Britain's Secret Terror Deals: 'Truly disturbing' BBC Panorama allegations of collusion must be fully investigated, says Amnesty International
'We’re not talking about a security policy we’re talking about a murder policy'
Allegations that British security forces colluded with paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland on a vast scale leading directly to the deaths of hundreds of people must be fully investigated, Amnesty International has said.
In the BBC Panorama documentary, Britain's Secret Terror Deals, to be screened on Thursday, investigative reporter Darragh MacIntyre investigates allegations that the state colluded with paramilitary killers and covered up their crimes.
MacIntyre meets the families who have been fighting for decades to uncover the government's darkest secrets and confronts some of those believed to be complicit.
The murder of Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan in 2001 and two massacres, at Sean Graham bookmaker’s in 1992 where five people died, and the killings of nine Protestant men returning from work in Kingsmill village in 1976, are among the cases where state and paramilitary collusion is alleged to have been covered up.
Panorama also revealed an assault rifle used in the Sean Graham massacre in 1992, which police said had been disposed of, ended up on display in the Imperial War Museum.
The weapon was used in the UDA killing of five Catholics in a betting shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast. The police ombudsman has confirmed that the rifle has now removed from the museum for forensic examination. It is linked to other UDA murders during the Troubles.
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The programme also said the state paid an agent who helped develop a new IRA bomb that killed 34-year-old married RUC officer Colleen McMurray, before all the evidence surrounding her murder in 1992 went missing. The ombudsman’s report into Mrs McMurray’s death is yet to come out. It is one of dozens of ongoing investigations surrounding unsolved murders where state collusion with paramilitary groups is alleged.
George Hamilton, Chief Constable of the PSNI, told Panorama he “entirely refuted” the suggestion that officers colluded with Mr O’Hagan’s killers and that the police pursued many people within “the terrorist organisation… and locked many of them up”.
The Police Ombudsman’s report into Mr O’Hagan’s death was delayed because the Police Service of Northern Ireland refused to release “crucial” intelligence files. In total, police refused to hand over documents relating to 60 murders – the state has been accused of involvement in all of them.
Panorama said it had uncovered “extraordinary evidence” to show how the victims were killed and their killers protected.
Only when the current Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire, threatened to take the police to court did the PSNI release the files. His investigation into Mr O’Hagan’s death has been ongoing for eight years.
Raymond White, retired RUC Assistant Chief Constable and former Special Branch Officer, admitted to the programme the state “recruited people with blood on their hands” in order to save lives.
He said: “That’s what we were employed to do, to get information and the best information comes from within organisations. That’s the reality of the life in which we lived.”
Amnesty said the Panorama investigation follows numerous other credible allegations of widespread collusion between members of the UK security forces and paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, and is calling for an overarching mechanism for dealing with all alleged human rights abuses during the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Amnesty Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said: "The breadth and depth of collusion being alleged here is truly disturbing.
"Killing people targeted by the state, using intelligence provided by the state and shooting them with guns provided by the state - if all this is proven, we’re not talking about a security policy we’re talking about a murder policy.
"There must now be a full, independent investigation into the scale of the policy where the police, army and MI5 worked with illegal paramilitary groups, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of people.
"Without full accountability for past actions, there can be no public confidence in today’s justice mechanisms."
Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan told the programme that some paramilitary informants recruited by the security forces during the Troubles were "serial killers".
"They were running informants and they were using them. Their argument was that by so doing they were saving lives, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people died because those people were not brought to justice and weren't stopped in their tracks," she said.
Baroness O'Loan added: "Many of them were killers and some of them were serial killers."
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said he took issue with Baroness O'Loan's remarks.
Mr Hamilton told the BBC's Nolan Show: "My understanding is that there were hundreds if not thousands of lives saved through the work of informants and police and, in those days, Army working with those informants. I'm not saying that everything that was done was done to the standards of today."
Referring to Baroness O'Loan's claim that the security forces operated outside the rules, the Chief Constable said: "I would challenge that, it's not actually accurate. There were no rules."
He added: "There was no regulatory framework for handling of informants at that time. That's not an excuse by the way, it's just simple a statement of fact."
The British government says collusion with paramilitaries should never have happened and that it has apologised where it did.