Ex-garda accused of being IRA informer


SMITHWICK TRIBUNAL:A FORMER Garda sergeant was yesterday named as a trustworthy IRA informer who identified two RUC officers for assassination in 1989.

However, former Garda sgt Leo Colton told the tribunal that allegations he had used hand signals to identify the officers as they arrived at Dundalk were “ridiculous”.

Giving evidence to the tribunal, Mr Colton said he was standing on the steps of Dundalk Garda station shortly before 2.30pm on March 20th, 1989, but did not see the two RUC men arrive and did not signal to the IRA that the men were there.

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush within two hours of arriving for the meeting in the Dundalk station.

They were the highest ranking RUC officers to be killed during the Troubles, and the tribunal is inquiring into suggestions that members of the Garda colluded with the IRA in their murders.

Under cross-examination by Mary Laverty SC, for the tribunal, Mr Colton said he had been leaving the station to go on patrol but had been delayed by a farmer seeking information on regulations covering tractors and trailers.

But in an apparent contradiction in Mr Colton’s oral and written statements, Ms Laverty said that at the time of the killings Mr Colton claimed he had been called back to the station by the station orderly.

It had been the station orderly who asked him to handle the farmer’s query, Mr Colton said. Ms Laverty said there had also been suggestions that hand signals were made to the IRA from the steps of the station while Mr Colton was there. Mr Colton replied that this was “ridiculous”.

Mr Colton acknowledged that former colleague sergeant Tom Byrne had made allegations against him as to his general conduct, including an allegation that he had removed a Garda file concerning Dundalk gaming arcade owner and noted republican Jim McCann.

But he said he had never seen such a file on Mr McCann in the station and he did not believe such a file existed. He said Mr Byrne had “a vendetta against Jim McCann because Jim McCann wouldn’t give his son a job”.

Mr Colton acknowledged a complaint was also made against him for writing a reference for a Brian Ruddy to assist Mr Ruddy in the running of his motor dealing business. He said he was not aware Mr Ruddy was associated with known republicans.

Mr Colton left the force weeks ahead of a disciplinary hearing and subsequently went to work for Mr McCann in his gaming business in Dundalk. He acknowledged he also worked for another noted republican, Eamon Devlin, who was wanted by the RUC.

He also denied he had asked fellow Dundalk sergeant Finbarr Hickey to sign application forms for passports which subsequently benefited IRA members. Mr Hickey was convicted of offences connected with the passport affair and served a prison term. Mr Hickey has previously told the tribunal he had signed the passports as a favour to Mr Colton.

Counsel for the PSNI, Mark Robinson, put it to Mr Colton that he was a “trusted” supplier of documents to the IRA and was the trusted officer who had identified the visiting RUC men. Mr Colton denied the allegations.