Army's smuggling report 'exaggerated'

Thu, Jan 26, 2012, 00:00

A COLONEL in the British army may have exaggerated a report on cross-Border smuggling, thereby kicking off a chain of events which led to two RUC officers – Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan – being killed in an IRA ambush, the Smithwick Tribunal has been told.

The tribunal was told the colonel – who was not named but said to be attached to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers based in Armagh – had delivered a verbal report on cross-Border smuggling to then secretary of state for Northern Ireland Tom King over dinner in Stormont Castle.

Also said to be at the dinner, which took place on March 6th, 1989, were Chief Supt Breen and then chief constable Sir John Hermon.

However, Chief Supt Breen’s deputy at the time yesterday told the tribunal that the chief superintendent had said the colonel’s report had been exaggerated.

Identified only as Witness 39 and giving evidence from behind a screen, the deputy – himself a former senior RUC officer – said Chief Supt Breen had been disappointed about the colonel’s report.

Witness 39 said in the days immediately following the dinner with the chief constable and secretary of state, “a direction” was issued from RUC headquarters for a crackdown on smuggling, particularly the alleged operations of well-known republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy.

Witness 39 said the direction had carried an explicit “requirement” for Chief Supt Breen to have a face-to-face meeting with Dundalk gardaí to secure their co-operation in the crackdown.

The witness also said Chief Supt Breen was “down” about the issue because he had not known the colonel was going to make such a report and did not think it was an accurate assessment of smuggling in the area. He also said Chief Supt Breen was “not particularly happy” about going south of the Border.

The witness told Judge Peter Smithwick he had known a visit to the Republic was required. “I assumed the meeting was going to take place on the Monday.”

Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush on the Edenappa Road in south Armagh minutes after leaving a meeting in Dundalk Garda station, two weeks after the Stormont dinner.