By Simon Basketter
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2791

Ormeau Road massacre—cops handed Loyalist a gun used in 1992 Belfast murders

The British state has no interest in bringing to justice the cops and soldiers who murdered for empire in Northern Ireland
Issue 2791
The scene of the 1992 bookmakers massacre in Belfast. There's a memorial on one side of the road

The scene of the 1992 massacre at the Sean Graham bookmakers on Ormeau Road (Pictures: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

A gun used in a 1992 massacre at a Belfast bookmakers, in which five people were murdered, was handed to a known Loyalist terrorist by police. That’s the finding of a report by Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman.

Marie Anderson’s report shows that eight Loyalist paramilitaries were linked to the murders and attempted murders of 27 people—and all were police informants. That collusion existed between Loyalist paramilitaries and the cops is no surprise to anyone familiar with the British state’s role in Ireland. 

Operation Achille investigated the cop’s handling of the murders of 11 people, including a boy of 15. The report lays bare a litany of “collusive behaviours” between police and the Loyalist paramilitaries as they escalated their murderous campaign against Catholics during the 1990s. These included the attack on Sean Graham bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in 1992.

Anderson’s inquiry reveals that “deactivated” and “live” weapons were handed over to loyalist paramilitaries by police at the time. This was despite officers knowing that the terrorists had the ability to reactivate them.

A Browning pistol, used in the Sean Graham killings, was originally “stolen” from British Army unit the Ulster Defence Regiment. The pistol along with other weapons were “made available” to police by an informant, who was a “quartermaster” for the Loyalist terrorists.

The gun was deactivated. But it was returned to the informant with other weapons which were not deactivated, the report says. The quartermaster is referred to as Person I. That is William Stobie, a Special Branch informer who was involved in the murders of student Adam Lambert in 1987 and solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. Stobie was killed by his former associates in 2001.

The Browning was reactivated later and used in the attack on the bookmakers. It was also used to murder Aidan Wallace in the Devenish Arms Inn in north Belfast in December 1991.

In that attack two masked gunmen entered the pub’s snooker hall. They fired two shots into the back of Aidan Wallace’s head as he was leaning over a snooker table. They then fired indiscriminately at others, including an eight-year-old boy who lost his eye as a result. While other firearms were subsequently recovered before being used again, the Browning was never retrieved by police.    

Anderson said Special Branch’s use of informants involved in criminality, including murder, was “unjustifiable” and tantamount to “turning a blind eye”. Samuel Caskey received no warning before Loyalists attempted to murder him in October 1990. James (Jim) Clinton also received no warning of a known threat to his life before an attack on his home in April 1994 in which his wife Theresa was murdered. “I am of the view that this serious omission constitutes collusive behaviour,” said Anderson.

A Loyalist named in the report as Person BBB was seen at Balfour Avenue, where the Clintons lived, ten minutes before the murder. Raymond Elder, most likely Person AA in the report, was charged over the bookies attack after being linked to the getaway car. The charges were dropped. He was also linked to a white car used in the murder of cabbie Harry Conlon.

Person BBB is Joe Bratty. Bratty and Elder were killed by the IRA in 1994. Both Person AA and Person BBB are also linked to the murder of joiner Michael Gilbride, shot dead as he visited his mother’s home. Again information on the role of the informants in the attack was withheld. Person AA is mentioned 28 times in the report. Person BBB 78 times.

Christy Doherty, Jack Duffin, Peter Magee, Willie McManus and 15-year-old James Kennedy died in the 1992 Sean Graham’s bookie shop massacre. The probe also covered the following murders. Harry Conlon and Aidan Wallace in 1991. Michael Gilbride in 1992. Martin Moran in 1993. Theresa Clinton in 1994 and Larry Brennan in 1998. And the attempted murder of Samuel Caskey in 1990 too.

Despite what many a mainstream media editorial argued on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday last month, the report shows state-backed murder went on throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland. Again the campaigning of victims’ families has produced pressure if not justice.

Far from keeping two warring sides apart, the British state either allowed or organised the murder of large numbers of mainly Catholic citizens.

In 1971 British army brigadier Frank Kitson proposed establishing “counter gangs” to defeat the rapidly developing “insurgency”. The philosophy was simple and brutal. It was to terrorise Catholics through the use of Loyalist gangs that were controlled by the security forces, but whose activities could not be traced back to the British government.

From the late 1970s onwards, both Labour and Tory governments backed a secret army unit that supplied names, addresses and photographs of targets to paramilitaries. They worked alongside the Special Branch of Northern Ireland’s police force.

Former Special Branch head Raymond White said he asked Margaret Thatcher’s administration for a legal framework for the handling of agents within paramilitary groups. He said the attitude was “carry on, but don’t get caught”.

Anderson’s report is damming, but limits itself on where to point the finger of blame. Britain ran a colonial war in Northern Ireland using the most brutal of methods of repression

The intelligence used for attacks came from the British, the guns were imported by British agents and the triggers pulled by informants. The state shredded the files to cover it up. The repression has abated. But that colonial interest is why Britain has no intention of seeing the cops and soldiers who murdered for Empire brought to justice.

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