Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

How one man's courage brought the truth to light

David Gordon, who broke the story of the Police Ombudsman's Mount Vernon investigation, recalls how Raymond McCord's battle for the truth initally appeared doomed to end in failure

The events of the last few days did not seem remotely possible in May 2002 when Raymond McCord walked into the Police Ombudsman's Belfast office to make his complaint.

Some of us in the media may by that stage have been convinced by his claims about high-level informers in a UVF killer gang.

But few would have bet on the scandal being cracked as wide open as it is now.

He is right when he says that many people dismissed him as a crank in those days. And the odds were stacked against him.

Mark Haddock and his cohorts were firmly in power in Mount Vernon, having literally got away with murder time and again.

Haddock was still a paid Special Branch agent at the time.

As the Ombudsman's report put it, he would have been "well aware of the level of protection which he was afforded".

His UVF gang represented a very real and constant threat to Raymond McCord's life.

How much surprise or outrage would there have been five years ago if they had succeeded in killing him?

Haddock's unmasking has come about through a chain of events and the efforts of a number of individuals.

The vital role of Nuala O'Loan is clear for all to see. So too is the courage of Raymond McCord.

But it took much more than that from him.

In another walk of life, he would be hailed as a public relations genius. Only a few journalists wrote about his case in the early days. But he slowly built up a network of contacts across the media, briefing and updating them on a regular basis, always developing new angles to the story, keeping it in the headlines. Others have also played their part in exposing the Mount Vernon UVF.

Retired detectives Johnston Brown and Trevor McIlwrath went on the record publicly at vital points.

Irish Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte used parliamentary privilege in the Dail to name Haddock and detail the main allegations against him.

Observers may wonder why no Northern Ireland MP was prepared to take that step.

Haddock, of course, would not be in jail today without the bravery of Ballyclare man Trevor Gowdy.

He gave evidence against the seemingly untouchable loyalist leader over an attack that nearly claimed his life.

And he did so in defiance of a vicious intimidation campaign that saw homes of relatives attacked by pipebombers.

We now know that Haddock was still a paid Special Branch agent when he and others laid into Trevor Gowdy with a hatchet and knife in December 2002.

But it is also worth recording that some hard work by CID detectives went into securing his conviction for this assault.

Haddock's eventual downfall may appear inevitable now, with the benefit of hindsight.

It didn't seem that way when he first appeared in the dock in 2003.

As he smirked with his co-accused and gave the thumbs up to a mob of supporters in the public gallery, he looked like a man who thought he was still untouchable.

But this is not a story with a happy ending.

More families now have to cope with the knowledge that their loved ones were killed by terrorists, who received payments from police officers who looked the other way.

Trevor Gowdy and his girlfriend are still in exile, living outside Northern Ireland on a witness protection programme.

And the Mount Vernon thug who killed Raymond McCord Jnr on Haddock's orders, dropping a concrete block on his head, is still a free man.

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