‘Ex garda helped IRA obtain false documents’

Retired garda sergeant Leo Colton was trusted by Provos and helped members get false passports, the Smithwick Tribunal found.

Judge Peter Smithwick said Colton assisted the Provisional IRA in 1995 and 1996 by having his former colleague, Finbarr Hickey, sign false passport applications. But he added he did not think there was sufficient evidence to establish there was a relationship between Colton and the Provisional IRA as far back as 1990.

Hickey was jailed for his part in the passport scam, but argued he only did it because Colton had asked him to, not knowing they were counterfeit. Some ended up in the hands of known IRA men. Colton was never charged or convicted and has always denied the allegation, despite several senior officers telling the tribunal they believed Hickey’s version of events.

The retired officer maintained he “never had many dealings” with the IRA during his work along the border over three decades. He was on duty in Dundalk on Mar 20, 1989, the day Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were ambushed, but insisted he did not know the RUC members were meeting his superiors. He branded suggestions he used hand signals to notify the IRA of the presence of RUC officers at the garda station as “ridiculous”. He instead told investigators he spotted a grey car drive slowly past the station that afternoon, as if the driver was looking at the cars parked in the area.

Colton joined the force in 1958. He resigned in 1991 days before a disciplinary inquiry was due to be held against him over the issuing of a trade plate — a registration used by traders for unlicensed cars — to a known IRA member. He said the timing was a coincidence.

The former officer had written a recommendation for Dundalk man Brian Ruddy who had a conviction for possession of the illegal animal growth promoter Angel Dust, and was believed to have “potential associations with subversives”.

Judge Smithwick said he did not accept Colton’s evidence that he knewnothing of Ruddy when he certified that he was eligible for a trade plate.

“The evidence of a direct connection with the Provisional IRA is not, however, as clear in relation to this incident,” the judge added.

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