New PSNI chief vows to act on probe into Glenanne Gang after court ruling
Chief Constable Simon Byrne has vowed to act after a court ruled police were unlawfully failing to conduct an independent probe into alleged state collusion with a notorious loyalist terror unit.
Northern Ireland's new top police officer said he accepted the judgment delivered at the Court of Appeal in Belfast yesterday by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.
Sir Declan said the police had not honoured the "legitimate expectation" of bereaved relatives of murder victim Patrick Barnard that an overarching investigation into the Glenanne Gang would be held.
Former PSNI chief constable Sir George Hamilton had appealed against a 2017 judgment that found against the police's decision not to complete work being conducted by the independent Historic Enquiries Team prior to its disbandment.
Mr Byrne, who replaced the retiring Sir George earlier in the week, said he would commence work to appoint an independent team to conduct an "analytical report" on collusion.
"Our thoughts first and foremost are with the Barnard family and those with them in court today," he said. "They, like too many other families, have suffered as a result of the Troubles and, understandably, they continue to seek answers in respect of the deaths of their loved ones.
"I accept today's judgment and, while we will take time to consider the fullness of its implications, we will now commence work to appoint the Independent Police Team to conduct an analytical report on collusion as ordered by the court."
Proceedings were brought by Edward Barnard, whose 13-year-old brother Patrick was among four people killed in a St Patrick's Day bombing at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon in 1976.
Five years later, Dungannon UVF member Garnet James Busby received a life sentence after admitting his role in the no-warning attack and other terrorist offences.
The murder gang, based at a farm in Glenanne, Co Armagh, allegedly contained members of the RUC and UDR. Up to 120 murders in nearly 90 incidents in Mid-Ulster and Irish border areas are under scrutiny.
They include outrages such as the 1975 Miami Showband Massacre, where three members of the popular group were taken from their tour bus and shot dead on a country road in Banbridge, Co Down, and the Step Inn pub bombing in Keady a year later, which claimed the lives of two Catholics. It has also been linked to the murder of 33 people, including a pregnant woman, in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
A draft HET report into alleged security force collaboration with the killers was said to have been 80% finalised before being shelved.
Challenging the High Court ruling, counsel for Sir George Hamilton insisted the Hillcrest investigation met the "gold standard" of human rights obligations by securing a conviction.
He also argued that an HET review into the bombing identified no collusion with the killers.
But Mr Barnard's lawyers told the Court of Appeal a number of promises meant there was a compelling case for producing an overarching report.
They claimed off-duty police officers and soldiers were connected by weapons to the "extraordinary pattern" of loyalist killings.
Members of the security forces were involved in a "state practice" of murder, according to their case.
Family members of some of those killed by the gang welcomed the judgment afterwards.
Patrick Barnard's brother Edward noted that 20 relatives of Glenanne victims had died since the initial judicial review proceedings commenced in 2015.
He claimed the police had treated the families like "pestilence".
"For the families here today, we will keep on fighting for the truth for our dead relatives, because with the truth we honour them," he said.
Tracey Mulholland, whose grandfather Arthur Mulholland was killed in 1975, said the families felt vindicated.
Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers were murdered by suspected members of the Glenanne Gang in south Armagh in January 1976, said he was not interested in compensation and all he wanted was the truth.