Denis Donaldson murder inquiry ‘proves police didn’t do enough’, says family

Former SF, IRA figure turned British agent was shot dead at Donegal hideout in 2006

The family of British spy Denis Donaldson have said an independent investigation into alleged police failings in the case prove not enough was done to prevent his murder at an isolated cottage.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it is reviewing how it deals with death threats after it was accused of failings by the North's police ombudsman Marie Anderson.

Ms Anderson found the force should have carried out a “risk assessment” on Mr Donaldson’s safety after the Sunday World newspaper published pictures of him outside his remote Co Donegal bolthole two weeks before his killing.

The former senior Sinn Féin and IRA figure turned British agent was shot dead in April 2006, at the cottage outside Glenties after the photographs were published, along with a description of the hideout.


Donaldson had fled the North months beforehand after being outed as an MI5 and police special branch agent during a high profile Sinn Féin press conference headed by Gerry Adams the previous year.

Following a number of complaints by the Donaldson family about the PSNI handling of the case, both before and after the killing – later claimed by the Real IRA – police ombudsman Maris Anderson began an inquiry.

In a statement published on Friday, she said there was “no evidence” that police leaked information about Donaldson’s whereabouts prior to his being killed.

The policing watchdog also dismissed allegations that the PSNI tried to implicate members of Donaldson’s family in his murder.

In a further finding, she said that rather than impeding the Garda investigation into the murder, the PSNI had provided “a high level of co-operation and assistance”.

Potential threats

However, she said the PSNI “should have carried out a further risk assessment of any potential threats to Mr Donaldson’s life” after the newspaper expose.

Responding to the findings, the Donaldson family said the PSNI “abandoned its routine practice of risk assessments” for reasons “that remain unexplained, and unaccounted for”.

“This course of action was taken at precisely the moment when the risk to Denis’s life was at its greatest,” a family spokesman said.

“The key question has always been: did the PSNI do enough to protect Denis’s life? The Ombudsman’s answer today was: no, they did not.”

The family added that “no one has any comprehension of the direct harm and damage to our family caused by the actions and omissions of certain police officers, and others, over the last 16 years”.

PSNI assistant chief constable Mark McEwan said the force recognised the pain and suffering felt by the Donaldson family and would continue to offer support to the Garda in its ongoing investigation.

While a number of arrests have been made, no one has ever been charged with the murder.

“We note the findings of the ombudsman’s investigation and will now take some time to review her comprehensive report,” said McEwan.

“We have reviewed our operational policies and service procedure regarding the management of threats to life, and will continue to do so on a regular basis.”

A Garda spokesman said it does not comment on on-going investigations or the findings of statutory bodies in other jurisdictions.

"An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to anyone with information in relation to the murder of Mr Donaldson to contact us to help us bring those responsible to justice," the spokesman added.

“An Garda Síochána continues to liaise with our colleagues in the PSNI on this investigation.”

Amid claims of collusion, conspiracy and cover-ups, the family alleged a police warning to Mr Donaldson that he was to be outed by the media as an informer was malicious, bogus and artificially manufactured.

But Mrs Anderson found it was based on reliable information from a credible source and the PSNI was duty bound to inform him of the risk.

Newspaper report

It was further alleged that the PSNI had leaked information to journalists and others about where Donaldson was hiding out. Again, Mrs Anderson found no evidence of this.

But the Sunday World report, on March 16th, 2006, which described Donaldson’s cottage as run down, without running water or electricity and beside other cottages in a bend on the road in an Irish speaking area, should have provoked the PSNI into carrying out an assessment into a risk on his life, she said.

Police should have also considered whether any “preventative measures” were needed.

“[The] PSNI advised An Garda Síochána (AGS) of the potential increased risk to Mr Donaldson as a result of the media article,” Mrs Anderson said.

“However, my investigators found no evidence that a further risk assessment took place or was considered by the PSNI.

“This would have better informed PSNI, and if shared with AGS, would have better informed them as to the potential risks to Mr Donaldson, and his family. It would then have been a matter for AGS to assess the risks and implement appropriate measures to address these risks.”

Mrs Anderson said there was no evidence to justify any criminal investigations into the actions of some journalists in connection with the case.

There was also no evidence to support family allegations that the PSNI monitored Donaldson’s movements and conversations while he was in Co Donegal.