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Cox strongly suspects elements of this gang were responsible for the bloodiest day of the conflict — May 17, 1974, when car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan killed 33 people. Even though UVF members were almost certainly involved, the British government continued with its plans to de-proscribe the organisation a week later.

At night, part-time soldiers posed as real soldiers at bogus checkpoints in the countryside. Five Catholics were shot dead this way. Mass casualty attacks on Catholic bars were also favoured, executed with such insouciance that the perpetrators seemed to have assumed they would never be caught. Some belonged to an elite RUC unit, call sign “Orange”, named after the Orange Order who sometimes staged provocative marches through Catholic areas wearing orange sashes and banging lambeg drums.

Serving police officers who attacked the Rock Bar in Granemore in June 1976 using guns and a bomb packed with nails and pieces of metal actually escaped in a police car. Lying on the ground, having been machine-gunned in the stomach,  one survivor noticed his would-be killer was wearing police boots. Another gang member returned to the scene an hour later in uniform to take statements from survivors.

“Our role was to carry out attacks against the nationalist and republican community,” former police sergeant John Weir told the Irish state broadcaster RTE recently. “If ordinary Catholics were shot nobody was too worried about it.” Most of the Glenanne gang’s victims were “ordinary” Catholics.

Evidence uncovered by Cox and his team of ex-mainland detectives suggests that some in Special Branch were on to Weir and his murderous colleagues  by the autumn of 1976, if not before. If so, those Branch officers never shared this intelligence with the CID officers investigating the bombings, a pattern that marked SB-CID relations for the entire conflict. “In many, many cases we found examples that intelligence had not been passed on to the investigators and no satisfactory explanation for it in the papers at all,” says Cox. The clear implication is that Branch agents, even those involved in murder, were being protected, prioritising intelligence-gathering over justice.

Weir and some of his fellow perpetrators were only brought to justice when one of them ended up in a psychiatric ward and started talking, although “justice” dignifies the sentences handed down by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Robert Lowry on those officers involved in the Rock Bar attack. They received one- or two-year suspended sentences because Lowry did not regard them as terrorists. “I must remember that whatever sentence is just, it would follow that it would be imposed on a different and lower scale from that appropriate to terrorists,” he said. The police officers’ conduct, Lord Lowry insisted, had sprung “from a feeling of frustration . . . that what I might call ordinary methods had proved relatively ineffective in dealing with terrorists”.

It was, of course, true that the IRA were wreaking death and destruction on a much greater scale than loyalists. The mind boggles, however, at how the Lord Chief Justice reached a verdict that excused taking it out on uninvolved Catholics.

The unpalatable truth is that as the conflict extended into the 1980s and 1990s collusion between loyalists and the security forces continued at a greater level than successive British governments have been prepared to admit. “I didn’t think it was anything like on the scale which we now know it was,” the former Northern Ireland security minister Michael Mates recently told me.

We now know that in 1985 MI5 assessed that 85 per cent of the UDA’s targeting material came from security force records. A “very senior RUC officer” was also suspected by MI5 of “assisting loyalist paramilitaries to procure arms”. The UDA’s five Belfast “Brigade” areas were in contact with some 100 police officers.

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Charlie 7
August 29th, 2015
10:08 AM
Reading Cecil King's diaries of 1970-1974, gives the impression that the chaos in the Western World and the advance of Communism meant that many feared for democracy. Britain expelled 105 USSR diplomats dues to espionage in 1970. M Bentine the comedian and ex MI9 officer called a meeting in 1968 and predicted the rise of political terrorism and was ignored by most British authorities apart from the SAS. The KGB supported terrorism and there was more cooperation between PIRA, ETA, Palestinian Groups, Red Brigade, Action Direct and other political groups than governments. Countries such as E Germany, Algeria and Libya provided support and it was not until R Mason in N Ireland and then more comprehensively under Thatcher and Regan was political terrorism dealt with. Many western governments ignored Palestinian terrorism and arab support for them. S Ireland provided training areas for the PIRA and support from some members of the government. I doubt that it was not until the early 1980s did Britain have the skill and will to effectively deal with Republican terrorism. It was the Iranian Embassy siege which showed Britain had the skill and will to deal with terrorism. When dealing with political events perhaps we should remember General Sir Alan Brook's comments on N Africa in 1940s" Half the divisional and corp commanders are not good enough but there are none better to replace them".

Billy Corr
June 26th, 2015
9:06 AM
It would have been possible even for the likes of Johnny English to have tracked down each member of the I.R.A. Army Council and killed them all(preferably on the same day.) This was not done because the military elite rather enjoyed keeping the Ulster war - the 'low-intensity conflict' - running.

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