Information was withheld from RUC officer investigating murder of innocent man in 1993
A Police Ombudsman investigation into a loyalist murder almost 30 years ago has found "significant investigative failures and collusive behaviours" by the RUC in relation to the killing.
Damien Walsh (17) was shot dead at the Dairy Farm complex in west Belfast on March 25, 1993, by members of the UFF, a cover name for the UDA, while the complex was under surveillance by security forces.
No one has been charged or convicted in relation to the murder, in which another man was injured.
Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson found several failures by the RUC both before and after the killing.
Mrs Anderson's investigation was sparked by a complaint from the victim's mother, Marian Walsh, in 2004.
The surveillance operation at the Dairy Farm complex had been conducted in anticipation of the IRA moving fertiliser intended for use in bombs. This fertiliser was stored in a unit two doors away from the unit in which Mr Walsh was working.
While the probe found no evidence that police were actively involved in the attack, had advance knowledge of it or could have stopped the gunmen before the murder, it found police failed to capitalise on a series of significant investigative opportunities.
In relation to the surveillance of ‘C Company’, over the period it was suspended the group was able to operate without the same "levels of constraint" and murdered two people and attempted to kill two others during this time. The other murder was that of Peter Gallagher in west Belfast on March 24.
Mrs Anderson said the RUC’s failure during this time to reassess the decision to remove surveillance “constituted collusive behaviour”.
The RUC had been using disruption tactics and surveillance against 'C Company', and one of its prominent members, referred to in the report as 'Person A', to frustrate their attempts to murder nationalists in west Belfast. These attempts were proving effective, according to intelligence.
“I am of the view that police ought to have undertaken a risk assessment and considered resuming the surveillance operation during this period given the developing intelligence picture, the attacks that were taking place, and the risk of further attacks on the nationalist community in west Belfast,” Mrs Anderson said.
“The failure to do so allowed ‘C Company’ greater scope to mount terrorist attacks on the nationalist community, culminating in the murders of Peter Gallagher and Damien.
“I believe that the failure to proactively address the identified threat posed by ‘C Company’ during this period disregarded that threat. In my view this amounted to a deliberate decision that constituted collusive behaviour on the part of police.”
The Ombudsman's investigation found that the SIO leading the murder inquiry was not told the Dairy Farm complex was under surveillance at the time of the killing. Military radio transmissions detailed the arrival of the gunmen's car, the shots being fired and the gunmen making their escape.
Mrs Anderson said these military personnel were “eyewitnesses to murder” and she found no documented reason why the SIO was not told about the surveillance operation.
“I am of the view that this was a deliberate decision that directly impeded the police investigation and constituted collusive behaviour on the part of police,” she said.
Intelligence that Person A's team was suspected of involvement and that the UDA/UFF had received information from a police officer which informed their attack was also withheld from the SIO.
Mrs Anderson found that the SIO was given the names of seven people who were suspected of involvement in Mr Walsh's murder, but only three were arrested, and only one of those was questioned about the killing. In addition, none of the suspects' homes were searched and items found in the car used by the gunmen were not forensically examined.
In relation to the murder weapon, the Ombudsman's investigation found the Browning pistol was recovered by police in east Belfast in June 1994 and had been previously used by the UDA/UFF, but the person caught with the gun was not subject to forensic tests to determine whether he could be linked to Mr Walsh's murder. The gun was destroyed by police a year after the murder, which "ought not to have occurred".
The Ombudsman said she believes it is likely that the gun was part of a major importation of weapons by loyalist paramilitaries in 1987.
In conclusion, Mrs Anderson said that Damien Walsh was “the innocent victim of a campaign of terror mounted by loyalist paramilitaries against the nationalist community”.
“The UDA/UFF alone were responsible for Damien’s murder. However, I have identified investigative failings and gaps as well as collusive behaviours by police which I believe failed both Damien and his family.”
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said: “Damien Walsh was an innocent young man killed by a despicable act of terrorism. The pain of such a grievous loss does not fade and I am acutely aware that today will be very upsetting for the family. My thoughts are with them.
"The Police Service will now carefully consider the Police Ombudsman’s report with a view to identifying appropriate next steps.”