18 February 2010 Edition
Report into suspicious death imminent
The Catholic 20-year-old was shot and fatally wounded by two UDA gunmen as he arrived for work at a postal sorting office in the loyalist estate of Rathcoole. Mass demonstrations were held across the Six Counties protesting against the killing and other loyalist threats against Catholic workers.
McCullough, a member of the UDA from Rathcoole, initially approached a RIR soldier in North Belfast. He claimed to have vital information and offered to supply that information to investigating detectives. According to the PSNI, McCullough was then ‘arrested’ on the pretext of a driving offence and taken to Musgrave Street barracks. He was never seen alive again.
His body was discovered by walkers in a North Belfast country park five hours later at the foot of Cave Hill. Initial reports claimed McCullough had ‘fallen’ to his death while out running. His death became subject to an investigation by the Ombudsman because McCullough had died within 24 hours of being held in police custody.
Curiously, according to the PSNI, despite the fact that McCullough was offering vital information regarding an ongoing murder investigation, he was never interviewed by detectives. According to the PSNI, McCullough ‘left’ the barracks before any such interview could take place.
After the body was found, the UDA confirmed McCullough was one of their members. A UDA source also claimed to have known McCullough had visited a barracks shortly before his death. This admission immediately sparked suspicions of collusion.
The only people who knew of McCullough’s offer to inform were the RIR soldier he initially approached and members of the PSNI. The question remains: was the UDA tipped off that one of its members was about to reveal information?
Publication of the Ombudsman’s report coincides with the 21st Anniversary of the killing of Pat Finucane. The murder of the Belfast defence lawyer in 1989 remains, over two decades later, at the cutting edge of the collusion controversy. The Finucane killing has been subject of a number of investigations, the most recent of which was conducted by British cop John Stevens. It has never been published.
Meanwhile, two UVF brothers have admitted involvement in the murder of UDA chief Tommy English and 73 other offences, including conspiracy to murder, possession of guns and ammunition, wounding, conspiracy to cause an explosion, hijacking, robbery and supplying cocaine.
David and Robert Stewart pleaded guilty during an appearance at Belfast High Court last week. However, they are expected to serve only a short prison sentence in exchange for their evidence against former loyalist associates.
Twelve members of the notorious Mount Vernon UVF have been charged in connection with the murder of Tommy English during a UDA/UVF feud in 2000. One of these, Mark Haddock, was once described by the then Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan as “a protected species”.
The Ombudsman’s investigation followed a complaint by Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by the UVF in 1997. The probe revealed that as an agent working for Special Branch, Haddock had been protected from investigation and prosecution for decades. During that time he had been involved in a range of serious paramilitary and criminal violence including murder, shootings, beatings, extortion, arson and intimidation.