NI Police Ombudsman: “It’s very easy to raise allegations – I think the important thing is whether there is any evidence behind it”

Having investigated a complaint from the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams – following newspapers reports in 2006 which alleged that members of the RUC knew of a 1984 UDA gun attack on Adams in advance, or were themselves involved – the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Michael Maguire, has published his conclusions.

Dr Maguire has said he has found no evidence that police knew of, or were involved in away way, in the attack on Mr Adams:

We have talked to all the people involved in the events that day, including the perpetrators, the victims and the police. We have examined all the available evidence, including forensic and sensitive intelligence material and found no evidence that police knew of the attack beforehand,” he said. [added emphasis]

On the 1984 attack itself, the NI Police Ombudsman details the events immediately afterwards.

Loyalist gunmen opened fire on the car containing Mr Adams and the four men as they made their way from Belfast Magistrates’ Court.  The driver, despite being hit twice by the gunfire, managed to get the vehicle to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where they all received medical attention.

An off-duty UDR soldier who was driving in the city centre at the time, gave chase to the gunmen’s car. As it stopped in traffic, he got out of his vehicle and drew his firearm. A policeman, who had also been off-duty, then arrived on the scene, as did two soldiers who were in plain clothes.

The three gunmen in the car were then detained. They were ultimately convicted of the attack and were given significant jail sentences.

As the NI Police Ombudsman press release further notes

Mr Adams made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman’s Office following articles in two newspapers which reported that members of the RUC knew of the attack beforehand.

He alleged that the police or the security forces either had prior knowledge of, or had been involved, in what happened. Mr Adams said he felt ‘something was not quite right’ about the entire incident and wondered how security force personnel ‘coincidentally’ appeared at the scene that day.

The Police Ombudsman extended his investigation to include claims reported in the media that a police informant, who was a highly placed member of the UFF, was involved in planning the attack; that a retired RUC detective said police knew of the plan a week before it happened, and that the bullets used had been ‘doctored’.

A Police Ombudsman team spoke with Mr Adams, to the soldiers who arrived on the scene, to members of the public who saw what happened, to the gunmen who carried out the attack and to a number of retired police officers.

They examined a variety of police documentation, including papers contained in the ‘crime file’ compiled during the RUC investigation of the attack, and a range of sensitive ‘intelligence’ material held by police.

And

The off duty UDR soldier and the two other soldiers have provided accounts as to how they came to be present at the scene. These accounts have been supported by independent witnesses.

The off-duty police officer who also arrived on the scene has since died.

Police Ombudsman investigators also spoke to journalists involved in the media reporting which prompted Mr Adams’ complaint. They were unwilling to reveal where or from whom they had received information that the police or the security forces had been involved in the attack.

Investigators examined the relevant ‘intelligence’ material held by police. They found nothing to indicate that police had any information warning them of the attack or that any of their informants were involved in what happened.

Investigations established that none of the three guns recovered from the scene had ever been used in previous shootings.

The Police Ombudsman had the ammunition used in the attack examined independently by a leading firearms expert. He found no evidence that the items had been tampered with and said they had ‘lethal potential.’

As Gerry Moriarty reports in the Irish Times, Gerry Adams has criticised the Ombudsman’s report as “incomplete” and has called for his findings to be “set aside”.

Mr Adams today thanked Dr Maguire and his staff for their investigatory work. He said however that he is to write to him asking him to set aside his findings. “In my opinion this report is incomplete. The ombudsman should seek access to British Army files and other pertinent intelligence records and set aside his conclusions until this is done,” he said.

Mr Adams said that Dr Maguire did not have access to British army files or those relating to its “Force Research Unit which was the British intelligence agency principally responsible for running agents and informers, like Brian Nelson, within the UDA”.

Given that one of Adams’ repeated complaints in his press release [dated 18 June] relates to his time in the Royal Victoria Hospital following the attack, it’s worth noting that we already have some additional information on that.

In a note on the file for the NIO Under-Secretary John Patten on 22 March, R F Sterling, an official at the Stormont Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), reported that Mr [Martin] Smyth [UUP] had phoned the minister’s office to complain about reports that Sinn Féin members were guarding Mr Adams and his colleagues.

According to Mr Sterling, the South Belfast MP was “particularly indignant that these people were reported to be stopping and questioning members of the public within the hospital”.

Mr Sterling explained to the minister that Mr Adams and his companions had been housed in a secure ward and placed under the protection of armed police.

All four, he noted, were material witnesses to an armed assault and “clearly their lives were at risk”.

And, as the BBC report adds, the NI Police Ombudsman has already responded to Adams’ criticism of his report.

Dr Maguire told the BBC: “First of all, my remit is specifically in relation to the police – I have no remit over the military or any other agency involved.

“As we say in the report, intelligence both prior to and following the attack was requested from both the police and the military and all sensitive material was reviewed.

“The important thing for me is whether the police knew the attack was going to take place – my conclusion is that they didn’t.

“Secondly, was there any evidence that those on the ground had advance knowledge that the incident was going to take place? I found no evidence of that.”

Mr Adams had complained to the ombudsman about possible collusion after a newspaper report said the police had been tipped off a week earlier by an informer inside the UDA.

Dr Maguire said that while reporters he spoke to would not reveal their sources, “we had access to far more information than any journalist had, and in looking in that material I find no evidence to suggest there was prior knowledge and nothing was done”.

“It’s very easy to raise allegations – I think the important thing is whether there is any evidence behind it,” he said. [added emphasis]

Indeed.

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