13 November 2008 Edition
Hermon presided over torture, paid perjurers, shoot-to-kill and collusion
John Hermon, RUC Chief Constable (1980-1989), dies
BY LAURA FRIEL
THE news of the death of former RUC Chief Constable John Hermon last week opened up old wounds within the nationalist community. While the mainstream media attempted to portray Hermon as a conventional cop serving during a testing time of turmoil, nationalists remember him as the RUC leader who presided over arbitrary detention and summary executions.
For Liam Clarke, the former RUC chief constable was a man of courage and independence. For Chris Ryder, Hermon was a “visionary” who “thought policing should take place in an even-handed way, serving the whole community”. But this is to confuse propaganda with history.
When John Hermon joined the RUC in 1951, it was little more than a sectarian militia serving not the whole community but the interests of a one-party sectarian state. As RUC chief constable throughout the 1980s, Hermon presided over some of the most controversial strategies and incidents of the contemporary conflict.
His time in office was dominated by controversies over the torture of detainees, the use of paid perjurers, shoot-to-kill and collusion.
Far from being an impartial upholder of the law, under the leadership of John Hermon, the RUC exploited both policing powers and the justice system as active protagonists in the ongoing conflict.
Under the guise of policing, the RUC murdered civilians with plastic bullets, shot dead unarmed Volunteers in shoot-to-kill ambushes and colluded with loyalist death squads.
In 1982, a public outcry followed shoot-to-kill operations in County Armagh in which six unarmed suspects were summarily executed by the RUC. This led to the establishment of an inquiry headed by senior British policeman John Stalker.
According to Stalker, during their first meeting, RUC Chief Constable Hermon sketched out the Stalker family tree, highlighting the Irish Catholic ancestry on his mother’s side.
Such an action was not only sectarian – it was an act of intimidation. The message was clear: any investigation into the activities of the RUC would be viewed as treachery by the RUC chief.
When Hermon read Stalker’s report he threw it across the room and spent the following five months blocking recommendations to prosecute a number of RUC officers being forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Hermon’s willingness to condone murder when it suited his political agenda was also illustrated by his response to the killing of defence lawyer Pat Finucane.
In the run-up to the killing, two RUC Special Branch officers travelled to London to brief junior British Home Office minister Douglas Hogg.
At their behest, a statement by Hogg to the British House of Commons in which he accused some lawyers of being “unduly sympathetic to the IRA”, set the scene in which Finucane could be identified as a legitimate target. The same justification was later repeated by John Hermon himself.
According to his own account. Hermon left the RUC in 1989 a bitter man, viewing his replacement by Hugh Annesley as an indirect criticism of his own time at the helm of the RUC.