What more is needed to prove endemic, systematic and engrained collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces in the North?
Yesterday, Northern police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan published a report of her inquiry into the police investigation of Raymond McCord junior in November 1997. Ostensibly, it was that.
But what was uncovered was a larger, bleaker, truth that brought us to a place that is venal, visceral and truly truly awful. She found that police had colluded with loyalist terrorists who were responsible for at least 10 murders. This was in a tiny area of North Belfast over a limited period of years. When you extrapolate it to the entire island over a period of three decades, the implications are appalling, frightening. For once, when Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin speaks of ‘state terrorism’, you think that he’s not going too far.
The evidence at this stage is incontrovertible. This is only the latest in a series of reports from different quarters all pointing to the same overwhelming conclusion that collusion was rampant. Most notable have been the reports by Canadian judge Peter Cory into six murders North and South including that of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane; and Judge Henry Barron’s investigation into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and other appalling loyalist attack in the south.
And the ombudsman’s report into the McCord murder has everything. What are you looking for? Corruption? Perjury? Perverting the course of justice? Protecting a man involved in ten murders? Deliberately creating false documents? Conducting sham interviews? “Babysitting” favoured informants through difficult interrogations? Withholding evidence from police colleagues? Proving the DPP and Courts with misleading and inaccurate document? Allowing murder, racketeering, drug-dealing and sectarian attacks to continue unpunished. And for what? To protect “the most important intelligence asset in this UVF grouping”.
Unforgivably, this report is likely to meet the fate of Cory and of Barron – becoming part of a vast dust-gathering exercise carried out by the British government. Notwithsanding his promises yesterday that prosecutions will follow.
Northern secretary Peter Hain’s response to it would have been laughable if it wasn’t all so serious.
He started off by saying that “the police ombudsman has today shone a light on a dark and murky period in the history of Northern Ireland.”
Fair enough. But when it came to the crunch, there was the usual knee-buckling, the defence of the Realm stuff, the blank stonewalling of any notion of public accountability.
“I have heard calls for the setting up of a public inquiry to look into these terrible events,” he said.
“There is nothing at all to suggest that such an inquiry will uncover any new or additional evidence…”
Early on in its investigation, Ms O’Loan realised that the investigation into Raymond McCord’s murder would be intricate, wide-ranging, complex and time-consuming. On that basis, she made an official request for more resources from the Northern Secretary which was refused, though some £250,000 was made available at a later date. Did that suggest a culture of change? Or did the long delays in PSNI responses to specific questions from the ombudsman’s office (some replies took up to two and a half years).
There are some deeply unsettling questions that still need to be answered. Why, for example, did so many senior police officers refuse to cooperate – including two Assistant Commissioners and seven Detective Chief Superintendents? Why did Special Branch informants got away with multiple murders? Why will nobody ever be prosecuted for any of the litany of crimes exposed by the O’Loan inquiry, or for the cover-ups, or for the perjuries and cover-up.
Special Branch described Informant One, now known to be Mark Haddock, as its most important intelligence asset in the UVF in North Belfast. But other police officers, both uniformed and Criminal Investigations Department (CID), described Haddock as a “well-known terrorist and criminal” involved in racketeering, drug dealing and feuding.
The unmistakable tenor of the report is that the “worth” and “value” of Haddock as an informant could never conceivably outweigh the horrendous litany of crimes in which he was involved.
Like the enquiry into Garda corruption in Donegal, this major wide-ranging inquiry had a relatively humble beginning.
In May 2002, Raymond McCord senior was walking through the centre of Belfast when he decided to visit the police ombudsman’s office. McCord, a burly ex-bouncer from a loyalist area, was extraordinarily driven – he said that police had begun to portray him as a crank.
But his 22-year-old son, also Raymond McCord, was beaten to death in a disused quarry in 1997 on the orders of a UVF man and police informant, known as Informant 1. His son was no saint. Raymond junior was a UVF member who was facing charges for possession of a large batch of cannabis, probably controlled by Informant 1.
McCord senior alleged that police had been aware this was going to happen, had done nothing to prevent his son’s murder, and subsequently protected his killers from justice.
The findings of the investigation that stemmed from have wormed their way to the core of policing in Northern Ireland. There can be no pat excuses about a few “rogue” policemen, about a couple of “bad apples”. It was clear that this was institutional, engrained, and went a very long way up the hierarchy.
Some of the details benefit from retelling. In terms of evasiveness and dissembling, O’Loan finds that some serving police officers gave evidence that was “evasive, contradictory and on occasion farcical”.
That, she said, was either a significant failure to understand the law or contempt for law. On occasion, police officers said things that were proven to be “completely untrue”.
Or the shocking details of the killings. One of the ten people murdered by Informant 1’s gang was Sharon McKenna, a Catholic woman visiting a Protestant friend. Informant 1 (Haddock) admitted he had being involved.
When Informant 1 was hauled in for questioning, his two Special Branch handlers sat in and “babysat” him during the interrogation to ensure that he did not admit to murder.
Around that time, Special Branch actually increased his payment from £100 to £160 a week, despite the fact that he had fresh blood on his hands. In all, Informant 1 was paid nearly £80,000 by the police, despite the overwhelming evidence of very serious criminality.
Another epiphany of the extent of collusion was evident when two Catholic construction workers, Eamon Fox and Gary Convie, were murdered in North Belfast. They were eating their lunch in a car at Tiger’s Bay in North Belfast when a lone gunman opened fire on the car. Witnesses said that the gunman wore a “goatee” beard.
When Informant 1 was arrested, he was sporting a goatee beard. But he requested a razor blade and was supplied with one. The custody photography showed a clean-shaven man without a goatee. No identity parade was ever held.
It’s unbelievable stuff. Sure, the world of intelligence, of touts, of informants is shadowy, murky and full of moral contradictions. The second-in-command of the IRA’s punishment squad was left in place for many years, despite carrying out the most heinous crimes. A multiple killer like Informant 1 was allowed kill and commit serious crimes at will because he was judged to be a strong “intelligence asset”. Justice and truth become just relative values in the perverse mind-set that underlay all this.
The publication of this report in the week that Sinn Fein decides on policing will be problematic for its leadership, despite Martin McGuinness’s claim yesterday that it “bolsters our argument”.
It’s ironic that one of the strongest exposes of police collusion with loyalist terrorist has been uncovered by a man from an unashamedly loyalist background. Now he is advising Sinn Fein not to jump hastily into policing arrangements.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern describes it ll as “despicable past behaviour”. He will discuss the matter further with the British Government, he says. But he did just that with the Barron report and the report into the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. He did that with all of Cory. And nothing came of those either. What more can be discussed? There should be no more skirting around. Bertie Ahern should be loudly demanding a proper public inquiry.