Failure to bring Loughinisland killers to justice is a huge regret, says top officer
A senior PSNI chief has said the fact that those who carried out the Loughinisland massacre have never been brought to justice is "a matter of huge regret for policing".
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke was speaking yesterday as the families of the six Catholic men who were killed in a bar in the Co Down village on June 18, 1994 gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of the tragedy.
The victims had been watching the Republic of Ireland take on Italy in the World Cup in the Heights Bar when loyalist gunmen armed with assault rifles entered and opened fire.
Last night their loved ones remembered the victims: Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), 39-year-old Eamon Byrne, Patrick O'Hare (35), pensioner Barney Green, and his nephew Daniel McCreanor (59) at a mass held at a local church.
In a 2016 report, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire concluded that the security forces colluded with the Loughinisland killers. No one has ever been convicted of the murders.
Assistant Chief Constable Clarke said yesterday that their investigation into the murders remains open but stressed that progress is dependent on new information.
He added: "These were appalling murders carried out by truly evil people and I am very aware of the hurt and anger felt by the families of those killed and injured in Loughinisland, especially on the day that marks the 25th anniversary of the atrocity."
Last August two journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were arrested over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned about the massacre.
However, the High Court later ruled search warrants used by police had been "inappropriate", resulting in the criminal probe into the pair being dropped earlier this month.
"We are aware that the investigation over the last year has caused distress for families who have suffered so much already," Assistant Chief Constable Clarke added.
"Throughout the investigation, the horror of what happened in Loughinisland has never been far from any of our thoughts.
"There are people out there who know what happened and I would appeal to them again to come forward and make a statement that will help us finally bring justice to the families of the victims."
Amnesty International yesterday handed over more than 20,000 messages of support to Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey, which were collected during its 10-month campaign to support the investigative journalists.
The thousands of messages of solidarity from around the world were delivered to the pair in mailbags outside the Royal Mail depot in Belfast by Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan.
Mr Corrigan said: "Amnesty supporters were rightly outraged when Trevor and Barry were arrested for their important work uncovering collusion in the Loughinisland massacre.
"The threat to a free press was one that made international headlines, and it was deeply troubling to see police trying to jail journalists who helped expose human rights abuses - rather than those who actually murdered six innocent people.
"Today marks 25 years to the day since the Loughinisland murders. The most effective way for the PSNI to demonstrate that they have learnt the lessons of this case would be to prioritise putting the killers behind bars."
Mr McCaffrey added: "Thankfully, through our victory in this case, the courts in Northern Ireland have safeguarded journalists' legal right throughout the UK to protect sources, and for whistleblowers to expose evidence of wrongdoing wherever and whenever it is found.
"None of this would have been possible without Amnesty's support, for which we will be eternally grateful."