on 27 August 2009

 A humanitarian catastrophe has been escalating over the past three months in the internment camps   in which 285,000 Tamil civilians have been imprisoned in Tamil Eelam in the north of the Sri Lankan state.

Even some Western media outlets have begun referring to these camps – heavily guarded by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and ringed by razor wire – by their accurate name: concentration camps. Now the already disastrous conditions for the camps’ prisoners, which include an estimated 55,000 children, are being exacerbated by heavy rains which have caused major flooding.

Since the brutal Sri Lankan Government offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which killed more than 30,000 Tamils between January and May when the Government declared victory, Tamil refugees displaced by the war have been rounded up and held against their will in about 30 Government-run camps in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee regions in the north.

The Government has said the internees are being held until they have been “screened” for links to the Tigers and has pledged to release 80 per cent of the camps’ populations by the end of the year. But since May only 10,000 refugees have been released. Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary has publicly stated that he believes all Tamils are “with” the Tigers – “at least mentally”.

Rights agencies have reported food, water and medicine shortages and resulting malnourishment among internees. Tamil sources have reported deaths from starvation in the camps. There have been widespread allegations of the systematic rape and sexual abuse of Tamil women and children, and of beatings, disappearances and executions of Tamils suspected of supporting the LTTE.

More than 10,000 Tamils which the Government claims are members of the LTTE have been removed from the camps and imprisoned incommunicado in secret locations without any access to the outside world – or to the rights recognised under international law of prisoners of war.

In the wake of the rains that flooded the prison camps, which hit on August 14, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs news service IRIN described “a sea of mud and misery”, with tents being inundated with water and toilets flooding waste throughout the camps.

Demanding the immediate release of the 285,000 civilians last month, Amnesty International’s British director Kate Allen said: “The largest camp – Menik Farm – is horrendous. It holds about 160,000 people in an area smaller than one square kilometre.

“The people we are talking about here are doctors, teachers, farmers – ordinary people with ordinary lives. Yet, they are being held in horrendous conditions for no reason other than that they previously lived in areas held by the Tamil Tigers.”

Amnesty said there was a lack of running water and sanitation and severe restrictions on communication with the outside world, with aid workers not being permitted to talk to the internees.

Following the heavy rains, international medical officers raised concerns with IRIN in Vavuniya on 17 August over diarrhoea, dysentery and other waterborne diseases.

“From an epidemiological point of view, this is a public health disaster waiting to happen,” one medical officer said.

“How are we supposed to sleep like this?” demanded Menik Farm internee Ganeshan Sivasundram from outside his flooded tent.

The Government responded to the floods by deploying more troops to secure the camps from “unrest” by crushing the mounting resistance to the mass incarceration.

While these floods have caused huge hardship for the internees, they are only a taste of what is to come, with Sri Lanka’s monsoon season due to begin in October.

As the Sri Lankan Government prepared for an all-out slaughter of the Tamil people in order to inflict what it hoped would be a final defeat on the forces fighting for an independent Tamil homeland, all aid groups and the UN were ordered to leave the northern war zone in September last year – so internationals could not bear witness to SLA atrocities.

‘Genocide’ – defined by the UN as any act “committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” – is the only word that can adequately describe the onslaught against the Tamil people this year.

In January last year the Sri Lankan Government unilaterally pulled out of a February 2002 Norwegian-mediated ceasefire agreement and vowed to crush the Tigers using military force. In June last year, the Government’s offensive was stepped up, and further escalated in January this year.

Between January and April this year, the UN counted 7,000 Tamil civilian deaths, most caused by SLA shelling and air strikes. While the international body failed to officially reveal the dramatically rising death toll in May, UN sources revealed to the London Times and Paris-based Le Monde newspapers immediately following the end of the war that they estimated 20,000 Tamil civilians had been killed in the final weeks of the regime’s offensive – including 10,000 on one day alone, May 17. The next day the Government declared victory in the 26-year civil war.

The Times reported “internal anger” within the UN over the failure to reveal the death toll, which “had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm” and said: “The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to the Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.”

The de facto state infrastructure established by the Tamils in the north over the past decade has been almost entirely destroyed and ethnic Sinhalese (the majority in Sri Lanka) are being encouraged by the regime to settle in the “depopulated” land of Tamil Eelam as part of a long-running colonisation scheme similar to Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank.

LTTE leaders who surrendered to the SLA were summarily executed. On August 25, Channel 4 News showed mobile-phone footage of political executions released by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka which was filmed by a SLA soldier in January. It shows a Sri Lankan soldier shooting a young man, who was naked, bound and blindfolded, in the back of the head at point-blank range. The camera then pans out to reveal seven more bodies of bound, naked men, before a ninth is shot dead.

The international community has failed to act in any way to hold the regime to account for the  mass murder of Tamils, including the failure to even insist upon an independent war crimes inquiry. The International Monetary Fund has recently approved a US$2.6 billion (£1.6bn) loan to “rebuild” the country that will directly benefit the regime, which has imposed a 0.9 per cent tax on all foreign aid entering the country.

It has also been revealed this month that the British Government, along with other EU countries, continued to sell millions of pounds worth of arms and military equipment to the Sri Lankan Government over the past three years of its escalating war on Tamils.

Britain sold more than £13.6 million of equipment including armoured vehicles, machine-gun parts and semi-automatic weapons to Sri Lanka, according to official records – including £1.3 million worth of arms during the last three months of 2008, when the regime was well into its latest and most brutal offensive against the Tamil people.

Legal figures add weight to Finucane inquiry call

Pat Finucane mural

Published in An Phoblacht on 19 February 2009

THE British Government has signalled it may avoid holding even a controlled inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, an international conference in honour of the Belfast solicitor at Dublin’s Trinity College was told on Saturday.

The conference paid tribute to the life, work and legacy of Pat Finucane on the 20th anniversary of his murder. Delegates heard from an impressive international panel of leading human rights activists and legal figures including Pat’s wife, Geraldine Finucane; Canadian former Supreme Court judge Peter Cory; leading British human rights laywer Michael Mansfield QC; and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy.

Addressing the conference, Belfast solicitor Peter Madden, who shared a legal practice with Pat, read from a letter the Finucane family had received from the British Government on the anniversary of Pat’s death.

British Secretary of State to the North Shaun Woodward’s Principal Under-Secretary, Simon Marsh, wrote that the Government was considering the report of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past and that “no decision has yet been taken by Government in relation to any of the group’s recommendations, including their recommendations in relation to any Finucane inquiry”.

The letter went on to say: “All these matters, like the outcome of discussions with the Finucane family, or their legal representatives about the form of any inquiry, will, of course, be relevant factors for ministers in deciding whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with an inquiry.” Speaking after the conference, Pat’s son, John Finucane, said that the British Government “appears to be preparing to break promises that they made, not only to ourselves but also to the Irish Government and others”. He added: “The question needs to be asked: just in whose interest would it be not to have a public inquiry into my father’s murder?”

Geraldine Finucane said the family firmly rejects the idea that the past could be swept under the carpet.

“Recent efforts to find mechanisms to address the past underline how important it is that we build our future on solid foundations. The society that forgets its past, or worse, tries to pretend it never existed, is doomed to repeat it.”

Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch also voiced her concerns.

“In my opinion, the Eames/Bradley report puts too little emphasis on transparency, too little focus on the truth and too much emphasis on putting the past in the past.”

Madden said that while there while the aspirations towards reconciliation in the Eames/Bradley report are positive, “the way to achieve reconciliation is not through burying the truth”.

Michael Mansfield said he is appalled at the suggestion that holding an open inquiry into Pat’s death would not be in the public interest. “The only ones who should decide what’s in the public interest are the public,” he said.

“The British Government sending this letter on Pat’s anniversary is no coincidence. Well, we will send the British Government a clear message back from this conference: we will not settle for anything less than the full truth because Pat was just the tip of an iceberg of a British policy of systemic collusion – and some of the operative that would be revealed are still operative.

“It’s not just because Pat’s family deserves to know the extent of collusion – as do so many other families – but because there will be no genuine, lasting peace in Ireland until there is justice. And justice must be built upon the full disclosure of the truth.”

Mansfield outlined the drive by the British Government to keep inquests out of the public eye.

The Inquiries Act 2005, which allows the home secretary to issue ‘restriction orders’ on an inquest enabling the withholding of evidence from the coroner, is the “only possible” means for investigating the Finucane case, the British Government insists. It is a transparent attempt to conceal the role of Government security agencies and the political establishment’s role in “controversial” killings.

“Now the new Coroners’ Bill, going before the parliament this year would, if passed, allow for the Secretary of State to decide that inquests should be held in secret if it is in ‘the national interest’,” the QC explained.

“The bill is attempting to resurrect the legislation that was defeated last year in the House of Lords contained in the ‘anti-terror’ 42-day detention proposals. The result would be that, in certain cases, there may possibly be no inquest, or if there is one it will be controlled. There would be no jury, the coroner will be appointed by the Government, the whole thing could be held in camera, with no publication of the findings.”

As she was opening the conference, Geraldine Finucane said: “Pat may have been taken from us far too soon but what he achieved in his short life, professionally and personally, cannot be measured through a mere sum of years.”

Belfast High Court judge Séamus Treacy spoke about the advances in human rights law that Pat’s work, together with Peter Madden, achieved in 10 years of practice.

“In bringing about change in a rotten system, Pat advanced fair trial rights and the right of prisoners to legal recourse against prison governors and the right of access to solicitors.”

Judge Peter Cory paid tribute to the Finucane family: “Geraldine has become an international symbol of courage and dedication to the cause of her husband.”

Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy said: “Along with everyone else in this room, I deeply admire the courage and determination of the Finucane family.

“I was given an assurance by Tony Blair in April 2001 that there would be an independent inquiry into Pat’s murder – which, eight years on, has not eventuated,” he said.

“Perhaps it is time to refer the case back to the European Court of Human Rights in order to bring pressure to bear on the British Government.”

Param Cumaraswamy also discussed the failure of the British Government, RUC and Law Society in the North to provide protection for Rosemary Nelson, who was murdered in a loyalist car-bomb in March 1999.