Collusion: Getting rid of unwanted members of the public
Lethal Allies by Anne Cadwallader
The use of collusion by the British state in the north of Ireland is a well-established fact. The historical connection between unionist paramilitarism, the RUC and B Specials made it easy for the British. The northern state was born out of partition and the use and threat of violence by unionist political leaders. Many of those who founded the RUC and the various armed Special Police Groups, including the B Specials, which existed then were former members of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) – an armed paramilitary organisation.
When the British Army came back onto the streets of Derry and Belfast in 1969 many of its officers and soldiers were fresh from the killing fields of Aden and Oman and some had served in Kenya and Cyprus and Malaya during the years of conflict in those places in the 1950s and early 60’s.
They brought with them the techniques of torture; of counter-gangs; of propaganda, and media and political manipulation that they had used there. Foremost among its advocates was Frank Kitson. He argued that to win against a guerrilla enemy which had the support of its community or at the very least a significant proportion of its community, the government, the law, the judiciary and the media all had to be reshaped and moulded to suit the aim of defeating the enemy.
Kitson wrote: ‘The fundamental concept is the working of the triumvirate, civil, military and police, as a joint and integrated organisation from the highest to the lowest level of policy making, planning and administration.’
Kitson rationalised the use of death squads and the corruption of justice: ‘Everything done by a government and its agents in combating insurgency must be legitimate. But this does not mean that the government must work within exactly the same set of laws during an emergency as existed beforehand. The law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, in which case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public.’
What did all of this mean in practice? In the early years of the ‘troubles’ it meant the British Army forging a new unionist paramilitary organisation – the Ulster Defence Association – out of many small neighbourhood groups. It meant watching columns of masked UDA men in their thousands parade in paramilitary uniform through the streets of Belfast escorted by the RUC and British Army. It meant an increase in sectarian killings.
The purpose of this was to frighten the nationalist community into rejecting the IRA; to drag that organisation into a sectarian war; and to make it easier for the British to present the conflict internationally as ‘mindless sectarian criminality’. It also allowed for the state to dispose of ‘unwanted members of the public.’
The history of those early years is writ large the use of spies and spooks and counter gangs by the British through organisations like the Military Reaction Force and the RUC Special Branch. Later additional forces like the Force Research Unit and the Special Air Service and others were brought to play by the Brits.
In 2006 an Independent International Panel on Collusion into Sectarian Killings produced a detailed 109-page report. It followed a careful examination of 25 cases of unionist paramilitary violence between 1972 and 1977 in which 76 people were killed. The Panel found that in 24 cases involving 74 killings there was evidence of collusion involving the RUC and Ulster Defence Regiment.
Launching the report Douglas Cassel, a human rights professor from the American University of Notre Dame, said he had been shocked at the extent of state collusion in the killings the team had investigated.
The following year the then Police Ombudsman Nuala O Loan published a report detailing how the RUC Special Branch knowingly colluded with a “serial killer” – Mark Haddock – providing him with cover, protecting him from prosecution and paying him at least £80,000 for his services as an agent. Special Branch agents operated outside the law and Special Branch officers covered up their crimes.
The investigation directly linked Haddock with the murders of ten people and cites credible evidence to link him with further murders, shootings, beatings and bomb attacks as well as a catalogue of other crimes including drug dealing, extortion, intimidation and criminal damage.
Throughout it all, Haddock enjoyed the full support of his Special Branch handlers who not only continued to pay him but also increased his wages. The report found a ‘pattern of work by certain officers within Special Branch designed to ensure that Informant 1 and his associates were protected from the law’.
And then there is the case of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane about which I have written many times before. The British are so concerned by the potential of this one case to expose the lie that collusion was not an instrument of institutional and official government policy that they reneged on a commitment at Weston Park in 2001 to hold an enquiry.
But the issue of collusion will not disappear. It has left behind too many victims, their families and questions unanswered. And now truth has a new champion with the publication of ‘Lethal Allies – British collusion in Ireland’ by Anne Cadwallader.
Anne who is a case worker with the Pat Finucane Centre has spent three years researching the deaths of 120 citizens who were killed between 1972 and 1978. ‘Lethal Allies’ chronicles the extent of collusion between unionist paramilitaries and the RUC and UDR in that six year period in the 1970’s and it provides a significant new body of information and evidence about the extent of collusion at that time.
It contains significant new evidence relating to 120 sectarian killings, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombs which claimed 33 lives, that occurred during a relatively short period in the 1970s. The reports from the Historical Enquiries Team, which have never been seen before, provide a significant insight into the role of the RUC and UDR in sectarian killings.
The Pat Finucane centre has also added substantial new evidence through its careful research in the files available in the British national archives in Kew Gardens in London and elsewhere and extensive interviews with victim’s families have also produced new information.
The book makes difficult reading. Page after page records the death of a loved one and the brutal circumstances in which their lives were taken. But page after page also reports the depth of RUC and UDR direct and indirect involvement in most of these deaths.
There are many cases that stand out. But the bomb attack on the Rock Bar, Granemore, in mid Armagh, provides one of the clearest examples of collusion at work. Late on June 5 1976 three men wearing masks pulled up in a car outside of it. They shot one man and seriously wounded one man Michael McGrath who was standing outside. They placed a bomb outside and fired indiscriminately into the building. Only the detonator exploded and no one else was injured.
All of those involved in this attack were serving members of the RUC. ‘Lethal Allies’ methodically strips away the connections in this and in case after case and reveals the extent of RUC and UDR involvement all of these murders.
But it goes further than that it also exposes the degree to which the institutions of the state, including the DPP and the judiciary colluded in the covering up and shielding of those involved in these actions. When the three RUC officers were eventually arrested and brought to court, along with several others, the serious charge of attempted murder relating to the Rock Bar attack were dropped.
Michael McGrath was not called as a witness nor were any of the other people in the Rock Bar. Two of the three were given suspended sentences and the third, Constable William McCaughey, who had been convicted several weeks earlier of the sectarian murder of William Strathearn, was sentenced to seven years to run concurrently with his conviction for the killing of Strathearn.
The Lord Chief Justice Lowry tellingly remarked: ‘All of the accused have admitted their offences and all of them have acted wrongly or emotionally under the same powerful motives, in one case the mortal danger of their service and in the other the feeling that more than ordinary police work was needed and justified to rid the land of the pestilence which has been in existence.’
‘Duplicity at its finest,’ she called it.
That phrase of ‘bad apples’ and others like ‘renegade officers’ have been used often in the past. It was trotted out to excuse the torture of detainees in Castlereagh and Gough Barracks and Strand Road in the late 1970s. It is being used again in recent days. Once more it is about trying to distance the British political system from any complicity in what occurred. However, the extent of collusion and its cover-up; the fact that British politicians knew of its existence and did nothing to prevent it and the refusal to hold the Pat Finucane enquiry are all evidence of collusion.
This is perhaps best summed up by Anne Cadwallader in her conclusion. She writes, “The inescapable fact, established beyond doubt by these events, is that successive British governments and their law enforcement agencies entered into a collusive counter-insurgency campaign with loyalist paramilitaries. It was thoroughly unethical – and it failed dismally. It was also illegal under international law.”
In October 2011 the then British Secretary of State Owen Patterson stood in the British Parliament and admitted that the British State colluded with Loyalist gunmen in Pat’s murder.
On the same day David Cameron told the Finucane family that there would be no inquiry into Pat Finucane’s death just a review of the papers.
Patterson’s words were part of a damage limitation exercise. The British hoped it would silence the Finucane family. It didn’t work. Moreover a British Minister, on behalf of the British Prime Minister, was admitting that his predecessors had participated in a criminal action.
The British government should move immediately to establish the inquiry into the Pat Finucane killing which it signed up for at Weston Park and has reneged on. And it should engage positively in the debate around truth, legacy and reconciliation matters which thus far it has obstructed and frustrated.