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Slain RUC man's family: we felt used politically and hadn't sought probe into collusion


The son of one of the most senior RUC officers to be murdered by the IRA says his family has been used politically and had not sought an inquiry into his death.

Bank worker William Buchanan (50) was speaking publicly in his first interview yesterday ahead of the release of the final report from the Smithwick Tribunal later this month.

The father-of-three said he learned there would be an inquiry into claims of IRA/Garda collusion around the south Armagh ambush from a newspaper article, adding that it had been very difficult for his family to deal with.

He was 25 when his father, Superintendent Bob Buchanan, was killed along with Chief Superintendent Harry Breen in an ambush shortly after they crossed the border on March 20, 1989.

They had been returning from a meeting at Dundalk Garda station that had been organised with just a few hours' notice.

Since 2005, the tribunal has been probing how the IRA learned of the officers' movements. The Irish government agreed to the probe in 2001 as part of the Weston Park deal which also saw the UK government investigate if the RUC colluded in the killings of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, and Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill.

Mr Buchanan said his late mother Catherine and sister Heather did not dwell on the collusion rumours and were trying to get their lives back together.

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He told the media yesterday that the family initially felt they were being used by politicians.

"There was lobbying on both sides looking for various public inquiries into certain events.

"Perhaps the view was 'yeah, it's a political arena, a political agenda'. We certainly didn't go out and lobby, but we accepted that it was going to happen."

Despite these early reservations, Mr Buchanan attended many of the public hearings. He said he had the option to ignore the tribunal, but chose to support it.

"On reflection, if we get a greater understanding of what happened throughout the incident – and, OK, we have the suggestions of collusion, I don't know where that is going – but yes, I am reasonably happy," he added.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who was on the UUP negotiating team at Weston Park, said other members of the Buchanan family were in favour of the inquiry from the start.

"There were recommendations arising out of Weston Park, included on that list were Judge and Lady Gibson, because the families objected to the inquiry it was never held," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It was certainly our understanding that families were to be consulted about these inquiries. I absolutely accept what William Buchanan is saying, but the Breen family were very keen for the inquiry to take place and I have had contact with them on an ongoing basis.

"Whilst we very much respect the view of the families, including William, we want to get to the truth of what happened," he said.

Mr Donaldson added that he feels the Irish government needs to address allegations of collusion on behalf of individual members of the Irish State forces, including the Garda.

Solicitor John McBurney issued a statement on behalf of the Breen family which said: "Judge Smithwick's Report will be studied with deep interest, as has been the case already with all stages of the lengthy and complex hearings which have uncovered so much."

The final report from the Smithwick Tribunal is expected to be handed to the Dail on November 28 and later published online.


Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were shot dead by the IRA on March 20, 1989, as they returned north from a meeting at Dundalk Garda station. Newspaper coverage in the aftermath reported claims of an IRA mole in the Garda. Then RUC Chief Constable John Hermon denied the rumours. In July 2001 it was agreed that the Irish government would launch a probe into the murders while the British government would convene inquiries into claims of RUC collusion in the killings of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane and Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill.

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