20 April 2006 Edition

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Did Special Branch collude in murders?

A former north Belfast UVF leader was involved in more than a dozen murders while he was an agent for RUC Special Branch. A report due to be completed by Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan is set to expose the role of Special Branch in the murderous activities of one of their agents.

O Loan's probe follows a detailed report "Getting away with murder" by human rights group British Irish Rights Watch. It is believed the Special Branch agent is linked to at least ten murders. Information contained in the BIRW report has been described as "compelling" by those with access to the confidential report.

The serious nature of the evidence BIRW has collated alarmed the human rights groups so much that as well as sending a report to the Ombudsman, the group has also sent copies to the Independent Monitoring Commission, British Secretary of State Peter Hain, US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss and the US Congress.

Twenty seven-year-old Sharon McKenna a Catholic taxi driver was shot dead by the UVF while visiting a Protestant pensioner in North Belfast in 1993. Two Catholic workmen from County Armagh, Gary Convie and Eamon Fox were shot dead while working on a building site in Tigers Bay in 1994. Other victims were Thomas Sheppard, shot dead in 1996, Rev David Templeton who died following a severe beating in March 1997, Billy Harbinson beaten to death in May 1997, Raymond McCord jnr beaten to death in November 1997, David Greer and Tommy English both shot dead in October 2000.

Ombudsman Nuala O' Loan has been investigating the Special Branch handling of the murder of Raymond McCord for over two years. The inquiry broadened after it emerged that the UVF leader involved in the McCord killing was a Special Branch agent at the time and was also implicated in a series of other murders.

Did Special Branch collude and cover up killings carried out by their agent? This is the question O' Loan is considering in a report due to be published this summer. The inquiry is believed to be the biggest conducted by the Ombudsman.

Former RUC detective Johnston Brown, who ran the UVF agent prior to being ordered to hand him over to Special Branch told the media, "of course there were elements within Special Branch who knew what he was doing but they chose to ignore it."

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