RUC Special Branch let killer out to kill again

Police 'let loyalist free to kill and kill again'

David Gordon
28 April 2006

Two retired detectives have alleged that a multiple loyalist killer could have been put behind bars after his first murder.

The former officers said the paramilitary was allowed to evade justice while working as a paid Special Branch informer.

And they said he should have been charged with the brutal sectarian murder of Catholic woman Sharon McKenna as long ago as the early 1990s.

Their claims will add to the growing scandal over alleged security force collusion with a vicious UVF gang from north Belfast's Mount Vernon estate.

A long-awaited report from Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan on the issue is due to be published shortly.

The retired detectives - Johnston Brown and Trevor McIlwrath - worked together in CID in north Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Brown elaborated on his previous claims about the activities of Special Branch agents.

His allegations have been backed up by Mr McIlwrath.

They centre on the same senior Mount Vernon UVF figure who has been at the heart of the Police Ombudsman's investigations.

Mr McIlwrath said he had initially recruited this individual as a CID informer and tried unsuccessfully to stop him joining the UVF.

Special Branch subsequently took control of handling him because of his involvement in paramilitarism, he said.

Both Mr Brown and Mr McIlwrath said the loyalist should have been charged with the murder of a Catholic in the early 1990s - his first killing.

It is believed he committed the killing to "prove" to the UVF that he was not an informer.

"We could have brought charges within a week to 10 days," Mr Brown said.

"We were denied clearance, denied assistance and not allowed to do our duty."

Mr McIlwrath said: "He should have been brought to book for the murder. Senior police have questions to answer."

He added: "Everything I know about him is down in the records of the police service.

"They have all the information they need about him."

The two retired officers said the loyalist and his Mount Vernon associates were involved in a string of subsequent murders.

"A blind eye was turned. They acted with impunity and terrorised their own community," Mr Brown said.

"They were involved in terrorism in other parts of Northern Ireland and as far away as the Republic."

Mr McIlwrath said: "They were unlike any other UVF unit. They were a law onto themselves."

The Mount Vernon loyalist and alleged informer has also been accused of ordering the murder of ex-RAF man Raymond McCord jnr in 1997.

Mr McCord's father, Raymond snr, complained to the Police Ombudsman in 2002 about the case, prompting one of Mrs O'Loan's biggest investigations to date.

Her report on her findings is currently being finalised.

A police spokeswoman said the force could not comment on matters that are the subject of ombudsman investigation.

"We would make the general point that significant changes have been made in recent years to the way informers are handled," she added.

Mr Brown and Mr McIlwrath did not name the senior north Belfast loyalist.
Not really fair to comment until the report is released but this not the first case of its kind and it will not be the last.

The fact that every intelligence service and its dog were running informers isn't exactly new and that to keep their cover, the informers participated in atrocities themselves while still reporting to their handlers is also the world's worst kept secret.

I was personally warned by friends and colleagues to avoid the Mount Vernon estate because of its reputation, something I was quite happy to comply with. In my Bravo Two Zero Alternative, I did write that there were probably more informers, grasses or spies than there were actual paramilitaries.

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

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