Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

I warned chiefs RUC Sergeant Joe Campbell was lined up to be murdered

Retired RUC Special Branch officer goes public on his 37-year battle to get justice for his friend and colleague

The funeral of Sgt Joe Campbell, who was shot dead outside Cushendall police station in 1977
Sgt Joe Campbell

A former RUC Special Branch officer has told how he fought to save the life of his colleague and friend Sergeant Joe Campbell.

Yesterday Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman, published a 50-page report into Sgt Campbell's murder, which took place in Cushendall in 1977.

The Ombudsman identifies a Special Branch detective codenamed Police Officer 1 as "a principal source of evidence to my investigation in relation to how he and his colleagues came to report allegations of criminality in the Cushendall area to senior RUC management and that these activities had generated a risk of harm to Sergeant Campbell".

Last night Denis Murray waived his anonymity and revealed himself as that retired detective.

He spoke of his unsuccessful fight to save Sgt Campbell's life and his subsequent 37-year campaign to bring the killer of his friend and colleague to justice.

"I want to stand up and be counted at this stage on behalf of Joe," he said.

Mr Murray became aware of hostility within the RUC to Sgt Campbell in 1974 and began to file regular reports to Chief Superintendant Mick Slevin, named as Officer 2 in the Ombudsman's report, the acting head of Special Branch.

Mr Murray believed that officers with loyalist sympathies were hostile towards Sgt Campbell, a Catholic.

Mr Murray became aware that an officer had filed intelligence reports wrongly accusing Sgt Campbell of IRA sympathies.

He told the Ombudsman that his reports to CS Slevin "categorically stated that Joe was to be lined up to be murdered".

"When he was asked about what was happening with the intelligence, Slevin said the Chief Constable (Sir Ken Newman) had the whole matter in hand and the matter was being dealt with. The next thing Joe gets his head blown off. I was appalled," he said.

After the murder the cover story was circulated that the IRA had been responsible.

Mr Murray said that he ruled this out on February 26, 1977, the morning after Sgt Campbell was shot as he locked the gate of Cushendall RUC station.

"I made an approach to a senior member in the command of the IRA who I had contact with at that time and was assured on the day that the Provisionals had nothing to do with it," he said.

After the murder, Mr Murray believed that the intelligence he and another officer had giving to Mr Slevin over the years would now be used to help catch the killer or killers.

He had been told that the documents were lodged in a safe in the Chief Constable's office, but after the murder they were found to have disappeared.

Some, but not all, were later recovered.

When the Ombudsman's investigators approached Sir Kenneth, who will be 88 in August, he had no recollection of the case.

Mr Murray wants the case pursued and is taking legal advice because he believes senior RUC management failed him.

"I am appalled that the Ombudsman has confirmed that all this intelligence which I had gathered was never acted on and was in fact lost," he said.

"The information which I submitted about Joe's situation should have been properly handled and secured.

"To have it stolen out of the Chief Constable's safe and then Joe murdered is something that I cannot let lie," he said.

Sinister death threat call to station

The murder of Sergeant Joe Campbell was one the most controversial killings of the Troubles.

The Donegal-born RUC officer was posted to the village of Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim in 1963. In the late 1970s, at the height of the Troubles, he became fearful for his life.

Mr Campbell had told friends serving in Special Branch in Ballymena that he believed he was in danger of being killed. It has since emerged that a senior officer warned another officer who was suspected of plotting against Campbell that he was mentioned in these reports.

Two weeks before Sgt Campbell's death a sinister telephone call had been received on an ex-directory telephone line at Cushendall police station. The anonymous caller left the message stating that if Sergeant Campbell didn't “mind his own business” he was a “dead duck”.

On February 25, 1977, the evening of his murder, he was on leave when he received two further telephone calls at home, the second of them around 8.30pm. He never disclosed what was said but he left for the police station immediately after the second call. He did not normally carry his personal protection weapon, but he strapped on his pistol on that occasion.

At 9pm he was locking the front gates of the station when he was shot dead with a single round from a rifle.

The murder has never been solved. One line of inquiry followed was that Sgt Campbell was suspicious that a series of post office and bank robberies in the area were the work of Anthony O'Doherty, a former republican paramilitary working as a police informer.

Three years after Sgt Campbell's death, RUC officer Charles McCormick was acquitted of his murder. He was convicted of a total of 27 charges including possession of explosives and firearms and armed robbery, but these convictions were all quashed on appeal.

Mr McCormick, who has since had a religious conversion, has consistently denied any involvement. He later sued the police for wrongful dismissal and had his police pension reinstated.

The main witness against him was O'Doherty, who said in court that he had worked for the RUC for seven years. The judge, who sat without a jury, dismissed O' Doherty's evidence as unworthy of belief.

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