Published on 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.

23_bombaftermath_w

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.

Follow @alextomo on Twitter.

Article topics

Tweets by @alextomo

26 reader comments

  1. Frances says:

    Thank you publishing for the brave truth in this article. Why has it taken so so long to get such truth,whether on the “troubles” of Northern Ireland, Hillsborough or historical child abuse cases into the public domain??

    Can we only face corruption when time lends distance and takes the heat off??

    Thank you Channel4news for always being willing to go out on a limb to state truth. Sometimes truth in the media and an element of naming and shaming has become a type of modern justice and not the legal system processes.

  2. Belfast1 says:

    Nice piece especially given its the 20th anniversary of the Shankill bomb. Seemed to miss that from the piece. Seems the British establishment is very cynical when releasing information but Channel 4 News is above that??

  3. ACaseToAnswer says:

    Justice has no time limit?
    When will there be an inquiry?

    Brixton,Hillsborough, Jean-Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, plebgate.

    For the murder of 120 people with state collusion? There has to be a public inquiry.

    Thank you Alex for shedding some light onto this, long may the search for the truth continue.

  4. terry says:

    funny how the so called plebgate story about who said what is so much more important than this story about how the government murdered its own people. here in N.Ireland the people who have lost families from Bloody Sunday to the Shankill bomb none of them had any say in the politics none of them were guilty of anything other than living in this place . We all need to have the truth out but those who are guilty will do whatever to keep their secrets hidden. thanks for still pushing for the little guy ch4 news and i do understand people are fed up hearing about irish tears but its important . if people dont care what happened here who will care when it happens to you

  5. S.B. says:

    The British public must realise that there has been a vast cover up as to what the RUC, UDR, military and Intelligence Services got up to in the North of Ireland over the past 40 years. This wasn’t about fighting the IRA, this was about systemic murder of 100’s of innocent Catholics by the State in order to terrorise that community. It took over 50 years for the British government to acknowledge what the British Army and secret services did in Kenya and admit the murder of 1000’s of Kenyans by the British State and their Kenyan death militias. Likewise the truth will also eventually come out about the North of Ireland and how the State and Intelligence Services operated and ran British Army/RUC/UDR Loyalist murder squads who killed many people and got away with it. Many ordinary British people will not like it and will want to ignore but it was done in their name by their Establishment and this will not just go away. Does anyone with any sort of intelligence in mainland Britain ever stop, think and ask just why the IRA were able to get so many young, well educated members over the years? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the British State was murdering their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters and children in Ireland! Two wrongs don’t make a right but it’s time the British public and media admitted and accepted that what their people did in Ireland was just plain wrong; in fact it was murder and terrorism.

  6. gweedo says:

    The British govt was far from a neutral party in the Troubles in Ireland. The police and army were actively involved in murdering nationalists.

    Its time to dispense with the facade of the honest broker & accept that all sides emerged with blood on their hands.

    Attempts to place the security forces at a higher moral level than the IRA they were fighting lie exsposed as a nonsense.

  7. Philip Edwards says:

    Alex,

    I am willing to bet the withdrawn surveillance team WAS the SAS.

    Which prompts the question…..who has the power to withdraw The Regiment from ops? It certainly isn’t some crackpot sectarian murderer or “loyalist” gang.

    In other words, this stinks of the same kind of black op that set out to discredit John Stalker’s inquiry, and which destroyed the life of Colin Wallace.

    In my opinion this kind of murder conspiracy can probably be traced back all the way to Whitehall and the kind of loony spooks who infest its power structure.

    It makes you weep to think of what innocent families have been through. Murder is murder, whoever commits it……”loyalist” or “nationalist.”

  8. Peadar says:

    My Father was in the step-inn in Keady on the night of the bomb we only lived a few hundred yards up the street.
    He never got over the bombing, he died a few years later aged 53.
    This is not news to us. The people of Keady always knew the Police were involved, there were road blocks at all roads into and out of Keady that night, the Street Lights were all turned off as well.
    Its a pity it has taken 37years for the truth to come out. I’m sure the Cowards who carried out this attack will not be held to task, but if the powers that be have at least the guts to admit the knew all along, and did nothing, the rest of the world might begin to understand what ordinary people had to cope with under this so called democracy.

    1. Colette says:

      I am a niece of Betty and Malachy. I remember often going to visit them at the Step-inn and helping in the bar as I was around 18 years old. It was a happy family home with their 3 little boys aged 7, 4 and 18 months loved and cared for. Shame on those who committed this crime and stole away a young mother from her family, wife from her husband and for her grandchildren to have never have know her. The family are innocent victims just like the other victims of this gang. Thank you for reporting this story.

  9. Alan says:

    No mention on British Security & FBI Agents engaging in IRA terrorist activities to keep their cover?

    1. Markod says:

      If you can present the evidence I’ll happily read it.

  10. Richard Jay says:

    I donT doubt that there was collusion during this period: the lines between the police, UDR and protestant paramilitary organisations were blurred especially in the border counties among those who saw themselves as defending their homes and families from a vicious terrorist campaign. However, your report turned out to be basically uncritical publicity for a book from a centre whose pro-Republican political orientations were not explained, nor indeed was the context of the terrorist campaign in which these events took place. Not unusual one-sided analysis by Ch4 news.

    1. John says:

      Richard come on get real, the evidence of all this comes from police files dug up by the HET. The Pat Finucane centre helped to gather the information, they didnt make it up. I once heard coming over an RUC mans radio the words shoot on sight in the 1970s, and this was in reference to a stolen car just abandoned in West Belfast. The police were up to their necks in this. People need to hear the truth not pretend its some sort of agenda by republicans. Massive wrongs were done on all sides but to hear some people the state did nothing wrong and republicans were the only terrorists.

      1. Richard says:

        Yes, John, but to hear other people talk, the state collectively promoted loyalist death squads to repress peaceable human rights activists in the IRA. It was a ‘dirty war’, and horrors were conducted by all parties.
        Pursuing ‘the truth’ is what the HET was set up to do (whether effectively or otherwise) and, as you say, most of what is in the book is already known through that process. A big issue in the ‘post-conflict’ (sic) Northern Ireland, though, is what kind of spin are people putting on the past to serve current political objectives.
        The Finucane Centre is not neutral in that.

  11. Andrew Dundas says:

    Could it be that these revelations contribute to the new ONS report of Northern Ireland having the highest levels of “life satisfaction”, “feelings that their lives are worthwhile” and “happiness” in this beautiful part of the UK? Or is adherence to religious beliefs, or something else a cause?

  12. Jon says:

    Perhaps if the press were to do a bit of research before publishing, we might get fewer hysterical articles like this.

    A little bit of research reveals that the majority of the Glenanne Gang were arrested, and many of them convicted. All of this is in the public record.

    Which kind of undermines the whole state-sponsored-collusion twaddle.

    1. Kevin Newbanks says:

      Jon, your comments smack of both ignorance and ignorance, you are ignorant in that you did not bother to know your subject matter on the Glenanne issue, and you are arrogant when you claim that the obvious collusion that went on between the loyalist terrorists and the states terrorists RUC/UDR/SAS et al is “Twaddle”.

      Bury your ignorant head in the sand all you want but rational people who look at the troubles from a subjective perspective always find the british Government wanting, they are nefarious, kill happy vermin who simply colluded with terrorists to kill people simply because of their faith.

      Your PM has spent a lot of time apologizing for the actions of his government and I see a lot more apologies coming the way of the victims of these heinous crimes.

    2. Terry says:

      And British soldiers don’t do Nazi salutes. They don’t do pictures with OO flags, Loyalist flags or other muck?

      Or murdering unarmed Afghans?

      Just today more reports of offensive bigoted behavior by a serving BA squaddie.

  13. gerry says:

    the older you get living in the uk-the more you realise it is run by a corrupt,perverse, sadistic ,uncaring,elite-i suppose thats what happens when you dont get a revolution and the same bloodlines use us like cattle
    NI makes no sense-its in the name of religion-or thats how they are described in obituaries-but the vast majority are not interested in christianity at all-it must be a tribal thing-but they have genetically more in common with their adversaries than they have with the rest of the world-
    one could not identify the others loyalties without seeing a birth certificate-
    so the whole thing must have been stoked by generations of parliaments
    divide the celts to weaken the threat to london power

  14. ACaseToAnswer says:

    Jon – please share your research.

    Who was convicted for the attacks mentioned in the news report?

    If only you were correct in your assertion that there were convictions the victims families could at least feel justice had been done.

    But there weren’t even investigations, nevermind convictions.

  15. Nigel Wilson says:

    It is easy to allow suspicion to run away with you. There is so much smoke and mirrors in this that you end up not being able to tell smoke from a mirror. This was a very bizarre period of The Troubles as there was a lot of jockeying about on the ground between paramilitaries and some who would have liked to be paramilitaries. If you want my honest opinion at the time the British Army was way out of its depth, the RUC Special Branch didn’t know its backside from its elbow, the British political class was hunkering down for the long-haul and the paramilitaries had pretty much carved up the landscape between each other into zones of influence. Nobody was in control of anything much and thus it was the little people who suffered, particularly those who were trying to do something for peace. It was a time of arbitrary power.

    1. Richard says:

      I think there is a lot in what you say here Nigel. However, I also think one shouldn’t ignore the mindsets which the different participants brought to the conflict and accentuated the problem. Beyond the historical perceptions of the local security forces and the republican movement of each other, of the communities from which they came, we have the army’s experience of its counter-terrorist strategies in the colonies, the Irish state’s inability to adopt a consistent line, and the British Establishment’s desire to wash their hands of the whole problem. A lethal melting pot.

  16. Ciarán says:

    Yeah. Next thing they’ll be doing an exclusive on how the Luftwaffe bombed London in 1940.

  17. Kevin says:

    “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.”

    Local police knew who was involved , they didn`t need info from Special Branch .

    1. Terry says:

      Sur ye don’t hang yer brothers and fathers out to dry, do ye?

  18. alan maughan says:

    my brother was murdered along side his brother in arms may 6th 1979
    lisnaskea .
    i was contacted by the HET team 2012 .
    the collusion and lies leading up to during .before. and more sinister after he was murdered .concerning the investigations which took place to be honest if it were on the t.v. as a tragedy it would have to be a comedy of errors. i call it a teabag investigation lack of substance and full of holes.
    to say i am angry is an understatement . my brother murdered by his peers.
    i have read all the above comments all i can say is ditto.

Comments are closed.