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Brother of murdered RUC constable George Larmour: I hunted down two of the most infamous guns of the Troubles... but many questions still remain

Exclusive: Unbelievable journey of murdered policeman's brother as he traced the very weapons used in killing

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 11/05/2016

George Larmour close to where his brother John was murdered on the Lisburn Road in 1988
George Larmour close to where his brother John was murdered on the Lisburn Road in 1988
George with Malachi O’Doherty
John Larmour
George Larmour's book

They were guns that the whole world saw.

On our television screens we saw the full horror of Corporal Derek Wood raising his Browning 9mm pistol to show the crowd closing in around his car that he was armed.

He and Corporal David Howes had driven into the path of the funeral for IRA man Kevin Brady in March 1988. Brady had died earlier that week, shot by loyalist killer Michael Stone when he ambushed another funeral, that of three IRA members shot by the SAS in Gibraltar.

It was a week of tension and panic in which television cameras got closer to the killing than they had ever done before.

Two weapons had appeared on our screens - the gun Michael Stone used to fire into the crowd of mourners at the funeral for the Gibraltar Three, and the pistol held up by Corporal Wood.

Now it is clear that those guns stayed close together, and were used to kill again in Belfast and later in Holland.

The guns are at the centre of an extraordinary story told by Belfast man George Larmour.

George owned an ice cream parlour in Belfast. His brother John was shot dead there one night while minding the shop, just months after the killings of the soldiers.

In years of wrangling with the police and the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to unearth information about his brother's killing, George has confirmed that both weapons were fired in the ice cream shop that night.

He tells his story in a book published this week by Colourpoint, They Killed The Ice Cream Man.

The gun we all saw in the hand of Wood was used against him that spring afternoon by his IRA executioner. IRA members dragged him and Howes from their car, stripped them, interrogated them, tortured them and finished them off.

And the Provos kept the gun - as they also kept the one they had taken from Stone when they caught up with him as he ran from the scene of his ambush in Milltown Cemetery.

The Belfast Telegraph has learnt the history of Corporal Wood's gun since that day - and it is a story of further murders and further confusion.

Today that Browning pistol is in Germany. It is used by the German police in training new recruits in how to strip and reassemble that type of weapon. The known stepping stones on the gun's journey to that oddly benign fate are the murders which can be attributed to it.

The Browning was used on August 2, 1988, in the Park Shopping Centre in west Belfast to kill UDR member Roy Butler, who was shopping there with his wife. It was used in an attack on Barnam's World of Ice Cream in Belfast on October 11, 1988, and turned on two customers after policeman John Larmour had been shot dead with a different pistol. And it was used again in Holland, in May 1990, to shoot two young Australian lawyers - Nick Spanos and Stephen Melrose - who had been mistaken by the IRA for off-duty soldiers.

They had been dining out with their girlfriends near the German border when the IRA team attacked them. Spanos and Melrose both died in the attack.

German police investigating IRA activity near the Dutch border raided several houses and recovered the Browning and an RUC-issue Ruger Speed Six, the other gun used in the attack on the ice cream shop, the gun that had killed Constable Larmour. That Ruger is identical to the one used by Michael Stone and is, many believe, the same gun.

The man who has unearthed this story, George Larmour, the brother of John, killed by the Ruger, said: "The IRA were deliberately making a statement: we still have these guns that were seen on newsreels all over the world and we are going to keep using them to kill soldiers and police."

George, like many victims of the Troubles, tells a story of a difficult wrangling with the police and the Historical Enquiries Team to unearth details around a loved one's murder.

His story, recounted in his new book, tells how he pushed them further and got them to concede intimate details about the weapons.

Not only that, he got them to admit Corporal Wood's pistol is still in Germany, spoilt as possible evidence by having been repeatedly stripped and reassembled by police recruits in training; and that the Ruger, like the one used by Stone, is a police-issue weapon.

The RUC didn't ask for the Browning as possible evidence in other murder investigations. They did recover the Ruger.

George's account of his investigations into the murder of his brother unfold a story to match the best of investigative journalism by professionals during the Troubles.

But George is not a journalist. He is just a dogged and hard-headed working-class man who went back to the police again and again for more answers - and got them.

George said: "All credit for tracing the Browning and Ruger must go to John's son, my nephew Gavin. The HET, the official body, set up with millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, to carry out in-depth, cold case reviews of the many unsolved murders here during the Troubles had no idea what happened to those weapons after they were used in John's murder.

"Yet Gavin, through his own investigations, traced the guns."

John Larmour's murder in October 1988 was shocking, even at the time.

He had been off-duty, helping out in George's shop. Two men entered, unmasked, ordered ice cream, and then one of them shot him as he turned his back on him. The other, using Cpl Wood's Browning, fired several shots at a young couple sitting at a table near the window eating ice cream. In the weeks after the killing, sources close to or inside the police filtered information to the Larmour family. George, from his own research, developed the theory that the guns used had belonged to Stone and Cpl Wood.

George says he tried to get the HET to confirm these details, and others. He said: "I asked the HET to bring the Browning 9mm back from Germany. This was in 2008 and I saw no reason why it should still be lying in Germany. The police should have wanted that back because they knew that it had been used in murders in Belfast."

George found out that the Ruger is currently in the forensic laboratory in Carrickfergus.

He added: "I can't prove that it was Michael Stone's gun, but I did prove that it is a police-issue Ruger. It has rubber pistol grips, which the armoury in the RUC put on it.

"There is a lanyard ring hole in the pistol base, which the armoury drilled in all their Rugers, to fit them with a lanyard so that they could not be stolen from a police officer's belt.

"The serial number was ground down where the manufacturer stamped it on. That was where the lanyard hole was, so the armoury then engraved the number on the side, and it has been removed too."

Whatever the full history and provenance of the gun, it once belonged to a police officer in Northern Ireland. George asked: "How can my brother be killed by an RUC gun? That is a big question that has never been answered, nobody wants to answer, and I think it can't be answered because nobody wants the answer to come out."

Badgering the HET further, George then asked if it could take the Ruger to Stone in prison, show it to him, and ask him to confirm that it was his gun.

It refused, and once having refused that, conceded George's next request.

He wanted to see the gun himself, the police pistol with which his brother was murdered. "And they asked me why. I had no real reason I could give them. But I said: 'I want to see it and I want to see it now'. They said yes. And I went and saw it. And there it was, the Ruger that was used to kill John."

He was asked to wear a lab coat and was taken through several "peek hole doors". "They said I was not to touch it. If I did touch it I would be arrested. And a little devil in my head said: 'Go ahead, touch it', because if they arrest you they'll at least have arrested somebody in connection with the murder of my brother."

He got little satisfaction from seeing the gun.

"Maybe I was looking for some eureka moment. At the end of it all I drove away with was an image in my head - many years earlier I had bought a shotgun and I used that shotgun to kill a hare.

"And I never got over that animal screaming when it was shot. And when I saw the Ruger again that scream was suddenly in my head again, and I wondered how many screams that Ruger had caused."

They Killed The Ice Cream Man by George Larmour is published by Colourpoint Books and is available from their website, priced £9.99. It will soon also be available in all good bookshops

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