British security 'linked Garda to crime'

British security services tried to frame a Garda sergeant over the murder of two senior police officers from the North to distract attention from their own collusion, an inquiry has heard.

British security services tried to frame a Garda sergeant over the murder of two senior police officers from the North to distract attention from their own collusion, an inquiry has heard.

Retired Sergeant Owen Corrigan said claims he passed on sensitive information to the IRA were a tactic by the British to switch the spotlight from their backing of loyalist paramilitaries.

Any other evidence against him in the long-running Smithwick Tribunal was down to gossip among police officers who had never met him, he said.

“Policemen are gossips, by and large,” he told the inquiry.

Mr Corrigan is the last witness to appear before the tribunal, which is investigating claims that some gardai colluded with the IRA gang that shot two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in 1989.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan died in an ambush in south Armagh shortly after they left a meeting at Dundalk Garda station.

Mr Corrigan, based at Dundalk Garda station at the time, told the inquiry the only evidence against him was a statement by a British army agent Kevin Fulton, also known as Peter Keeley.

The claims were made to strengthen allegations of a link between Irish authorities and the IRA in the wake of substantiated allegations of British security service collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, the tribunal heard.

“That is it in a nutshell,” said Mr Corrigan.

The former detective said Mr Fulton continued to be paid by the British security services while in prison serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for armed robbery.

The allegations that Mr Corrigan was involved in collusion were the most serious ever made during a tribunal in the history of the Irish State and the most serious ever levelled against any member of the Garda, he said.

Mr Corrigan said he was not in charge of border security at the time of the killings, but had always opposed RUC officers coming to Dundalk Garda station, for their own safety.

The town was a hive of subversives, coming in and out of the station with documents to gather intelligence, he said.

But he said Mr Buchanan was a “God-fearing, good living” man who thought by divine intervention he would be saved from any injury during his work.

The Tribunal heard Mr Fulton made a statement in September 2003 that he was in a house on the day of the murders and a man told him that Mr Corrigan was involved.

His barrister Jim O’Callaghan said it “suited the intentions” of the British security services to link Mr Corrigan to the double killings.

The former detective said he was effectively in charge of border security up until the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, and was the conduit through which all intelligence flowed.

“My name was on everyone’s lips,” he said.

Anyone who gave evidence against him – which he said was deeply offensive and insulting – would have heard of his name but had never met him, he told the hearing.

Whereas those who spoke out for him, including three Garda commissioners and a number of former RUC officers, knew him, he said.

Denying suggestions that he had made up story about being kidnapped and badly beaten by the IRA in 1995, he said evidence that he was nearly killed and never fully recovered was very accurate.

“I was a victim of my expertise and because I had built up an extensive, elaborate network of informants,” he said.

“I was the conduit through which all this information flowed and they knew it.”

Mr Corrigan said he made no claim for compensation and although he told colleagues what the IRA wanted from him, he did not make an official statement because he was concerned for the safety of his wife and family.

He also rejected claims he was being deceitful about his medical condition, when he went on sick leave from the force for nervous disability caused by stress of his work.

His condition was fully documented and overseen by the Garda surgeon.

Mr Corrigan said no-one can understand now the stress of policing Dundalk during the 1970s and 1980s.

“It wasn’t called El Paso for nothing,” he said.

Mr Corrigan also told the inquiry he resented insinuations about his personal finances, and that no-one ever put it to him directly whether he got money from the IRA, which he denied.

Outlining his property portfolio, he said built a house in Rathmullan, near Drogheda in 1968, for £1,500, with a loan for £2,000 from the local authority.

In 1983 he bought a property called Oakdene for £19,000, with a loan from the Ulster Bank for £12,000 along with a cash deposit, and then bought another property in 1976 with a loan from Bank of Ireland.

In 1988 he said he used a loan to purchase a property in Lawrence Street, Drogheda for £42,000 and when he retired in 1991, he bought a pub with a loan, along with a gratuity he received on leaving the force and the proceeds of selling the house at Rathmullan.

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