NI security chiefs hit out at Stevens report leaks

 

Security chiefs in the North last night hit out at claims contained in leaks from the Stevens report into alleged collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

Special Branch sources launched a strong defence, claiming their priority was saving lives. One said: "This is so far from the truth; there seems to be a sinister web being spun to make us into monsters we are not."

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, told reporters in Jersey he had not yet seen the Stevens report but he was glad the results of the inquiry would soon be produced. "We have always had fears of collusion of sorts," Mr Ahern said.

It was very important that all the issues surrounding the allegations of collusion were properly addressed, the Taoiseach added.

The leaks were described as tantamount to media speculation by the chairman of the Policing Board.Prof Desmond Rea said: "The report on this matter has not yet been completed and as such it would be wholly inappropriate to comment or form any judgments at this stage."

The SDLP called for quick publication of the findings. Mr Alex Attwood, the party chairman, said: "The leaked details, if confirmed, validate many of the allegations against Special Branch and army intelligence units. If true, the worst fears of many will be confirmed."

He said the main challenge was to ensure the rule of law was respected and that transparent and accountable intelligence gathering was achieved.

"The appointment of Hugh Orde as Chief Constable, the lead investigator in the Stevens inquiry, can add strength and energy to the strategy," he said.

The Sinn Féin Assembly member and Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mr Alex Maskey, said collusion along with internment, torture and the use of supergrasses, came as a result of policy decisions "taken at the highest level within the British establishment".

Mr Maskey added: "People should be under no illusions about the seriousness of this issue. Collusion goes to the very core of the relationship between the nationalist community and the current policing structures." He also called for full disclosure of the report.

The DUP, however, rubbished the claims, dismissed them as "pro-republican propaganda" and criticised the newspaper involved. Mr Sammy Wilson, an Assembly member for East Belfast, said: "This . . . is a welcome distraction for Adams and co at a time when the exploits of his IRA colleagues in Colombia are once again under scrutiny."

He accused the Stevens team of not having evidence for "outrageous specific claims made in relation to the Finucane case", adding that they were trying anything to justify the £8 million inquiry costs.

In a list of allegations, Mr Wilson also said that those sympathetic to the republican cause were selling a story without substance in order to grab a headline. He further claimed the allegations formed part of a general smear designed to provoke the disbandment of Special Branch to appease republicans. "If the story is an accurate reflection of what will be contained in the report, then it will be a very bad start for the new Chief Constable, who will be commencing his job with the record of being involved in a culture which permitted the 'murder of Catholics with impunity'.

"Given that there is no evidence for this it will hardly instil confidence in him."