Ex-RUC man claims Margaret Thatcher would have known of Loughgall ambush

Eight IRA men killed by the SAS in Loughgall, Co Armagh, in 1987
Connla Young

BRITISH Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have known about a planned SAS ambush during which eight IRA members were killed in Co Armagh almost 30 years ago, a a former special branch officer says.

The claim has been made in a new book by former RUC Special Branch member William Matchett.

‘Secret Victory: The Intelligence War that Beat the IRA’ is due to be published later this week.t

In the book the former RUC officer reveals that Margaret Thatcher and then Secretary of State Tom King would have had advance knowledge about the deadly ambush at Loughgall.

He also reveals that 26 SAS men and members of the RUC were involved in the ambush.

Eight IRA members were shot dead as they carried out an attack on the Co Armagh RUC station in March 1987.

A civilian, Anthony Hughes was also killed by the SAS when he and his brother accidentally drove into the ambush area.

The families of those who died believe the men were not given an opportunity to surrender and were the victims of a ‘shoot to kill’ operation.

According to the author, the intelligence that led to the ambush was “compelling it was not definite".

He added “the assessment of it was quite brilliant”.

In a recent book by former Cork British soldier Seán Hartnett, not his real name, it was claimed that the intelligence used to set up the Loughgall ambush was gathered by a secret British army unit which tracked a republican who had links to members of the bomb team.

In his book, which is being serialised in the News Letter, Mr Matchett claimed that the chief constable, who at the time was John Hermon, would have had to authorise the ambush plan.

"For such a plan the chief constable authorises it based on a briefing by the head of special branch (HSB), an assistant chief constable (ACC) at HQ, and requests resources from the army," he said

He would also have had to request resources from the British army.

He said that senior RUC officers, permanent Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office and MI5 are then informed.

The Secretary of State is then told who in turn would have briefed the Prime Minister.

Mr Matchett revealed that during the ambush several members from the RUC’s E4 Headquarters Mobile Support Unit, were stationed inside the police station along with a uniformed officer when the bomb exploded.

Other members of E4 "performed an outer cordon for the SAS as a quick reaction force as opposed to being close in and part of the immediate response".

Mr Matchett says SAS used a deadly arsenal of weapons including two general purpose machine guns to fire 1,000 rounds at the IRA unit,

The former RUC man claimed the rate of fire from the heavy duty machine guns was such that it left “both barrels smoking hot”.

During the attack the IRA unit managed to detonate a bomb which was being carried in the bucket of a digger injuring three RUC officers, including two members of E4, who were inside the station at the time.


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