Relatives of victims of loyalist murders say they have been ‘vindicated’ by new report

Police Ombudsman’s report identifies ‘collusive behaviours’ and raises ‘significant concerns’ about police conduct

The funerals of five of the victims of the UFF massacre at the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel, Co Derry, in 1993. Photograph: Pacemaker Press

Relatives of the victims of a series of loyalist murders carried out between 1989 and 1993 have said they have been “vindicated” by a Police Ombudsman’s report which said their “concerns about collusive activity are legitimate and justified”.

"We stand vindicated in our persistent claims of collusion, in particular by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment), in the murders of our loved ones," they said in a statement issued by Relatives for Justice on behalf of the families of eight victims and two survivors of the attacks.

Other relatives also welcomed the report, including Amanda Fullerton, who said it was "important to get a public statement from somebody in high office that vindicates your concerns about collusion".

Ms Fullerton's father Eddie, a Sinn Féin councillor, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries at his home in Buncrana, Co Donegal, in 1991. In 2006 her family made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman alleging that RUC officers had colluded in his murder and failed to assist the Garda investigation.

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Their complaint subsequently led to an investigation by the Police Ombudsman into police actions in regard to 19 murders and a number of attempted murders carried out by the North West UDA/UFF between 1989 and 1993, including the killing of eight people in the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, Co Derry, in October 1993.

In her report, published today (Friday), Marie Anderson identified “collusive behaviours” and raised “significant concerns” about police conduct, but found no evidence the RUC had any prior knowledge of any of the attacks considered in her report.

She said the “majority of RUC investigative actions” in regard to the attacks under consideration were “progressed in a thorough and diligent manner” with arrests made and a number of individuals arrested and convicted” .

Arms importation

Ms Anderson outlined a number of specific findings, including "intelligence and surveillance failings" which enabled the North West UDA/UFF to arm themselves with weapons from an earlier loyalist arms importation and which "significantly enhanced" their capability.

There was a failure to warn a number of victims of threats to their lives, and a failure to take action against some members of the security forces suspected of passing information to loyalist paramilitaries.

The Police Ombudsman also criticised the deliberate destruction of files, particularly in regard to informers, and the failure of RUC Special Branch to share all relevant information with police colleagues investigating the attacks.

She also raised significant concerns about the recruitment and handling of informants by RUC Special Branch, particularly in regard to the continued use of informants despite evidence they were “actively involved in serious crime, including murder” .

In regard to Mr Fullerton’s murder, she concluded that in general RUC inquiries on behalf of An Garda Sióchána were “completed in a timely and thorough manner” but there was no record RUC Special Branch had responded to certain requests for intelligence from the Garda.

She also said she had found no evidence the RUC informed either Mr Fullerton or gardaí of a loyalist threat against his life.

Ms Fullerton told The Irish Times her family had been “alarmed” to discover from the report that one of the weapons used in her father’s murder was a stolen RUC gun, and that one of the police officers who dealt with him while in custody in Derry following his arrest at a Border protest in 1990 was suspected of collusion.

Following the Police Ombudsman’s inquiries the officer was interviewed under criminal caution about intelligence that he socialised in a local bar with suspected members of the North West UDA/UFF and a file was submitted to prosecutors.

The Ombudsman said she found no evidence any member of the RUC supplied information about Mr Fullerton to loyalist paramilitaries.

Legal team

“That there was never a criminal investigation into this particular individual gives you an idea of the level and extent of collusion that was happening at the time,” Ms Fullerton said.

She said the family would now consult with their legal team to consider the implications. “What we’re looking for is to get to the truth of what happened and who was involved.”

The family of Patrick Shanaghan, who was murdered by the loyalist paramilitaries in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, in 1991, also welcomed the report, saying it was "yet another indictment of the British government and the police service" but said they were disappointed "key aspects of their complaints relating to the actions of RUC officers prior to Patrick's murder could not be dealt with" .

In her report the Police Ombudsman also noted that the use of certain informants by RUC Special Branch following the IRA's bombing of the Shankill Road in Belfast in October 1993 caused her "considerable concern".

Information obtained from loyalist prisoners on October 30th – the date of the Greysteel shootings – indicated an attack was “imminent” in the Derry area, but police had received no information from their North West UDA/UFF informants that an attack was being prepared.

In regard to one informant, Ms Anderson said “his Special Branch handlers ought to have recognised that he was withholding information and was potentially involved in some of the attacks”.

She also said her investigators had “obtained information that one of these informants chose not to share information with his handlers which could have prevented murders”.

The Police Ombudsman said in her view “police should have considered a number of disruption tactics to address the threat of significant attack”, including arresting potential suspects under terrorism legislation.

“This tactic may have caused paramilitaries to abandon their immediate plans and would enable police to obtain additional information,” she said.

“It is my view that the failure to consider disruption tactics was a significant missed opportunity by RUC Special Branch. Within hours the Greysteel attack took place, resulting in the deaths of eight members of the public.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times