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When will the government come clean over deaths in the Troubles?

Recent cases have barely scratched the surface in revealing the extent of collusion and cover-up in atrocities by the British state, writes RICHARD RUDKIN

WITH the decision by the Court of Appeal ordering an independent investigation into alleged collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries in the North of Ireland, isn’t it time for the British government to stop throwing obstacles in the path of the families and come clean on what occurred during the Troubles?

This most recent case focused on the activities of the loyalist paramilitary unit known as the Glenanne Gang, comprising of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, serving British soldiers and police officers thought to be responsible for about 120 murders.

On top of the Court of Appeal decision, the families of the McGurk’s Bar bombing have begun judicial review proceedings against the Chief Constable George Hamilton for his failure to order an independent investigation into the atrocity, including the questioning of General Sir Frank Kitson, former commander-in-chief UK Land Forces. 

This action follows the discovery of further evidence by Ciaran MacAirt, grandson of two of the victims who died in the bombing, that allegedly links Kitson with the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and the circulation of disinformation in the hours following the bomb attack which claimed the lives of 15 civilians, including two children.

The discovery centres around an entry in a high-level British Military 39 Brigade Operations log recorded at 1am on December 5 1971 (serial 12) which stated: “RUC have a line that the bomb in the pub was a bomb designed to be used elsewhere, left in the pub to be picked up by the Provisional IRA. Bomb went off and was a mistake. RUC press office have a line on it – NI should deal with them.”

The consequences of spreading this inaccurate version of events not only denied the victims justice, but also tried to use the dead as a political pawns, by implying one of their own was the “bomber.” 

In an attempt to prove this claim, victims’ backgrounds were scrutinised and homes searched to find anything to link one of them to the Provisional IRA. Nothing could be found because nothing existed. 

If, as it is alleged, every line of command from the RUC hierarchy through to Kitson as brigadier knew what was being put out to the press was a lie, then it could be argued if the Brigade knew the truth behind the bombing, so too did agencies of the British government that would have been briefed by the office of Brigade Command NI. 

However, it wasn’t just the covering up and the smearing of the victims of the McGurk’s Bar bombing, which was later found to be the work of the Ulster Volunteer Force, that escalated the breakdown between the security forces and the Catholic community of Belfast, but so too did the sanctioning of armed British soldiers, dressed in civilian clothes, who appeared to operate outside of the rule of law.

Between 1971 and 1973 the Military Reaction Force (MRF) policed the streets undercover or, as they described it, “hunting down” IRA members in Belfast. 

In a BBC Panorama programme screened in 2013, a former member of the MRF admitted that they had fired on “suspected” IRA members. 

He described their mission as “to draw out the IRA and to minimise their activities … if they needed shooting, they’d be shot.”

Another former member stated: “The army’s ‘yellow card’ rules that strictly governed the use of firearms did not apply to the MRF” and then came a chilling admission by one former member who said: “We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group.”

This almost amounts to an admission that with the blessing of those in command, this group, based on “their suspicion” and not evidence, would be judge, jury and executioner.

The common factor that runs through all these events, the formation and actions of the MRF, the killings in Ballymurphy that left 57 children bereaved of a parent and the McGurk’s Bar bombing is they all occurred under the watchful eye of Gen Kitson who was brigadier in charge of armed forces in Belfast from September 1970 until April 1972. 

When all this is thrown into the mix, along with the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, is it really any surprise that, believing that British soldiers could kill with impunity with the blessing of their commanders and protection by the British government, that many people that had previously rejected the Provisional IRA changed their minds? 

The proof to this sequence of events is clear for all to see if they choose to do so, with the domino effect of “tit for tat” killings making 1972 the bloodiest year of the Troubles, with almost 500 people losing their lives including more than 100 British soldiers.

Although incidents such as Bloody Sunday, the Ballymurphy Massacre, and the atrocities committed by the Glenanne Gang have in the main, thanks to campaigners, been kept in the public eye, I believe we have barely scratched the surface where cases of collusion and/or cover-up have been suspected in deaths of unarmed innocent civilians.

For example, we have those killed or maimed by plastic and rubber bullets, of whom eight were children. 

Sadly, not even the death of a child can open the British government to transparency and honesty. 

Knowing that files held at the National Archives in Kew could hold the answer to how and why some of these children died, this government prevents those files being “declassified.” 

In the case of 15-year-old Paul Whitter, killed in 1981 after being hit in the head by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC officer, the files are to be kept closed until 2071. For the family this is cruel beyond belief.

But this delay tactic fools no-one. To adapt a well known saying: if it sounds like a cover-up, reads like a cover-up and the British government are preventing disclosure of files, then it’s probably a cover-up.

Richard Rudkin served with the British armed forces in Northern Ireland.

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