'Informers were untouchable'... RUC officer claims Special Branch endangered his life, and let an elderly lady die, to shield an IRA mole
A negligence case taken by an ex-cop against the Chief Constable is set to unmask a key double agent at the heart of the IRA’s deadly East Tyrone unit.
Retired RUC officer Colin Keys was in the High Court in Belfast last Thursday to hear deliberations on whether his legal action against the police should be treated as an employment or legacy issue.
During proceedings the existence of an “informant” within the East Tyrone IRA was referenced, and in particular this individual’s role in what was alluded to as the “Pomeroy” incident.
This refers to a November 1983 shoot-out between the RUC and the Provos in the village which resulted in the death of local pensioner Brigid Foster. The 80-year-old was hiding in a post office when she was hit by a stray police bullet.
Colin Keys was one of two RUC officers involved in the confrontation with the Provos, who escaped on foot.
The crux of his negligence claim against the Chief Constable is that at least one of the IRA men who opened fire on him was an informant.
Keys insists the agent gave his Special Branch handlers prior warning that he planned to rob the Pomeroy post office.
But this information was not communicated to RUC officers stationed in the Tyrone village. Instead they were told just to give the post office “passing attention”.
Keys believes this put his life at risk, that the robbery could have been prevented at an earlier stage, and that Brigid Foster was needlessly killed.
“I was a young officer stationed in Pomeroy at the time,” he told Sunday Life.
“That morning we were given a briefing that there was a chance the post office could be robbed and were told to give it passing attention.
“We were not told that an agent would carry out the actual robbery or that he would be armed — but Special Branch knew this because he told them earlier.”
Keys and a sergeant were passing by the post office when they saw two masked men emerge holding a terrified female clerk hostage.
They made for a car which was blocked by the RUC officers’ armoured Ford Escort.
One of the Provos fired a shot which drew a volley of 16 shots in return from Keys and his colleague.
One of the bullets flew into the packed post office and struck Brigid Foster.
Because of her age and a bad back, the mother-of-five was unable to crouch down on the floor like the other customers. She was hit in the head and died instantly.
“My Ruger rifle jammed during the exchange, it was my colleague’s bullet that hit Mrs Foster,” added Colin Keys.
“I think about that day constantly and know that it could have been avoided had the Special Branch put in place an operation to prevent the robbery taking place.
“But they didn’t and Mrs Foster was sacrificed, and my own life and that of my sergeant’s were put at risk, because they didn’t want to arrest the agent.”
There are other disturbing aspects to the Pomeroy robbery which are only now beginning to emerge and which hint at an informant being protected.
The car used in the hold-up, which was hijacked in nearby Carrickmore, was returned to its female owner by the RUC without being forensically examined.
The woman found a stash of IRA handguns in the boot which were later recovered by police.
Colin Keys has been told that the informant who opened fire on him during the Pomeroy robbery was also linked to the SAS killings of two Provos in nearby Coalisland the following week.
Colm McGirr (22) and Brian Campbell (19) were shot in the back in December 1983 by undercover soldiers as they lifted weapons from an arms dump on the Cloghoe Road.
Colin Keys’ negligence case against the Chief Constable was among more than 5,000 taken by ex-RUC officers, of which only a handful are left.
Nearly all of the rest are no longer being pursued.
The ex-cop’s lawyers want the lawsuit heard as an employment rather than a legacy case — an issue that the High Court is currently deliberating on. This is because if judges decide the action falls under legacy, it could be subject to even more delays which could effectively postpone it until 2022.
Keys wants his case to be heard as soon as possible, claiming it will shine a much-needed light on what he terms the “dirty war” and how RUC officers were “expendable”.
“There are hundreds of ex-police officers who were placed in the same position as me, whose lives were risked to protect State agents,” he explained.
“I’d urge them to come forward and get in touch with their legal representatives. They deserve to have their voices heard and to be compensated.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital