A new report from the police ombudsman details the role of Britain's intelligence and security services in massacres carried out by Loyalist murder gangs
A police officer hands over a Browning automatic pistol to a man who he knows is a sectarian killer. It was deactivated but the officer is well aware that the murderer and his friends are capable of reactivating it for their own deadly ends.
Later the weapon was used in a gun attack on a betting shop in which five innocent men were killed. Their crime? Being Catholics in the city of Belfast.
A devastating official report released this week provides damming evidence of the involvement of Britain’s security and intelligence services in the murder of innocent Catholics.
The Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman has found "collusive behaviour" by police in 11 murders of Catholics by members of the Ulster Defence Association, the largest loyalist murder gang. They included the 1992 attack at a Sean Graham betting shop in South Belfast.
The Browning was one of a number of weapons, activated and deactivated, handed over by officers of the Royal Ulster. The gun was deactivated but returned to the quartermaster along with other weapons, which were not deactivated, the report says.
The Browning pistol was originally stolen from the Ulster Defence Regiment — a part-time infantry unit of the British army, almost 100 percent Protestant — along with other weapons and “made available” to police by an informant, who was a “quartermaster” in the UDA, William Stobie.
Stobie was an informer for the RUC Special Branch informer who was involved in the assassination of student Adam Lambert in 1987 and the high-profile solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. Stobie was killed in 2001 during an internal feud.
The Browning was also used to murder Aidan Wallace in the Devenish Arms Inn in north Belfast in December 1991.
In that attack, claimed by the Ulster Freedom Fighter, a cover name for the UDA, two masked gunmen entered the pub’s snooker hall and fired two shots into the back of Wallace’s head as he was leaning over a snooker table. They then fired indiscriminately at others, including an eight-year-old boy, who lost his eye as a result.
The same gun was also used to murder taxi driver Harry Conlon in October 1991.
Operation Achille investigated the cops’ handling of the murders of 11 people, including a boy of 15. The subsequent report by Marie Anderson identified "significant" investigative and intelligence failures.
She said it was "totally unacceptable" that police used informants within the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) who "were actively participating in serious criminality, including murder".
"This was totally unacceptable and an illustration of how, on occasion, the interests of obtaining information from informants was given precedence over protection of the public from paramilitary crime and murder," Anderson said.
She also pointed out that Samuel Caskey received no warning before Loyalists attempted to murder him in October 1990. James (Jim) Clinton also received no warning of a known threat to his life before an attack on his home in April 1994 in which his wife Theresa was murdered. “I am of the view that this serious omission constitutes collusive behaviour,” said Anderson.
Police apologised for the "failings identified".
A statement from Relatives for Justice and KRW Law said the families of victims felt vindicated by the report's findings, pointing out:
“The report finds that 11 murdered citizens and their families were systemically failed by the British state in life and in death. It is a damning report that is undiluted evidence of the policy of collusion as it was practiced in South Belfast, and across the North”
Throughout the Northern Ireland Troubles, we were told the security forces were in place to “keep the peace” and to deal with both the IRA and Loyalist murder gangs. In fact the British Army was sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 at the request of the Unionist government in order to “keep order.” In the city of Derry, rioting, which followed the decision to allow a sectarian march through Catholic areas, had seen the RUC defeated and the West Bank of the city effectively secede from Northern Ireland and the UK.
The RUC remained, until it was disbanded in 2001 and replaced by the Police service of Northern Ireland, overwhelmingly Protestant and contaminated by sectarianism towards the Catholic population.
Loyalist assassinations began to mount in early 1972 and from the beginning there were exposés of the links of these gangs to the security forces. They were happy to see mounting attacks on innocent Catholics because it was hoped these would demoralise the Republican Movement’s support and lead to demands they cease armed struggle.
The Anderson report gives the lie to the notion British security forces were there to keep the peace and to keep two warring sides apart.
Today Britain poses as upholding fair play in Northern Ireland but the simple truth is back in 1921 the British government partitioned Ireland and created a vicious Northern Ireland state run as a Unionist, one party state and characterised by repression, sectarianism and poverty.
Until the people of Derry rose up in August 1969, Britain did nothing about this political slum it had created and throughout the 1970s, 80s and much of the 90s regarded the issue as simply being one of “security” to be dealt with by repression including a policy of counter-insurgency; creating Loyalist murder gangs to target opponents so the killings resulting could not be directly pinned on the security forces.
That is why revolutionaries demanded British troops get out and it is why today we champion Irish unity as the only solution.
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Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.
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