It was the summer of 1994 and the date was June 18th. In a scene replicated across the 32 counties that Saturday night, locals gathered in their local bar to watch as the World Cup match between Ireland and Italy was played out in the Giants Stadium in New York. The final whistle blew to mark an Irish victory and tens of thousands of soccer fans celebrated a momentous win.
The post-match jubilation and banter in the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down, would have been no different to that experienced elsewhere.
Within minutes, all that was changed as pro-British paramilitaries entered the small rural pub. Those inside had no chance as two gunmen opened fire with automatic assault rifles. As the gunmen fled, six men – Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Greene (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O'Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39) – lay dead or dying. Five more were wounded.
No-one has ever been convicted of the brutal sectarian rampage which devastated the quiet village of Loughinisland and left nine children without a father.
In the six year period from 1988 to 1994, Relatives for Justice documented 229 murders by British-controlled unionist death squads in which collusion was either evidenced or suspected due to a combination of factors from threats by British state forces during detentions at special interrogation centres, the weapons used in murders provided by the British state, to British state-held intelligence files being passed on to unionist death squads.
Among those 229 murders were those of Kathleen O’Hagan in Tyrone, shot in her home when she was seven months pregnant, her husband Paddy finding his five children huddled around their mother’s dead body on returning home; Charlie and Teresa Fox, murdered in their home in the Moy; Sean Lavery at his North Belfast home; Teresa Clinton shot dead in her own living room in South Belfast; Lurgan republican, Sam Marshall, shot dead minutes after leaving Lurgan RUC barracks which he had to attend as part of his bail conditions; Tyrone pensioner Roseanne Mallon murdered while a covert British army unit observed the murder and did not to intervene; Sean Browne, the 61-year-old chairman of the Wolfe Tone GAA club in Bellaghy, County Derry, abducted as he locked up the clubrooms and whose lifeless body was found with six bullet wounds less than an hour later; brothers Gerard and Rory Cairns shot dead in their family home at the Bleary, outside Portadown, in front of their 11-year-old sister.
There are countless other examples, over many decades, of official British State collusion through the strategic control of scores of agents within unionism by the Force Research Unit of British Military Intelligence and the RUC’s Special Branch. The fifteen men, women and children who died in the bombing of McGurk’s Bar in 1971, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, which claimed the lives of 33 innocent people whose ages ranged from five months to eighty years, are other examples of that policy.
Despite all the evidence gathered over the years by the victims’ families or by human rights groups and solicitors working on their behalf, the British state still refuses to admit any culpability in all those cases and continues to ensure that the truth regarding its forces’ and agents’ roles remain hidden.
Last Friday, June 24, the Six-County Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, published his report into the Loughinisland Massacre. Media speculation in recent months had built up the hopes of the families that Hutchinson would find that there had, in fact, been collusion between state forces and the killers responsible for the Loughinisland attack.
However, the families’ hopes were cruelly dashed. Instead, Hutchinson glossed over the facts in order to extend the cover-up, which had been in existence from 1994, even further. The ombudsman’s report had been delayed on several occasions. It was scheduled for publication in 2009 but was postponed “for several weeks” after new material, discovered by the families, came to light.
There were several more delays and towards the end of last year; a member of the RUC/PSNI was arrested and questioned over perverting the course of justice and withholding information. To the consternation of the Loughinisland families, the Public Prosecution Service said it would not be proceeding with a court case against the man.
The families said they were prompted to ask the Six-County Police Ombudsman to investigate after revelations that linked the gang with at least four persons who were either agents of Special Branch or of British military intelligence. The families were also concerned that the getaway car used by the killers was destroyed by police months after the shootings and not retained for evidential purposes.
The Loughinisland Justice Group has publicly pointed out the following facts which still remain unanswered:
What is also public knowledge, although also completely unacknowledged in the Ombudsman’s Loughinisland report is that:
Since publication of the Six-County Police Ombudsman’s report just a week ago, it has emerged that one of the Loughinisland murder weapons, a VZ 58 rifle, was also used in a multiple murder attempt in Belfast in October 1993 which left one man, Joseph Reynolds, dead and two others seriously wounded. Furthermore, the Special Branch agent, known as “the Mechanic”, has been identified as having been directly involved in this and the Loughinisland attacks.
Yet, the outcome of Hutchinson’s report should not have come as any real surprise. He has previously been openly criticised by victims’ families, including those who lost loved ones in the McGurk’s bombing.
Indeed, only a few weeks ago, on June 6, the Committee on the Adminstration of Justice [CAJ], the longstanding Belfast-based human rights organisation, published a report of its own investigation into the conduct of the Six-County Police Ombudsman’s Office. www.caj.org.uk/files/2011/06/16/OPONI_report_final1.pdf
The CAJ stated that it was prompted to do so as a result of many concerns which had been raised about the capacity of the Ombudsman’s office to investigate historic cases due to the length of time taken, the quality of the reports it has published, and the conclusions reached.
CAJ also stated that, “The most recent reports into historic cases published by the Office of the Police Ombudsman have contributed towards a questioning of the Office’s ability and commitment to undertake robust and impartial analysis. A growing lack of confidence in the Office is further exacerbated by the experiences and perceptions of some of those who have referred complaints to OPONI, in particular, those families involved in historic cases due to the death of a loved one.”
CAJ expressed concerns about “the lack of any clear definition or consistent application of the term collusion in a number of recent historic investigations involving allegations of collusion. Furthermore, there is no explanation as to why different aspects of collusion are engaged with in different investigations. This discrepancy leaves the Office open to allegations that a different standard of ‘collusion test’ is utilised given the specific circumstances of the investigation, which could in turn raise questions about the real and/or perceived impartiality of the Office.”
Further concerns were highlighted by the CAJ “in relation to recent reports on historic number of recent reports, the Police Ombudsman states that ‘collusion may or may not involve a criminal act’ followed by the assertion that ‘the Police Ombudsman may only investigate and report on matters of alleged police criminality or misconduct.’ However, a criminal act is criminality and therefore if a collusive act is criminal it would constitute criminality and should be found as such. Likewise, a collusive act that may not be criminal may constitute misconduct. The absence of a definition of collusion, and the subsequent excessively narrow interpretation of criminality or misconduct therein, therefore becomes problematic and contradictory. An unduly restrictive approach such as that adopted in the most recent reports also ignores the cumulative impact of a range of activities which regarded individually may appear relatively minor, but which, when taken in combination, are much more serious.”
More damning, however, were the CAJ’s concerns surrounding intelligence and the lack of independence from the PSNI.
CAJ pointed out that as a result of the process of accessing intelligence regarding historic cases, there were a number of steps in the process where ‘gatekeepers’, in whose interests it may be for the full truth to remain hidden, can significantly limit and control access to intelligence without detection.
CAJ’s concerns included:
The CAJ report also examined Al Hutchinson’s appointment to the post of Ombudsman and had concerns about “apparent irregularities in the 2007 recruitment process that raise questions about political interference in, and thus the independence of, the Office and believes that these issues should be addressed transparently and urgently.”
Against this background, there was little hope that the families who lost loved ones at Loughinisland, in the bombing of McGurk’s bar, or in many other cases, could ever expect the truth.
So it was, too, with the inquiry into the murder of Rosemary Nelson. Despite all the evidence available to it to the contrary, it also concluded there had been no collusion.
No British-constructed inquiry and no British-controlled Ombudsman will ever allow the truth about collusion to be told.
That is why the full Stevens report into collusion, which runs to well over 3,000 pages, will never be published.
To admit or acknowledge that collusion with, and direction of, unionist death-squads has been an integral part of British counter-insurgency policy in Ireland would bring a global spotlight to bear on the darkest, murkiest and bloodiest secrets of Britain’s dirty war of occupation in the Six Counties.
That is something that the British government cannot afford and will not permit.
But Britain does not stand alone in that regard. There are others within the political establishments in both jurisdictions on this island who have invested much time, energy and propaganda in creating the myth of a new, reformed Six Counties. They have thrown their full support behind the PSNI, while turning a blind eye to the continuing and increased activities of MI5 and covert British military units such as the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, and they have heralded the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Stormont administration as the dawn of a new era. They also stand to lose if the full extent of collusion was to emerge.
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