Belfast Telegraph

Smithwick Tribunal to examine bomb attack that killed 18 soldiers

The British Army’s greatest single casualty toll in an IRA attack is being re-examined by the tribunal investigating the deaths of the two most senior RUC officers to be killed by the IRA.

Detectives involved in the original investigation into the Narrow Water bombings which claimed the lives of 18 soldiers have been interviewed by lawyers working for the Smithwick Tribunal.

The tribunal is probing claims that a member of the Garda Siochana colluded with the IRA in south Armagh and Co Louth to set an ambush for Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan in March 1989.

The two senior RUC officers were ambushed at Jonesborough as they drove from Dundalk Garda station after discussing how to combat an IRA fuel smuggling operation along the border controlled by the organisation’s former chief of staff Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.

The tribunal, which is hearing evidence in Dublin, sent lawyers to Belfast last month to look at RUC files relating to the Narrow Water bombings and speak to ex-RUC officers who investigated the August 27, 1979 attack.

The lawyers are examining whether a rogue Garda officer interferred with the evidence site in Co Louth from where the IRA detonated two bombs and destroyed potential evidence left by the terrorists.

Former RUC officers are understood to have told the tribunal’s lawyers that when they were allowed access to the Co Louth site the day after the double bombing they discovered that it had been ‘cleared’ and yielded no forensic evidence.

The officers and a forensic scientist sent from Belfast on the evening of the explosions were unable to gain access due to darkness and were only able to visit the site accompanied by gardai the next morning.

It’s understood that the forensic scientist sent to the site recorded in his report that the firing point for the two explosions had been “significantly compromised”.

Retired Garda Sergeant Owen Corrigan, based in Dundalk at the time of the murders of Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, has denied providing information to the IRA .

The probe of the RUC files into the Narrow Water ambush and the interviewing of former detectives involved in the investigation takes the tribunal’s enquiries to a decade earlier than the deadly ambush.

RUC officers along the border in the 1980s were warned by gardai in other border stations to “avoid Dundalk” (station) because of concerns some officers were assisting the IRA.

Two other retired Garda sergeants, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey, have also denied colluding with the IRA.

Hickey received a 12-month jail term for his involvement in a passport scam which was exploited by the IRA.

Colton denied allegations of involvement and was not prosecuted.

Background

The first explosion at Narrow Water was a 500lbs device detonated as a convoy drove past the castle. The explosion killed six paratroopers. Soldiers fired across the border and an English civilian on holiday was killed. A second explosion 32 minutes later killed 12 more soldiers. On the same day, the Queen’s cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten (right), was blown up off the Sligo coast.

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