PSNI apologises after Ombudsman’s report into killings lambasts Special Branch and UDR
Loyalist informers were retained by RUC Special Branch even after they became suspects in the murder of Catholics in the north west, the Police Ombudsman has found.
Marie Anderson identified “collusive behaviours” and raised significant concerns about police conduct between 1989 and 1993 when the UDA murder gang took 19 lives.
On Thursday night the PSNI apologised to the families of the victims.
In a statement PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the report “brings to the fore once again the horror and pain for all communities of Northern Ireland’s past”.
“These were appalling crimes carried out by those with evil intent. We are very aware of the hurt and anger felt by the families of those killed and those injured and we apologise to the families for the findings in this report,” he said.
“The peace process has changed the context for policing. The PSNI now have greatly improved policies and procedures which guide our response to potential threats and how we approach criminal investigations and the management of intelligence.
“These policies and procedures are firmly embedded in principles of the Human Rights Act 1998. We welcome the fact that the Ombudsman has recognised these positive developments in her report.”
The report into the murders and a number of attempted killings found there were “occasions where the ‘rewards’ associated with the recruitment of a number of loyalist paramilitary informants failed to outweigh the ‘risks’.
“My investigators identified a number of North West UDA/UFF informants who provided intelligence of questionable quality,” she said. “However, they were retained and managed by RUC Special Branch as informants, despite other evidence and intelligence indicating that they were actively involved in serious crime, including murder.”
Among those was ‘Person H’, known to be loyalist serial killer Torrens Knight. He was convicted of killing four workmen at Castlerock in March 1993 and the attack on the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel in October of that year which claimed the lives of eight people.
The watchdog found information from loyalists detained in Belfast indicated an attack was imminent in October 1993.
“The use of certain informants by RUC Special Branch in North Region during the relevant period causes me considerable concern,” Ms Anderson stated.
Records on recruitment and management of informants were destroyed without explanation.
The attack was claimed by the UFF, which said it was retaliation for the IRA’s Shankill bombing a week earlier.
Investigators for the Ombudsman said because of the bomb, police were on “high alert” and had arrested a number of people linked to the UDA/UFF in Belfast.
“Two of these individuals, while detained at Castlereagh RUC Holding Centre, indicated that there was going to be a ‘massacre’ in the Derry/Londonderry area,” Ms Anderson said.
“I am of the view police should have considered a number of disruption tactics to address the threat of a significant attack.”
She also investigated the murder of republican Gerard Casey in Rasharkin in 1989. The father-of-three was shot dead as he lay in bed beside his wife.
The report found Special Branch received intelligence indicating that ‘Person V’, a UDR member, had provided the UDA with information that assisted in the murder. Special Branch passed this intelligence to the military, but Ms Anderson said she “found no evidence it was forwarded to police investigating the murder”.
“Person V was stationed in the North West and his role within the UDR permitted him access to intelligence documents”, and he attended monthly high-level intelligence meetings.
Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, who represents the family of Mr Casey, said the report confirms the strong suspicions there was collusion.
He added: “Almost every level within the military and RUC Special Branch were complicit in the targeting of Gerard Casey, the arming of those who murdered him and the subsequent protection of those suspected of having been involved in his murder.
“The unmistakeable conclusion that they draw is that Gerard Casey is a victim of state-sponsored terrorism.”
The victim’s son Paul said: “It is essential that, in addition to the conduct of the RUC, that there is a full examination of the role of the UDR in the targeting of my father. The Ombudsman has found the person suspected of passing on my father’s details was dismissed from that regiment, yet neither the UDR nor RUC Special Branch disseminated the information any further.
“It is scandalous the UDA remained a lawful organisation at the time of my father’s murder.”
The report also found a revolver used in the murders of Sinn Fein councillor Eddie Fullerton in May 1991 and Thomas Donaghy in August of the same year, along with the attempted murder of James McCorriston, had been a personal protection weapon reported stolen from the home of a former police officer in Garvagh in 1988.
In January 1992 police searched the Ballymoney address of a suspected UVF terrorist who was also a former member of the UDR.
They recovered a revolver and notebooks with the names of individuals suspected of being members of IRA, which included Daniel Cassidy, who was murdered in Kilrea later that year.
On Wednesday the PSNI arrested a 57-year-old man in connection with the murder of Mr Cassidy.
Less than 24 hours before the murder of Mr Casey, ‘Person J’ and ‘Person K’, both UDR members, were spoken to by police, who had observed them acting suspiciously close to the victim’s home.
Following the murder Special Branch received intelligence indicating that ‘Person V’ had provided the UDA with targeting information.
Special Branch passed this on to the Army, but the Ombudsman found no evidence it was forwarded to police investigating the killing.
However, Ms Anderson also said investigations by the RUC into attacks by the north west UDA/UFF during the period were “prompt and thorough” and “a number of individuals were prosecuted and convicted”. She found no evidence any officer had protected an informant from arrest and/or prosecution.
Instead, she said police had continued to use a number of informants when they ought to have been aware that those people had failed to provide information about the activities of the UDA, and were involved in serious criminality, including murder.
“I am of the view that this illustrated a practice on the part of some Special Branch officers to recruit, and continue to use, informants suspected of involvement in serious criminality, including murder, contrary to applicable RUC policy,” she said.