Glenanne - Questions and Answers

22 October 2020

Questions and Answers: The "Glenanne Series"/"Lethal Allies"/"Unquiet Graves"

Front Cover "Lethal Allies"


1.  What is the "Glenanne Gang" and what is “The Murder Triangle”?

The “Glenanne Gang” consisted of permutations of loyalists (mainly UVF) RUC and UDR members who collaborated during the early to mid-1970s in a series of over 100 killings stretching from Dublin in the south, through Monaghan and Louth to Counties Down, Tyrone, Armagh and Antrim north of the border.

We have linked most of these killings through either police ballistic or other forensic evidence or intelligence records revealed in official reports or, sometimes, through detailed work comparing police records on the arrests of perpetrators with related court hearings.

In the mid-1970s, two Catholic priests, Fathers Faul and Murray, wrote a booklet called Triangle of Death focusing on a series of murders in the Portadown, Dungannon, Armagh area.  The name stuck although it was changed over time to The Murder Triangle.

We have discovered the murders extended well beyond that geographically-limited triangle but the research of Fathers Faul and Murray demonstrates there was deep concern in the community about the murders, even as they were being carried out.  

The two priests repeatedly raised those concerns with the British and Irish governments, who signally failed to take action, while political leaders, such as Seamus Mallon, also raised concerns in London and Dublin about collusion in Mid-Ulster – to little or no effect.

From 1999 onwards, the PFC and Justice for the Forgotten (Dublin) gathered evidence linking members of the group through ballistic and other evidence as well as through perpetrators.

The name “Glenanne Gang” originates from a farmhouse located near the mid-Armagh village of Glenanne belonging to one of the gang - RUC Reservist James Mitchell - where members would meet and plan attacks.

It’s important to remember, however, that the gang had other centres of activity in Portadown; Moygashel (outside Dungannon) and at a farm belonging to former B-Special Edward Sinclair in Canary, County Tyrone.

In October 2013, we published a book called Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland  that included much of the evidence we found (available from our offices or from the publishers, Mercier Press of Cork, or via Amazon).

2.  Where did the hard evidence linking this gang come from?  Can I believe it?

We welcome informed scrutiny.  We know that credible, documentary, first-hand evidence is integral to our work and we make no claims we cannot stand over. 

Evidence came from many sources, both official and unofficial.  The official sources included:

* The four Barron Reports into the Dublin/Monaghan bombings and other attacks in the Republic of Ireland (ordered by the Irish government) which carried appendixes and evidence from north of the border.

JFF had a formal status with these inquiries which meant it could ask questions and submit evidence on behalf of victims’ families to be tested for veracity.

* Inquiries initiated by the PFC in a long series of meetings, firstly with the RUC and, latterly, the PSNI.  Also between JFF and An Garda Síochána in liaison with family members seeking the truth about how their relatives were killed

* The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) which had a specialist team to investigate claims of collusion.  None of this team’s members had links to the RUC or state forces.

The HET compiled reports, based mainly on RUC files, given to each family.  They sometimes included key information from intelligence sources that helped the PFC/JFF triangulate with other information, discovered independently, to allow us to identify perpetrators.

The unofficial sources included:

* Whistleblower evidence from three main sources:

(a) John Weir (former sergeant in the Armagh RUC Special Patrol Group).  Weir is a convicted murderer who was tried for his role in the shooting of William Strathern on 19 April 1977.  His testimony was deemed generally reliable by An Garda Síochána, the Barron Inquiries and the HET.  He has always openly said he will not say anything self-incriminating.  The RUC carried out its assessment of Weir’s credibility (called “Operation Nantucket”) but the HET and Judge Henry Barron dismissed its findings (for the reasons why, see page 275-6 of Lethal Allies)

(b) Colin Wallace, former officer in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR)/Senior Information Officer at the HQ of the British Army in the North.   For more see Who Framed Colin Wallace by Paul Foot:

(c) Fred Holroyd, British Army Captain based at the British Army's 3 Brigade HQ in Mid-Ulster, during the 1970s – for more see: War without Honour: True Story of Military Intelligence in Northern Ireland:

Where we rely solely on whistleblower evidence, we make that clear in Lethal Allies but many claims made by Weir, for example, have been corroborated by official inquiries and other sources, both official and unofficial.

* Open sources, i.e. talking to relatives of victims and eye-witnesses (many of whom have never spoken out before to police or journalists); investigating court cases and arrests in local newspaper libraries.

3.  How have you established that members of the RUC, UDR and other state forces were involved in the murders?  Were these just a few “bad apples”?

We have identified 24 members of state forces and named most of them, giving details of the attacks in which they were involved, in Appendix A on pages 374-376 of Lethal Allies.

In the main body of the book, we have extensive footnotes over 26 pages giving the official sources for these facts which remain unchallenged.

We believe there is simply too much evidence identifying members of the RUC and UDR to say it was just a case of a few “bad apples”. 

We know that very senior officers in the police were aware of the gang’s activities but, either at the time or since, failed to set up an independent inquiry.

4.  What was new in Lethal Allies?

Evidence from the PFC and JFF’s fourteen years researching the Glenanne killings went into the book – most of it previously unpublished.  It was accepted by the High Court as a legal exhibit and remains on the record, unchallenged in any detail.  All proceeds from book sales have gone towards advocating on behalf of the bereaved families.

5.  I’ve seen claims that Unquiet Graves was “biased”?

We believe that the families, whose accounts went untold for over forty years, have a right to be heard.  The film was told from their standpoint.  Most criticism of the film appears to be an attempt to deflect from the central focus of the film – i.e. hard evidence of collusion in so many murders.

The film won Regional Documentary of the Year in the 2020 Royal Television Society awards and was broadcast by RTÉ on 16 September 2020 with an estimated audience of 320,000.

6.  What inquiries are on-going into revelations from the PFC/JFF and in Lethal Allies?

The families took legal action, lasting four years, arising from the HET’s inability to complete what it had promised them - an over-arching, thematic report into the entire Glenanne Series of attacks.

The HET had completed 80% of the work required but it was prevented from finishing the report.  Senior PSNI personnel, it was revealed in court, decided unilaterally to close down the work and then the HET was disbanded.

The courts, however, ruled that the families had a “legitimate expectation” that the thematic report would be produced and said the decision to halt its work was “unfair in the extreme”.

A final 2019 High Court ruling ordered the Chief Constable of the PSNI to commission a new and independent, fully-resourced inquiry.

That inquiry has now begun and is part of “Operation Kenova”, headed up by the former Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, Jon Boutcher, who is currently investigating the links between all the attacks in the Glenanne Series of murders.

You can find out more about this inquiry on:

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is also inquiring into a series of formal complaints lodged by families of the dead on both sides of the border.  The inquiry is the largest ever conducted by that office and formally began work in 2011 when the HET referred its findings in The Step Inn Bombing (August 1976) to the Ombudsman.

A dedicated team to inquire into the complaints was set up five years ago but has been hampered by a chronic lack of resources and with staff members being repeatedly moved from the inquiry, and new ones taking up office.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, work is continuing on both inquiries.

7.  I have heard claims that many, or all, of the Glenanne Gang were charged through excellent police work in the late 1970s.  How true is that?

In late 1978, an RUC Constable called William McCaughey was acting erratically.  He was drinking heavily, was accused of assaulting his wife and had been charged with theft and drink/driving.

In September that year, he was jointly charged alongside two Portadown loyalists with “going equipped to steal” although by then he was suspended from duty and in the care of a psychiatric ward.

McCaughey was also openly speaking to other officers at that time about his role in the murder of William Strathern in Ahoghill in April 1977.  Then he and another officer (Sergeant Gary Armstrong) kidnapped a Catholic priest (later released unharmed). 

Given this series of events, McCaughey’s arrest was hardly “excellent police work”.

McCaughey began making admissions.  In total, 12 people, nine of them police officers were taken into custody.  Some began talking about their role in a 1976 attack on a small country pub, The Rock Bar, near Keady.

Instead of inviting in an independent body to inquire into this astonishing situation, the RUC decided to investigate the criminal actions of their colleagues themselves.

The attack at The Rock had been mounted exclusively by serving RUC officers, at least one on duty.  They had thrown a bomb at the bar and raked it with gunfire (using weapons linked to other murders).  Mercifully, only one person was injured.

McCaughey, a trained firearms officer, had shot Michael McGrath, who was leaving The Rock.  He was initially charged with murder, the attempted murder of 18 people, kidnapping, causing an explosion, possession of explosives and firearms.

Eventually, when it came to trial, in relation to The Rock Bar attack, he was only charged with wounding McGrath.  Charges against five other police officers of attempted murder were also dropped by the DPP, without any reason given.

McGrath was never called to give evidence and only heard about the trial after it had ended.

Despite the evidence against them, only one of the seven police officers charged (McCaughey) was sentenced for his role in The Rock Bar attack.  The others escaped with suspended sentences (or minor disciplinary hearings) for their attempt at mass murder (see pages 289 -319 of Lethal Allies for a fuller account of The Rock Bar trial and outcome).

The Lord Chief Justice, summing up at the trial of the police officers, said they had merely been trying to “rid the land of pestilence”.

We believe that this sequence of events, far from demonstrating excellent police work, was a damage limitation exercise.

In only 17 of the 51 separate attacks (in which over 100 people were killed) were there any murder convictions.

8.  Why were the RUC officers (apart from John Weir and Billy McCaughey) charged only with The Rock Bar attack (in which there were no fatalities)?

Disturbingly, the RUC failed to investigate sixteen other murders carried out by the same weapons used during The Rock Bar attack in which ALL the attackers were serving police officers. 

These include the murders of the three Reavey brothers, Denis Mullen, Peter and Jane McKearney, Trevor Brecknell, Patsy Donnelly, Michael Donnelly, Fred McLoughlin and Patsy McNeice

None of the six fatal attacks (in which these 16 were killed, where the same weapons were used) was investigated as a direct result of the charges arising from The Rock Bar incident.

The PFC/JFF regard the police operation after McCaughey’s arrest to have been an attempt to hush up a disgraceful episode of collusion between serving police officers and active loyalist paramilitaries – not an example of excellent policing.

9.  The PFC/JFF seem to focus only on allegations of state collusion with loyalists.  What about republican victims?

Families who were bereaved by republican paramilitaries have precisely the same rights as those killed in the Glenanne Series.  If we are approached for advocacy assistance by families whose loved-one were killed by republicans, we do all we can to help.

Pain and grief are universal, not the prerogative or experience of any community.

In the case of state collusion, such as the Glenanne Series, we feel that the state’s obligations to uphold the rule of law; to hold all citizens equally accountable to the rule of law and the rights of families to investigations compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, must be inviolable.

10. You seem to think that ALL RUC officers were guilty of collusion?

We do not and we have never claimed this.  We respect those RUC officers, such as Detective Sergeant Gerry McCann, who suspected collusion at the time of some of the killings in the Glenanne Series.

We have uncovered evidence establishing that, on occasion, detectives working for the RUC Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were deliberately frustrated by others working for Special Branch or military intelligence (see the example of The Step Inn bombing in Lethal Allies, page 205).

We also recognise, and are grateful for, the courage, diligence and expertise of those retired British officers in the HET who investigated our claims of collusion and reported to families honestly and with sensitivity and respect.

11.  What other institutions of state do you believe were involved in covering up collusion?

We have established, as has the HET, that it is not just the police who have serious questions to answer but also the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, for example, who in The Rock Bar case, and in that of the attack at Donnelly’s Bar in Silverbridge in December 1975, issued proceedings known as “Nolle Prosequi”.

This means that – without having to give a reason – charges against people, even where there is significant evidence, are dropped.

Another question to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the 1970s that remains unanswered is why – after two police officers were convicted of the murder of William Strathern – charges were not proffered against two loyalists, Robin Jackson and Rab Kerr, who McCaughey had named as co-conspirators.

We have other questions to ask the criminal justice system.

How could it be that no reference was given in court to the occupation of serving police officers/UDR men charged with serious crimes?

One example is a serving police officer, charged with four murders, who appeared in court as “a cheese processor”.

A serving UDR man, also facing murder charges, appeared in court as “a post office engineer”.

Both resigned from the RUC/UDR just after they were arrested in moves that seem designed to conceal their roles as members of the security forces.

In neither case was this made clear to the courts either before or after conviction and sentencing.

This had the effect of hiding their true role, not only from the courts, but also from the families of their victims and the general public (see page 65 of Lethal Allies relating to William Leonard and pages 123 and 178 relating to Joseph Lutton).

In another disturbing case, a former RUC Reservist (James Mitchell) received a year’s suspended sentence after a bomb factory was found on his farm.

12.  You claim that loyalist Robin Jackson was a police informer.  Where’s the evidence?

Many of the declassified documents, and some sections of the HET reports, upon which the conclusions in Lethal Allies and Unquiet Graves are based are available on our website.  We recommend you take a look at references to the HET inquiry into the Miami Showband Massacre where you will see evidence on Jackson’s role as an RUC agent.