Bereaved families deserve to know the truth

Northern Ireland Office officials will have been left in no doubt yesterday about the strength of feeling among victims and survivors at the British government's ill-judged plans aimed at drawing a line under the past.

As the hurt and angry relatives of those who lost their lives during the Troubles have made clear, this is a subject that has united people from across the board in their opposition to a move that rides roughshod over their right to the truth.

As we know only too well, many families are unable to simply draw a line and move on. They cannot move on while questions remain unanswered about the death of a loved one.

In some cases there was an entirely inadequate investigation, information gaps and lack of engagement from the authorities. For others there has been state involvement in an altogether dark and disturbing way, and the obstruction of efforts aimed at uncovering the truth.

Many unresolved cases date back to the early period of the conflict but even in the later years, when the peace process was under way and there were hopes of ceasefires, terrible crimes continued, leaving families in grief but also determined to find out the full circumstances of a killing.

This week, Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson delivered a highly significant report on the murder of a Catholic teenager, Damien Walsh, by the UFF's 'C Company' at the Dairy Farm complex near Twinbrook, west Belfast in March 1993.

This was a dreadful crime, the unjustified sectarian killing of an innocent, defenceless 17-year-old.

No one has been charged or convicted in relation to the shooting although it was believed it was carried out by Stephen McKeag, now dead.

Mrs Anderson revealed that a surveillance operation on the UDA gang that carried out the killing was lifted two days before the attack before resuming five days after.

She says she believes information was not shared with investigators to 'safeguard sources of information' and that consequently the murder probe was impeded.

The ombudsman said the failure to share intelligence 'constituted collusive behaviour on the part of the police'.

Damien's mother, Marian Walsh, has welcomed the findings of this report, which underlines the importance of such investigations for the families of those who died.

She is entitled to expect the justice system to hold those responsible to account.

However, under the British government plans, Troubles-related prosecutions would end, denying relatives a perfectly legitimate course of action.