Belfast Telegraph

McGurk’s bar bomb row heats up

DUP accuses republicans of ‘Nazi-style propaganda’ against RUC

By David Young

Criticism of the police investigation into the McGurk's bar bombing is part of a Nazi-style propaganda bid to damage the reputation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a Policing Board member has claimed.

The DUP's Jonathan Bell made the claim at a heated public board meeting in Belfast during which Sinn Fein accused Chief Constable Matt Baggott of undermining confidence in the nationalist community with his remarks about the 1971 atrocity last week.

Mr Baggott has come under fire for failing to unequivocally endorse the findings of a Police Ombudsman's probe into the north Belfast bombing, which claimed the RUC had an “investigative bias” that misled people into wrongly thinking the IRA was responsible, when in fact the bomb was planted by loyalists.

The Chief Constable's assertion that other reports had found no such bias angered relatives of the 15 dead.

Prior to the public meeting yesterday, there were fiery exchanges over the issue at a closed session of the board attended by members and the Chief Constable.

Later in the public meeting Mr Baggott, who met with some of the bereaved relatives on Tuesday, insisted, at the request of the families, he would not make any further detailed comment until he had met with them again.

But that did not prevent unionist and republican members continuing the debate in the open.

Mr Bell likened the criticism of the RUC's role to something that would have happened in war-time Germany and accused some of attempting to rewrite history by focusing on alleged security force failings while ignoring the wrongdoings of terrorists.

“That service is probably the greatest service, the RUC, in western Europe — in terms of what they sustained in violent terrorism and how they professionally and competently carried out their duties,” he told the board.

“It's important that single issues are not used in some sort of Nazi propaganda way to besmirch an entire force.”

The DUP man aimed a broadside at republicans as he insisted the search for truth must take in all victims, citing several examples, including the IRA murder and burial of Jean McConville.

But Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said Mr Baggott's refusal to accept Ombudsman Al Hutchinson's findings was a serious setback and called his remarks a “slap in the face” to the families.

“The comments made by yourself were a serious, serious disappointment to those families and I have to say to the wider nationalist community, and I would repeat what I did say upstairs (during the private meeting) that it does underline the view in the minds of many people in the nationalist and republican community that the police should not be investigating the police,” he said.

The Sinn Fein man said the Chief Constable needed to consider whether he wanted to be part of the future of policing.

Mr Baggott said he had to judge all cases on the facts before him but gave assurances he would look at issues raised by the families.

In regard to Mr Bell's concerns, Mr Baggott insisted all historic murders would be investigated impartially and rigorously.

But he declined to be drawn further on the McGurk's bar case, reiterating that the families had asked him not to.

“My response to the Ombudsman's report was made impartially and objectively and I was asked to make a definite judgment in relation to the issue of investigative bias,” he said.

“I am not going to talk anymore about those issues in respect for the families.”

Background

The 1971 McGurk’s bar bombing was carried out by the UVF, but had initially been presented by the RUC as an ‘own goal' by the IRA, prompting speculation the dead may have included IRA members who were carrying the device. The willingness of the RUC to believe the IRA was responsible led to the Police Ombudsman suggesting it was guilty of “investigative bias”.

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