Inquiry finds ‘collusive behaviours’ by RUC in murder of Catholic teenager

British military personnel were ‘eyewitnesses to murder’ of Damien Walsh (17)

The North's police ombudsman Marie Anderson has found "significant investigative failures" and "collusive behaviours" by the RUC in relation to the 1993 UDA murder of 17-year-old Damien Walsh.

The Catholic teenager was shot dead at the Dairy Farm shopping complex in west Belfast in March 1993 by members of the Ulster Defence Association.

The centre was under British security force surveillance at the time in anticipation of the IRA moving fertiliser intended for use in bombs. No one has been charged or convicted in relation to the attack in which another man was injured.

Ms Anderson said her investigation of a complaint from Damien Walsh’s mother, Marian, found no evidence that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were actively involved, had advance knowledge of the attack, or could have stopped the gunmen before the murder.

She reported, however, that police failed to capitalise on a series of significant investigative opportunities, including failing to arrest suspects, not conducting searches of their homes and failing to ensure that important forensic enquiries were undertaken.

Ms Anderson also identified “collusive police behaviours” such as failing to share important intelligence with the senior investigating officer (SIO), and failing to advise him that the complex had been under security force surveillance.

The ombudsman said that police made "a deliberate decision" to disregard intelligence about the threat posed by "C Company" of the UDA from the Shankill area of Belfast, one of whose leaders at the time was loyalist Johnny Adair.

In early 1993, the RUC had conducted surveillance on "C Company" and one of its prominent members, whom Ms Anderson described as Person A. It is understood Person A is Adair, who later fell foul of his UDA associates and was forced out of Northern Ireland.

Stopping surveillance

She said that by stopping their surveillance of the group for an eight-day period starting three days before the murder, the RUC allowed the group to operate without the same “levels of constraint” that previously applied.

"C Company" murdered two people in west Belfast, Damien Walsh and 44-year-old Catholic Peter Gallagher, and attempted to kill two others during this period. Ms Anderson said the RUC's failure to reassess the decision to remove surveillance on the group "constituted collusive behaviour".

The ombudsman reported that the SIO leading the murder enquiry was not told that the Dairy Farm had been under surveillance at the time of the murder. Police officers involved in the operation noted British military radio transmissions detailing the arrival of the gunmen’s car, the discharge of shots and the gunmen making their escape.

“The military personnel who made these reports were eyewitnesses to murder,” said Ms Anderson. “My investigation found no documented reason why the SIO was not told about the surveillance operation. It deprived him of the opportunity to interview security force personnel who witnessed the attack.

“I am of the view that this was a deliberate decision that directly impeded the police investigation and constituted collusive behaviour on the part of police,” she added.

Ms Anderson also was critical of the SIO. She said he was given the names of seven people who were suspected of involvement in the murder, but only three were arrested, and only one of those was questioned.

Ms Anderson, and the RUC chief constable at the time Sir Ronnie Flanagan, stressed that Damien Walsh was "completely innocent" and not in any way linked to the IRA bomb operation.

Damien Walsh’s mother, Marian, said the report “helped explain the terrible failings by police” and that “while it was an emotional day it is terribly important for my family to get this report after all these years”.

‘Terrible indictment’

Marian Walsh's solicitor Kevin Winters said the report was a "terrible indictment of the investigation".

“In Damien’s case protecting agents took precedence over trying to find the killers,” he said.

Referring to the British government’s plan not to investigate Troubles killings, he said the proposed legislation would mean that all such families “would get nothing” in terms of truth and justice.

On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it would be “challenging” to convince the British government to reverse its plan to grant a blanket amnesty to the perpetrators of all Troubles-related violence and killings committed before the 1998 Belfast Agreement. However, a decision was not predetermined, Mr Martin said.

He added when he spoke to British prime minister Boris Johnson on the phone on Tuesday, “I pointed out that for some cases here with the gardaí, if there was new evidence I would want those people brought to justice... The families want justice at the end of the day.”

A US State Department spokesman told The Irish Times: “We are aware of the UK government’s proposal to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. We encourage the UK to continue to engage with all affected parties on this issue.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times