Belfast Telegraph

Police cleared of cover-up over IRA Castlereagh break-in

Nothing to prove officers could have stopped break-in

By Adrian Rutherford

Police did not turn a blind eye to an IRA raid on a Belfast security base to protect a high-level informer, a report concludes today.

The Police Ombudsman rejected claims that the 2002 break-in at Castlereagh station was not stopped for political reasons.

A trawl of files and interviews with former senior Special Branch officers found no evidence that detectives had any information which could have prevented or disrupted the raid.

Investigators found police initially suspected that elements of the military or security services had been responsible. It was only later that attention switched to the IRA.

The raid at Castlereagh, one of Northern Ireland's most fortified police bases, was a major embarrassment to the security services.

The break-in at a facility known as Room 220 - which housed the Special Branch 24-hour agent telephone desk - happened on March 17, 2002.

Code names of scores of informers, the information they had provided to detectives, and the telephone numbers and addresses of Special Branch officers were taken.

More than 300 police and security staff had to move home as a result of the information falling into the hands of the IRA.

Several former police officers later sued the Chief Constable for negligence and breach of statutory duty.

One alleged that police had advance warning about the raid and could have prevented it, but chose not to. He claimed an informant was involved, and said the break-in had been allowed to happen to maintain that informant's cover, as well as for broader political reasons.

In October 2015, the Chief Constable asked the Police Ombudsman to conduct an independent probe into these claims.

A report on their investigation, published today, dismisses the allegations.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: "There was nothing to suggest that police had received any specific information that would have allowed them to prevent or disrupt the burglary.

"In fact, everything suggests that that was not the case.

"The only information of a possible security threat that we found in police records was general and non-specific in nature, and offered nothing which would have allowed police to take preventative measures."

Investigators interviewed the former officer who made the allegations (Man A).

He had retired from the police in the year before the break-in, having spent more than a quarter of a century working in Special Branch.

He said he had been told by a former colleague (Man B) that police had received information prior to the burglary that the IRA were planning to break-in to a police facility, and knew this to refer to Castlereagh.

Man A, however, provided no documentary evidence in support of his claims.

A number of other former officers who had held key positions at the time were also spoken to by Police Ombudsman investigators.

One described the allegations as "a complete fabrication", while another questioned the credibility of Man A's account.

Investigators also reviewed intelligence held by police in the two years prior to the burglary.

They found information of potential relevance, but it provided no specific details about the nature of the threat or the possibility of thwarting it.

Belfast Telegraph

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