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Glenanne gang: Reavey and O'Dowd families hit out over security force collusion with UVF

By David Young, PA

Published 04/01/2016

Eugene Reavey visits the graves of his brothers
Eugene Reavey visits the graves of his brothers

Members of two families devastated by a loyalist murder squad on the same night of bloodshed have accused the authorities of cover-up and collusion.

In January 1976 the Reaveys and O'Dowds - two Catholic families living within 15 miles of each other in Co Armagh - each lost three loved ones at the hands of a notorious UVF gang reputed to contain dozens of rogue security force members.

Brothers Declan (19) and Barry O'Dowd (24) and their uncle Joe (61) were shot dead by members of the Glenanne gang at a family gathering in Ballydougan, near Gilford on the night of January 4. Declan and Barry's father Barney, a member of the SDLP, was seriously injured in the hail of bullets.

The gang got its name because one of its bases was a farmhouse in Glenanne, near Markethill, Co Armagh.

The attack took place minutes after brothers Anthony (17), Brian (22), and John Martin Reavey (24) were shot at their home near Whitecross. Brian and John Martin were killed instantly, while Anthony died weeks later.

The six sectarian killings, which were among around 130 attributed to the Glenanne gang in the Troubles, happened during a period of intense violence in the wider Armagh area.

The following day a republican paramilitary group, believed to be a front for the on-ceasefire IRA, shot dead 10 Protestant workmen outside the south Armagh village of Kingsmills after ambushing their minibus.

In their first ever joint statement, the O'Dowd and Reavey families noted "with sorrow and frustration that the British Government has failed to set up an independent mechanism for investigating the past - the promised Historical Investigations Unit (HIU)".

They added: "Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is demanding the right to censor information from reports intended for families on so-far undefined grounds of 'national security'. Whose 'national security', we are bound to ask?"

The two families said that it was only through efforts by campaigning victims' groups the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten, and an Irish Supreme Court judge, Justice Henry Barron, that they discovered that guns used in the devastating attacks on their families had been used in a number of other fatal attacks in the months before and after January 4, 1976.

"The NIO, RUC, MI5 and the Prosecution Service had known this for years, but had failed to inform our families," they said.

"Nor were we told these guns were used in a bomb and gun attack on the Rock Bar carried out by (members of) the Special Patrol Group of the RUC. Or that the RUC failed to investigate its own officers for links to the murders of our relatives. For years we were deliberately kept in the dark."

On the 40th anniversary of the O'Dowd and Reavey murders, Declan and Barry O'Dowd's brother Noel said he has "no doubt" security force collusion was at play. Senior UVF commander Robin 'the Jackal' Jackson, now dead, was widely suspected to be one of those involved, though never charged.

"I don't hold out much hope anyone will ever be brought to justice," said Mr O'Dowd.

"But I would just like to know some answers. I would like to know who planned it, where did it come from, who pin-pointed us? Why was our family targeted? Nobody could have got to us without local involvement. I would just like to know answers - how high did this go?"

Mr O'Dowd, who is a cousin of Sinn Fein's Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd, said: "The Glenanne gang were committing murder with complete impunity, they were killing people all over Tyrone, Down and Armagh. It just escalated and escalated. It would be very important to know the answers, even though I believe no one will ever stand in court."

After Barney O'Dowd recovered from injuries which included the loss of a kidney, he and wife Kathleen moved the family to Co Meath in the Republic.

The 92-year-old said: "It beggars belief that the British Government is still hiding behind 'national security'. What are they afraid of? Is it because of the probable involvement of RUC agent Robin Jackson in the attack on our home?

"The HET report on the Miami Showband massacre established beyond any reasonable doubt that Jackson was an agent linked to the RUC."

Eugene Reavey says he knows the names of the five men who murdered his brothers, but concedes those of them who are still alive are unlikely to face justice.

It is his belief up to 100 renegade security force members were involved directly or indirectly with the Glenanne gang.

"I would say that prosecutions are out of the window," he said.

"But most of these men were well thought of in their community and I would like them to be named and shamed for what they were - for they weren't anybody to be looked up to."

Mr Reavey is now pinning his hopes on legal challenges being taken by relatives of Glenanne victims in the courts and efforts to have the killings probed in the coroner's court.

He also hopes a stalled Police Ombudsman investigation into the Reavey murders will commence in the coming weeks.

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