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1 March 2007 Edition

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Collusion: policy goes to heart of British Government

BY LAURA FRIEL

• Tommy Hughes was shot dead by the UVF in full view of a British Army spy post on the top of Divis Flats

• Tommy Hughes was shot dead by the UVF in full view of a British Army spy post on the top of Divis Flats

Brits/UVF secret talks after Dublin/Monaghan bombings


There is further mounting evidence to support the long-held belief that the British Government actively colluded with unionist paramilitaries in murders and bombings. That’s the conclusion drawn by Alan Brecknall of the Pat Finucane Centre. Brecknall, whose own father is believed to have been killed as a result of British collusion, was speaking after uncovering the latest in a series of documents secured through the recently-enacted Freedom of Information Act.
According to British documents, the government held secret talks with the UVF shortly after the Dublin/Monaghan bombings in 1974. The meeting took place at Laneside, MI5’s headquarters on the outskirts of Belfast. It was just 12 days after the bombing that killed 33 people and injured over 100 more, many seriously.
At the time, UVF involvement in the bombings was widely known. The British military was suspected but only implicated at a later date. Twelve days after the bombings, what was not on the agenda – as Brecknall has pointed out – is sometimes just as revealing as what was.
The one glaring admission in the meeting between the British Government and the UVF on 29 May 1974 was the Dublin/Monaghan bombings. The bombings were not discussed.
The meeting focused on the internal state of unionist politics and the ongoing Ulster Workers Council strike. Four days earlier, the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had publicly labelled the strike leaders as “thugs and bullies” while accusing the strikers of “viciously” defying Westminster.
In other words, the strike was discussed at a secret meeting because it was at odds with British Government policy. By implication, the Dublin/Monaghan bombings were not discussed because no such schism existed.
In October 1974, UVF members suspected of carrying out the bombings were interned, only to be released six months later. The then Irish Ambassador complained in writing to the British Government about the releases. “By the [British] secretary of state’s own admission, the loyalists released were responsible for the Dublin/Monaghan bombings,” he said.
Other documents recovered by the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre have also exposed British Government complacency in the face of evidence of collusion. A British MOD memo to the Cabinet in the early 1970s outlined collusion by the UDR with unionist paramilitaries.
The document admitted that the UDR was the largest single source of weaponry acquired by the paramilitaries, and their only source of modern weaponry. It also admitted that up to 15% of the UDR were also active members of the UVF and other paramilitary groups.
According to another document, during a meeting in 1975, Harold Wilson informed opposition leader Margaret Thatcher that members of the RUC were passing information to the UVF. Despite this, both the UDR and RUC continued to attract the enthusiastic support of the British Government.
Focusing on the political masters rather than those tasked with organising or carrying out the killings, Brecknall’s findings expose the secret at the heart of the collusion controversy. It’s a secret so terrible that the British Government and its state agencies are terrified of it becoming a matter of public record.
It is simply this. Collusion was British policy and went to the heart of government. Such a truth would sweep away years of British propaganda that strives to portray collusion in terms of “rogue elements” and “a few bad apples” while claiming that their agents “saved lives”.
Of course, if that was indeed the case, then the abject terror with which the British state appears to view the prospect of any meaningful inquiry would not make any sense. The state’s reaction – to resist exposure at all costs  – gives the lie to its own propaganda. The terrible truth at the heart of collusion is that the British state orchestrated a campaign of murder which included sectarian terror against the nationalist community north and south, summary assassination targeting their political and military opponents – republicans in particular but not exclusively – and the expedient deployment of unionists, in their traditional role as expendable cannon fodder, to protect British interests in yet another colonial war.
In other words, the British state murdered citizens within its own jurisdiction and south of the border, in the jurisdiction of another European state.
Meanwhile, the family of a Catholic taxi driver murdered by loyalists is to ask the Ombudsman to investigate the role of Special Branch in the killing. Tommy Hughes was shot dead by the UVF in Belfast in July 1991.
Last week, a former RUC detective told the media that Special Branch knew a week in advance that the UVF was planning the attack. According to the source a Special Branch agent in the Shankill Road UVF’s notorious ‘C’ company told the RUC that gunmen were planning to murder a black taxi driver.
The agent also told them where the killing was scheduled to take place: at the Westlink junction at the bottom of the Falls Road, in full view of a British Army spy post on the top of Divis Flats.
The retired detective named the agent as Colin Craig, a senior UVF man who was shot dead in 1994. “They knew about the murder bid. Craig told them. I am absolutely certain of that. Craig was untouchable. He was a protected species. Special Branch looked after him. He was their man on the Shankill,” he said.
Commenting, the dead man’s widow Sharon Hughes said that she believed her husband’s death was a result of collusion. “I always felt the police never investigated Tommy’s death. Right up to Tommy’s murder he was harassed by the RUC. They told him he was going to be killed,” she said.
“Even though there were witnesses and it happened under the Divis spy post, no one was ever charged. I was later told the names of those involved. Craig was one of the names I was given.”
At the time of the murder, family members who rushed to the scene of the shooting were verbally abused by the RUC. During the inquest it was revealed that a British Army intelligence document containing Tommy Hughes’s personal details had been recovered during raids on the Shankill.
The family of John Harbinson, a Protestant brutally beaten to death by the Mount Vernon UVF in 1997, said that the possibility of collusion had “never entered their minds” before the Ombudsman’s report.
“The report really shocked us. It actually said the boys involved went to Ballyhalbert caravan site that weekend after it to lie low,” said the victim’s son Alan.
John Harbinson was strung up by his ankles and beaten with a hammer by as many as six UVF men. The names of those involved in the killing were common knowledge in the local Shore Road area the day after the murder.
Last week, the Harbinsons were one of a number of victims’ families who served a civil action against the PSNI Chief Constable. The families have alleged negligence during investigations into a series of murders in the 1990s.

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