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Police Ombudsman to probe RUC's investigation of La Mon atrocity

By Ivan Little

Published 03/11/2016

The devastation at La Mon following the deadly fire
The devastation at La Mon following the deadly fire

The Police Ombudsman has launched a review of the RUC's investigation into the IRA's La Mon massacre.

Representatives of the victims' families lodged complaints with the Ombudsman and have alleged that Sinn Fein's Denis Donaldson, a self-confessed double agent working for MI5, was involved in the barbaric firebombing.

The Police Ombudsman's office yesterday confirmed a "preliminary review" of evidence has begun.

Twelve people died when an incendiary-type device exploded after it had been hung outside a window at the hotel at Gransha near Comber in January 1978.

Police said the bomb contained a napalm-like substance and the resulting blast engulfed the packed function room in a massive fireball, setting many people alight. Thirty people were injured and many of them received horrific burns.

More: A deadly, horrific inferno that literally brought the Troubles to my doorstep

The IRA apologised for the deaths and claimed that the bombers had planned to give a warning, but a phone box they tried wasn't working.

Their apology was rejected by families of the dead and injured.

Some 25 people were subsequently arrested, including Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, but he was released without charge.

Two men were tried on charges linked to the outrage. Edward Manning Brophy was acquitted, and Robert Murphy, who pleaded guilty to 12 counts of manslaughter, was jailed for life in 1981, but freed 14 years later. Both men are now dead.

The Historical Enquiries Team investigated the bombing and presented the families with an 81-page report.

However, they said that important police documents relating to the original probe were missing, including interviews with IRA members.

A number of the La Mon families branded the report a whitewash and called for a public inquiry after claiming that the disappearance of the files was designed to protect IRA members involved in the peace process.

Ivan Little outside building
Ivan Little outside building
The devastation at La Mon following the deadly fire
The bomb attack at the La Mon House Hotel
Bomb attack at the La Mon House hotel

But former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers ruled out an inquiry in 2014 saying: "I do not believe that an independent review would reveal new evidence or reach a different conclusion from the investigations that have already taken place."

A newspaper article had earlier reported claims from an un-named republican that two members of the La Mon bomb team, including the getaway driver, were British double agents working for MI5.

The paper said that Donaldson was one of them. He was murdered at a remote house in Co Donegal in 2006 after admitting that he had been a spy.

The Ulster Human Rights Watch organisation (UHRW), which includes relatives of the La Mon victims, formally lodged a public complaint with Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire.

They said: "Although the investigation that followed (the bombing) involved a considerable number of police officers, it was never successful in bringing to justice those responsible for masterminding, preparing and carrying out this atrocity."

The complaint also focused on the finding in the HET report that many of the documents and exhibits could no longer be found.

"It would appear that they had not been made secure," said the UHRW, which added: "The HET also disclosed that Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch had been involved at a very early stage of the investigation, which raised the question of possible collusion between officers of the Branch and State agents working for them who had infiltrated the IRA.

"It is undeniable that this atrocity was one of the most horrific of the entire terrorist campaign carried out in Northern Ireland. Despite what appeared to be an extensive investigation into this case, those who ordered, planned and directed this attack and those who made the bomb and transported it to the La Mon House Hotel were never prosecuted or convicted."

The Police Ombudsman's office said: "We have received a complaint alleging the involvement of a state agent in the firebombing of the La Mon Hotel in 1978 and are now conducting a preliminary review of evidence.

"This involves securing all relevant police documentation, identifying exhibits and reviewing evidence in relation to suspects, persons of interest and forensic issues." The statement said there would also be an assessment of any intelligence which may have been available to police before or after the incident.

It went on: "The preliminary review will provide a platform from which the case can proceed to full investigation."

Bertie Campbell from the UHRW said the families welcomed the move from the Ombudsman. He said: "We are pleased that the question of justice is at least being addressed by the Ombudsman.

"We have been assured his office are giving the case their fullest attention and we were told that it was hoped the investigation would start for real in April of next year."

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