Publishing of MI5 report detailing RUC's link with informants is welcomed
The declassification of a secret 1980 report outlining how the RUC was covertly directed by MI5 to treat certain informants as a "protected species" has been welcomed by a human rights organisation.
Brian Gormally, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), said its publication was a stride forward in exposing the full extent of activities by intelligence organisations during the Troubles.
"(Its release) means the removal of another brick in the wall of silence and obfuscation that has been erected to prevent the truth emerging about the activities of Special Branch and other state agencies," he said.
Although some of the report's content has been known since 2001, its remained classified until the CAJ successfully pressured the PSNI to agree its release last month.
The document, named the Walker report after the MI5 senior officer who compiled it, was commissioned almost 40 years ago as the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, attempted to crack down on terrorist attacks following a series of high-profile IRA atrocities, including the assassination of Lord Mountbatten.
The Walker report subsequently directed RUC Criminal Investigation Department officers to prioritise intelligence-gathering over prosecutions.
Subsequently, detectives were ordered not to make an arrest unless it had been substantiated that no state agents - either RUC or Army - were involved. Any potential informants were also to be passed on to Special Branch.
Its implementation led to both loyalist and republican informants being afforded special treatment, such as jailed UVF special branch informer Gary Haggarty and alleged double agent Freddie Scappaticci, who has consistently denied being an Army agent while running an IRA unit tasked with rooting out suspected informers.
Unionist and nationalist politicians acknowledged the report's revelations yesterday, with SDLP policing and justice spokesperson Dolores Kelly stating that while much of its contents were already known, it "nonetheless made for stark reading".
"(Especially) when you realise that such a policy was not only endorsed but implemented by government agencies whose responsibility it is to protect citizens," she said.
DUP defence spokesman Gavin Robinson stressed that while intelligence operations were crucial to combating terrorism, it did not excuse law-breaking. "Nobody should be above the law," he said.