1 July 2004 Edition

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Collusion in Tyrone to be probed


For many reasons, the 1989 Pat Finucane killing remains at the cutting edge of the campaign to expose British collusion with loyalist death squads. But a consequence of so much attention on the death of the Belfast solicitor has inevitably been the sidelining of other controversial killings, particular those outside Belfast and before that specific '80s and '90s period.

Now, however, an international delegation of human rights activists is to conduct an independent probe into allegations of British collusion in a series of gun and bomb attacks in Tyrone in the mid-1970s. The group have travelled to Ireland at the invitation of the Pat Finucane Centre.

Professor Douglas Cassel, President of the Board of Directors of Justice Studies Centre for the Americas and Director for the Centre for Human Rights in Chicago, is heading the team. Others include Piers Pigou, who worked with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Susie Kemp, a barrister and former legal Director of the Centre for Human Rights Action in Guatemala; and Steve Sawyer, a former prosecutor and legal counsel for the Centre for International Human Rights at North Western University of Chicago.

The group's main focus will be investigating a British death squad, known as the Glenanne group, which included British soldiers, members of the RUC and unionist paramilitaries. The Glenanne squad has been connected to a series of bomb and gun attacks, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, but despite a wealth of detail already within the public domain, the information has never been considered collectively and systematically.

Alan Brecknell of the Pat Finucane Centre said that the centre had been researching the activities of the Glenanne group for sometime. "The full extent of the links, both forensic and through the personnel involved are shocking," said Brecknell. The international team of investigators will meet relatives of the victims and witnesses to the killings.

As well as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the group will also be investigating the Miami Showband killings, bomb attacks on three nationalist bars which resulted in a number of deaths, the killing of Catholic civilians Peter and Jane McKeaney, and the death of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green.

The pub bombings included attacks on the Catholic-owned Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon, the Eagle Bar, Charlemont and the Falls Bar in Coalisland. All three attacks have been connected to the same Tyrone-based British death squad.

On 17 March 1976, St Patrick's Day celebrations ended in tragedy with a UVF bombing of a bar in a Catholic area of Dungannon. Four people were killed, two of whom were children, caught in the carnage while playing nearby in the street. A number of people were seriously injured. The bomb, packed into a green Austin 1100 car, exploded around 8.20pm. The car had been stolen nine days earlier in Armagh. The gang's getaway car had been stolen from Portadown and was discovered, burnt out, less than a mile away.

57-year-old Joseph Kelly, a Catholic from Donaghmore Road, died inside the Hillcrest bar. Andrew Small (62) died as he walked past the bar with his wife, who was seriously injured. The couple were returning from Mass.

13-year-old James McCaughey died as he was playing in the street, while his 13-year-old playmate Patrick Barnard died in hospital the following day from the injuries he received during the explosion.

James' father, Norrie McCaughey, has said that despite the fact that it is almost 30 years since the bombing, "a lot of questions still remain unanswered". To date, only one person, a 27-year-old Dungannon man, has been convicted in connection with the bombing.

He was also convicted of the murder of Peter (63) and Jane McKearney (58), a married Catholic couple with five children. The pair were shot dead by a unionist paramilitary gunman at their Moy home in October 1975. Jane McKearney had opened the door and was confronted by a masked gunman armed with a Sterling submachine gun. She was hit eleven times and her husband was shot 18 times. Both died at the scene.

On conviction, the presiding Judge showed remarkable leniency towards the multiple murderer. The judge had no choice but to impose mandatory life sentences but he ordered that they run concurrently and refused to pronounce a recommended minimum time in jail on the grounds that the killer was remorseful and that he posed no danger to the public.

During the trial, the court heard that the same UVF gang was responsible for the Miami Showband killings. Members of the Miami Showband were travelling towards the border when their coach was stopped at a UDR 'checkpoint'.

Band members were ordered out of the vehicle and two members of the 'patrol' appeared to search the coach. If fact the 'patrol' was a unionist paramilitary gang, which included a number of UDR soldiers.

Two UVF members posing as UDR soldiers, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, died at the scene when a bomb they had been planting on the coach exploded prematurely.

When the bomb exploded the rest of the gang opened fire, killing three band members and seriously injuring a fourth. A fifth man was blown into undergrowth by the explosion and was able to hide until the gang dispersed.

A weapon used by the gang in the showband attack was identified as a Star pistol, a relatively rare weapon to be found in the North of Ireland. A similar weapon had been used in the slaying of the Lurgan IRA Volunteer John Francis Green, shot dead while staying in a safe house across the border.

A Star pistol has been linked to the British officer Captain Robert Nairac and a former British Army intelligence officer Fred Holroyd has repeatedly claimed that the attack had been organised by Nairac, who was closely associated with the unionist paramilitary gang involved.

In his new and updated republished study, The SAS in Ireland‚ Fr Raymond Murray claims that Niarac was a close associate of Harris Boyle and both were connected to the assassination of John Francis Green.

In July 1993, a documentary screened by Yorkshire television, First Tuesday, detailed allegations of British collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. During the programme Harris Boyle was identified as one of a number of men involved in the bombings.

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