Belfast Telegraph

Loughinisland massacre: Theresa Villiers must resign if she can't accept Ombudsman's findings, says SDLP's Margaret Ritchie

The SDLP's Margaret Ritchie has said the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers must resign if she does not accept the findings of the Police Ombudsman's report into the Loughinisland massacre in its entirety.

Since the report was published on Thursday, Ms Villiers has stood by her remarks that claims of state collusion in paramilitary attacks during the Troubles was rife were "pernicious" and "a deliberate distortion".

Relatives of victims of the Loughinisland attack have called on Ms Villiers to retract her comments.

The SDLP South Down MP said: "Theresa Villiers must state clearly if she accepts the findings of the Loughinisland Report in its entirety. If she does not then she must resign her position as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

"Theresa Villiers again finds herself in direct opposition to the people of Northern Ireland. Her continued equivocation over state collusion in the face of the damning Loughinisland Report is outrageous. It is an insult to the families who have campaigned with dignity and resilience for so long and offensive to all the people of the North who are opposed to paramilitary and state violence.

"The Police Ombudsman has the support of all parties here and of both the Irish and British Governments. By refusing to correct herself, Theresa Villiers is suggesting that she rejects the findings of this independent and impartial report. It suggests that her agenda is driven by narrow ideology and not the best interests of our people. She is showing herself to be anything but independent and impartial in her role as Secretary of State.

"We must have confidence that the person representing our interests to the British Government has a commitment to truth and does not prioritise the reputation of state agencies over justice."

Six Catholic men were shot dead by the UVF in the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, on June 18, 1994, as the Republic of Ireland played Italy at the World Cup in the US. No one has been convicted of the murders.

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Northern Ireland's Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire was scathing in his assessment of the police role in the sectarian massacre.

Collusion was a 'significant feature' of the murders

The Police Ombudsman found that collusion was a "significant feature" of the murders and that informants that were involved in importing loyalist guns into Northern Ireland were protected by police. The weapons were found to be used in 70 murders and attempted murders.

Dr Maguire found that one man suspected of carrying out the mass killing in the Heights Bar was a police informant.

The Ombudsman also said the murder squad had been involved in a number of other killings in the years beforehand, but had avoided arrest because the Royal Ulster Constabulary's Special Branch intelligence unit had withheld evidence from RUC detectives investigating the crimes.

He said some Special Branch officers had a "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" mind-set that placed the collection of information above the detection of crime.

The victims' families had long claimed police colluded with the killers and won a court battle to quash a previous Ombudsman's report that had rejected the collusion allegation.

The report published on Thursday found that:

  • Information received on a 'small but ruthless' UVF unit was not passed to detectives investigating their attacks - which may have prevented Loughinisland attack.
  • Fundamental failings in overall Loughinisland investigation.
  • Despite having names of those suspected to be responsible within 24 hours, there was a "significant delay" in arresting them.
  • One suspect was an RUC informer.
  • Informants involved in importing Loyalist guns into Northern Ireland were protected by police. Weapons were found to be used in 70 murders and attempted murders.
  • A senior member of the UDA, who was also providing information to RUC Special Branch, played a central role in directing UDA member and former Army agent, Brian Nelson’s efforts, along with "security force oversight".
  • Police failed to identify a farm used as an arms dump, despite its location being mentioned to officers.
  • The Loughinisland weapons were used for other murders and terrorist attacks.

'Uncomfortable reading'

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton described collusion in the 1994 Loughinisland murders as "totally unacceptable" and said those responsible should be held accountable. He said report made "uncomfortable reading" particularly in relation to the alleged actions of police officers at the time.

The Chief Constable  said that the Police Service of Northern Ireland "fully supports the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland".

"In 2011, we accepted the findings of the previous PONI report into the murders and conducted a further review of the case as a result," he said.

"We apologised to the families at that time and I offer my sincere apologies to them once again today, for both the investigative failings and that collusion was a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders."

The Chief Constable added: "The Ombudsman has stated that collusion was a feature of these murders in that there were both wilful and passive acts carried out by police officers.

"This is totally unacceptable and those responsible should be held accountable. I want to reassure the families and the public that I have co-operated fully with the Ombudsman and I will continue to do so if he determines to take this further.

"It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment in detail, pending the outcome of any potential further criminal investigation by the Ombudsman on this matter.

These were appalling murders carried out by those with evil intent and I am very aware of the hurt and anger felt by the families of those killed and those injured. The PSNI remains firmly committed to apprehending those responsible for these murders and appeal to the community for information to allow us to do so."

'Scale of the ­collusion terrifying'

Emma Rogan, whose father Adrian was killed, said: "We finally have a report by the Police Ombudsman that at last vindicates our long-held ­suspicions and belief that the truth about these murders was being covered up by the very people - the police - who were supposed to be protecting us, be on our side and investigate and bring to justice those responsible."

Paddy McCreanor, nephew of victim Daniel McCreanor, said: "Collusion is no illusion and collusion happened. The truth has come out and that's all we ever wanted."

The families' lawyer Niall Murphy said the scale of the ­collusion was "terrifying". "This report is one of the most damning expositions of state collusion in mass murder that has ever been published," he said.

Earlier this year Ms Villiers caused outrage after she said that RUC officers and British soldiers had no direct involvement in the atrocity. The families of the victims have also called for Ms Villiers to apologise for those comments.

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Excerpts from Theresa Villiers Speech on Legacy Issues, Belfast, 10th February 2016

"Around 7,000 awards for bravery were made and, quite simply without the dedication of the security forces to keeping people here safe, the circumstances that enabled the peace process to take root would never have happened," she said.

"Yet today we face a pernicious counter narrative.

"It is a version of the Troubles that seeks to displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism and place the State at the heart of nearly every atrocity and murder that took place - be it through allegations of collusion, misuse of agents and informers or other forms of unlawful activity.

"For some, every allegation of wrongdoing by the State - or those working for it - is treated as fact, however unsubstantiated or whatever the source, and whatever the consequential distress to victims.

"Let me be clear, I am not going to say that over a period of 30 years there were no instances where members of the police and armed services fell below the high standards we expect of them.

"Sadly we know that there are some truly shocking instances where they fell drastically short of those standards.

"But to suggest that misconduct by the police and our Armed Forces was somehow rife or endemic is, in the view of this government, a deliberate distortion and a narrative of the Troubles that is not justified by the facts."

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