Army gun used in 12 murder bids: Downing Street concerns over leaks to Paisley / MPs misled over collusion

British prime ministers were aware of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries, soldiers and RUC officers - and believed security forces were "handing information to" Ian Paisley. Evidence of this is contained in dramatic documents that include minutes of a Whitehall meeting where Margaret Thatcher was briefed on how security forces in Northern Ireland were "heavily infiltrated". In the second day of a series of special reports, the Irish News reveals further files prepared by the British government and military intelligence on collusion.

The documents revealed today show how:

- an army sub-machine gun was used in a sectarian murder and 11 attempted murders, with the intelligence document even listing the victims' names
- civil servants answering MPs' questions on collusion concealed its existence
- a military dossier lists a string of incidents across Northern Ireland where arms were passed to loyalists with the collusion of soldiers

The dramatic new evidence comes after the Irish News yesterday revealed the existence of official files showing the British government was aware of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalists from as early as 1973. The document estimated that 5-15 per cent of Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers were linked to loyalist groups, adding that "the best source of weapons, and only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR". Letters accompanying that document indicated that it was due to be forwarded to Downing Street. Today that link to the heart of government is reinforced by minutes of a meeting in September 1975 when the prime minister of the time, Harold Wilson, and his secretary of state, Merlyn Rees, briefed Margaret Thatcher as leader of the opposition.

A crucial section of the minutes, marked 'confidential', reads: "The secretary of state said that he was more worried by the current sectarian murders than by the bombings in Belfast. "Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very close to the UVF, and who were prepared to hand over information, for example, to Mr Paisley. "The army's judgment was that the UDR were heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants, and that in a crisis situation they could not be relied upon to be loyal."

The document making reference to DUP leader Ian Paisley is followed by a discussion on how British MPs were receiving letters from constituents calling for a pull-out from Northern Ireland. The minutes show how Mrs Thatcher feared this would lead to further bloodshed, making a withdrawal from the north impossible. The minutes add: "The prime minister agreed and said that any impression that the government were taking the line that the Irish could cut their own throats would immediately give the appearance that we had given in to the IRA."

Today's coverage also includes an in-depth report on the military intelligence document, which was never made public, but which records how an army sub-machine gun - stolen with the help of soldiers - was used in a murder and 11 attempted murders. The document names those who were shot with the weapon and today we tell the story of the murder victim - Thomas Curry, a sea captain from Lancashire who docked in Belfast and was killed when loyalists machine-gunned a pub.

In a further development, we report how the army sub-machine gun may also have been used in a second murder not included in the document, where loyalists shot dead a 16-year-old Catholic.