Loughinisland: Police even knew suspects' names 24 hours on from bloody massacre
It was a case of informants being put before innocent lives.
Even for the families who had campaigned for years to find out the truth, the scale of State collusion with the loyalist gang behind the Loughinisland atrocity still came as a shock.
A report released yesterday by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire revealed a disturbing catalogue of collusion between a number of police officers, the security services and loyalist terrorists involved in mass murder in the Heights Bar in 1994.
Six men were gunned down by the UVF as they watched a World Cup football match in the Co Down village.
The Police Ombudsman probe confirmed that security forces were guilty of colluding with the UVF terror gang responsible for the murders.
One suspect in the massacre was a police informant, the investigation uncovered.
Police knew the names of suspects within 24 hours of the attacks, but delayed making arrests, the report added.
The investigation also found that the gang responsible for the mass shooting had carried out other attacks in the years beforehand, but had avoided arrest because the RUC's Special Branch withheld evidence from detectives.
Had the unit been subject to robust investigation for previous attacks they may not have been involved in the Loughinisland massacre, the report said.
"It is a matter of significant concern that Special Branch failed to pass on intelligence about the alleged activities of loyalist paramilitaries, thereby protecting them from effective investigation," it added.
The investigation also indicated: "Had this unit been subject to sustained investigation, they may have been arrested, brought to justice and not have been involved in the Loughinisland attack, of which they were suspected."
Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire said: "Whether the attack would then have been carried out by another group will never be known."
Two guns used in the atrocity came from a large shipment of weapons from South Africa imported into Northern Ireland by police informants at the most senior levels within loyalist paramilitary organisations, the probe also revealed.
The watchdog found that security forces were monitoring the importation bids, and information provided by State agents within the paramilitary groupings helped lead to the recovery of a significant number of the weapons.
But the Police Ombudsman questioned why many still ended up in the hands of loyalist killers.
Two of the weapons from this shipment - an assault rifle and a Browning pistol - were connected to the UVF attack on the Heights Bar.
These weapons have also been linked to other attacks before and after the Loughinisland atrocity.
Police figures indicated that the un-recovered weapons from the importation were used in at least 70 murders and attempted murders.
Dr Maguire said that informants involved in gun-running were protected from police investigation and added that this was "indefensible".
The probe found there was "no evidence the security forces were aware the UVF were planning to mount an attack." However, "significant concerns" were raised by Dr Maguire about the approach employed by some police officers towards informants.
The report also found that the protection of informants led to "catastrophic failures" in the police investigation into the terrible massacre, for which no one has been convicted.
Dr Maguire said there were many police officers within the RUC and PSNI who worked tirelessly to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice.
However, there were also a "number of fundamental failings in the investigation".
These included the forensic strategy, enquiries to find out more about the getaway car, enquiries to find witnesses and in the strategy for making arrests.
There was also a significant delay in arresting suspects, with the result that evidential opportunities were lost.
The report said that the desire by some officers to protect informants "influenced police activity and undermined the investigation into those who carried out the killing."
Dr Maguire indicated he had found no evidence that police sources were tasked with gathering specific information that could have assisted the murder investigation.
"This was a 'hear no evil, speak no evil' approach to the use of some informants, which potentially frustrated the police investigation," he said.
Dr Maguire concluded that when the individual issues identified in the shocking report are viewed collectively, he had "no hesitation in saying that collusion was a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders."
The damning findings come five years after the previous Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, found that while the RUC had failed to properly investigate what happened in Loughinisland, there was insufficient evidence of collusion.
Those findings were quashed after a legal challenge by relatives of those killed.
Dr Maguire then subsequently launched the fresh investigation into the atrocity.