Call for inquiry into Glennane gang killings

Notorious paramilitary murder gang members allegedly included police and soldiers

Malachi McDonald, widower of Elizabeth McDonald, speaks to the waiting media outside Belfast Coroner’s Court after a preliminary hearing for a new inquest into their deaths today. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Malachi McDonald, widower of Elizabeth McDonald, speaks to the waiting media outside Belfast Coroner’s Court after a preliminary hearing for a new inquest into their deaths today. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 21:49

A public inquiry must be considered into a notorious loyalist paramilitary murder gang whose members allegedly included policemen and soldiers, a coroner’s court has heard.

Lawyers for one of the estimated 120 victims of the so-called Glenanne gang have insisted only a major state probe, or a thematic inquest covering all the deaths, can get to the truth of the controversial collusion claims.

Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire is examining allegations made against Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers while the police’s own Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found “indisputable evidence” of security force collusion in the murderous group.

The call for another investigation into the actions of the Ulster Volunteer Force gang, which operated out of farms in counties Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s, was heard as fresh inquest proceedings into one attack it allegedly carried out began in Belfast.

Mother-of-three Elizabeth “Betty” McDonald (38) and keen gaelic footballer Gerard McGleenan (22) were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in the village of Keady, Co Armagh, in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured in the blast.

Aside from claims of security force involvement in the bomb team, it has been alleged that RUC Special Branch and Army surveillance personnel knew a bombing was being planned by the gang but failed to prevent it.

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin has ordered a new inquest into the deaths.

Mrs McDonald’s widower Malachi and Mr McGleenan’s brother Robert, along with relatives of other people allegedly killed by the Glenanne gang, were at Belfast Coroner’s Court as the preliminary hearing took place before Northern Ireland’s senior coroner John Leckey.

Mr Leckey has been asked by a lawyer for Mr McDonald to consider an all-encompassing thematic inquest or recommending a public inquiry.

Last year a coroner in England asked Home Secretary Theresa May to establish a public inquiry into the 2006 poisoning death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, claiming that sensitive issues of national security could not be examined at an inquest. Mrs May’s subsequent decision to turn down a statutory inquiry was quashed by the High Court, which told her to reconsider the matter.

Mr Leckey stressed to Mr McDonald’s solicitor Peter Corrigan that the threshold at which a national security issue was reached was quite high, noting that allegations against a small number of officers might not be applicable.

Mr Corrigan insisted the collusion claims in the Glenanne case were systematic.

“This wasn’t just a few bad apples, this was collusion and this was policy,” he said.

Mr Leckey asked for full written submissions on the issues involved so he could assess them more fully.

The coroner told the court he had forwarded the broad proposals from Mr McDonald’s legal team to Mr Larkin but said the attorney general had said it would not be appropriate for him to comment at this stage as he was currently considering applications to order further inquests linked to the Glenanne gang.