There is no evidence the security forces in the North colluded with loyalist killers in the murder of two Catholic brothers in Armagh 14 years ago, the Police Ombudsman said today .
However an investigation by Nuala O’Loan found the police investigation of the murders by the Ulster Volunteer Force – despite early effort – was unacceptably flawed and cut short after three months.
She upheld a complaint by the father of the murdered men that the police failed to conduct a thorough investigation.
She also revealed that Special Branch had not passed on all relevant intelligence to the police investigating the murders.
Gerard Cairns, 22, and his 18-year-old brother Rory were gunned down by two masked men who burst into the family home at Bleary, near Lurgan, Co Armagh on the evening of October 28, 1993.
Earlier in the evening the brothers had been celebrating the 11th birthday of their younger sister Roisin.
No one has ever been convicted in connection with the murders which, the Ombudsman pointed out, happened in one of the bloodiest weeks of “the troubles”.
A total of 23 people died in a series of attacks which included the IRA Shankill Bombing and the Greysteel Massacre.
The Cairns family lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman claiming the police and army in the North had prior knowledge of the attack on the brothers and that they had allowed a clear path for the murderers through what they believed to have been an unusually high level of security force activity in the area.
They further alleged police failed to carry out a proper investigation and failed to keep the family updated on its progress.
Investigators from the Ombudsman’s office examined police documents spanning nine years, assessed intelligence about the murder and interviewed serving and retired police officers, retired soldiers from the Royal Irish regiment and 54 civilians.
Mrs O’Loan concluded: “There is nothing to suggest that the security forces colluded in the brutal murders of Gerard and Rory.
“There is no evidence that the police had any advance warning, that they knew Gerard and Rory would be targeted and no evidence that they could have prevented the attack.
“This was a purely sectarian attack.”
However, Mrs O’Loan said the investigation of the murder had been flawed – and she revealed Special Branch had failed to pass on all relevant intelligence to the police inquiry team.
At the same time she upheld the complaint the family had not been kept informed about the police investigation.
She said: “Although much good work was done in the initial stages of the investigation, within three months it had been stripped of resources and had effectively ground to a halt.”
She expressed “grave concern” the RUC had begun to wind down the investigation within just two weeks of the killings.
Mrs O’Loan added: “I acknowledge the enormous pressure on police officers during this difficult time.
“Nevertheless, it is unacceptable that the investigation effectively ended after just a few months and has not since been properly reviewed for new lines of inquiry.
“A number of significant investigative opportunities were missed and forensic evidence has since gone missing. It is also a matter of serious concern that Special Branch failed to pass on all relevant intelligence.”
Mr Cairns alleged two notorious local loyalists had carried out the murders but had not been charged because they were security force agents.
Mrs O’Loan said as a matter of policy she could neither confirm nor deny whether either had been a security force agent.
However she said: “Both men were arrested and questioned by police about the murders. It is clear though that police would have had insufficient evidence to charge either in relation to the attacks.”
On the complaint of a failure to adequately keep the family updated on the progress of the investigation, the Ombudsman, said although there had been early contact, notes of meetings with the family cease one month after the murders.
She pointed out the concept of a Family Liaison Officer, which applies to current day policing, did not exist in 1993.
But she added: “It is clear the RUC could have made greater effort to keep the family informed, particularly when it became clear that no new actions were being taken in relation to the investigation.”