Belfast Telegraph

'Police protected gunman in loyalist shooting' say relatives

By David McKittrick

Relatives of six men killed in an attack by loyalists on a Catholic bar in Northern Ireland eighteen years ago are pursuing legal action alleging state collusion in the incident.

Families say they suspect that at least one of the loyalist gunmen who attacked a small rural bar in Co Down was an informer, claiming that he was protected during the police investigation into the incident.

Although there were a number of arrests in the aftermath, no charges were brought in relation to it.

An official report into the investigation found insufficient evidence of security force collusion with the loyalist gunmen. Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson's report concluded however that there had been failings in the investigation, describing the destruction by police of a car used in the attack as inappropriate.

Six men died and five were injured in the attack which was carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force. The victims were watching a football match on television when the gunmen burst in, spraying the bar with gunfire.

The UVF said they it had been carried out in retaliation for a republican shooting in Belfast in which three men died.

Relatives are seeking to have the Ombudsman's findings quashed. According to their legal representative his findings were "timid, mild and meek." He added: "The Ombudsman has performed factual gymnastics to ensure there was no evidence of collusion in his conclusion."

At least one previous report from the Ombudsman's office on a separate case concluded that a police agent who had been involved in a number of loyalist murders in Belfast had been protected from prosecution by the Special Branch.

This previous conclusion, which caused a considerable stir, led to the widespread belief that agents were in effect allowed to carry out killings and other serious offences while on the payroll of the security forces.

Loughinisland families also suspect that weapons used in the attack were among a shipment brought into Northern Ireland seven years before the attack. Allegations that security force elements were involved in increasing the size of loyalist armouries stretch back to the early 1990s.

In civil actions taken by the families a claim against the Ministry of Defence alleges that the army had knowledge of the shipment and helped facilitate it. The police are accused of closing off investigative opportunities and "the destruction of vital evidence."

An initial decision to deny legal aid to the relatives has been quashed, a judge ordering that it should be reconsidered by a fresh panel.

Belfast Telegraph


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