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Report: RUC chief failed to act on threat to murdered officer's life

Connla Young

FORMER chief constable of the RUC Sir Kenneth Newman "quite probably" knew about a threat to the life of Catholic police officer shot dead almost 40 years ago and failed to act.

The staggering revelation is contained in a report published by the Police Ombudsman today into the murder of Sergeant Joe Campbell (49) who was gunned down as he left a Co Antrim police station.

The father-of-eight, who was originally from Co Donegal, was hit by a rifle shot to the head out-side Cushendall RUC station in February 1977.

Sgt Campbell's family believe his murder involved collusion between rogue elements of the police and loyalist paramilitaries.

However, the ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said evidence of collusion was "inconclusive".

"On the basis of the information available I can neither discount nor substantiate the allegations of a wider conspiracy into the murder of Sgt Campbell," he said.

In his report the ombudsman, however, said there is "sufficient, reliable evidence" that the then head of RUC Special Branch and "quiet probably the chief constable were aware of concerns, which had been documented, about the threat to his life and failed to act upon them".

The ombudsman report revealed that Sir Kenneth, pictured far right, who also served as Metropolitan Police commissioner, told his office that he has no recollection of the Sgt Campbell case.

When asked last night who was head of RUC Special Branch at the time the PSNI said it was "unable to provide that information".

However, The Irish News can reveal the man who headed the secret department was Mick Slevin who has since died.

Sgt Campbell's death sent shock-waves through the small seaside village which until that point had been relatively untouched by the Troubles.

He is believed to have been gunned down by notorious UVF gunman and security force agent Robin Jackson who was associated with the infamous Glenanne gang.

The report reveals that senior RUC officers were warned by concerned Special Branch members that Joe Campbell was under threat but they did not act.

The ombudsman said the murder was "preventable" and that "the s u b s e q u e n t investigation into that murder was flawed on a number of different occasions".

It also emerged that police documents relating to the case have disappeared and that a retired RUC officer based in Ballymena at the time of the murder has refused to cooperate with the ombudsman's investigation.

In a statement the murdered man's widow Rosemary said she was unhappy with the report, which has taken 12 years to complete, "because it does not contain the full account of the murder which I had hoped for".

Her son Tommy said following the ombudsman's findings he still believes there was collusion in the killing.

"If you read the report what other conclusions can you come to? There was a threat on my father's life. If you do nothing about it either before or after is it not collusion?

"Senior officers... decide that it's not worth their time to stop the murder of one of their colleagues. What more stark definition of collusion could you get?"

Joe Campbell jnr, who first lodged the complaint with the ombudsman's office in 2002, said the family's campaign for justice for their father would go on.

"Today we have got a report. What we don't have, we don't have the truth and we certainly don't have any justice," he said.

Three years after the killing retired RUC Special Branch man Charles McCormick was acquitted of Sgt Campbell's murder.

He was convicted of charges including possession of explosives and firearms and armed robbery. These were all quashed on appeal.

A second man Anthony O'Doherty, originally from Portglenone in Co Antrim, was convicted of withholding information about the murder but later received a royal prerogative of mercy.

A republican, O'Doherty was recruited by McCormick to become a Special Branch informer.

In 2009 McCormick was rearrested and questioned about the killing and a file was later being sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

However, in 2013 the PPS directed that no action be taken.

PSNI deputy chief constable Alistair Finlay said the report "makes difficult reading".

"It is clear there were significant shortcomings in the RUC handling of information prior to the murder and in both subsequent police investigations into Sgt Campbell's murder," he said.

"And for that, I am truly sorry."

* PROBE: Above right, police ombudsman Michael Maguire with the report into the RUC investigation of the murder of Sergeant Joseph Campbell, inset, in 1977. Left, Rosemary Campbell

PICTURES: Above right, Mal McCann.

Left, Hugh Russell

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