In her report, which took over three years to conclude, Nuala O’Loan noted that 40 policemen, including former commanders of the special branch, refused to cooperate with her investigation. “Others, including some serving officers, gave evasive, contradictory and, on occasions, farcical answers to questions.”
She added that “those answers indicated either a significant failure to understand the law or contempt for the law”, and she concluded that “informants were reportedly ‘baby-sat’ through interviews to help them avoid incriminating themselves”.
But no charges are going to be pressed against any of those officers. They were not involved in just petty crimes, but some 10 murders.
By helping to cover up those murders they facilitated the culprits and thus became accessories. Such behaviour is not new, nor is it confined to the British.
The FBI has been rocked in recent years by the scandal involving a couple of its informants — James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and Stephen Flemmi — who were involved in at least 17 murders while they were being protected by the FBI.
Their handler, John Connolly, retired from the FBI in 1990 with the “warmest congratulations” for his “outstanding service” from the FBI director.
Before very long, however, Connolly was to become one of the bureau’s greatest embarrassments. He is now serving a 10-year sentence for racketeering. This is one instance in which Tony Blair should take a lead from the Yanks.
Ger Colleran, editor of the Irish Star, told RTE’s Questions and Answers on Monday he was not surprised by the O’Loan report, but then he is acutely aware of similar suspicions in this jurisdiction involving the garda informer Seán O’Callaghan, who confessed to him and the RUC that he murdered the informer Seán Corcoran. The latter had already informed his handler that O’Callaghan was in contact with a garda.
While this raised the possibility of a corrupt garda, the authorities in C3, the crime security section, knew better. Did they inform O’Callaghan of the danger, and was Corcoran thus eliminated? Mr Colleran, who had detailed shorthand notes of O’Callaghan’s unsolicited confession, offered the information to gardaí at the time, but they have never even interviewed him on the matter.
Although O’Callaghan provided invaluable information, there should be no room for any suspicion that this afforded him a licence to murder.
Unfortunately, in Northern Ireland there has been a history of turning the blind eye to police crimes stretching back to the earliest days of partition.
On the night of March 24, 1922, five policemen raided the home of Belfast publican Owen McMahon. He and six of his sons were lined up, along with a barman lodging with the family, and they were shot dead. Only his youngest son, John (11), survived the massacre, hiding under a sofa.
One of the officers involved, John W Nixon, a native of Co Cavan, was promoted to become the youngest ever district inspector of the RUC the following year. He was such an embarrassment, however, that he was dismissed from the force in 1924, but he went on full pension. He entered politics and was an independent unionist member of Stormont for 20 years.
In 1945, Sir Richard Pim was appointed head constable of the RUC after distinguishing himself as a close aide to Winston Churchill during World War II. He had a few narrow escapes in the North. An attempt was made to poison him with mince pies laced with cyanide on December 17, 1955.
Later, while boating with his wife on Strangford Lough on May 4, 1957, Pim became suspicious of a noise and dived under the boat to find a detonator had been set off by the heat of his engine and had ignited an underwater fuse attached to a gelignite bomb. He managed to cut the fuse before the bomb could go off.
According to Chris Ryder, author of The RUC: 1922-1997, the chief suspect in both instances was a disgruntled RUC district inspector, Malcolm Crawford, who was considered untouchable because of his unionist credentials. He was not only the son of the man who had masterminded the Larne gun-running in 1912, but he also was married to a daughter of the former Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Sir John Andrews. Thus the authorities merely compelled Crawford to retire from the force. Like John W Nixon, he went on full pension.
By contrast, Roger Casement, one of the architects of the Howth gun-running, was executed after he had returned home in a vain attempt to stop the Easter Rebellion. Was this British justice?
IN the 1980s, John Stalker was sent to investigate police collusion in murders in Northern Ireland. He tried to do his difficult job honestly. In an interim report he recommended that 11 RUC officers should be charged with obstructing justice. Before he could finalise his report, however, he was removed from the inquiry, supposedly because of his friendship with Kevin Taylor who was accused of fraud and drug-dealing.
They could not find anything on Stalker, so they undermined him by framing his friend who had been arrested more than 40 years earlier as a 12-year-old boy for stealing some potatoes during the Luftwaffe’s blitz on London. That was the total sum of his criminal record.
The British police fabricated rumours that Taylor was laundering money for Manchester’s Quality Street Gang and had lent his yacht for drug-running. They arraigned him on trumped-up charges of having supposedly defrauded a bank of £250,000. His 16-week trial in Manchester collapsed dramatically when it was shown the police had fabricated the evidence.
Taylor sued the Manchester police for malicious prosecution, and they settled out of court for a record £1 million. They contended the record settlement was not an admission of guilt.
Nobody was ever charged with trying to frame Taylor. It was done just to undermine Stalker’s inquiry.
Worse still, even though there was clear evidence that the 11 policemen identified by Stalker had obstructed justice in the murder inquiries, Sir Patrick Mayhew, the British attorney general, announced in January 1988 that it was not in the public interest to prosecute any of them.
Nobody should be surprised 20 years after the Stalker fiasco that we are again witnessing much the same thing. There will be no public inquiry and none of the police who were accessories to murder is going to be prosecuted.
The RUC became so lumbered with its own criminal baggage that it had to be replaced. Public opinion polls indicated that 90% of the Catholic population felt the force should be disbanded, while 32% of Protestants thought likewise.
The PSNI was not directly responsible, but it will be irreparably damaged if it does not get rid of the corrupt officers who facilitated the latest cover-up.
Provisional Sinn Féin can play a positive role. If the Provos are serious about adopting democratic means, they may not be able to do too much about past injustices, in view of their own record, but they can have a real say in ensuring the new force operates on responsible non-sectarian lines.
Of course, they have a gilt-edged excuse to withhold support, but then things will continue as before. Others will be murdered and there will be another similar scandal 20-30 years hence.