RUC could not have prevented IRA attack that killed constable – Ombudsman

Police failed to disseminate intelligence about informant, Marie Anderson finds

Police could not have prevented an IRA mortar bomb attack that killed 34-year-old RUC officer, Colleen McMurray in Newry, Co Down, the North's Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson has said.

Ms Anderson did, however, find that police failed to disseminate intelligence about a police informant "amid other investigative failings".

Ms McMurray, a recently married police constable from Sixmilecross, Co Tyrone, was fatally injured in the attack at around 11.30pm on March 27th, 1992.

It happened while she and a male colleague were travelling in a patrol car along the canal at Merchants Quay. Her colleague, who was driving, lost both his legs after the blast.

The mortar was concealed in a parked car and triggered by use of a flash-gun unit regularly used by photographers.

The “key finding”, Ms Anderson said, was that she discovered no evidence to suggest that police were in possession of information which, if acted upon, could have prevented the attack.

Ms Anderson said that in seeking answers to questions about what police knew before the attack, she also identified that RUC Special Branch did not provide colleagues with information about people it suspected were in the IRA and may have been involved in the attack.

This, said the ombudsman, had the effect of undermining the RUC investigation, with several people never being treated as suspects.

“Special Branch had significant intelligence about Person A’s possible role in the development of detonation technology and possible links to previous IRA activity,” she said. “In my view he ought to have been treated as a suspect but I have not been able to identify any legitimate reason why this did not happen.”

Ms Anderson also identified failings in the RUC investigation including “deficiencies in suspect and arrest strategies, failures to investigate evidential opportunities and failures to link prior attacks, which also involved the use of flash initiated technology”.

Inconsistent dissemination

The ombudsman’s investigators interviewed more than 90 witnesses, including 35 retired police officers. She established that from the outset the RUC’s criminal investigation department suspect strategy relied heavily on the intelligence held within Special Branch.

However, she found that the dissemination of information from Special Branch to the RUC investigation team was inconsistent.

The investigation also established that the attack occurred when Constable McMurray and her badly injured colleague were carrying out routine policing duties and serving their community in circumstances where the threat level in Newry was “high”.

“The dedication of many police officers, often at great personal risk, to protect the public and their colleagues, represents high standards of professionalism,” said Ms Anderson.

Constable McMurray, a Protestant woman, had got married the previous year.

The coroner at her inquest said: "A young woman from the island of Ireland with the name Colleen represents an ideal of Irish nationality worldwide. Colleen McMurray was brutally murdered by men who claim to be in pursuit of such an ideal."