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High time for the truth to be told

A new book sheds much-needed light on the extent of police collusion during the Troubles, writes PAUL DONOVAN

The virtual silence on the publication of Lethal Allies reflects the continuing denial over much of what happened in the north of Ireland in the names of the British people.

This recently launched book documents a police force totally out of control, implicated in many civilian deaths and colluding with death squads to target a minority.

Authored by journalist Anne Cadwallader, Lethal Allies is a joint effort involving the Pat Finucane Centre and Alan Brecknell, whose father was murdered at Donnelly's bar in 1975.

A lot of the evidence that they amassed was obtained from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) set up by former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Sir Hugh Orde.

The HET was supposed to investigate individual cases and then put together an overarching report, but this never materialised. The lack of an overall report was one of the reasons for the book's production.

Lethal Allies details 120 deaths that occurred in an area known as "the triangle of death" in the north of Ireland between 1972 and 1978.

Only one of the people killed had any links with republican paramilitary organisations.

The triangle of death extended from Tyrone and Armagh in the north down to Dundalk, Monaghan and, on occasion, Dublin.

There are details of people in pubs or going about their business being gunned down in cold blood or blown to pieces.

One chapter details the destructive effect all of these deaths have had on the families left behind.

So there is Maureen McGleenan, who never really recovered from the death of her son Gerard.

He died as he stepped onto the street when a bomb went off at the Step Inn in Keady.

Maureen visited her son's grave every day for 30 years. She was one among many who suffered trauma, receiving little help to cope.

The lack of any effective follow-up to these crimes led a number of people to question whether there was collusion between the loyalist killers, the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

It seems that those in Westminster and those guiding the war in the north of Ireland knew from the early stages that there was collusion going on between the security forces and the police.

For example, records show that 1,800 guns stolen from the Ulster Defence Regiment - a division of the British army - finished up in paramilitary hands.

The British government knew that 15 per cent of UDR members were in loyalist groups - serving as soldiers and paramilitaries at the same time.

In one case two Gaelic Athletic Association football supporters had gone over the border to watch a match. On the way back the two men, Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer, were pulled over by a fake UDR checkpoint and shot dead.

An RUC patrol had earlier been stopped by the checkpoint, yet even though they knew that there was nothing official due to be happening in that area they did nothing about it.

The charmed life of loyalist paramilitary Robin Jackson is a recurrent theme of the book. Involved in murder after murder, Jackson continually evades justice.

In the early stages he was identified by the wife of Patrick Campbell, whom he murdered, but the evidence was not considered strong enough.

"He all but confessed in a police car but this was still not regarded as strong enough to proceed," says Cadwallader, who recalled how Jackson had been caught with a list of names believed to be targets.

He went on to kill many more people before he died of cancer in 1998.

Jackson crops up time and time again. "There is incontrovertible evidence that Robin Jackson was an RUC agent," Cadwallader says.

What becomes clear is that the police, who carried out some of the attacks such as on the Rock Bar in 1976, did very little to investigate and apprehend those responsible.

The result was that many more people were killed by several individuals like Jackson, who went on to become multiple murderers.

One of the central messages of Lethal Allies is that if the security forces had been doing their job, acting within the law and to uphold the law, much of this killing could have been avoided and the whole conflict ended earlier.

One view offered is that there were those in the security services who - in line with past colonial struggles - wanted to precipitate a situation whereby they could be allowed an even freer rein to operate.

Indeed, the crucial part of the whole collusion story missing from this book is who was pulling the strings from London and how it all ties back to the highest echelons of government and the security state.

Drawing on the work of the HET and others, Cadwallader puts together a comprehensive account of those involved, stretching up into the senior levels of the RUC, but it is difficult to believe that killing and disorder on such a scale was not being authorised from a far higher level.

That is a story that still remains to be told.

It is a view shared by Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster Francie Molloy who believes the British government has far more information that it could put into the public arena on collusion and the role of state forces in these activities.

The author reveals that some of the families of those murdered are pursuing civil actions.

Some are suing the chief constable of the PSNI because they want disclosure and an apology.

"Some sort of truth commission is needed for individual families who've been treated with such cruelty by the state," says Cadwallader, who suggests that Northern Ireland will not be able to move on until these issues are dealt with.

"I've said I don't see the point of getting an 80-year-old man in the dock for the murder of my father," says Brecknell, who explains the importance of the families' stories being told.


Former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan has suggested an Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life) complaint investigation unit should be set up with full police investigatory powers and no time limit.

There clearly needs to be something done to bring out the truth of what happened over three decades in the north of Ireland.

The HET made a start, but the grudging way things have been handled suggests that this is the minimum that those with much to hide thought they could get away with.

As time passes, so the task of dealing with the crimes of the past fades.

Time is running out. Many of those involved have already died. Some of the evidence has been destroyed and more may well be as time goes by. And there are many on these islands who hope to see this period simply shepherded off into the historic archives.

But this will not help the victims or their families who survive. A failure to acknowledge just what did go on during these years in the north of Ireland, from the Cabinet table to the assassin on the ground, will only mean that it could all happen again.

A legacy of this period in the north of Ireland has been the conversion of the rule of law into an easily manipulated set of rules used by those in power to persecute minorities.

It is a dangerous slope that ends in the police state, which is what it would seem the north of Ireland descended into for much of the last century.


Lethal Allies is published by Mercier Press, priced £12.99. For more of Paul Donovan's writing visit


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