Belfast Telegraph

'Cover-up' probe over RUC shooting

The head of Northern Ireland's prosecution service has asked detectives to investigate the alleged destruction of evidence by members of the security service and police more than 30 years ago.

The conviction of a prominent republican on a weapons offence was quashed last year after senior judges accused the law enforcement agencies of "grave misconduct".

Tapes produced during a surveillance operation at a Co Armagh hay shed where Martin McCauley was wounded by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in 1982 were found to have been concealed and destroyed, the Court of Appeal in Belfast has said.

Recordings revealed that no warnings were shouted by the officers before they opened fire, according to a review of the case.

Mr McCauley went on to become one of the republican Colombia Three who skipped bail on unrelated South American terrorism charges.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Barra McGrory said: "I have concluded that I must exercise my power to request that the chief constable (George Hamilton) and the police ombudsman (Michael Maguire) investigate matters which may involve offences committed against the law of Northern Ireland.

"The actions of police and security service personnel in relation to the concealment and destruction of potential evidence requires further investigation as does the identification of all those involved in such actions."

Mr McCauley was seriously wounded and a teenager killed when police opened fire on the Lurgan hay shed.

Police claimed Mr McCauley confronted them with a rifle at the hay shed. Mr McCauley had insisted he and the dead Michael Tighe had not been armed and that the police opened fire without warning.

After the so-called shoot-to-kill incident Mr McCauley was convicted of possession of three rifles found inside the shed and received a two-year suspended prison sentence. Last year the conviction was ruled unsafe.

The Appeal Court judgment said in November 1982 a senior RUC officer destroyed what he believed was the only copy of the tape because he considered it potentially damaging to the RUC. Transcripts of the audio recordings were made to which the security service MI5 had access.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission examined the case and discovered a memo from an officer who said that he had learned that the RUC officers had exceeded their orders and shot the terrorists without giving them a chance to surrender.

The judgment said: "The deputy head of RUC special branch had had the tape and monitor logs destroyed because of the deep embarrassment this might cause.

"In fact an unauthorised copy of the relevant tape had been made by the army and eventually came into the possession of the security service. This copy was retained by the security service until the summer of 1985 when it was destroyed."

The Lord Chief Justice said the failure of the security service to disclose the tape and to provide it to the prosecution was "reprehensible".

He added: "In our view these matters amounted cumulatively to grave misconduct."

The security service eavesdropping operation was discovered by the former deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir John Stalker, as part of his investigation into allegations that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was operating a shoot to kill policy.

Mr McCauley was one of three republicans sentenced in Colombia for training the Marxist rebels Farc. He went missing while on bail and returned to the Irish Republic.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, head of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) service improvement, said a force outside the country would be asked to investigate to boost public confidence.

Responsibility for progressing matters relating to former police officers lies with the ombudsman and for non-police officers it lies with the PSNI chief constable.

Mr Hamilton said: "In the interests of transparency and public confidence, the chief constable has decided that the police investigation should be conducted by an external police service and will work with Her Majesty's Chief Inspectorate to identify a force to undertake the investigation on behalf of PSNI.

"The team will work under the direction of, and will report directly to, the chief constable of PSNI who will oversee the investigation and report to the DPP.

"The PSNI will also work with the office of the police ombudsman to ensure that they are provided with the information they require to conduct their investigation as speedily as possible."

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