This is among the damning revelations in an exhaustive Police Ombudsman report into a series of loyalist murders in the north west between 1989 and 1993.
The probe has also found weapons linked to the murders, including those of Moira Duddy, Joseph McDermott, James Moore, John Moyne, Karen Thompson, John Burns, Steven Mullan and Samuel Montgomery at Greysteel on October 30, 1993, were destroyed by the RUC after being recovered in the Derry area.
The report was published this morning and examines the RUC handling of attacks by the UDA/UFF which resulted in 19 murders and multiple attempted murders in the NW.
Significantly, Marie Anderson, whilst finding no evidence the RUC had any prior knowledge of the attacks found there was ‘an initial failure by the RUC’ to ensure it had adequate intelligence about the activities of the NW UDA/UFF that led to an inability ‘to effectively counteract the threat posed by them which began to emerge in 1989’.
The report identifies a number of significant concerns and the Ombudsman has said she is of the view that the ‘families’ concerns about collusive behaviours were legitimate and justified’.
Mrs. Anderson outlines how the NW UDA/UFF had by the late 1980s begun to adopt the methods of the notorius co-member of the British Army and UDA Brian Nelson.
“It entered the public domain that Nelson was an informant for the military when actively involved in loyalist terrorism. Brian Nelson was instrumental in developing an intelligence gathering system for the UDA/UFF in Belfast.
“This investigation has gathered evidence indicating that this system was adopted outside Belfast by other units, including the NW UDA/UFF. This significantly enhanced their intelligence gathering capabilities,” the report states.
In November 1989, a full sixteen months, before he was murdered at his home in Buncrana, Sinn Féin councillor, Eddie Fullerton’s details were found among those of hundreds of others republicans in the home of man linked to the UDA in Derry.
“In early November 1989, an individual linked to the NW UDA/UFF was observed acting suspiciously near the home of a known republican in Derry...police arrested him and searched his address, where they found documentation containing the details of several hundred individuals. This included information relating to Sinn Féin and suspected PIRA members.
“The documentation contained names, addresses, vehicle details, photographs, and other information.
“Most of the documentation was of military origin, including army intelligence reports. Other material had been obtained from newspaper articles and other sources in the public domain. None of the recovered documentation originated from the RUC,” Mrs. Anderson reports.
The details of Gerard Casey (shot in Rasharkin on April 4, 1989), Patrick McErlain (shot at Dunloy on August 28, 1992)and Malachy Carey (shot on December 12, 1992, in Ballymoney) were also contained within the cache.
The report states that ten people were arrested in November 1991 in connection with the intelligence including the man arrested near the home of the known republican, who received a six year sentence.
However, Mr. Fullerton and his family were never warned that he was the subject of intelligence-gathering.
“This investigation has not found any record that Mr Fullerton was warned by police. My investigators spoke with the family of Mr Fullerton who stated that he was not warned about threats against him by either the RUC or An Garda Síochána.
“This investigation has established that two Sinn Féin Councillors from the Derry/Londonderry area were warned by police that their personal details had been found within the relevant intelligence ‘cache’.
“This included vehicle registration numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, and other information indicating that they were being targeted by loyalist paramilitaries.
“The recovered documentation relating to Mr Fullerton consisted of newspaper cuttings detailing his role as a Sinn Féin Councillor.”
Mrs. Anderson’s investigation concludes that the weapons used in several of the murders were part of a combined loyalist importation in 1987. Others were stolen from members of the security forces, she said.
“Given the serial numbers of recovered weapons used in a number of the attacks, I am of the view that they originated from a consignment of weapons imported into NI by loyalist paramilitaries in December 1987.
“As reported by my predecessor, Dr. Michael Maguire, those responsible for this arms importation included senior members of the UDA, UVF, and Ulster Resistance.”
The Ombudsman has said some of these weapons - including Czech-assault rifles suspected of having been used in the Greysteel attack were recovered by the RUC but destroyed making independent verfication of ballistics impossible.
“All the VZ58 assault rifles linked by police to murders and attempted murders by the UDA/UFF between 1989-1993, referred to in this public statement, were recovered by the RUC and destroyed.
“I have, therefore, been unable to commission independent examinations of these weapons in order to establish the accuracy of previous ballistic linkages.
“PSNI have previously informed my Office, in respect of another investigation, that recovered weapons were routinely destroyed, following forensic examination, if they were not being used as evidence in criminal proceedings.
“I have previously stated that, in my view, this ought not to have occurred. I remain critical of this blanket approach to the destruction of weapons that may have been used in unsolved crimes.”
A number of weapons linked to the 19 murders were uncovered in dumps in the Derry area.
“On April 8, 1993, police carried out a search at Downhill, near Castlerock, County Derry/Londonderry and recovered a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver, Radom 9mm pistol, and Walther P5 pistol. Forensic examinations confirmed that all three weapons had been used in the Castlerock murders [of Robert Dalrymple, James Kelly, James McKenna, and Noel O’Kane] on March 25, 1993.
“The Smith and Wesson revolver had been previously used in the murders of Eddie Fullerton and Thomas Donaghy, and the attempted murder of James McCorriston. It had originally been a Personal Protection Weapon (PPW) which was stolen from the home of a former police officer in Garvagh in February 1988.
“On November 3, 1993, police recovered weapons and ammunition at Ballygudden Road, near Eglinton.
“This included a discharged cartridge case, which was subsequently forensically linked to the Smith and Wesson revolver.”
According to the report, the Walther P5 pistol used at Castlerock was stolen from a UDR member’s car in Coleraine.
“On November 1993, as part of their investigation into the Greysteel murders, police recovered the VZ58 assault rifle and Browning pistol used in the attack.
“This was during searches at Ballygudden Road, Eglinton. The VZ58 rifle had been previously used in the murder of Gerard Casey on April 4, 1989. The Browning pistol had no history of previous use.”