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No collusion in McGurk's bombing, says report

An independent investigation into the 1971 McGurk's Bar bombing which left 15 people dead has found no evidence police colluded with the loyalist killers, it was revealed today.

However senior officers let the mistaken public belief that the IRA was responsible go unchallenged, Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson added.

Three family members bereaved by the bomb said there were serious concerns at their treatment by the ombudsman and the content of the report, with one demanding a public inquiry.

"The report contains factual inaccuracies displaying a casual disregard for the sensitivities of the victims," they said.

Children and pensioners were killed in the north Belfast bar in December 1971 - the single biggest loss of life in Northern Ireland until the Omagh bomb.

However the ombudsman said there was no suggestion police did not conduct a thorough investigation.

A spokesman said: "Investigators have found no evidence that police or the security forces conspired with the bombers before, during or after the incident nor any evidence of police criminality or misconduct."

The theory that the explosion in the Catholic bar was caused by the IRA added to the pain felt by the bereaved afterwards.

The ombudsman's office has seen documents passed between the military and government which discussed the possibility that republicans had been preparing the bomb in the bar before planting it elsewhere and sought to promote it as an IRA "own goal".

This was despite the fact that a retired military information officer interviewed by the ombudsman said that within a day of the attack the military were aware of UVF involvement.

"There is no doubt that there was a desire to plant in the minds of the public the idea that the bombing was by the IRA. The documentation we have seen, which not only discusses this aim but considers how it may be achieved, was documentation between the army and the Government," the ombudsman said.

"We have found no evidence that police had discussed promoting such an idea. What is clear, however, is that police let this belief go unchallenged.

"While it is understandable that police would not want to discuss the evidence of their investigation in public, they were at one stage in a position to refute allegations of an 'IRA own goal'. Police Ombudsman investigators have not established why this did not happen."

Alex McLaughlin, whose father Thomas, 55, died, said the review should be returned to the ombudsman and looked at again.

"He needs to give us a serious report we can get closure on. It took four years to get does not cut any ice with me at all," he said.

"All we want is closure on this here. If we can get a public inquiry that would be great. If not I would like an international body to have a look at it."

Gerard Keenan, whose parents Edward and Sarah died, said it was a slap in the face to victims.

Robert McClenaghan, whose grandfather Phillip was one of those victims, criticised how the report was delivered to the families yesterday.

The bereaved said there were glaring errors, which included omitting the name of one of the dead from the list of those represented by the complainants and adding one of the complainants to the list of the dead.

They attacked the ombudsman's handling of the security force claim that the IRA left the bomb at the bar for use in other premises.

"Despite such clear evidence of Royal Ulster Constabulary involvement in the dissemination of disinformation the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has not substantiated this aspect of the complaint," they said.

"Instead the ombudsman's report has sought to minimise the impact of this initial duty officer report and a similar report the following morning by stating that it was 'possibly premature in nature'.

"It beggars belief that an entirely fabricated narrative involving a fictional suitcase, a fictional 'known member of the IRA', a fictional target elsewhere and a fictional 'pick up' could be interpreted by the ombudsman as a 'possibly premature' conclusion."

A police spokesman said: "The PSNI welcomes the report and its findings that the complaints are not substantiated.

"Although this atrocity took place almost 39 years ago, many of the families are still grieving.

"The historical enquiries team has completed a review of the case."

Among the dead were the owners' daughter, aged 14. Owner Patrick McGurk's wife Philomena McGurk, 46, a mother of four, also died. A total of 16 were injured.

Although the IRA was initially blamed, seven years later an Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) man received 15 life sentences after he was convicted of the bombing.

The driver of the getaway car admitted his part in the attack and it became clear that it was carried out by loyalist paramilitaries.

The driver remains the only person ever to have been convicted in relation to the explosion.

Mr McGurk, who died in 2007, and his three sons were also injured in the blast.

The Ombudsman investigated three allegations, all were found to be unsubstantiated. Besides claiming police did not conduct a thorough investigation, the allegations by campaigners said there was collusion between the bombers and security forces and that police briefed then Home Affairs Minister John Taylor with false information claiming the explosion happened accidentally after republicans prepared a bomb inside the pub.

Ombudsman investigators also saw an internal police briefing document circulated to senior officers and the police press office which said the bomb had been an IRA device. However the office said the comments in the document were without any substantive evidence as the forensic scientist who examined the scene had not yet reported.

"Our investigators have seen police documentation which indicated that members of the security forces who attended the scene did not have a clear view about what had happened," the office said.

"It is reasonable for investigators to consider several hypotheses but some of these were not developed objectively and assumptions were made despite emerging evidence to the contrary."

In 2008 the ombudsman's office commissioned a Home Office pathologist to look again at all available material and he concluded on the basis of some of the injuries that the bomb was placed outside an inner door and therefore outside the bar. This was similar to the findings of a forensic scientist who examined the scene of the blast the day after the explosion.

A police spokesman said: "The PSNI welcomes the report and its findings that the complaints are not substantiated.

"Although this atrocity took place almost 39 years ago, many of the families are still grieving.

"The historical enquiries team has completed a review of the case."

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