Relatives of loyalist murder victims voice anger and disappointment over PSNI failure to disclose information
RELATIVES of people killed by loyalists have spoken of their anger and disappointment after it emerged that the PSNI failed to disclose “significant” information on police computers.
The publication of three Police Ombudsman reports covering more than 20 loyalist murders has now been delayed.
Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said the new information relates to “sensitive material, intelligence-led material, and includes information (on) covert policing”.
It is understood some of it also relates to a haul of loyalist weapons smuggled into the north in the late 1980s.
The stalled reports include Operation Achille, relating to the murders of five innocent Catholic men by the UDA at Sean Graham bookmaker's on Belfast's Ormeau Road in February 1992.
The results of a second investigation, Operation Greenwich, which relates to 20 murders and attempted murders across several counties between 1988 and 1994, has also been put on hold.
This report includes details about the infamous 1993 ‘trick or treat’ murders of eight people in the Rising Sun Bar at Greysteel, Co Derry.
Mr Maguire, who is due to retire in July, has said the results of a probe over the murder of 17-year-old Damien Walsh by the UFF in west Belfast in March 1993 has also been delayed.
The teenager’s case is the longest running on the ombudsman’s books, having been first referred in 2004.
The PSNI has blamed a combination of human error and the "complex challenges associated with voluminous material" for not releasing the information to the police ombudsman (PONI), who became aware of it as police prepared to disclose material as part of a civil case.
Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said “we are deeply and sincerely sorry” and insisted the force “never sought to deliberately withhold this information from PONI and we deeply regret that the researchers responding to the PONI request were unable to find and disclose it”.
However, Damien Walsh’s mother Marian was last night dismissive of the apology.
"He didn't apologise to me personally, I just heard he apologised somewhere to somebody," she said.
"It is just a sham, and excuses.
“How come one person was able to find it and yet all these other ones couldn't?"
The grieving mother said she had been expecting to receive the results of the ombudsman’s investigation.
"I thought the report must have been ready, but then I was told it wasn't ready again," she said.
"This morning, when I saw it all in print, I just broke down.
"I just thought, I am so tired now, I have just got so old, so sick and I don't know how I am going to go on with this.
“And then I rallied and thought, I have no choice, I have to keep going to see this through."
A son of IRA man Gerard Casey, who was shot dead by the UFF in his home at Rasharkin, Co Antrim in April 1989, also voiced his frustration.
His case is part of the Operation Greenwich series.
“Yet again it has been a setback and it’s disheartening,” he said.
“Are the police holding this back deliberately and why were these files never brought forward before?”
Solicitor Niall Murphy said some relatives want PSNI chief constable George Hamilton – who is due to retire later this year – to resign now.
“The families are appalled,” he said.
“Many parents and siblings have passed away even in the last 12 months and people are dying without access to justice.
“People denied truth recovery in these circumstances is a stain on all of us as a society.”
Relatives for Justice spokesman Mark Thompson said: “This matter too will impact families that have already received reports by the office of the Police Ombudsman in which they fear evidence may not been provided by the PSNI; despite assurances by Dr Maguire that as of today he is not aware of other materials relating to other cases at this stage.
“This concern will especially relate to families who made complaints of collusion in which that complaint was not upheld.”
SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly has called for it to conduct a full inquiry into the failings of the PSNI to disclose the information.
"This is one of the most disturbing developments in policing since the formation of the PSNI,” she said.
Sinn Féin policing spokesman Gerry Kelly also said: “The revelations that the police failed to disclose key information to investigations by the Police Ombudsman into dozens of killings by loyalist death squads is appalling and unacceptable.”
Some of new information released to Police Ombudsman relates to smuggled loyalist weapons
SOME of the recently discovered information released to the Police Ombudsman relates to a huge cache of arms imported into the north by loyalists.
The shipment included hundreds of deadly Czech-made VZ58 assault rifles which are believed to have later been used to kill more than 70 people.
The haul, which also included semi-automatic pistols, rocket launchers, grenades and ammunition, was divided between the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance.
The weapons are believed to have been secretly brought in to the north in late 1987 or early 1988, amid claims British intelligence agents were involved in or aware of the shipment.
The UDA lost the majority of its share during transport after police mounted a checkpoint near Portadown in January 1988.
The weapons had earlier been collected from a farm owned by former RUC man James Mitchell at Glenanne in south Armagh.
Mitchell’s farm was also the base for the notorious Glenanne Gang, which was responsible for dozens of sectarian murders in the 1970s.
Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire provided detailed background information about the weapons in his 2016 report into 1994 Loughinisland massacre.
In 2015 it emerged that a VZ58, thought to be part of the 1988 haul and used to kill seven Catholic men, was put on display at he British Imperial War Museum.
The gun was used by the UDA to kill five men at Sean Graham Bookmaker's on Belfast’s Ormeau Road in February 1992.
It was also used by the UVF to kill two other Catholic men, Seamus Morris (18) and Peter Dolan (25), in north Belfast in August 1988.