Ombudsman identifies ‘collusive behaviours’

The Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson has identified ‘collusive behaviours’ and raised significant concerns about RUC conduct in relation to the loyalist massacres at Greysteel and Castlerock and the murder of Eddie Fullerton.

By Kevin Mullan
Friday, 14th January 2022, 10:18 am
The aftermath of the Greysteel massacre.
The aftermath of the Greysteel massacre.

The findings are contained in a comprehensive report into the RUC handling of attacks by the UDA/UFF between 1989 and 1993 which resulted in 19 murders and multiple attempted murders.

They include the murders of Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton at his home in Buncrana on May 25, 1991, of workmen Robert Dalrymple, James Kelly, James McKenna, and Noel O’Kane at Castlerock on March 25, 1993, and of Moira Duddy, Joseph McDermott, James Moore, John Moyne, Karen Thompson, John Burns, Steven Mullan and Samuel Montgomery at Greysteel on October 30, 1993.

Mrs. Anderson has reported that her investigation found no evidence that the RUC had any prior knowledge of the attacks.

But she has stated that an initial failure by the RUC to ensure that it had adequate intelligence about the activities of the NW UDA/UFF led to an inability ‘to effectively counteract the threat posed by them which began to emerge in 1989’.

After investigating police actions in relation to these attacks, Mrs. Anderson said her enquiries had ‘identified a number of significant concerns and said she was of the view that the families’ concerns about collusive behaviours were ‘legitimate and justified’.

These included:

•Intelligence and surveillance failings which led to the arming of the NW UDA/UFF with military assault rifles.

•Failure to warn a number of individuals of threats to their lives.

•Failure by police to adequately address UDR officers passing information to loyalist paramilitaries.

•Deliberate destruction of records relating to informants who were suspected of having been involved in serious criminality including murder.

•Failure to disseminate all relevant intelligence to police officers investigating a number of the attacks.

•Failures in the use and handling of informants suspected of being involved in serious criminality including murder.

Notwithstanding these failures she stated that, generally, police investigations into the attacks were ‘prompt and thorough’ resulting in a number of convictions.

The investigation identified a number of instances where RUC Special Branch had obtained information from informants which ‘impacted upon the effectiveness of the UDA/UFF as a terrorist organisation and may have saved lives’.

During the investigation, evidential files relating to suspected criminality by two former police officers were sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). One was suspected of passing sensitive information to loyalist paramilitaries, the other of failing to disclose in a file to the then Director of Public Prosecutions that a suspect was also an informant. The PPS directed that neither officer should be prosecuted.

The findings are contained in a 336 page report following a complex investigation.

Mrs. Anderson said that the RUC had been aware of the growing threat posed by the NW UDA/UFF from early 1989 onwards.

Intelligence indicated that the NW UDA/UFF had acquired military assault rifles linked to a 1987 loyalist weapons importation, one of which was first used in the murder of Gerard Casey in Rasharkin, on April 4, 1989.

“My investigation has established that weapons, believed to have been part of this importation, were subsequently used in other NW UDA/UFF attacks between 1989 and 1993, following the murder or Mr. Casey.”

According to her report ‘a VZ58 assault rifle used in the Greysteel murders and the murder of Gerard Casey was recovered by police at Ballygudden Road, Eglinton, on November 3, 1993’.

The threat posed by the NW UDA/UFF was exacerbated by what Mrs. Anderson described as its significant intelligence-gathering activities. The names of hundreds of people from the republican and nationalist communities were discovered in loyalist ‘intelligence caches’ between November 1989 and February 1992.

“I am of the view that police were aware of the growing threat posed by the NW UDA/UFF from 1989 onwards. This increased threat, however, was not initially accompanied by a policing response proportionate to the increased risk to members of the republican and nationalist communities.”

The Ombudsman has expressed concern that a number of individuals - including Eddie Fullerton - whose names were discovered in the ‘intelligence caches’ received no warning from police that their lives might be at risk, in contravention of RUC Force Orders. There is also no evidence that police assessed the risks to a number of those individuals.

Of the eleven attacks subject of the investigation, seven involved the targeting of individuals whose names had appeared in the ‘caches’. The lists included the names of six of the 19 people murdered by the UDA/UFF during this period and that of Patrick McErlain, who survived an attempt on his life at Dunloy on August 28, 1992;

Mrs. Anderson said she was unable to conclude that the notification of threat warnings would have been sufficient to protect these individuals from subsequent attack. However, she concluded that a threat notification would have allowed them to review their personal safety measures.

Mrs. Anderson stated that investigations by the RUC into attacks by the NW UDA/UFF during the period were ‘prompt and thorough’.

“The majority of intelligence obtained by Special Branch was shared with murder investigation teams in a timely manner. Arrests were made and, where evidence existed, files submitted to the DPP. A number of individuals were prosecuted and convicted.”

She found no evidence any police officer had committed a criminal offence by protecting an informant.

But she said police had continued to use a number of informants when they ought to have been aware that those people had failed to provide information about the activities of the NW UDA/UFF.