22 February 2007 Edition
Collusion: Paradigm shift as unionists speak out
Ordinary unionists also victims of collusion
BY LAURA FRIEL
Raymond McCord Snr, like most of the unionist community, used to dismiss allegations of collusion as republican propaganda. This is no longer the case.
Last month Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan exposed state involvement in the murder of McCord’s son and the role of state agencies in covering up the crime. It wasn’t news to the dead man’s father.
McCord had already spent years painstakingly investigating his son’s murder and everything he discovered pointed towards collusion. Three years ago he initiated the O’Loan investigation by making a formal complaint, alleging collusion, to the Ombudsman’s office. That allegation has now been upheld.
Raymond McCord Jnr was murdered on the orders of a Special Branch agent in the UVF in November 1997. Despite the fact that the UVF boss responsible and those who carried out the killing are known, not only has no one has been charged, those responsible have been protected.
It’s been a long, difficult journey for McCord. Learning the harrowing details of his son’s killing was only the beginning of a story that has betrayal at its heart. As a unionist he believed in his community’s ‘special relationship’ with Britain only to discover that when it came to protecting British interests and British agents his son’s life counted for nothing.
In the past Raymond McCord thought collusion was either a myth or something that only impacted on the nationalist community. “I didn’t see it partly I suppose because I didn’t want to see it,” McCord told a packed meeting in Derry last week.
Organised by the Pat Finucane Centre and chaired by Andree Murphy of Relatives for Justice, McCord joked with the predominantly nationalist and republican audience - “Before I begin can anyone tell me, am I in Derry or Londonderry.”
McCord describes himself as a loyalist but rejects unionist paramilitaries as gangsters. He expressed his irritation at republican terminology that identifies ‘loyalist’ simply in terms of bigotry and paramilitarism.
For McCord ‘loyalist’ refers simply to a political position, the community into which he was born and its historical relationship with Britain. It doesn’t mean he’s at odds with his nationalist neighbours. “We’ve more in common than we have differences,” says McCord.
The death of his son created an unexpected schism between the McCord family and the agencies the unionist community normally claims as its own - the police, law, the state.
Recently there has been a paradigmatic shift in perception within the unionist community. In an opinion poll conducted by the Belfast Newsletter in the wake of O’Loan’s report the vast majority of unionists - over 70%, said they believed the Ombudsman’s report was correct. By implication ordinary Protestants now accept that the British state and their agencies in the North have and continue to act outside the law and, can and do, kill with impunity.
But it wasn’t a Pauline conversion prompted by O’Loan alone, so much as a slow drip, drip of consciousness born out of the experience of unionist paramilitary criminality that continues to rip the fabric of many unionist communities apart. Post the IRA cessation, and as the fog of war has slowly lifted, the brutal criminal empires of the UDA and UVF have come into sharper focus. The question now being asked is - if the antics of unionist paramilitaries are villainous, how do we understand the agencies of state that protect and sponsor them? It’s a big question for unionists.
Nationalists and republicans might have a longer lived experience of collusion but that doesn’t make the direct personal testimony of victims or their families any the less harrowing. It was heartbreaking to hear the brutality of the deaths inflicted on McCord’s son and the son of fellow unionist Paul McIlwaine and chilling to hear the fine detail of the state’s responsibility and response.
Paul McIlwaine’s son David was murdered with Andrew Robb in Tandragee in 1998. Like the McCord family, the McIlwaines believe the investigation into the double killing has been hampered due to the involvement of unionist paramilitaries who were state agents and therefore protected.
David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb were brutally murdered after inadvertently disturbing a UVF gang drinking in a house next door to a party they attended. Robb appears to have been identified as a distant relative of a member of a rival gang. This was sufficient to seal their fate.
For the nationalist audience listening to Paul and Raymond’s account it was familiar enough. A pattern of flawed investigation, suppressed evidence, intimidation and vilification of the victim’s family, official stalling, refusal to prosecute and lies.
A significant difference identified by both men has been the attitude of their local political representatives. In unionist areas there is not only no support from unionist politicians to the victims of collusion and their families - there can often be open hostility.
“The attitude of unionist politicians to the victims of collusion is disgraceful. If you talk about collusion they regard you as a traitor. The British Prime Minister and the PSNI Chief Constable have admitted collusion but not unionist politicians,” said McCord.
According to McCord, Special Branch agent and UVF killer Mark Haddock was in jail when he ordered the the murder of his son. The killing was carried out by a unionist paramilitary on weekend parole who returned to jail afterwards. When investigating officers sought to recover his clothing for forensic examination the prison authorities refused the CID entry.
“Since the 1994 loyalist ceasefire there have been 25 murders in the greater North Belfast area. Twenty two have been Protestants killed by the UVF but there have been no convictions. I didn’t want to believe in collusion but the evidence has been brought to my front door,” said McCord.
McIlwaine described how investigating officers repeatedly told him that there was no evidence and no witnesses in relation to the killing of his son. In 2003 the McIlwaine family sought a judicial review to secure an inquest into the killing.
An inquest can only be held after investigations have been completed. If there was no evidence to support any prosecutions then why was there no inquest? Presiding Chief Judge Kerr agreed and ordered the PSNI Chief Constable to release the file to enable the inquest to proceed.
Hugh Orde refused and threatened the McIlwaine family, declaring he would slap Public Interest Immunity Certificates on the contents of the file if the family did not withdraw their case. McIlwaine took the case back to court where Orde was instructed to hand over the file or risk prosecution. The family were given the file.
“Some of the files were blacked out completely but even so there was plenty of evidence. The files contained both witness statements and forensic evidence,” said McIlwaine.
And the officer who declared there was no evidence? Well he’s been promoted four times. “Every time we met he had climbed the ladder,” said McIlwaine.
The state’s response to the murder of his son has stripped McIlwaine of all his comforts. He lost both his family business and home after he was refused legal aid to fund his pursuit of justice.
“I’ve lost my son, my home and my business,” said McIlwaine, “I’ve nothing more to lose now.” McCord’s life has been repeatedly threatened and he now lives with the very real possibility of being targeted by the state agents he is determined to expose.