Time to come clean on the dirty war to ease pain of families
The victory of Edward Barnard and his legal team in winning a review of the PSNI investigation into the loyalist Glenanne gang promises to shed a light on one of the darkest corner of the Troubles.
This is a case brought an estimated 80% of the way by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) before it was folded up, and it should be completed. Mr Barnard's 13-year-old brother Patrick was one of four, including another child, who died in a bomb at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon in March 1976.
The family deserves to know the truth about this gang, which allegedly comprised mainly members of the security forces and which appears to have been protected.
It operated at a desperate time in the 1970s when many border Protestants feared they would be ethnically cleansed from the area by IRA attacks. Some hit back in kind, some joined the security forces. A few did both.
One collusive policeman in the area at that time was John Weir, an RUC sergeant who served time for the sectarian murder of William Strathearn, a Catholic shopkeeper in Ahoghill, where he had been acting with Robin Jackson, a notorious UVF hitman from Portadown, who was never convicted of the killing and has since died.
Weir also told me about the gang, though we didn't use the name Glenanne gang, in interviews with me after he got out of prison. He was associated with the gang and knew the members. We even visited the locations he mentioned and he brought me to meet James Mitchell, the police reservist who allegedly led the gang from his farmhouse.
Mitchell pleaded a poor memory and explained away arms being found in his outhouses by saying he never knew they were there, so someone must have put them there without telling him about it.
Weir later made two affidavits setting out his career in the RUC. He freely admitted collusion, alleging that more senior officers encouraged him in working with the loyalists.
In an affadavit he refers to "the murder of three Catholic brothers, the Reaveys, at Whitecross, south Armagh in January 1976. This attack was carried out by (a named part-time UDR officer), (a named member of the RUC), RUC Reserve Constable (name withheld) and (one of the RUC officer's) brothers who, alone, was not a member of the security forces. On the same night Robin Jackson shot the three O'Dowd brothers dead. Both attacks were co-ordinated."
Such claims fester if they are ignored; they must be tested - one way or another.
The next day republicans carried out the Kingsmills massacre in which 11 Protestant workmen were shot.
Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers were murdered, suffered particularly badly afterwards. Years later Ian Paisley (snr) accused him, in the Commons, of setting up the Kingsmills massacre.
Dr Paisley quoted from a UDR note, which I had seen, giving it the grand title of a "dossier".
In fact, Mr Reavey was seen near the massacre, but he lived nearby and was en route to Daisy Hill Hospital.
Since then Alan Black, the lone Protestant survivor, has congratulated him on being exonerated when the Historiacl Enquiries Team revealed that the UDR theory never even constituted a serious line of inquiry at the time.
It has twice written to the Reavey family apologising and making it clear that neither Eugene nor his dead brothers were in any way involved in terrorism.
When he was Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan met the Reaveys and issued a statement exonerating all the brothers. Most recently, Dave Cox, head of the HET, gave Reavey a letter of apology for the security force harassment he had suffered as a result of the unsubstantiated allegations circulating.
This is a good example of why the truth needs to come out about the Troubles. The true Troubles history of Co Armagh, with neighbour often fearing neighbour, may not be comfortable, yet it may be easier to deal with than rumour, innuendo and backbiting. Let us make this review quick and effective.