SDLP representatives have raised serious concerns about patterns of police behaviour which obstructed justice and prevented effective investigations into sectarian murders following the publication of a Police Ombudsman report into police handling of loyalist paramilitary murders in South Belfast.
Policing Board Member Dolores Kelly MLA said that the report, which includes an investigation of the RUC handling of the Sean Grahams Bookmakers atrocity on Belfast’s Ormeau Road in February 1992, is a comprehensive account of police action and inaction which obstructed justice and may have contributed to the murder of individuals.
South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said that the report lays out clearly what victims and survivors of UDA murderers have known for more than 30 years – the RUC was running informants involved in serious criminality and sectarian murder and investigations into the loss of their loved ones were woefully deficient.
Dolores Kelly MLA said:
“This report is a damning indictment of the RUC handling of loyalist paramilitary murders in south Belfast. The scale and scope of reckless decision making, destruction of evidence, and serious investigative failures is overwhelming.
“The Ombudsman outlines the systemic failure to inform individuals of intelligence that their lives are under threat with ‘no legitimate explanation’, the use of informants known to be involved in the most heinous criminality including sectarian murder and an ingrained attitude against passing intelligence from Special Branch to murder investigations.
“Any one of the Ombudsman findings would be damning. But together they paint a disturbing pattern of police behaviours and investigations at the time. The same failings identified in this report were identified in the report into Operation Greenwich last month. It is becoming increasingly clear that these were not standalone issues with individual investigations. There is a culture of subversive and collusive behaviour which had infected the RUC handling of cases in different geographic regions. That points to a failing at the most senior levels of policing. It cannot be ignored or brushed under the carpet.
“I want to pay tribute to the families who have never given up the fight for justice. I am thinking today particularly of the families of James Kennedy, Peter Magee, William McManus, Jack Duffin and Christy Doherty who marked the 30th anniversary of the Sean Grahams massacre last weekend. They should not have had to fight so long for the truth about why those terrible events happened.”
Claire Hanna MP said:
“Today’s report puts on public record the truth the community of the lower Ormeau has been telling for 30 years but it also exposes to wider society the hardship faced by the families of the Sean Graham bookmakers atrocity when all they have been seeking is truth and justice.
“This report is difficult reading. It outlines a litany of appalling behaviours by police which culminated in the murder of innocent people in south Belfast and prevented the effective investigation of those murders.
“The use of informants involved in murder, the return of live weapons to active paramilitaries, the destruction of evidence and failure to disclose key intelligence. The inescapable conclusion of the body of evidence that the Ombudsman has brought together is that the RUC valued paramilitary informants more than they valued the safety of innocent people in South Belfast. That is a perversion of justice.
“Let this report be another example to Boris Johnson and his government that the interests of victims and survivors will never be served by shutting down avenues of truth and accountability.
“I want to commend the families who have shown immense dignity over the course of more than 30 years of fighting for truth, justice and accountability.”
Matthew O’Toole MLA said:
“These findings are stark and chilling. It is evident from the Ombudsman’s report that the RUC, but in particular Special Branch, were at best reckless with their handling of informants and at worst willing to put their intelligence operations ahead of the lives and safety of innocent members of the public.
“Particular findings in the Ombudsman’s report are astonishing – from failures to take threats seriously to endemic investigatory failures. For the Sean Graham bookmakers atrocity families to read that one of the guns used in that mass murder had actually been in the possession of police and then returned to a known terrorist will be one of the most traumatising parts of this report. But that is just one part of a report which includes a litany of appalling actions and omissions by the RUC and the state more widely.
“Though the Ombudsman is prevented from making a direct finding of collusion, she cites a long list of ‘collusive behaviours’. A reasonable person reading this report would find it hard to avoid the conclusion that collusion occurred.
“While this report will hopefully bring some vindication to the families of the Sean Graham victims and the victims covered by this extensive report, many of them are still being denied justice. The dignity and resilience of these victims in the face of sustained attempts to obscure the truth shines through, and is a reminder of how just unacceptable any attempt to sweep the past under the carpet via an amnesty would be. My thoughts today are with those victims who have waited three decades for any semblance of accountability for the depraved taking of innocent family members.
“Our past is dark, but unless we deal with it properly, we won’t truly move beyond it.”