23 Oct 2013

Historical Enquiries Team exposes Northern Ireland collusion

In the days running up to the bombing in 1976, the police and army were more than sure about where the bomb was and where it was going to.

So sure that a senior divisonal officer in the police called in the army to put surveillance on the house where they were sure the bomb was being stored. That house was owned by a part-time police officer.

He wasn’t the only police officer involved in a plan to plant a no-warning bomb on the softest of targets – a bar.

One of the Loyalist bombing gang from the farmhouse went to scout the route to the target – a bar in Clontibret just over the border in the Republic of Ireland. He was a policeman too.

When he got there, he found the place crawling with Irish police, roadblocks – the works.

Showing his warrant-card, the policeman-cum-bomber was told by Irish officers they were expecting a bomb.

Expecting it because they had been told by their northern counterparts, now watching that lonely Glenanne farmhouse in County Armagh. It was one of the key houses then used by the notorious Glenanne Gang.

Then, a series of incredible events took place.

The army undercover surveillance – possibly by the SAS – was called off.

By the time the scouting policeman-cum-bomber had returned to the farmhouse where the Glenanne Gang had their bomb, the rest of the gang knew they were under surveillance.

At this point you might think they would abandon or dismantle their bomb – get the hell out of Dodge and generally make themselves scarce, leaving as few traces as possible to connect themselves to the large device now in a hijacked car (belonging to yet another policeman) outside that farmhouse.

They didn’t.

Instead they simply changed targets, drove the bomb to The Step Inn in Keady, nearby, and left it to detonate.

Keady then – as now – is mainly Catholic. It was a no-warning sectarian attack whose aim was simply to kill as many people as possible, simply because they were Catholics.


In the days that followed we can now reveal that police special branch knew the identities of most of the bombers from the notorious gang in the run-up to the bombing and clearly in the days after.

The special branch never passed on any of this information to local detectives investigating the bombing. None of these people was questioned, much less arrested. The family was simply left to grieve down the long years.

Speaking publicly to Channel 4 News for the first time in 37 years since it happened, the then owner of The Step Inn bar Malachy McDonald describes staggering through the rubble of his bar and finding his wife:

“She was lying there. Those clear blue eyes staring up at me.”

And she was dead. Their four-year-old son clinging to her bloodstained body and crying:

“Mummy… mummy…”

After all these years this information comes to light because the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) – set up as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland – has been investigating killings across The Troubles.

Their team of senior police officers finally got access to the key papers, which showed just how much the police really knew.

Just how many key suspects were members of the security forces.

Just how few leads to these men were ever followed up. Those leads go not just to policemen connected to this bomb but also soldiers – members of the now-disbanded Ulster Defence Regiment (British Army soldiers drawn from the local population).

The Step Inn is far from the only example. There are scores of murders relating to the Glenanne Gang , a loose and shifting group involving police officers, UDR soldiers and the Loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force paramilitaries.

Only now have testimony from the families of the victims and the police papers uncovered by the HET been brought together in a book to be published on Friday by the former BBC Correspondent in Ireland Anne Cadwallader.

Channel 4 News has had exclusive access to the book prior to publication as well as the HET reports themselves, hitherto unpublished beyond the immediate confines of the families of victims to whom the reports were delivered.

Taken together, for the first time they pull into one place what so many have long suspected or just knew across Northern Ireland and on both sides of the divide, that elements of the police and the British army were working hand in glove with the UVF to murder people with no paramilitary connection whatsoever.

So it is that almost forty years on, the families – the children of those who died and in some cases grand-children – are demanding justice in some shape or form. A score of complaints is with the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman; a slew of legal cases is heading it seems to the high court.

Lawyers representing the families sense the state is digging in and giving no quarter.

They say that is ultimately futile when their own police papers are now finally coming to light.

Which is ironic since government papers now released show that at the highest levels – and at the time these murder were being committed – the British government believed elements of the UDR were colluding in Loyalist murders.

An open apology and acceptance of responsibility would, in many cases, close the matter say the families’ lawyers.

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