Belfast Telegraph

Chief Constable probably knew of loyalist threat to murdered officer... but did nothing to warn him, says report

By Chris Kilpatrick

A former RUC Chief Constable is likely to have known one of his officers was under death threat but failed to ensure his safety before he was murdered, a shock investigation has found.

The probe by the Police Ombudsman also discovered high-ranking officers did not inform detectives investigating the shooting of RUC Sergeant Joe Campbell of the specific threat.

Sgt Campbell, a 49-year-old father-of-eight, was shot dead in February 1977 as he closed the main gates of Cushendall police station.

His family has claimed he was murdered following collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and a number of his colleagues within the RUC.

They said he was targeted as he was aware of collusion between RUC officers and terrorists, and claim they know who fired the fatal shot.

A number of former officers declined to assist the watchdog's investigation, while the Chief Constable at the time – Sir Kenneth Newman – said he had no recollection of the case.

The Ombudsman said his overall investigation was hampered by both the refusal of a number of retired senior police officers to co-operate and the loss of police documentation.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said evidence of collusion was "inconclusive".

"On the basis of the information available I can neither discount nor substantiate the allegations of a wider conspiracy into the murder of Sgt Campbell," he said.

But the Ombudsman said if senior management in the Royal Ulster Constabulary had ensured an appropriate response to concerns raised about the officer's safety, the murder could have been prevented.

"I have to conclude that Sgt Campbell, a dedicated community police officer in the Glens of Antrim, was failed by senior members of the police service of which he was a respected member," he said.

"There is sufficient, reliable evidence that senior police officers throughout the RUC's command structure, including the then head of Special Branch and quite probably the Chief Constable, were aware of concerns, which had been documented, about a threat to his life and failed to act upon them.

"They should have responded to the threat in a far more robust way. Sgt Campbell should have been warned, which would have allowed him to vary his routine. Police could have mounted visible police patrols in the area and if necessary posted him to an area where the threat would have been diminished or removed. None of this was done."

The findings were published in a 50-page report by the Ombudsman.

It said that had senior management of the RUC ensured an appropriate response to the information, this would have prevented the murder.

Dr Maguire said more than 30 retired RUC officers, from the ranks of Constable to Assistant Chief Constable, spoke to his investigators about the murder.

Sir Kenneth went on to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner after he left the RUC.

He told Dr Maguire's investigators he had no recollection of the Sgt Campbell case. In 1980 a member of the RUC's Special Branch and a man identified in court as a police informant were arrested and charged in connection with the murder. The police officer was acquitted and the man was convicted of withholding information in connection with the killing.

The former police officer was re-arrested five years ago in the wake of the Ombudsman's Office probe but the Public Prosecution Service directed that no action be taken.

Dr Maguire's report identified a number of significant failings in both these investigations, claiming that all available information was not passed to the detectives.

PSNI acting Deputy Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said the report made for "difficult reading".

"We note the comments made by the Police Ombudsman and acknowledge his findings around the investigation into Mr Campbell's death in 1977," he said.

"On behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, I wish to express my profound regret at the loss of a highly esteemed colleague in such tragic circumstances and extend our sincere sympathies to his family.

"The Ombudsman report makes difficult reading. It is clear there were significant shortcomings in the RUC handling of information prior to the murder and in both subsequent police investigations into Sgt Campbell's murder. And for that, I am truly sorry.

"Policing back in 1977 operated in a very different context. The RUC's strength as at December 31, 1976 was 5,253 police officers, with the service investigating 112 Troubles-related murders the following year. Intelligenc-handling, training and investigative standards for detectives, forensic opportunities and family liaison processes were very different to those rightly expected today.

"None of this seeks to excuse any inadequacies or failings in the actions of the RUC. It is simply to place them in the wider context of the time.

"Today, with the publication of the Police Ombudsman's report, details of this murder are fresh in people's minds. I would make a renewed appeal for the people who know who did this to come forward to us with information."

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