A new book launched recently details a police force totally out of control, implicated in many civilian deaths and colluding with death squads to target a minority.
The surprise for many, who may not have heard of these revelations, is that it all happened in Britain. The virtual silence concerning the publication of “Lethal Allies” maybe says something about the state of denial that still exists on these islands regarding much of what happened in the statelet of the north of Ireland in the names of the British people.
Lethal Allies details120 deaths that occurred in an area known as “the triangle of death” in the north of Ireland between 1972 and 1978. Only one of the people killed had any links with republican paramilitary organisations.
The Triangle of Death” extended from Tyrone and Armagh in the north down to Dundalk, Monaghan and on occasion Dublin.
There are details of people in pubs or going about their business, gunned down in cold blood or blown up. The lack of any effective follow up to these crimes led a number of people in the early stages to question whether there was collusion going on between the loyalist killers, the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
Among those to speak out early on were local priests Father Denis Faul and Father Raymond Murray who wrote a booklet on the ongoing slaughter called “the Triangle of Death.”
Authored by journalist Anne Cadwallader, Lethal Allies was a joint effort involving the Pat Finucane Centre and Alan Brecknell, whose father was murdered at Donnelly’s bar in 1975.
A lot of the evidence contained in this comprehensive book was obtained from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) set up by former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Sir Hugh Orde.
The HET were supposed to investigate individual cases and then put together an overarching report but this never materialised. The lack of an overall report was one of the reasons for the book being produced.
It seems that those in London and those guiding the war in the north of Ireland knew from the early stages that there was collusion going on between the security forces and the police
The records show that some 1800 guns stolen from the Ulster Defence Regiment (a division of the British army), finished up in paramilitary hands. The British government knew that 15% of the UDR were in Loyalist groups, so served as soldiers and paramilitaries at the same time.
In one case two GAA football supporters had gone over the border to watch a match. On the way back Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer were pulled over by a fake UDR checkpoint and shot dead. An RUC patrol had earlier been stopped by the checkpoint, yet knowing that there was nothing official due to be happening in that area did nothing about it.
The charmed life of Loyalist paramilitary Robin Jackson is a recurrent theme of the book. Involved in murder after murder, Jackson continually evades justice. In the early stages he was identified by the wife of Patrick Campbell, who he murdered, but the evidence was not considered strong enough by prosecutors to proceed. “He all but confessed in a police car but this was still not regarded as strong enough to proceed,” said Cadwallader, who recalled how Jackson had been caught with a list of names believed to be targets. He went on to kill many more people, prior to dying of cancer himself in 1998.
Jackson crops up time and time again.”There is incontrovertible evidence that Robin Jackson was an RUC agent,” said Cadwallader.
What becomes clear is that the police did very little to investigate and apprehend those responsible. The result was that many more people were killed by several individuals like Jackson, who went on to become multiple murderers.
One of the central messages of ‘Lethal Allies’ is that if the security forces had been doing their job, acting within the law and to uphold the law, much of this killing could have been avoided and the whole conflict ended earlier.
One view offered was there were those in the security services who - in line with past colonial struggles - wanted to precipitate a situation whereby they could be allowed an even freer rein to operate.
Indeed, the crucial part of the whole collusion story missing from this book is who was pulling the strings from London and how it all ties back to the highest echelons of government and the security state.
Drawing on the work of the HET and others, Cadwallader puts together a comprehensive account of those involved, stretching up into the higher regions of the RUC but it is difficult to believe that killing and disorder on such a scale was not being authorised from a far higher level. That is a story that still remains to be told.
It is a view shared by Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, Francie Molloy who believes the British government has far more information it can put into the public arena on collusion and the role of state forces in these activities.
In one chapter, there is detail of the destructive effect all of these deaths have had on the families left behind. So there is Maureen McGleenan, the mother of Gerard, who never really recovered from the death of her son. He died as he stepped onto the street, as a bomb went off at the Step Inn in Keady. Maureen visited her son’s grave every day for 30 years. Many suffered trauma, receiving little help to cope. The work of the HET though has helped many, beginning some sort of healing process as a result of having the truth at least partially officially recognised.
The author revealed that some of the families of those murdered are pursuing civil actions. Some are suing the Chief Constable of the PSNI because they want disclosure and an apology. “Some sort of truth commission is needed for individual families who’ve been treated with such cruelty by the state,” said Cadwallader, who suggested that Northern Ireland just will not be able to move on until these issues are dealt with.
“I’ve said I don’t see the point of getting an 80 year old man in the dock for the murder of my father,” said Brecknell, who told of the importance of the families’ stories being told.
Former Northern Ireland Police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan has suggested an Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life) Compliant Investigation Unit should be set up with full police investigatory powers and no time limit.
There clearly needs to be something done to bring out the truth of what happened over three decades in the north of Ireland.
The HET made a start but the grudging way things have been handled, suggest that this is the minimum that those with much to hide thought they could get away with. As time passes, so the task of dealing with the crimes of the past fades. Alan Brecknell makes a good point, about dragging up 80 year olds to face the courts but the truth of what happened and why does need to be told.
Time is running out. Many of those involved have already died off. Some of the evidence has been destroyed and more may well be as time goes by. And there are many on these islands that hope to see this period simply shepherded off into the historic archives.
This though will not help the victims or their families who survive. A failure to acknowledge just what did go on during these years in the north of Ireland from the Cabinet table to the assassin on the ground will only mean that it could all happen again.
Indeed, there is already a legacy of the Troubles in the years since with the so called war on terror. In this case, despite that lack of bombs and bullets on the streets, repressive anti-terror laws have been brought in going beyond much of what existed during the years of the conflict in the north.
A legacy of this period in the north of Ireland has been the conversion of the rule of law into an easily manipulable set of rules used by those in power to persecute minorities. It is a dangerous slope that ends in the police state, which is what it would seem the north of Ireland descended into for much of the last century.
* Lethal Allies is published by Mercier Press, price £12.99