Northern Ireland news

Widow of murdered policeman tells inquest that RUC abandoned her family

Sergeant Joseph Campbell was shot dead outside Cushendall RUC station in February 1977 (Campbell family/PA)
David Young and Cillian Sherlock, PA

A policeman’s widow who believes rogue colleagues colluded in his murder has accused the RUC of failing to protect him and abandoning her family.

Sergeant Joseph Campbell was shot dead outside Cushendall RUC station in February 1977.

The policeman’s family believe elements of the security forces colluded with now deceased UVF killer Robin Jackson to shoot dead the 49-year-old father of eight.

It has been alleged that Mr Campbell, a Catholic officer originally from the Republic, was potentially targeted because he had uncovered a loyalist arms smuggling operation.


A second inquest into the shooting, which the family has long campaigned for, began hearing evidence on Thursday in Belfast Coroner’s Court.

On the opening day, Mr Campbell’s widow, Rosemary, heavily criticised the police for not protecting him despite being aware of threats against him.

She said the police closed ranks and allowed the perpetrators to act with impunity.

“When Joe died, the RUC said they would look after us,” she said in a statement that was read to court.

Sir John Hermon
Sir John Hermon told Sgt Campbell’s widow ‘to move on’, she claims (PA)

“But as a family we felt abandoned. I recall going to RUC headquarters regarding compensation for Joe’s death. I received a payment of £1,900 in compensation for losing Joe.

“Despite Joe being one of their own, the RUC were not supportive. And, to be honest, I felt they were more interested in monitoring what we as a family may have known about the murder, rather than actively helping us, Joe’s family.

“Even after Joe died I recall one of my sons was walking through the village when a policeman blocked his path and told him that he would go the same way as his dad.”

In 2014, an investigation by the Police Ombudsman found RUC Special Branch was aware of a threat against Mr Campbell but failed to inform him.


The Ombudsman also identified a series of investigative failings by the police.

However, the Ombudsman was unable to substantiate claims that rogue security force members conspired with loyalists to commit the murder.

A former RUC Special Branch officer, now deceased, was charged with Mr Campbell’s murder but was later acquitted at trial.

In her statement, which was read to coroner Patrick McGurgan by a lawyer, Mrs Campbell recalled how the family had received threating phone calls prior to the murder and mocking calls after her husband’s death.

Northern Ireland Policing Board meeting
Sir George Hamilton had not read the ombudsman’s report, Sgt Campbell’s widow said (Liam McBurney/PA)

She said the family were repeatedly stopped by the security forces in often hostile encounters in the years after the shooting.

“Since Joe’s murder, all my family and I have ever wanted was truth and justice,” she said.

“I cannot understand why the RUC let this happen.

“Joe was a Catholic from southern Ireland serving in the RUC. He was a good man trusted by everyone. It’s completely unfathomable to me that the RUC right up to, and including the chief constable, knew there was a threat to Joe’s life, and where that threat emanated from, yet they still did nothing to protect him.

“Rather than bringing the culprits to justice, they closed ranks to protect their organisation, not only in what they said and did, but also in their silence by refusing to co-operate with all subsequent inquiries.”

She added: “Joe tried to protect and support the people of Cushendall. The RUC tried to say it was just some bad apples and every police force has them.

“At the end of the day, the murderers and their co-conspirators were able to act with impunity to walk away from this. My husband, my family and I, did not.”

Mrs Campbell said she had met three different chief constables about the murder. She singled out the late RUC chief Sir John Hermon and former PSNI chief Sir George Hamilton for criticism.

She claimed Sir John told her to “move on”.

“I told him that I firmly believed that Joe did not die at the hands of republican terrorists and that he had been set up by his own colleagues,” she said.

“He replied to me, ‘Rosemary, you’ve been reading too many fairy stories’.”

She then recalled an occasion when Sir George visited her home after the 2014 Ombudsman report was published.

“Whilst talking to George Hamilton, it was clear he did not know the details of Joe’s case and, when I challenged him, he admitted that he hadn’t read the Police Ombudsman’s report regarding Joe’s murder,” she stated.

“In my opinion, George Hamilton appeared more interested in agreeing a figure for compensation. At one stage he said, ‘how much is this going to cost me to make this go away?’

“As George Hamilton was leaving, I actually felt sorry for him, that a man whose office should command such power and respect chose to use his one and only visit to the home of a murdered colleague to make light of Joe’s death.”

She added: “I’m sad and angry and frustrated that after 46 years, no public official is able to tell me who it was that murdered my husband, or the reason why he was murdered.”

Mrs Campbell said her family needed answers and the “truth”.

“(He was a) loving husband and father and a proud and dedicated community officer whose commitment to his job ultimately led to his entirely preventable and heinous murder,” she said.

Mr Campbell’s second oldest son, also named Joe Campbell, also gave evidence to the inquest.

He said his father paid “the ultimate price” for attempting to build an inclusive community.

At times becoming emotional while delivering the pen portrait, he said each member of his family had to deal with the trauma and loss in their own way.

“Experience now shows this is a lifelong challenge made more difficult by the absence of truth and justice,” he said.

Following the murder, he said some family members had an “underlying distrust of the police”.

“The spark that keeps us all strong together is the knowledge our father was a good man. He served the community, all of it,” he said.

“He paid the ultimate price in trying to create an inclusive community,” he added.

Giving a “broad overview” of the case, counsel to the coroner Ian Skelt KC said the first inquest on October 13 1977 in Ballymena was a “short inquest” that lasted one day.

A fresh inquest was ordered by the attorney general seven years ago.

Mr Skelt said Mr Campbell was shot dead at about 9pm on February 25 1977 shortly after locking up the police station.

He said in the weeks prior to his death, Mr Campbell was acting out of character and this “may be because that was he was concerned about his own safety”.

On the night Mr Campbell was shot, he received a call at home.

He was off-duty but it appears to have been patched through to his home.

“We do not know the detail of the call or who made it,” Mr Skelt said.

The content of that call made him make his way to the police station and “unusually for Mr Campbell” he took his police-issue firearm with him.

The inquest sat for only one day before adjourning until next year, when evidence about the circumstances of the murder will be heard.

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