Glenanne Gang farm linked to Loughinisland atrocity
LOYALIST guns similar to the one used in Loughinisland were stored in a farm linked to the infamous loyalist Glenanne Gang.
Dr Michael Maguire confirmed that part of a consignment of automatic rifles was hidden at a south Armagh farm owned by former RUC reservist James Mitchell.
The farm, which is located at Glenanne, near Markethill, was a base for a loyalist gang which included members of the UVF, RUC and UDR, and is believed to have killed up to dozens of people in the 1970s.
The activities of the gang are currently the subject of a separate investigation by the Police Ombudsman.
The deadly arsenal is believed to have been smuggled into the north with the help of British military agent and UDA ‘intelligence officer’ Brian Nelson in late 1987.
The haul of Czech made VZ 58 assault rifles, which are similar to AK 47’s, were used by loyalists in 70 murders and attempted murders across the north between March 1988 and May 2005.
The original plan was to divide the guns between the UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance.
However, the UDA’s share of the weapons were seized at an RUC checkpoint at Mahon Road in Portadown in January 1988.
They had earlier been loaded into three cars at Mitchell’s farm
It is believed Mitchell, who has since died, was present when the transfer took place.
According to the ombudsman’s report that within two hours of the Portadown operation the remaining weapons in at Mitchell’s farm were removed after a warning.
Dr Maguire said information provided to police suggested that “James Mitchell had been warned that police intended to search his farm” and quickly removed the remaining guns to a location in nearby Markethill.
Dr Maguire says the same intelligence confirmed that some of Mitchell’s haul ended up in the hands of Mid Ulster based Glenanne Gang member Robin Jackson, who was known as the Jackal.
Although the source of the warning to Mitchell is unknown, Dr Maguire refers to the previously published de Silva report which discusses suspicions that a senior member of the RUC may have been providing assistance to loyalist paramilitaries at the time.
James Mitchell was well known to the security forces and his farm was under surveillance during the 1970s.
He was arrested in 1978 and later said his farm was “one of the main UVF arms dumps for mid-Ulster.
In June 1980 he was convicted of possessing two sub-machine guns, ammunition and explosives and sentenced to three one year prison sentences, each suspended for two years.
Police intelligence connected him to storing UVF weapons in 1983.
In January 1991 ammunition was found on his property by the RUC but no-one was charged.
Despite his close links to the UVF, and admission that his property was used by the group, Mr Maguire said he can find no evidence that Mitchell was “subject of enquiries” about the importation and handling of the 1987 haul.
He also expressed concern after it emerged that a police officer who had previously interviewed James Mitchell and who helped take part in a search for the outstanding guns after the Mahon Road seizure did not visit the Mitchell farm.
“The failure to go to James Mitchell’s farm permitted the prompt undetected removal of the remaining weapons,” Dr Maguire said.