Police Ombudsman probe of UFF murders uncovers ‘collusive behaviours’ by RUC
A Police Ombudsman probe into 19 murders including the Greysteel massacre has uncovered ‘collusive behaviours’ and raised ‘significant concerns’ about RUC conduct.
The watchdog report, which runs to 338 pages, looks into the force’s handling of paramilitary attacks by the UDA/UFF between 1989 and 1993. All but one of the attacks took place in the north west of Northern Ireland and also included ‘multiple’ attempted murders.
Issues identified by investigators included:
- Some of the weapons used were part of a 1987 arms shipment also linked to the Loughinisland massacre;
- Security force members were suspected of ‘passing sensitive information to loyalist paramilitaries’;
- Police were warned a ‘massacre’ was coming in North West after the Shankill bombing but failed to react sufficiently;
- One loyalist intelligence cache found included 250 names but not everyone was warned they were in danger;
- UFF informants suspected of involvement in murder were allowed to carry on working for Special Branch.
Ombudsman Marie Anderson reported, however, that her investigation “found no evidence that the RUC had any prior knowledge of the attacks”.
The 19 deaths included the murders of four people at Castlerock on March 25, 1993, and a gun attack which claimed the lives of eight people at the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel on March 30, 1993.
One of the attacks, the murder of Sinn Fein councillor Eddie Fullerton, took place in Co. Donegal in May 1991.
Mrs Anderson stated that an initial failure by the RUC to ensure that it had adequate intelligence about the activities of the North West UDA/UFF led to an inability ‘to effectively counteract the threat posed by them which began to emerge in 1989’.
Later, following the Shankill bombing on October 23, 1993 the police arrested a number of members of the West Belfast UFF who indicated there was going to be a ‘massacre’ in the Derry area in retaliation.
The Ombudsman report states that the RUC in the north west should have used ‘disruption tactics to address the threat of a significant attack’ including arresting potential suspects under Terrorism legislation.
Mrs Anderson added: “It is my view that the failure to consider disruption tactics was a significant missed opportunity by RUC Special Branch. Within hours, the Greysteel attack took place, resulting in the deaths of eight members of the public.”
Today’s report adds that during the investigation, ‘evidential files relating to suspected criminality by two former police officers were sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS)’.
The report added: “One was suspected of passing sensitive information to loyalist paramilitaries, the other of failing to disclose in a file to the then Director of Public Prosecutions that a suspect was also an informant. The PPS directed that neither officer should be prosecuted.”
It also stated: “This investigation has identified instances where members of the RUC and UDR were not subject to criminal investigations despite intelligence linking them to serious offences. Instead, they were dismissed or repositioned.”
The report also references police intelligence ‘that a UDR member based in the North West, had assisted in the importation of weaponry and the supply of intelligence of use to loyalist paramilitaries’. This ‘Person V’ was, in late 1989, dismissed from the UDR.
The Ombudsman probe ‘established that a number of intelligence ‘caches’ discovered in the North West during the 1989-1993 period contained documentation of military origin’.
The investigation identified, however, a number of instances where RUC Special Branch had obtained information from informants which ‘impacted upon the effectiveness of the UDA/UFF as a terrorist organisation and may have saved lives’.
Mrs Anderson’s report also referred to intelligence that indicated the North West UDA/UFF ‘had acquired military assault rifles linked to the 1987 loyalist weapons importation, one of which was first used in the murder of Mr Gerard Casey in April 1989’.
The report says that the seizure of two Browning 9mm pistols in February 1989 and the use of a VZ58 assault rifle in the murder of Gerard Casey on April 4, 1989 ‘supported intelligence received by police from early 1988 onwards that weapons from the 1987 loyalist arms importation were being distributed to the North West UDA/UFF’.
The report adds: “The North West UDA/UFF used these weapons in ten murders and a number of attempted murders during the 1989-1993 period. Based on the available information, I am of the view that these weapons formed part of the 1987 loyalist arms importation.”
Other weapons were used, however, for nine murders, using weapons including PPWs (personal protection weapons) stolen from serving or former members of the security forces.
But the report adds: “However, VZ58 assault rifles were regularly used by loyalist paramilitaries following the 1987 loyalist arms importation. This included the multiple murders at Greysteel on 30 October 1993 and Loughinisland on 18 June 1994.”
On RUC intelligence gathering, she added: “I am of the view that police were aware of the growing threat posed by the North West UDA/UFF from 1989 onwards. This increased threat, however, was not initially accompanied by a policing response proportionate to the increased risk to members of the republican and nationalist communities.”
Mrs Anderson also expressed concern that a number of individuals whose names were discovered in the ‘intelligence caches’ received no warning from police that their lives might be at risk, in contravention of RUC Force Orders.
Of the eleven attacks subject of the investigation, seven involved the targeting of individuals whose names had appeared in the ‘caches’, the report adds. The lists included the names of six of the 19 people murdered by the UDA/UFF during this period and that of Patrick McErlain, who survived an attack in August 1992.
However, Mrs Anderson also stated that investigations by the RUC into attacks by the North West UDA/UFF during the period were ‘prompt and thorough’.
She added: “The majority of intelligence obtained by Special Branch was shared with murder investigation teams in a timely manner.
“Arrests were made and, where evidence existed, files submitted to the DPP. A number of individuals were prosecuted and convicted.”
Mrs Anderson added that she had found no evidence that any police officer had committed a criminal offence by protecting an informant from arrest and/or prosecution.
Mrs Anderson also referred to informants whom she said were ‘allowed to continue in the role despite RUC Special Branch possessing intelligence that they were involved in serious criminality, including murder’.
Specifically referring to whether there was collusion, the Ombudsman report on page 335, references ‘the broad definition
of collusion which Sir John Stevens provided as including ‘wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder’.
The report adds: “This investigation has identified all of these elements in the conduct of former RUC officers in relation to a number of attacks that are the subject of this public statement.”
On the cooperation of former police officers, which the Ombudsman cannot compel to cooperate, the report adds: “This investigation generated more than 640 investigative actions, including interviews of former police officers and other witnesses. A number of former police officers either declined to, or were unable to assist. However, 72 co-operated and provided accounts as to their roles, decisions, and actions during relevant police investigations.”
The Ombudsman also criticised police for the destruction of records relating to the ‘recruitment and management’ of informants. She added: “Given the roles of these individuals in those attacks and the obligation on police to retain those records for the purposes of their investigations, I am of the view that police were subject to an enhanced duty of retention in the circumstances.”
Mrs Anderson’s report also referenced how weapons were ‘routinely destroyed, following forensic examination, if they were not being used as evidence in criminal proceedings’.
She added: “I have previously stated that, in my view, this ought not to have occurred. I remain critical of this blanket approach to the destruction of weapons that may have been used in unsolved crimes.”
Responding to the reference to the officers reported to the PPS, a spokesman said regarding ‘Police Officer 12’ a “decision not to prosecute on evidential grounds was taken after it was concluded that there was no admissible evidence supporting the allegation that the officer had passed information to loyalist terrorists”.
Regarding the second case related to an alleged failure to pass certain information to the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions “it was concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish that the reported officer was ever in possession, or had knowledge of, the relevant information”.
Responding to the Ombudsman’s finding, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said it “brings to the fore once again the horror and pain for all communities of Northern Ireland’s past”.
He added: “This report by the Police Ombudsman examined the police response into 19 murders and two attempted murders carried out by the ‘Derry/North Antrim Brigade of the UDA/UFF during the period 1989-1993. This series of atrocities culminated in the indiscriminate attack on the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel on 30 October 1993.
“These were appalling crimes carried out by those with evil intent. We are very aware of the hurt and anger felt by the families of those killed and those injured and we apologise to the families for the findings in this report.
“The peace process has changed the context for policing. The Police Service of Northern Ireland now have greatly improved policies and procedures which guide our response to potential threats and how we approach criminal investigations and the management of intelligence.
“These policies and procedures are firmly embedded in principles of the Human Rights Acts 1998. We welcome the fact that the Ombudsman has recognised these positive developments in her report.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland remains firmly committed to bringing those responsible for these murders to justice. We appeal to the community for information that will assist our Legacy Investigation Branch detectives in their investigations.”