Watchdog to probe alleged collusion in 21 loyalist murders
The Police Ombudsman is to launch an investigation into allegations of police collusion related to 21 loyalist murders during the Troubles, a court has heard.
The investigation will examine the UVF shooting of prominent republican Sam Marshall in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in 1990 and 20 other killings attributed to the terror group's notorious mid-Ulster gang around the same period.
Mr Marshall (31) was shot minutes after he left Lurgan RUC Station on March 7 1990.
The former prisoner was with his brother-in-law Tony McCaughey and high-profile republican Colin Duffy when they were targeted on Kilmaine Street.
Details of the planned Ombudsman investigation were outlined by a lawyer for the watchdog at a preliminary Belfast inquest into the death of Mr Marshall.
The lawyer did not disclose details of the other cases.
Mr Marshall, Mr McCaughey and Mr Duffy were all known to the security forces at the time of the murder. An investigation by the police's now defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) found no evidence of collusion with the UVF gunmen and said police and soldiers had no prior knowledge of the attack.
But it discovered that armed undercover soldiers were deployed near the scene while their commander monitored events from a remote location.
The troops were in six cars and also positioned at an observation post at the entrance to the police station as the three republicans arrived at the barracks as part of bail arrangements related to legal proceedings. Two soldiers followed on foot as they left and partially witnessed the shooting.
The killers' two guns were never recovered but were linked through ballistic tests to three other murders and an attempted murder.
The Marshall case is one of 56 stalled inquests subject to a review exercise by High Court Judge Lord Justice Weir.
The inquest is now set for a further delay, awaiting the outcome of the Ombudsman probe.
During the preliminary hearing at Belfast Laganside courts Seamus McIlroy, representing the Police Ombudsman's office, said its overall investigation could take three to four years.
"It's anticipated that an investigation in relation to allegations about police actions around Mr Marshall's death will start in the next few weeks," he added.
Mr McIlroy told how the probe would be a "linked" investigation and said: "Some 20 other deaths have been linked by geographic location, time span and paramilitary organisation involved in those deaths."
When asked by the judge for details about the other 20 cases, Mr McIlroy indicated that he would need to confirm with Ombudsman officials if those names could be disclosed.
Lord Justice Weir replied: "It would be very helpful if the next-of-kin knew what the other cases were."