Signing counterfeit passport forms ‘wrecked my life’, says former garda

Disgraced former garda sergeant Finbarr Hickey spent a year behind bars when convicted of signing counterfeit passports that helped IRA figures go on the run.

He pointed the finger at a colleague who he argued got him to sign the forms as a favour, but took the full rap by never giving evidence against now-retired Leo Colton.

Judge Peter Smithwick found Hickey knew the applications were irregular or “funny”, but never thought they were destined for the Provisional IRA. “Despite his denials, I cannot exclude the possibility that Finbarr Hickey received some payment from Leo Colton in return for signing the passports,” the judge said.

“I accept that there was no relationship between the Provisional IRA and Finbarr Hickey; that he was not a member of that organisation or a sympathiserwith its cause; and that while he somewhat foolishly and naively did not advert his mind to the possible uses of the false passport application forms, he did not deliberately assist the IRA with the procurement of false passports.”

Hickey has strongly denied any allegations of collusion with the IRA despite being named by Provos as being a mole. Intelligence documents from the PSNI handed to the tribunal said Provisional IRA (PIRA) chiefs believe false testimony was being given to the inquiry to ensure it wrapped up quickly and does not uncover any more collusion. A precis, dated June 2009, alleged Hickey “was responsible for the passing of information to PIRA, which resulted in the murder of Chief Superintendent [Harry] Breen and Superintendent [Bob] Buchanan”.

The IRA informer later denied giving the information. Hickey said he was not working the day the senior RUC men were killed butwas called in on overtime that evening. He told the inquiry he had “no knowledge whatsoever” of their visit to Dundalk that day.

Hickey joined the force on New Year’s Eve 1980 and served in the border stations of Dundalk, Castleblaney, and later Hackballscross — where he claims Colton asked him to sign passport applications. Investigations found that between Jan 26, 1995, and Apr 4, 1996, he signed eight fake passport forms. One ended up in the hands of PIRA member and murder suspect Jimmy Fox and asecond got high-profile IRA man Paul Hughes out of country.

Hickey stated he did not receive any money or other benefits for signing the passports, and believes he was used by Colton, who denied his claims. The disgraced officer was suspended when the case went to trial at Dublin’s non-jury Special Criminal Court in May 2001.

He pleaded guilty to four charges — from an initial 40 — and served a12-month sentence in the Curragh army camp.

Investigators believed Hickey’s version of events, and did not think he had any connections or sympathies with the Provos. Colton was never charged or convicted.

Hickey said he surprised himself that he broken rules and signed the forms. “It wrecked my life,” he said.

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