THE POLICE Ombudsman of Northern Ireland has today found that there was collusive behaviours but no prior knowledge of attacks by the Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters that resulted in 19 murders between 1989 and 1993.
All but one of the attacks took place in the north west of Northern Ireland, the report following an investigation by Ombudsman Marie Anderson said.
They included the murders of four people at Castlerock on 25 March 1993, and a gun attack which claimed the lives of eight people at Greysteel on 30 October 1993.
One of the attacks, the murder of Sinn Fein councillor Eddie Fullerton, took place in Co. Donegal in May 1991.
However, Mrs Marie Anderson reported that her investigation found no evidence that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had any prior knowledge of the attacks.
She stated that an initial failure by the RUC to ensure that it had adequate intelligence about the activities of the North West UDA/UFF led to an inability "to effectively counteract the threat posed by them which began to emerge in 1989."
For the report, Anderson investigated police actions in relation to these attacks, and she said her enquiries had identified a number of significant concerns, and that families' concerns about collusive behaviours were legitimate and justified.
Matters identified include intelligence and surveillance failings which led to the arming of the groups with assault rifles, and the failure to warn a number of individuals of threats to their lives.
Another was failure by police to adequately address UDR officers passing information to loyalist paramilitaries.
Mrs Anderson also found that there was deliberate destruction of records relating to informants who were suspected of having been involved in serious criminality including murder.
However, she also stated that, generally, police investigations into the attacks were ‘prompt and thorough’ resulting in a number of convictions of those responsible for the attacks.
The investigation identified a number of instances where RUC Special Branch had obtained information from informants which "impacted upon the effectiveness of the UDA/UFF as a terrorist organisation and may have saved lives."
Inadequate response to ‘growing threat’ posed by North West UDA/UFF
Mrs Anderson said that the RUC had been aware of the growing threat posed by the North West UDA/UFF from early 1989 onwards.
Intelligence indicated that the North West UDA/UFF had acquired military assault rifles linked to the 1987 loyalist weapons importation, one of which was first used in the murder of Mr Gerard Casey in April 1989.
"My investigation has established that weapons, believed to have been part of this importation, were subsequently used in other North West UDA/UFF attacks between 1989 and 1993, following the murder or Mr Casey," she said.
The threat posed by the North West UDA/UFF was exacerbated by what Mrs Anderson described as its significant intelligence-gathering activities during this period. The names of hundreds of people from the republican and nationalist communities were discovered in loyalist ‘intelligence caches’ between November 1989 and February 1992.
"I am of the view that police were aware of the growing threat posed by the North West UDA/UFF from 1989 onwards.
"This increased threat, however, was not initially accompanied by a policing response proportionate to the increased risk to members of the republican and nationalist communities."
Mrs Anderson also expressed concern that police had failed to deal appropriately with members of the security forces suspected of having passed sensitive information to loyalist paramilitaries.
She stated that although her investigation had found that some members suspected of involvement in such activity had been properly investigated, the investigation had also identified instances where members of the RUC and UDR were not subject to criminal investigations despite intelligence linking them to serious offences.
"Instead," she said, "they were dismissed or repositioned. I am of the view that the RUC response to these matters was both inconsistent and inadequate."
Mrs Anderson referred in particular to a failure to properly investigate suspicions that UDR members and RUC officers in the north west had passed information to terrorists or had otherwise assisted their activities.
"I am of the view that allegations of RUC officers passing information of use to terrorists was a serious matter that should have been investigated robustly and consistently."
A full copy of the report can be found here.