IRA 'responsible' for killings blamed on loyalists

The killing of two Catholic men the day after the Miami Showband massacre in 1975 was widely believed to have been carried out by the UVF. But it has now emerged that the guns used in the attack on a bus returning from a bingo were linked to the IRA. Southern Correspondent Valerie Robinson reports.

Jimmy Marks (42), the father of two young sons, suffered fatal injuries when his minibus was attack by masked gunmen on the night of August 1 1975
Jimmy Marks (42), the father of two young sons, suffered fatal injuries when his minibus was attack by masked gunmen on the night of August 1 1975 Jimmy Marks (42), the father of two young sons, suffered fatal injuries when his minibus was attack by masked gunmen on the night of August 1 1975

The killing of two Catholic men blamed on the loyalist killers of the Miami Showband was probably carried out by the IRA, the family of one of the victims has revealed.

Relatives of a Co Armagh man fatally injured by masked gunmen 40-years-ago want a cold case investigation to establish if he was shot by the IRA in an attack meant for an RUC vehicle the day after the Miami Showband massacre.

The family of James ‘Jimmy’ Marks (42), from Portadown, also fear that police knew an attack was being planned by republicans but failed to act.

The Catholic father-of-two young boys was driving eight passengers home from bingo in Banbridge when his red and white Ford Custom minibus was ambushed near Gilford at 11.20pm on Friday August 1 1975.

Pensioner, James Joseph Toland (78), a father-of-12 from Bleary, died instantly after being shot in the head. Three female passengers suffered gunshot wounds that left them seriously injured.

Mr Marks was critically hurt after being shot in the head and back. Despite extensive brain and spinal injuries, he survived for almost 160 days before dying at Craigavon Area Hospital on January 7, 1976.

The shooting took place less than 48 hours after three members of the Miami Showband were murdered by a gang made up of UVF and UDR members. The band’s minibus had been stopped by a bogus army patrol as the musicians were heading back to Dublin after a gig in Banbridge.

The Miami massacre dominated the headlines on both sides of the Irish Sea, overshadowing the attack on the elderly group of Catholic bingo-goers.

Within hours, the RUC were focussing on the theory that the IRA had carried out the Gilford ambush in revenge for the Miami killings.

Investigators believed that republicans had mistaken Mr Marks’s vehicle for a police minibus, which had departed Gilford for Portadown ahead of schedule earlier that evening.

However, there was also a widespread belief that the driver and passengers were victims of the notorious Glennane Gang, which was responsible for the Miami deaths.

The IRA denied any involvement in the killings. A week after the shooting a statement in Republican News said; "It is common knowledge that there is a loyalist murder gang operating in this area."

Lost Lives, the definitive account of all the killings of the Troubles, mentions both theories but concludes that "according to reliable loyalist sources the UVF were behind the attack."

However, the family of Mr Marks have now revealed that a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report points the finger at the IRA.

In 2011, the HET concluded a report into Mr Marks’s murder, revealing to the family for the first time ballistics records showed that a rifle used in Mr Marks’s murder was linked to the IRA killing of two UDR female members while a second weapon was found in the possession of two IRA men in Lurgan in 1979.

It was found that 11 suspects – all Catholic - were arrested during the course of the RUC investigation.

The HET report also exposed serious shortcomings in the RUC inquiry. A hardback book contained the case papers had an unexplained two-week gap in entries while a single detective constable "bore the brunt of the workload," taking almost all the witness statements between August 4 and 8.

It was not until August 19 that "several different officers" began speaking to witnesses, while the first recorded involvement of the detective inspector who led the case was not until August 20.

The team said that hairs belonging to six suspects were compared to those taken from a hood found close to the murder scene. The hair was similar to one of the suspects but all samples had been destroyed without explanation.

They were also unable to discover what eventually happened to a green Mini car seen by a number of witnesses and driven by one of the suspects, expressing concern that the RUC may have "missed potential forensic opportunities," including checking its tyres for glass fragments.

Similarly, police appear to have failed to interview two women seriously hurt in the attack or the medical personnel and a local resident who helped the injured at the scene.

Martina Marks, whose elderly father Michael has lobbied for years to uncover the truth behind his brother’s murder, says the family now wants a "properly resourced" investigation into the attack.

She told The Irish News that the family had been left in a "kind of limbo" by the authorities and was struggling to find ways to push the case forward.

Ms Marks criticised the RUC probe as "very shabby," saying relatives were beginning to question whether police had prior knowledge of IRA plans to carry out an attack.

"We’re starting to think that an informer was involved and that the RUC knew what was happening," she said, questioning why the RUC minibus had left Gilford early and why it took weeks for the investigation to get off the ground, "giving people time to talk and get their alibis" sorted.

"We think it was republicans [who carried out the ambush] and that the minibus was mistaken for the police," she said.

Ms Marks said the family wanted a "dedicated investigation" that would work towards uncovering all the facts behind her uncle’s death.

She made the call as it was confirmed that the independent Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), tasked with probing hundreds of unsolved cold cases, will be set up by autumn 2016.