09 June 2016

Families working with The Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten are deeply shocked to learn from today’s Police Ombudsman’s report that the weapons used to murder six people at The Heights Bar in Loughinisland were stored at the home of James Mitchell in Glenanne, South Armagh.

The guns were part of a loyalist haul brought into the North by the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance in January 1988 after a deal initiated by British military double agent, Brian Nelson.

Mitchell was an RUC Reservist (service number 3604) from 1974 to 1977 with a long history of involvement in multiple UVF bombings and shootings.

These are just some:

  • The Barron Report into the May 1974 Dublin/Monaghan bombings in which 34 people were killed cites Mitchell’s farmhouse as a storage dump for UVF arms and explosives. The house was used as a staging post for the four bombs.
  • The UVF bombers and gunmen who killed three people on 19 December 1975 at Donnelly’s Bar, Silverbridge (Michael Donnelly, Patsy Donnelly and Trevor Brecknell) launched their attack from Mitchell’s farmhouse.
  • The murders of the Reavey family of Whitecross, South Armagh. The family firmly believes the gang who attacked Brian, Anthony and John Martin Reavey on 4 January 1976, planned and launched their attack from Mitchell’s farmhouse. The Historical Enquiries Unit was “unable to find any evidence to undermine their concerns”.
  • In August 1976, the Southern Area Commander of the RUC ordered military surveillance on Mitchell’s farm, based on intelligence that a UVF bomb was being stored there. The bomb was, nevertheless, taken from Glenanne to Keady where it exploded outside The Step Inn, killing two people (mother of three, Elizabeth McDonald, and Gerard McGleenan).

Mitchell was not, however, expelled from the RUC or even arrested. He served as an RUC man for a further ten months before resigning.

When the RUC finally raided Mitchell’s farmhouse on 14 December 1978 they found sub-machine guns and bomb-making equipment. He was, however, given merely a one-year sentence, suspended for two years. The sentences passed by LCJ Lowry at this series of linked trials and his closing comments were an absolute disgrace and brought shame on the judiciary.

In the early 1980s, the then RUC Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon, asked to see the police file on The Step Inn. He took no action, despite the file revealing one of his former officers, Mitchell, had remained on as an RUC Reservist for ten months after the bombing in which he was a prime suspect. According to the HET Hermon sent the file back to the archive.

A PFC spokesperson commented:

“It is beyond belief that, ten years after Mitchell’s conviction on arms and explosives charges, he was able to store the massive haul of weapons and explosives imported from South Africa and used in the Loughinisland massacre, and in so many other attacks, killing dozens of people.

“Questions must, and will, be asked about why Mitchell and the UVF felt sufficiently confident to use his farmhouse as a secure location for storing both weapons and explosives.
“It seems Mitchell considered himself immune from arrest and prosecution. Clearly, he had good reason”.

We also note that the PFC/JFF was first made aware that part of the South African arms shipment was stored at Mitchell’s farm in a 2001 interview with a former member of the Glenanne Gang, former RUC Sgt John Weir. The RUC, and later the PSNI, did everything to discredit the claims made by this whistleblower. Much of what he claimed has since been verified however.

We wish to express our support and admiration for the families and their legal representatives, KRW Law and RFJ who have supported them in their long struggle for truth.