Police Ombudsman Public Statement and Report on Operation Ballast – RUC/PSNI Collusion with the UVF in North Belfast
Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland | 22 January 2007
The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has released the findings of her three-and-a-half-year investigation into a series of complaints about police conduct in relation to the murder of Raymond McCord Junior in November 1997.
Mrs Nuala O'Loan has upheld a complaint from his father, Raymond McCord, that over a number of years police acted in such a way as to protect informants from being fully accountable to the law.
An initial investigation into Mr McCord's complaints revealed issues of concern in relation to a series of other incidents - including murders, attempted murders and drug dealing.
As a result, the Police Ombudsman's investigation quickly expanded to cover the period from 1991-2003. It looked at one police informant in particular - Informant 1 - and at his associates, many of whom were also police informants and members of a UVF unit in North Belfast and Newtownabbey.
The investigation has proved the most complex ever undertaken by the Police Ombudsman. More than 100 serving and retired police officers were interviewed, 24 of them 'under caution.' Members of the public were also interviewed.
Police computer systems were examined and more than 10,000 items of police documentation was recovered, including material held within intelligence systems, on personal records, in police journals, in crime files and from other sources. Corroborating material was also recovered from a number of other, non-police, "agencies."
The Police Ombudsman has identified that intelligence held within the policing system, the majority of which has been graded by police as a "reliable and probably true" and which has been corroborated from other sources, which links police informants to:
- The murders of ten people;
- 72 instances of other crime, including:
- Ten attempted murders;
- Ten "punishment" shootings;
- 13 punishment attacks;
- A bomb attack in Monaghan;
- 17 instances of drug dealing, and;
- Additional criminality, including criminal damage, extortion and intimidation.
Police Ombudsman investigators have also identified less significant and reliable intelligence which links Informant 1 and his associates to an additional five murders
During this period the Police Ombudsman has estimated that payments of at least £79,840 were made to Informant 1, which included a series of incentive payments (30.0 - 30.10)
- The Police Ombudsman investigation also established a pattern of work by certain officers within Special Branch designed to ensure that Informant 1 and his associates were protected from the law.
- In addition, she has also identified a series of instances when they took steps to ensure that police informants who had committed crime were protected from police officers investigating those crimes and from other agencies within the criminal justice system.
Informants were reportedly 'babysat' through interviews to held them avoid incriminating themselves, false notes were created and searches of houses to locate UVF arms and the search of a UVF arms dump were blocked for no valid reason (23.1-23.14.)
In addition, misleading information was prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and vital intelligence likely to have assisted in the investigation of serious crimes, including murder, was withheld from police investigation teams.
The Police Ombudsman's Office has encountered a number of difficulties during this investigation, including the fact that a number of documents were either missing, lost or destroyed. These included parts of murder files, decision logs and intelligence documents. This general absence of records has prevented senior officers from being held to account. The Police Ombudsman is of the view that this was not an oversight but was a deliberate strategy and had the effect of avoiding proper accountability. (8.1-8.19 and 33.6)
Mrs O'Loan has concluded that her investigation has established collusion between certain officers within Special Branch and a UVF unit in North Belfast and Newtownabbey. (32.1- 32.5)
"It would be easy to blame the junior officers' conduct in dealing with various informants and indeed they are not blameless. However, they could not have operated as they did without the knowledge and support at the highest levels of the RUC and the PSNI," she said.
Mrs O'Loan said she believed a culture of subservience to Special Branch had developed within the RUC which had created a form of dysfunction.
"The effect of that dysfunction was that, whilst undoubtedly Special Branch officers were effective in preventing bombings, shootings and other attacks, some informants were able to continue to engage in terrorist activities, including murder, without the Criminal Investigation Department having the ability to deal with them for some of these offences."
Mrs O'Loan has said she believes the PSNI has made significant changes and introduced new policies in relation to its handling of informants. She said the PSNI have also accepted all of the recommendations contained in her statement:
"This has been a difficult and at times very sad investigation, both to conduct and to report on. I am satisfied that the PSNI have accepted the mistakes of the past and put in place policies and procedures to help ensure they will not happen in the future."
1. The Murder of Raymond McCord Junior (9.1-9.35)
Raymond McCord Junior was found beaten to death in Ballyduff Quarry on 9 November 1997. Information held by the police, and corroborated from a number of sources, indicates that Informant 1, who was in prison at the time, ordered his murder and that another man, who was on leave from the prison, carried it out.
Informant 1 and his associates were eventually arrested for the murder, questioned and released without charge.
The Police Ombudsman has established that there were a number of failures with the murder investigation which may have significantly reduced the possibility of anyone ever being prosecuted for the crime. They include a failure to seize a suspect's clothing from prison and the destruction of exhibits, including the car believed to have been used in the attack.
The Police Ombudsman found no evidence that police knew what was going to happen to Mr McCord, nor that they could have warned him or his family about the danger.
2. The Murder of Peter McTasney. (10.5 -10.16)
Peter McTasney was murdered at Bawnmore in Belfast on 24 February 1991.
Later that year, when police were interviewing suspects about an attempted murder, which Informant 1 had told them about and was believed to have been involved in, they established that the gun used was the one used to kill Mr McTasney and was linked to a series of attempted murders.
Informant 1 was arrested and interviewed a total of 19 times. His 'handlers' conducted the main interviews. One of those handlers has said they 'babysat' him though the interviews and that notes were completed which did not reflect what happened in the interview. Informant I was subsequently released without charge.
A combined file for the murder of Mr McTasney and the earlier attempted murder was prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Two men were subsequently convicted. Special Branch, with the agreement of a Deputy Assistant Chief Constable, did not disclose to the DPP the involvement of a police agent.
3. The Murder of Sharon McKenna. (13.1 - 13.49)
Sharon McKenna was shot dead on January 17 1993.
A Detective Sergeant and a Detective Constable have both said Informant 1 admitted to them being one of the gunmen involved in the murder. Separate police documentation from the time also records 'high grade,' information that Informant 1 was involved.
Authorisation was given by Special Branch to arrest Informant 1. He was arrested, detained for six days, and interviewed 37 times. Some of those interviews were conducted by his 'handler'. Another of those officers present has told Police Ombudsman investigators he 'felt like a gooseberry' sitting in on the interviews, as he knew Informant 1 was a police 'source' and would say nothing of relevance in front of him. Informant 1 was subsequently released without charge.
No one has ever been charged with the murder.
In the weeks which followed, Informant 1's monthly retainer was increased from Â£100 a month to Â£160, despite the fact that he was a main suspect for the murder.
4. The Murder of Sean McParland (14.1- 14.17)
Sean McParland was shot on 17 February 1994 and died later from his injuries.
Police Ombudsman investigators have seen information which indicated that two days before the murder, police received information from an informant that someone was to be killed the next morning. They mounted a response at the relevant time and place during which they saw Informant 1.
Later that day they received information that Informant 1 had been involved in the planned attack but that it was called off when police were seen in the area. Mr McParland was shot the following day.
Police Ombudsman investigators have seen additional information in which Informant 1 names another police informant as having carried out the murder. He also admits to having had an involvement himself.
5,6 The Murders of Gary Convie and Eamon Fox (15.1-15.11)
Gary Convie and Eamon Fox were shot dead on a building site in Belfast on 17 May 1994.
Informant 1 was a suspect for the murder and was arrested.
The gunman who carried out the murders was said to have a 'goatee' beard. Informant 1 when arrested had a 'goatee' beard but was allowed to shave it off while in custody. No identity parade was held. He was released without charge.
7. The Murder of Gerard Brady. (16.1-16.3)
Gerard Brady was shot on 17 June 1994. Police have intelligence which links Informant I and another police informant to this murder. Ballistic tests have also linked the gun used to Informant 1 and other police informants.
8. The Murder of John Harbinson. (18.1-18.28)
Mr Harbinson was beaten to death on 18 May 1997.
Special Branch had a significant amount of high-grade intelligence about the four main suspects for this murder, including Informant 1. They did not pass this information on to the police officers investigating the murder.
Special Branch also had information that those who had carried out the murder had fled to a location in Ballyhalbert where they were 'safely ensconced.' Again, they did not pass this information on to their colleagues. Forensic opportunities were lost.
Police Ombudsman investigators have seen information which links Informant 1 to the murders of Thomas Sheppard in March 1996 (17.1-17.5) and Thomas English in October 2000. (19.1- 19.5)
Terrorism in the Republic (24.1- 24.20)
Informant 1 gave police information about a planned bomb attack in Dublin and helped them ensure the plan was aborted. Special Branch officers were instructed not to record the details of this planned attack.
Informant 1 later gave police information about another 'high profile' attack on a republican target and told them he had received the explosives to carry it out. The police made safe the explosives and returned them to him, but did not mount an operation to see what the terrorists had planned or to arrest them.
Within two weeks there was a bomb attack on the Sinn Fein offices in Monaghan. Intelligence held by police implicates police informants, including Informant 1. None of this information was passed to the Garda.
Attack on Bar in Portadown (26.1 - 26.14)
Special Branch received detailed intelligence from a police informant of a planned UVF attack on a bar in Portadown. They passed on limited information to local police. Only good policing in the area allowed those responsible to be apprehended.
Special Branch Block Searches. (23.1-13.14)
Documentation indicates that police were provided with the addresses of people who had UVF weapons, including Informant 1, and the location of an alleged UVF arms dump. Special Branch blocked the searches of some of these locations.
Within weeks of these searches having been blocked, there is information that Informant 1 and his associates were again linked to murder and attempted murder.
Drug Dealing (27.1- 27.19)
The Police Ombudsman has obtained around 70 separate intelligence reports held by police implicating Informant 1 in 17 instances of drug dealing in an area covering North Belfast and Larne. The material also links him to associated 'punishment' attacks. Despite this, his only conviction has been for the possession of drugs.
(The numbering in brackets above relates to paragraphs within the Public Statement.)