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Police Ombudsman’s report finds ‘collusive behaviours' in Loyalist killings

17 January 2022

The funeral procession of Steven Mullan, one of the victims of the 1993 Greysteel pub massacre.

When the North’s Police Ombudsman, Marie Anderson found ‘collusive behaviours’ by police in 19 murders by loyalists it was something of a surprise. Usually, these reports are produced by carefully selected safe pairs of hands who smooth over inconvenient truths.

To that extent the Ombudsman deserves a great deal of credit for speaking plainly.

On the other hand, ‘collusive behaviours’ sounds far too similar to an earlier finding of 'institutional racism' against the Metropolitan Police in London. Bad things happened, but who was responsible and how far up the chain of command we should search are left to our imagination.

The detail is much more specific; “wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder”.  In addition, “evidential links connecting an individual to several murders and attempted murders” was compiled and presented to the police in 2016 with no response from them and there was evidence of records and evidence being destroyed by the police.

The report, like others before, highlights not only historic collusion by the RUC but also the ongoing efforts of the PSNI to frustrate any investigation.  One of the key figures in this has been Drew Harris – former Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI and current Garda Commissioner. In 2010, he brought the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) under his control. HET officers could no longer arrest and question suspects. He took control of their budget, and closed down their thematic investigation unit which was cross referencing the individual investigations for links, patterns and systems drawing out the involvement of RUC personnel and wider collusion.

Of course, the Dublin government were well aware of this. Harris's appointment was purely political, an assurance of unconditional support for the PSNI and the strengthened links with the Garda. Expressions of concern by Sinn Féin are there to disguise their acceptance of the status quo. In the North they favoured a general amnesty dressed up as truth and reconciliation - now they accept the Special Criminal Court in the 26-county state.

We can add British plans to grant impunity for state forces in the past and into the future and moves to legalise something very close to a police state in post-Brexit Britain.

An example of widespread political indifference was a recent investigation by the BBC Spotlight team of a pattern of loyalist killings aimed at the families of republicans and driven by direct intelligence from the RUC and British intelligence. The report passed without any comment. The political parties, the unions and the left all averted their gaze.

The ombudsman's report will pass just as quickly. Although it is spelt out nowhere, support for the Irish peace process involves an agreement of collective amnesia and burying the past. Unfortunately, this agreement by British and Irish capitalism, supported by a range of political and trade union leaders, also means that state collusion, murder and repression are part of our future.  Confronting this reality is a task for a remobilised democratic and socialist opposition.

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