THE Republic’s national broadcaster RTÉ is to screen a documentary investigating allegations of British government involvement in the murder of more than 120 civilians in counties Armagh and Tyrone at the height of the Troubles.
Director Sean Murray said the showing of `Unquiet Graves: The Story of the Glenanne Gang’ is “major milestone on the road to justice”.
The Belfast premiere was in February at Movie House cinema on the city’s Dublin Road.
The feature-length documentary is narrated by the Oscar-nominated actor Stephen Rea.
Among the allegations is a claim by a former RUC officer that British intelligence tried to persuade the UVF to attack a Catholic primary school in Co Armagh in retaliation for the Kingsmill massacre.
DR Michael Maguire has said his biggest regret while serving as Police Ombudsman was having to suspend the publication of three key reports.
The decision was taken earlier this year after it emerged that the PSNI had failed to disclose “significant” information on police computers to his office.
The stalled reports include Operation Achille, relating to the murders of five innocent Catholic men by the UDA at Sean Graham’s Bookmakers on Belfast’s Ormeau Road in February 1992.
The results of a second investigation, Operation Greenwich, which relates to 20 murders and attempted murders across several counties between 1988 and 1994, has also been put on hold.
This report includes details about the infamous 1993 ‘trick or treat’ murders of eight people in the Rising Sun Bar at Greysteel, Co Derry.
Mr Maguire has also said the results of a probe over the murder of 17-year-old Damien Walsh in west Belfast in March 1993 has been delayed.
The ombudsman, who leaves office this week, said not being in a position to publish is a source of regret.
“The fact that I have not been able to publish those reports is probably my greatest regret in the office because I had said to families last year that I was going to do my best to publish them and it was likely that was going to be the case,” he said.
“So I had to go back to them and say ‘look this isn’t going to happen’ – well the impact on them is well publicised.”
At the time Dr Maguire said the new information relates to “sensitive material, intelligence-led material and includes information (on) covert policing”.
It is understood it also relates to a haul of loyalist weapons smuggled into the north in the late 1980s.
“They were major pieces of work, you are talking substantive reports that were nearly ready to go,” he said.
“Had that access issue not have happened I would have published them.”
The ombudsman said he intends to brief his replacement, Marie Anderson, “on what work needs to be done to them”.
“The information which hadn’t been given to us opened up new lines of inquiry and that’s what’s being undertaken at the minute,” he said.
With many thanks to the: Irish News and Connla Young for the original story
The Loughinisland massacre took place on 18th June 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, Co. Down. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fired on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub was targeted because it was frequented mainly by Catholics, and was crowded with people watching the Republic of Ireland team playing in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes called the World Cup massacre. The attack was claimed as retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
Allegations persist that police (RUC/PSNI) double agents and or informers were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation.
At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman investigated the police. The Ombudsman concluded that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. However, the Ombudsman did not investigate the role of informers and the report was branded a whitewash. Ombudsman investigators demanded to be disassociated from the report because their original findings “were dramatically altered without reason”, and they believed key intelligence had been deliberately withheld from them. This led to the report being quashed, the Ombudsman being replaced and a new inquiry ordered.
And so we wait…
With many thanks to the: Charlotte O’Sullivan for the original posting
The timing of George Hamilton’s remarks that Catholics must be encouraged by community leaders to seek a career in policing could not have been more ill-judged nor ill-timed coming as it did after the debacle of the arrest of two investigative reporters whose aim was to get the truth of who was involved in the Loughinisland massacre. A tragedy like so many that encompassed the potential of state collusion.
These recent events challenge the chief constable’s assertion of an ‘honourable profession of policing’ and undermines and devalues the very idea of impartiality and unbiased law enforcement.
The search warrants issued for these two journalists described by a court ruling as ‘inappropriate’ may serve as a timely reminder to the Catholic/nationalist community that the PSNI remains steeped in protectionism and that its interests are the state’s interests which will trump the safety and interest of the Catholic/nationalist citizens at every turn.
The PSNI continues to stymie and frustrate any challenge to their activities, past and present –despite the chief constable’s statement that ‘they must go where the evidence takes us’.
I am sure these words ring hollow with the many families of the victims where collusion is strongly implicated.
I am unclear as to what the chief constable’s intention was in issuing his statement.
I am sure there are many more who share that uncertainty and scepticism.
Because to my mind the evidence of the previous week certainly does not add up to an open and transparent appeal from a man whose organisation remains neither.
With many thanks to the: Troops Out Movement for the original posting
On August 31, 2018, I was in the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, waiting for my flight to New York, when I received this text on WhatsApp: “Trevor and Barry had their doors kicked in this morning in dawn raids and are presently in police custody for breach of s5 of Official Secrets Act.”
With a few clicks and a hasty review of a police press release from Belfast, Northern Ireland, I was able to grasp the basics. Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, two producers on a documentary film I had directed, No Stone Unturned, had been arrested and held for questioning for the “theft” of classified documents relating to the Loughinisland Massacre, the subject of the film. The arrests had been noisy.
Some 100 police officers, fully armed, had turned up at the homes of Birney and McCaffrey, and the offices of Birney’s company, to take them into custody and confiscate their computers and digital records—everything from company hard drives to personal cellphones.
Russia was an odd place to receive this news. On a trip to meet Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, I was carrying a newly wiped Chromebook and burner phone to forestall hacks into my systems either by Russian gangsters or by government spies. But the threat, it suddenly seemed, was not as present in Moscow as it was in the United Kingdom, where police, confronted with compelling evidence of likely suspects in a grisly mass murder, avoided reckoning with the homicides and sought instead to harass filmmakers for trying to reveal the truth.
A further call revealed that Birney and McCaffrey weren’t the only ones wanted by the police. There was one other suspect: me.
I first became involved in the story when Birney, a Belfast-based producer with whom I had worked on the Irish portion of Mea Maxima Culpa, a film I directed about clerical sex abuse, alerted me to the Loughinisland story.
I directed a short about it for ESPN called “Ceasefire Massacre,” but then, intrigued by new clues in the case, I returned for a more rigorous investigation.
On the evening of June 18, 1994, the headlights of a red Triumph Acclaim pierced the twilight of midsummer’s night as it rumbled its way past the paddocks and small farms of County Down, toward Loughinisland (pronounced “Loch-en-island”), some twenty miles south of Belfast.
The village itself is little more than a church, a Gaelic football pitch, and a pub, the Heights Bar, where, that night, a group of men huddled around a battered TV set to watch Ireland play Italy in the World Cup.
Few expected powerhouse Italy to lose, but, just after half-time, Ireland was leading 1–0. Everyone in the bar was focused on the TV, transfixed by a giddy sense of possibility.
A few minutes later, the Triumph pulled up outside. While one man waited behind the wheel, two men in coveralls and balaclavas burst from the car with automatic weapons in hand.
One man held the door, and the other knelt in a military stance in the entryway and opened fire. Bullets from a Czech-made VZ–58 assault rifle tore through the backs of the men watching the TV. Six men were murdered that night—including eighty-seven-year-old Barney Green, the oldest man killed in the Troubles—and five were wounded.
While the Troubles finally claimed more than 3,500 lives, this particular mass murder struck a universal nerve. The victims, from a sleepy small village, were so defenseless, and the killers so ruthless.
Witnesses said they heard one of the death squad shout “Fenian bastards” as the shots rang out, and the gunmen were heard laughing as they ran back to their car. The loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), claimed credit for the attack. While all the victims were Catholic, none of them had any connections with paramilitary or terrorist activity.
Letters of condolence poured in, including one from the Queen and another from the Vatican. The British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, pledged that the police, then known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), “will never give up until the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to justice.” In following every clue, they would, as relatives were told, “leave no stone unturned.”
That proved an empty boast: no one was ever charged with a crime, despite an extraordinary amount of physical evidence and damning testimony. When families of the victims called for an accounting of the investigation, they learned that much of the evidence and testimony had been destroyed.
“I don’t think they ever lifted a stone,” said the widow of one of the victims, Clare Rogan, “let alone turned it.” She and the other grieving survivors came, in fact, to believe that there was a systematic cover-up of the crime, possibly because the RUC was implicated in it.
This is where I came in, moved by the struggle of the families to learn the truth. Initially, for the ESPN short, I had explored the possibility that the killing was part of an effort to sabotage the peace process. But urged on by Trevor Birney, I returned to do a longer film because of emerging evidence that supported the suspicions of Rogan and others.
During the Troubles, the British government tried hard to recruit informants, or “touts,” as they were called, among the paramilitary gangs on both sides of the conflict.
Maintaining these sources meant that the state, which represented the rule of law, sometimes had to look the other way as their double agents committed crimes. For the paramilitaries, committing violent crimes such as punishment beatings or even murder often became a rite of passage. For the double agents in their midst—and their handlers—the more gruesome the atrocity, the more convincing their cover.
With our investigation leading us into this murky realm, other themes surfaced. As the film took shape in the cutting room, we began to wonder out loud how a society can best come to terms with an ugly, traumatic past. Given the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, did it make sense to stir up the embers of smoldering sectarian hatreds?
This was not just an abstract moral question for us, but a life-and-death issue for some of our potential sources: one police officer we spoke to declined to give us critical information about the likely suspect, not because he wanted to protect the man, but because he was afraid that friends or the families of the Loughinisland victims might seek revenge.
But we, too, were entering a minefield. By collecting intelligence from terrorists engaged in deadly criminality, the state can be complicit in those crimes. And when informants commit murder, the state has an incentive to keep its homicidal secrets hidden from the citizens it is sworn to protect. This raised the biggest question of all: What secrets should the government be able to keep forever? That issue would cause the filmmaking team itself to become a target of the government of Northern Ireland.
In our interviews with the survivors and victims’ families, it was clear that they felt betrayed: they wanted to know what had happened and who had pulled the trigger, and as citizens of the United Kingdom, they felt that their own government was keeping that knowledge secret.
To address such concerns, Northern Ireland established in 2000 the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) to look into past crimes and assess, on a case-by-case basis, whether the RUC had failed in its duty or, worse, been guilty of collusion with paramilitary groups.
On June 24, 2011, the Police Ombudsman’s Office—under the leadership of Al Hutchinson, a former Canadian Mountie—published a report on Loughinisland that largely exonerated the RUC.
Clare Rogan and the other family members reacted furiously to what they saw as a whitewash—and they succeeded in getting the report quashed. A new ombudsman, Michael Maguire, was appointed and opened a new investigation.
Maguire was working on this report while we were filming; he declined to cooperate with us, and we feared that his investigation could simply be a repeat of the first.
It was immediately clear from our research that the original 1994 RUC investigation of the murders was either staggeringly incompetent or intentionally bungled.
During the Troubles, it was common practice for terrorists to torch their getaway vehicles to eradicate potential forensic evidence such as fingerprints, footprints, and hair. But remarkably, in the Loughinisland case, both the car and weapons were recovered—along with DNA evidence that would connect to one of the suspects.
Even more astounding, the car was found in a field a stone’s throw away from the family home of the chief suspect.
Despite that fact, not a single RUC officer bothered to knock on the door, much less search the place, immediately after the crime. Once the initial phase of the investigation was completed, all of the interrogation logs—along with the car—were destroyed.
When the leading suspect was finally arrested, he had already received a tipoff from the police the night before, enabling him to dispose of any incriminating evidence.
Trevor Birney, himself the son of an RUC cop as well as a veteran reporter on the Troubles, was producing my film. In October 2015, Birney called me to say that he had a “walk-in,” a whistleblower with critical information: a former RUC officer named Jimmy Binns who had been involved in the Loughinisland investigation and present for the questioning of the prime suspect.
In an on-camera interview, Binns revealed that the “interrogation” of the suspected shooter had lasted only ten minutes, with a handful of laughably perfunctory questions: “Did you do it?” Answer: “No.” Then, according to Binns, the detective in charge of the interrogation spent the next ninety minutes or so trying to persuade the suspect, a known member of the UVF, to commit another killing—of a local IRA gunman.
Binns also related how his superiors had directed him to stay away from certain witnesses and lines of questioning that might lead to arrests of the actual perpetrators. Last, Binns shared details that led us to believe that the Special Branch, the intelligence division of the RUC, may have known about the attack in advance. (Many of the details in Binns’s testimony would later be confirmed by the Maguire report.)
Further evidence came from our visit to Patsy Toman, a retired local councilor. A few months after the massacre, he had received an anonymous letter written in longhand that began: “Dear Mr. Toman, I am writing you to advise you of certain facts… in your quest to cage the Loughinisland murders [sic].” The letter went on to reveal that “the gunman was one Ronnie Hawthorn, a married man from Clough. Gunman Two was Alan Taylor, single from Dundrum. The driver of the getaway car was Gorman McMullan, a convicted terrorist from Belfast…”
This document, which had been turned over to the police in 1994, contained other extremely significant details, including a confession that the author was involved in planning the crime but “pulled out of the attack due to a prior engagement… this information will somehow ease my conscience, but will never fully clear my name.
But I do this for the family and children of the men who were slaughtered in Loughinisland.” None of the men mentioned above has been charged, and none has had the opportunity to present a legal defense against the allegations.
Thanks to the letter, we had names of potential suspects—and one, Hawthorn, matched the name of the man whose interrogation Binns had observed. But for official confirmation, we would have to wait for Maguire’s report.
While Maguire had declined to share any information with us, he did give us permission to film his presentation on June 8, 2016, of the PONI Report to the families of the victims. When he addressed the crowded oak-paneled room in the Loughinisland Athletic Club, he said, “I have no hesitation in saying that collusion was a significant element in relation to the killings in Loughinisland.”
As he paused over the word “collusion,” there were audible gasps from the crowd. Some began to cry: they had waited nearly twenty-five years for any official recognition of their pain—now the UK government was finally acknowledging its complicity in the massacre. The collusion Maguire detailed included the supply of weapons to the terrorists and Special Branch’s secret knowledge of the death squad.
In the wake of the announcement, Birney, McCaffrey, and I retreated to an office in Belfast with a copy of the report to dig into the details. But we still had one other vital source. A few months earlier, McCaffrey had opened his mail to discover a plain envelope with no return address. Inside was a photocopy of an early draft of the first PONI report on Loughinisland.
This draft did not contain the whitewashing conclusions of that first report and it gave far more forensic detail. Last, and most important, it was unredacted. All the names of the suspects and their dates of interrogation were revealed.
This was the document that would cause the police to send some 100 officers to arrest Birney and McCaffrey for its “theft.” It was also the key to understanding the original cover-up.
In Maguire’s report, both suspects and police officers were identified only with letters or numbers, but with the leaked copy of the draft PONI report, we were able to correlate names and dates and crack the code.
What emerged was a remarkably detailed account of collusion and cover-up, as well as confirmation of the names of the prime suspects. The author of the anonymous letter was revealed: Hilary Hawthorn—the wife of the man she had named as the gunman.
Why would she turn in her own husband? In her letter, she claimed it was her sorrow for the victims. In fact, we later learned, she had ratted out Ronnie when she discovered he was having an affair.
In 1994 the police had twice arrested Ronnie Hawthorn for questioning but never charged him. But more damning, Hilary had also been questioned and admitted to the police that she was the author of the letter.
As a confessed accessory, why hadn’t she been charged? Or why, at the very least, hadn’t the police used her information to compel cooperation from her husband (with whom she had by then reconciled)?
For answers, we sought out one of the officers involved in the investigation. The name of the detective who had questioned the suspects, Albert Carroll, appeared in the leaked report. He refused to be interviewed on camera, but he did confirm to us crucial details contained in the documents.
When asked why he let Hilary go so quickly, he said she was a “proper lady,” from a “nice background.” In fact, she worked at the nearby Newcastle police station, which was assisting in the murder investigation. Carroll told us that he decided to let her and her husband go only on the strength of Hilary’s “cooperation” that would hopefully “ensure that Ronnie would never kill again.”
There was another question to answer: Among the Loyalist killers, had there been an informant? By cross-referencing the Maguire report with the draft PONI report and some information from Niall Murphy, the attorney for the survivors and victims’ families, we concluded that the three named suspects were part of a four-person gang that had likely committed other murders in the County Down area.
Through legal disclosure, Murphy told us that one of the four men was an informant for the British government at the time of the Loughinisland Massacre. Another document we obtained suggested that two of the four had been touts. Finally, we were able to obtain government confirmation that the gang had included at least one informant.
Just before the film’s final edit, we offered the named suspects a “right of reply,” sent by registered mail; our letters went unanswered. We informed the Ombudsman’s office of the likely suspects the film would name.
PONI then passed that information on to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the successor to the RUC. We wanted to be sure the PSNI was informed in case there was any concern for the safety of the suspects or in case the police had any other compelling reason why the film should not be released. We received no response.
No Stone Unturned premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2017, and shortly thereafter at the London Film Festival; it went on to receive a successful theatrical release in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The film made waves in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where discussions resumed about how to reckon with the past. There was no official government reaction to the release.
I had never intended the film to be a relitigation of the Troubles. In fact, I purposefully avoided the theme of sectarianism and treated the murders simply as a cold case in the hope that, if we could come close to identifying the suspects, it could bring some salve to the psychic wounds of the survivors and families of those who had been killed.
I also hoped that the film might spur the police to investigate, properly this time, the mass-murder it could have solved but deliberately didn’t.
Certainly, the police should have been embarrassed into acting. Investigators had had all the suspects in custody, had physical evidence, including DNA, the murder weapons, the getaway car, intelligence linking the suspects to a chain of prior murders, and a written confession from one of the conspirators.
Then there was the destruction of evidence, the refusal to acknowledge how much was known, and the concealment of government collusion. Since the release of the film, however, there has been no move by the police to bring the killers to justice. Instead, last August, we saw a major police operation to punish and silence the messengers.
Following their arrest, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were held for questioning for fourteen hours. After they were released on bail, Birney told me that the potential charges were: theft of government documents, the disclosure of the whereabouts of a police officer, and violation of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act.
When I hired my own lawyer, he told me that stealing confidential information (as opposed to computer records) is not an offense as you are stealing a piece of paper (which has no value) rather than what is written on it. In revealing the whereabouts of Detective Albert Carroll, there is only one guilty party: the French telephone book, which is where McCaffrey found Carroll’s address.
Button Section 5 of the UK’s Official Secrets Act is a serious charge that allows for the prosecution of newspapers or journalists who publish secret information leaked to them by a crown servant or government contractor, and it can carry a two-year prison term.
There were other odd aspects to the arrests. Although PSNI officers carried them out, the PSNI was not officially in charge of the investigation. In cases of political sensitivity, the PSNI calls in an external police constabulary—in this case, from Durham, England—to reassure the public that the police aren’t improperly investigating themselves.
The precedent stems from an instance in 1999, when a solicitor named Rosemary Nelson (pitcured above) raised questions about police collusion before US Congress. Shortly after she complained that local police were threatening to kill her, she was murdered.
In our case, the police claimed that they were pressed into action by a complaint of “theft” from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. But Michael Maguire confirmed to me that PONI had never made such a complaint.
To date, no charges have been filed but Birney and McCaffrey are still restricted by terms of bail—they must, for instance, ask permission to leave the country. I, also, must inform the Durham police of any entry into the UK, in case there is a desire to question me.
In challenging the search warrants, Birney’s lawyer, Niall Murphy, who also represents the Loughinisland victims’ families, accused the PSNI of using a dramatic show of force as a kind of warning shot to other journalists who might want to investigate police corruption or criminality.
There’s no doubt that it’s part of a global trend of governments harassing, prosecuting, and even murdering journalists who expose state secrets. In the United States, where our president has called the press the “enemy of the people,” the CIA has fought a bitter battle against reporters and filmmakers to prevent any accountability for the agency’s failure to prevent September 11 or for the likely crimes of its post-September-11 torture program.
Myanmar, a former British Territory, used its own Official Secrets Act to jail two reporters for seven years over their reporting of a government-backed massacre of Rohingya Muslims. Two Russian journalists and a filmmaker were murdered recently while investigating the alleged involvement of Yvgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef,” in mercenary operations in the Central African Republic.
And most notoriously of all, there was the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated and dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul by agents of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a favored ally and friend of the Trump administration. A total of fifty-three journalists were killed last year for doing their jobs.
It’s hard to know why the police waited for a year to burst into the homes of Birney and McCaffrey, but I can guess at reasons for such a display of force. They may have hoped to intimidate McCaffrey into revealing his source—though he has said he has no knowledge of who sent him the draft report. More likely, the police may be acting on behalf of British intelligence and security services, which have little patience with being held to account for past crimes and want to send a message.
As if to underscore this point, the Police Service of Northern Ireland recently informed the ombudsman’s office that it had withheld as many as 13,000 pages of police records that PONI had requested for another investigation into murders tainted by possible collusion, a 1992 attack by Loyalist paramilitaries on a bookmaker’s shop in Belfast that killed five people.
While the PSNI has blamed the failure on clerical errors, Niall Murphy sees evidence of “dark forces” determined to keep government misconduct hidden from the public. Murphy also claims that these records relate to the same shipment of weapons—from South Africa, arranged by a British agent—that were involved in the Loughinisland case.
“These VZ–58 weapons had never been in this jurisdiction before ever,” Murphy told the Belfast Telegraph this month. “They would then go on to kill over seventy people. The arms importation that had Browning handguns, grenades, rocket-propelled launchers would go on to kill 229 people.”
The Loughinisland story matters because it raises universal questions about how societies reckon with the past, particularly when that history involves crimes committed in an internal conflict. Many people in North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are anxious, with good reason, not to revisit the Troubles.
It may be that in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, there was little stomach to re-investigate Loughinisland lest the cause of justice upend the delicate balance of peace.
Today, with the specter of a hard Brexit, Ireland and Northern Ireland may have to return to an old paradigm and “build a wall” between the two countries where the current marking of the border is nothing more than a sign on the highway. That prospect is already inflaming tensions between paramilitary groups—Irish nationalists and loyalists alike—which retain many of their weapons.
With that prospect, the willful denial of past crimes can be a first step down the road to perdition. Government officials argue against disclosing secrets because it may expose sources and methods.
But in the long run, transparency is vital for democracies to ensure that mistakes are not repeated and misdeeds not overlooked. Intelligence services always resist declassification and reappraisals of covert operations lest they undermine the morale of those who put themselves at risk to protect the citizens they serve. But what about the morale of all those who observe the rule of law yet see those who subvert the rules to deadly effect never held to account?
In the case of No Stone Unturned, the police—or whoever is issuing the orders on which the police are acting—have fired a warning shot aimed at those who are willing to reveal dirty secrets and tell uncomfortable truths about government informants and handlers involved in past atrocities.
From the perspective of the government, keeping secrets is the price of law and order. But from the perspective of victims and survivors, a secret that hides the truth is not any kind of justice; it means getting away with murder.
No Stone Unturned can be viewed worldwide on Amazon Prime.
With many thanks to: NYR Daily and Alex Gibney for the original posting
A dissident republican jailed for the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll has launched legal action over an alleged denial of access to online resources for his degree studies.
Brendan McConville claims the Prison Service failed to ensure he can safely use computer facilities to complete an Open University course in criminology and psychology.
The 48-year-old is among 40 republican and loyalist inmates being held within a separated regime at the high security HMP Maghaberry.
His lawyers told the High Court today he is being unlawfully treated differently from integrated prisoners who can access the learning and skills unit.
But counsel for the Prison Service rejected assertions that he was never offered use of the education suite, stressing it is open to all within the jail.
McConville, from Craigavon, Co Armagh, is serving at least 25 years behind bars for the murder of Constable Carroll ten years ago.
A second man, 28-year-old John Paul Wootton, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was handed a minimum 18-year term for his part in the assassination.
He was ambushed and shot dead by dissident republicans as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.
A circumstantial case involving DNA evidence helped to secure the murder convictions, including gun residue on a coat linked to McConville recovered from a car said to have been used by the killers.
He is now in the final stages of a Bachelor of Science honours degree in criminology and psychology studies.
Seeking to judicially review the Prison Service, McConville’s barrister claimed a failure to provide access to the necessary internet resources.
Counsel told Mr Justice McCloskey his client was in segregation at Maghaberry for safety reasons.
He argued that it was irrational for the authorities to say McConville can use the facilities by simply leaving the separate regime.
“That highlights a lack of logic at the heart of the difference in treatment,” the barrister said.
Laura McMahon, for the Prison Service, responded that the online resources are located in a special unit rather than any accommodation block.
“That’s a facility available to all prisoners,” she added.
Deferring the legal challenge to October, Mr Justice McCloskey said it would allow time to consider a report into learning opportunities for separated inmates and any potential complaint to the Prisoner Ombudsman.
Outside court McConville’s lawyer, Gavin Booth, said: “Prisoners should be entitled to access to education and online resources. Our client is completing a degree and needs access to online articles in order to obtain the best possible mark.”
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Alan Ewing for the original story
SECRETARY of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt has announced that she plans to end the “chilling threat of probes into past offences by British troops in the North of Ireland.”
Surprisingly, Labour shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith, MP for Llanelli, jumped to Mordaunt’s defence, saying she was “glad” to hear of the government’s plans to grant former soldiers immunity from potential prosecution.
Maybe it was when someone pointed out to Griffith that if anything similar to a “statute of limitations” was to be introduced, it would put the British government alongside Robert Mugabe, Chile and Argentina, who all used it to protect their soldiers under a military dictatorship, that she appeared to find reverse gear and issued a revised statement saying: “Labour opposes any blanket immunity and stressed that the proposals did not apply to the North of Ireland, where the Good Friday Agreement and peace process remains paramount.”
However there were no surprises when Radio Ulster looked to former soldier Richard Kemp for comment on Mordaunt’s plans.
As well as the normal lines trotted out relating to veterans being hounded instead of terrorists, Kemp suggested the British government was in fear of the political power of Sinn Fein, saying: “Sinn Fein has insisted on these prosecutions and investigations of former soldiers and I think the government is terrified of angering Sinn Fein by stopping them.”
Aside from failing to provide one shred of evidence to support his allegations, it seems Kemp has forgotten that it is the DUP which is propping up the government and possibly poses more of a threat to the Tory Party remaining in power, and unless there are sufficient grounds for prosecution of a former soldier, no political party could insist on one, not even Sinn Fein.
Another argument against reopening investigations into historical deaths during the Troubles is that they have already been investigated, so what’s the point?
A fair question to which there are many answers.
First, in some incidents, the Ballymurphy massacre for one, there was no independent investigation.
The military police alone carried out the investigation, therefore it is essential for the sake of transparency that in such cases a fresh independent investigation is carried out.
In addition, there is a trust and confidence issue. Evidence suggests that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was not sufficiently independent or trusted enough to carry out an investigation, and records suggest there was collusion and cover-up.
Moreover, in many cases involving the death of unarmed civilians, evidence that wasn’t available at the time, or was available but was ignored, is now there to be examined.
In the same interview, Kemp went on to say: “Soldiers found themselves in some very tough situations. A very small number of cases, soldiers have made mistakes, have got things wrong, acting often under pressure and are now being hounded while terrorists who went out to kill have been let off.”
This generalisation by Kemp can’t go unchallenged. The suggestion that all deaths of civilians were caused because the soldier responsible made a mistake or got things wrong under pressure is untrue.
Moreover, it is an insult to the many young soldiers who remained unbiased to the political situation while serving in the north of Ireland under very difficult circumstances.
Yes, some soldiers did “make mistakes or got it wrong,” resulting in an innocent life lost. However, as members of the families fighting for the truth have told me, it’s not just the death of a loved one that hurts, but the lies, deceit and cover-up which followed that added to the pain, and that pain is worse when the death in question is that of a child, a child like Majella O’Hare, for instance.
On a bright summer’s day in 1976, seconds after passing through a British army checkpoint in Co Armagh on her way to church, 12-year-old Majella dropped to the ground after being shot twice in the back by a member of 3rd Battalion Parachute regiment.
Majella died from her injuries a short time later in the military helicopter that was transporting her to hospital.
Despite the soldier’s claim that he fired the shots in response to an IRA sniper, he was initially charged with Majella’s murder.
However by the time the case was ready for trial, the charge had been reduced to manslaughter. Appearing before Lord Justice Maurice Gibson without a jury, and despite there being no independent evidence corroborating the soldier’s story of a IRA sniper, Lord Justice Gibson agreed with the soldier that there probably had been a gunman.
In August 2010 after a reinvestigation by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), it was found that there was no evidence to suggest there had ever been a gunman present at the time of the shooting.
Following this decision, HET director Dave Cox called on the British army to apologise for killing Majella. In 2011, then defence secretary Liam Fox wrote to Majella’s mother, Mary O’Hare, correcting the army’s account of events and acknowledging that the explanation given by the soldier during the court hearing was “unlikely.”
No matter how hard those who oppose the investigation of former soldiers try to argue their case, the context that led to the death of 12-year-old Majella was not a mistake that occurred under pressure in the “heat of battle.”
Majella was a child on her way to church when, for whatever reason but without provocation, the soldier released the safety catch on his loaded machine-gun and applied enough pressure on the trigger to fire three shots, two of which struck Majella in the back.
Finally, Kemp claimed that some people in the north of Ireland wish to rewrite history. And Kemp is absolutely correct — although not in the way he implied. In many cases, unarmed innocent people who were killed have been statistically recorded as members of the IRA.
So, yes, the families are trying to correct the facts, and if by obtaining the truth it follows that the historic accounts and statistics are rewritten, then so be it.
With many thanks to the: Morning Star and Richard Ruskin for the original story