Six unresolved Troubles killings claiming British State collusion

By on May 29, 2014
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Dublin’s Talbot Street after the car bomb detonated (Photo: Irish Post Archive)

IN THE wake of its 40th anniversary the victims and families of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings have launched a legal battle to sue the British Government.

They hope to ‘discover’ details kept hidden from them for more than four decades, uncover the truth behind state collusion claims and gain an admission of liability from the state.

Acting on behalf of the group, the KRW human rights law firm have served pre-action letters of claim on the Ministry of Defence, the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, they revealed last week.

They allege state collusion in the atrocities of the attack, negligence and breach of duty by the British Government in its handling of the case.

The families are also suing for compensation and an ‘admission of liability’, but ultimately the claim seeks ‘discovery’ of ‘material which will go some way to delivering some degree of closure’, the firm told The Irish Post.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore responded to the announcement by renewing the Irish Government’s call for Westminster to release its files on Dublin-Monaghan.

“The Taoiseach and I greatly welcome and have worked hard to encourage a sea change in British-Irish relations,” he said.

“In this context, it is particularly disappointing that 40 years on, it has not yet proven possible for the British Government to respond positively to the Dublin-Monaghan families.”

The Dublin Monaghan families are the latest in a long line of Troubles victims to launch legal action against the British Government as a ‘last resort’ bid to discover the truth about attacks which killed and maimed loved ones.

Following The Irish Post’s revisiting of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings in the newspaper’s May 17 edition, Niall O’Sullivan looks at six further unresolved Troubles attacks in which British collusion is alleged.

The Miami Showband Massacre

Three members of the Dublin-based Miami Showband were killed in a bomb and gun attack at a fake Ulster Defence Regiment checkpoint in Buskhill, Co. Down, on July 31, 1975. Two Ulster Defence Regiment members were killed in the attack as a bomb they tried to place on the band’s tour exploded prematurely.

Alleged collusion:  Justice campaigners believe the murder was carried out by loyalist paramilitaries with the help of security services. It is also alleged that the RUC failed to investigate the killings.

Campaign: The two surviving band members, Des McAlea and Stephen Travers, and relatives of those who were killed have led the campaign for the truth about the attack.

Support for the case:  Two UDR members were convicted for their part in the attack. A HET report said the murders raised “disturbing questions about collusive and corrupt behaviour” and raised concerns around the involvement of an RUC Special Branch agent. It reported that UVF man Robin Jackson was linked to one of the murder weapons and claimed in police interviews that he had been tipped off by a senior RUC officer to lie low after the killings.

Progress to date: The HET report vindicated much of the victims’ and bereaved relatives’ suspicions about the murders.

Where it stands: The survivors and two of the bereaved’s families are suing the British Government for claims including conspiracy to injure, negligence and misfeasance (collusion) in public office.

They have also have made complaints to the Police Ombudsman.

What’s next:  The Pat Finucane Centre has requested meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers about the case. The British Government has yet to agree to a meeting, claiming they are taking time to assess the claims.

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A plaque commemorating the 15 victims of the McGurk’s Bar Bombing

McGurk’s Bar Bombing

15 people were killed when the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force exploded a no-warning bomb outside the Catholic-owned McGurk’s Bar in north Belfast on December 4, 1971.

Alleged collusion: The bomb was initially blamed on republicans by the British Government and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Relatives of the victims claim British authorities knew early on that it was a loyalist attack, but maintained a deliberate disinformation campaign to reinforce the belief it was a so-called “own goal” bomb.

Campaign: Ciaran MacAirt, whose grandmother Kitty Irvine was among the victims, published extensive research on the case in his 2013 book, The McGurk’s Bar Bombing which includes documents that show how State agencies claimed incorrectly that the bomb went off inside the bar, bolstering the “own goal” theory. Media reports of police and army intelligence officers also claim evidence linking the attack to loyalists was ignored.

Support for the case: Colin Wallace, a former member of the British Army’s covert psychological operations unit, has spoken publicly about the use of disinformation by the British State.

In the House of Commons in 2013 Labour MP Michael Connarty, whose uncle was among the victims, claimed the smear campaign may have gone as high up as Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The case has also been supported by politicians from Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

Progress to date: The families have seen two full reports and one redacted report from the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team and are awaiting a fourth. None has found that there was collusion.

A 2011 Police Ombudsman report concluded that the RUC was influenced by “investigative bias” that prevented it from properly examining evidence and intelligence linking the attack to loyalists.

Where it stands: Active. Last month nine of the families announced their plans to sue the British Government over “deliberate disinformation spread by the authorities both in the immediate aftermath of the killings and for many years thereafter”.

What’s next: The families are due to receive a fourth HET report in June.

Elizabeth McDonald

Elizabeth McDonald

The Step Inn Attack

TWO people were killed and 15 were seriously injured when a loyalist car bomb exploded outside the Step Inn pub in Keady, Co. Armagh, on August 16, 1976.

Alleged collusion: It is claimed that serving police officers were involved in the attack.

It is also claimed that police knew about the planned attack but failed to prevent the bombing and covered up their knowledge during the subsequent police investigation.

Campaign: The families of Elizabeth McDonald and Gerard McGleenan, who were killed in the attack, are being supported in their inquiries by the Pat Finucane Centre.

Support for the case: HET investigations discovered that RUC Special Branch received reliable intelligence that UVF members had a bomb ready for use in Co. Armagh 10 days before the attack.

They also reveal that the RUC failed to make any arrests despite knowing the names of several of those involved in the bombing – among them RUC officers, who were not questioned.

Progress to date: A 1990 RUC review found that there was no evidence to enable a new inquiry. A 2004 PSNI review also concluded that no progress could be made. A HET report later made a number of disturbing discoveries. It said it could find “no reasoning or rationale” for why the bomb was left unrecovered and that if the RUC was awaiting further intelligence or trying to protect informers, the force made “a huge gamble which went catastrophically wrong”.

Where it stands: The Pat Finucane Centre has made complaints to the Police Ombudsman. A civil action against the British Government has been initiated on behalf of Ms McDonald, claiming that collusion played a factor in her killing.

What’s next: The Pat Finucane Centre is awaiting meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers about the case.

The Rock Bar Attack

A planned nail bomb attack on the Catholic-run Rock Bar in Granemore, Co. Armagh, on June 5, 1976, could have killed scores, but only the bomb’s detonator exploded. An innocent onlooker was shot by loyalists planting the bomb and left with serious internal injuries. The attackers then fired through the bar’s window, but missed the people inside.

Alleged collusion: The attack was carried out by serving RUC officers and survivors claimed it was not investigated properly by the force.

Campaign: Michael McGrath, who was shot in the attack, was supported in his inquiries into the incident by the Pat Finucane Centre, which has taken over the campaign following his death.

Support for the case:  Four serving RUC men were convicted four years later for playing a role in the attack. Three of them were convicted for possessing explosives with intent, causing an explosion and possessing a firearm with intent. A HET investigation concluded that all four of the men who carried out the Rock Bar attack were serving RUC officers. It also heavily criticised the subsequent police investigation and RUC officers’ failure to interview Mr McGrath, the only witness to the attack.

It found that the Rock Bar case “had the potential to validate claims of widespread and routine collusion” made by nationalists during the Troubles.

Progress to date: The HET report confirmed much of the suspicions held by survivors of the attack.

Where it stands: The Pat Finucane Centre has made complaints to the Police Ombudsman.

What’s next: The Pat Finucane Centre is awaiting meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers about the case.

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Sean Farmer

The Murders of Sean Farmer and Colm McCartney

Two young men were shot dead on August 24, 1975 as they were stopped at a fake UDR checkpoint in Co. Armagh. They were travelling home from an All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park.

Alleged collusion: It is alleged that the murder was carried out by loyalist paramilitaries with the help of security services. It is also alleged that the RUC failed to investigate the killings.

Campaign: Sean McCartney, the brother of one of the victims, first raised allegations of collusion. The campaign has since been taken on by the Pat Finucane Centre on behalf of both victims’ families.

Support for the case: A HET investigation concluded that there was ‘significant evidence’ of security forces’ co-operation with paramilitaries in the attack. The report was heavily critical of the subsequent police investigation, saying there is “nothing within the case file to suggest a co-ordinated investigation strategy or response from the RUC”. The report concluded that with the attack coming so soon after the Miami Showband massacre, it should have rung alarm bells ‘all the way to the top of Government’, but ‘nothing was done’ it adds.

Progress to date: The HET report vindicated much of the families’ suspicions about the murders.

Where it stands: The Pat Finucane Centre has made complaints to the Police Ombudsman and the families are taking legal advice about a possible civil action against the British Government.

What’s next: The Pat Finucane Centre is awaiting meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers about the case

The Murder of Pat Finucane

Human Rights lawyer Pat Finucane was shot dead by loyalist gunmen in front of his family at his Belfast home on February 12, 1989.

Alleged collusion: The Finucane family have for years alleged that the murder was facilitated by members of the British security service.

Campaign: Mr Finucane’s wife, Geraldine, and their three children have campaigned for a public inquiry into the killing for more than two decades. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has called for the British Government to hold a full public inquiry into the murder.

Support for the case: Just weeks before Mr Finucane’s murder, home office minister Douglas Hogg told the House of Commons that some solicitors in the North of Ireland were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. He made the remarks after a briefing from senior RUC officers. It is known that RUC officers and a British intelligence agent helped facilitate the killing.

Progress to date: In 2003 Sir John Stevens published a report into collusion commissioned by the British Government. The following year Pat Finucane’s killer, loyalist Ken Barrett, confessed to the murder and was sentenced to 22 years. The Finucane family reacted angrily in 2011 when British Prime Minister David Cameron followed his predecessors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in refusing to hold a public inquiry.

He instead opted for a review of the evidence by Sir Desmond De Silva QC. In 2012 the De Silva report found “shocking levels of State collusion” in the case. It found that RUC officers proposed the murder of Mr Finucane, passed information to his killers, failed to stop the attack and obstructed the murder investigation.

It also found a British Army intelligence agent Brian Nelson, was involved in selecting targets and that MI5 had received intelligence of the threat against Mr Finucane two months before he was killed but did nothing to protect him.

Where it stands: The Finucane family has launched a judicial review against the British Government’s refusal to a public inquiry. A civil case against the Ministry of Defence for damages, which was launched in the mid-90s, also remains active.

What’s next: The family have yet to decide how to proceed following the conclusion of its judicial review later this year. Labour leader Ed Miliband called for a full public inquiry following the De Silva report and the Finucane family hopes he will hold such an inquiry if his party wins power in the general election in May 2015.

Niall O Sullivan

About Niall O Sullivan

Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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