Tag Archives: Glenanne Gang

Robin `The Jackal’ Jackson – Life & Death

Robert John Jackson

  Robert John Jackson (27 September 1948  – 30 May 1998) ] also known as The Jackal, was a Northern Irish loyalistparamilitary who held the rank of brigadier in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) during the period of violent ethno-nationalist  conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

He was the commander of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade from 1975 to the early 1990s, when Billy Wright took over as leader.

From his home in the small village of DonaghcloneyCounty Down, five miles southeast of Lurgan, Jackson is alleged to have organised and committed a series of killings, mainly against Catholic civilians, although he was never convicted in connection with any killing and never served any lengthy prison terms.

At least 50 killings in Northern Ireland have been attributed to him, according to Stephen Howe (New Statesman) and David McKittrick (Lost Lives).

 David McKittrick (Lost Lives).

An article by Paul Foot in Private Eye suggested that Jackson led one of the teams that bombed Dublin on 17 May 1974, killing 26 people, including two infants.

Journalist Kevin Dowling in the Irish Independent alleged that Jackson had headed the gang that perpetrated the Miami Showband killings, which left three members of the cabaret band dead and two wounded. Journalist Joe Tiernan and the Pat Finucane Centre alleged this as well as Jackson’s involvement in the Dublin bombings.

When questioned about the latter, Jackson denied involvement. Findings noted in a report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) (released in December 2011) confirmed that Jackson was linked to the Miami Showband attack through his fingerprints, which had been found on the silencer specifically made for the Luger pistol used in the shootings.

See : Miami Showband Killings – The Day The Music Died

Jackson was a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), but had been discharged from the regiment for undisclosed reasons. It was stated by Weir, as well as by others including former British Army psychological warfare operative Major Colin Wallace, that Jackson was an RUC Special Branch agent.

Image result for operative Major Colin Wallace
Colin Wallace – Colin Wallace (left) with Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis

Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Patrol Group (SPG) officer John Weir (who was also involved in loyalist killings), also maintained this in an affidavit. The information from Weir’s affidavit was published in 2003 in the Barron Report, the findings of an official investigation into the Dublin bombings commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron.

See: the Barron report

— Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in this post/documentaries  are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

Early life and UDR career

Jackson was born into a Church of Ireland family in the small hamlet of the mainly Protestant Donaghmore, County Down, Northern Ireland on 27 September 1948, the son of John Jackson and Eileen Muriel.

Some time later, he went to live in the Mourneview Estate in Lurgan,  County Armagh before making his permanent home in the village of DonaghcloneyCounty Down, five miles southeast of Lurgan. Jackson married and made a living by working in a shoe factory and delivering chickens for the Moy Park food processing company throughout most of the 1970s.

The conflict known as “the Troubles” erupted in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, and people from both sides of the religious/political divide were soon caught up in the maelstrom of violence that ensued. In 1972, Jackson joined the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), an infantry regiment of the British Army, in Lurgan.

He was attached to 11th Battalion UDR. On 23 October 1972, a large cache of guns and ammunition was stolen during an armed raid by the illegal Ulster loyalist paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), on King’s Park camp, a UDR/Territorial Army depot.

It is alleged by the Pat Finucane Centre, a Derry-based civil rights group, that Jackson took part in the raid while a serving member of the UDR. Journalist Scott Jamison also echoed this allegation in an article in the North Belfast News,  as did David McKittrick in his book Lost Lives.

UVF history

Image result for uvf history logo

Around the same time Jackson was expelled from the regiment for undisclosed reasons, he joined the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade‘s Lurgan unit. The UVF drew its greatest strength as well as the organisation’s most ruthless members from its Mid-Ulster Brigade, according to journalist Brendan O’Brien.

The Pat Finucane Centre‘s allegation that he had taken part in the UVF’s 23 October 1972 raid on the UDR/TA depot indicates that he was most likely already an active UVF member prior to being dismissed from the UDR.

Anne Cadwallader states in her 2013 book Lethal Allies that Jackson was expelled from the UDR on 4 March 1974; by then he was discernibly involved in UVF activity.

Image result for Anne Cadwallader book Lethal Allies

As the Provisional IRA continued to wage its militant campaign across Northern Ireland throughout 1972, many loyalists felt their community was under attack and their status was being threatened and sought to retaliate against Irish nationalists and republicans by joining one of the two main loyalist paramilitary organisations, the illegal UVF or the legal Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The proscription against the UVF was lifted by Merlyn ReesSecretary of State for Northern Ireland, on 4 April 1974. It remained a legal organisation until 3 October 1975, when it was once again banned by the British government.

Many members of loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVF and UDA managed to join the UDR despite the vetting process. Their purpose in doing so was to obtain weapons, training and intelligence.

 Vetting procedures were carried out jointly by the Intelligence Corps and the RUC Special Branch and if no intelligence was found to suggest unsuitability, individuals were passed for recruitment and would remain as soldiers until the commanding officer was provided with intelligence enabling him to remove soldiers with paramilitary links or sympathies.

Operating mainly around the Lurgan and Portadown areas, the Mid-Ulster Brigade had been set up in 1972 in Lurgan by Billy Hanna, who appointed himself commander. His leadership was endorsed by the UVF’s supreme commander Gusty Spence.

Hanna was a decorated war hero, having won the Military Medal for gallantry in the Korean War when he served with the Royal Ulster Rifles. He later joined the UDR, serving as a permanent staff instructor (PSI) and holding the rank of sergeant. According to David McKittrick, he was dismissed from the regiment two years later “for UVF activity”;

The regimental history of the UDR confirms this although journalist/author Martin Dillon states in his book, The Dirty War, that at the time of his death Hanna was still a member of the UDR.

Hanna’s unit formed part of the “Glenanne gang“, a loose alliance of loyalist extremists which allegedly functioned under the direction of the Intelligence Corps and/or RUC Special Branch.

See: The Glenanne Gang

It comprised rogue elements of the RUC and its Special Patrol Group (SPG), the UDR, the UDA, as well as the UVF.

The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), in collaboration with an international panel of inquiry (headed by Professor Douglass Cassel, formerly of Northwestern University School of Law) has implicated this gang in 87 killings which were carried out in the 1970s against Catholics and nationalists.

The name, first used in 2003, is derived from a farm in Glenanne, County Armagh, which the UVF regularly used as an arms dump and bomb-making site. It was owned by James Mitchell, an RUC reservist.  According to John Weir, the gang usually did not use the name UVF whenever it claimed its attacks; instead it employed the cover names of “Red Hand Commando“, “Protestant Action Force“, or “Red Hand Brigade”. Weir named Jackson as a key player in the Glenanne gang.

He had close ties to loyalist extremists from Dungannon such as brothers Wesley and John James Somerville, with whom he was often spotted drinking in the Morning Star pub in the town. 

Alleged shooting and bombing attacks

Patrick Campbell shooting

He was first arrested on 8 November 1973 for the killing on 28 October of Patrick Campbell, a Catholic trade unionist from Banbridge who was gunned down on his doorstep. Jackson’s words after he was charged with the killing were:

“Nothing. I just can’t believe it”.

Campbell’s wife, Margaret had opened the door to the gunman and his accomplice when they had come looking for her husband. She had got a good look at the two men, who drove off in a Ford Cortina after the shooting, and although she identified Jackson as the killer at an identity parade, murder charges against him were dropped on 4 January 1974 at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.

The charges were allegedly withdrawn because the RUC thought Mrs. Campbell knew him beforehand. Jackson confirmed this, saying that they had met previously on account that he worked in the same Banbridge shoe factory (Down Shoes Ltd.) as Patrick Campbell.

 It was suggested in David McKittrick’s Lost Lives that some time before the shooting there may have been a “minor political disagreement” between Jackson and Campbell while the two men were on a night out.

Image result for Raymond Murray, in his book The SAS in Ireland,

Raymond Murray, in his book The SAS in Ireland, suggested that his accomplice in the shooting was Wesley Somerville. Irish writer and journalist Hugh Jordan also maintains this allegation.

When the RUC had searched Jackson’s house after his arrest they discovered 49 additional bullets to those allotted a serving member of the UDR. A notebook was also found which contained personal details of over two dozen individuals including their car registration numbers.

Dublin car bombings

RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir claimed to have first met Jackson in 1974 at Norman’s Bar, in Moira, County Down.

Weir stated in an affidavit that Jackson was one of those who had planned and carried out the Dublin car bombings. According to Weir, Jackson, along with the main organiser Billy Hanna and Davy Payne (UDA, Belfast), led one of the two UVF units that bombed Dublin on 17 May 1974 in three separate explosions, resulting in the deaths of 26 people, including two infant girls. Close to 300 others were injured in the blasts; many of them maimed and scarred for life.

Journalist Peter Taylor affirmed that the Dublin car bombings were carried out by two UVF units, one from Mid-Ulster, the other from Belfast.

The bombings took place on the third day of the Ulster Workers Council Strike, which was a general strike in Northern Ireland called by hardline unionists in protest against the Sunningdale Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly which had proposed their sharing political power with nationalists in an Executive that also planned a greater role for the Republic of Ireland in the governance of Northern Ireland.

In 2003, Weir’s information was published in the Barron Report, which was the findings of an official investigation into the bombings by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron.

 Justice Barron concluded Weir’s “evidence overall is credible”.  An article by Paul Foot in Private Eye also implicated Jackson in the bombings.

The producers of the 1993 Yorkshire Television documentary, The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre, referred to Jackson indirectly as one of the bombers. However, three of his alleged accomplices, Billy Hanna, Harris Boyle, and Robert McConnell were directly named.

Although the incriminating evidence against Jackson had comprised eight hours of recorded testimony which came from one of his purported chief accomplices in the bombings, the programme did not name him directly during the transmission as the station did not want to risk an accusation of libel.

The programme’s narrator instead referred to him as “the Jackal”. Hanna, Boyle, and McConnell were deceased at the time of the programme’s airing.

According to submissions received by Mr. Justice Barron, on the morning of 17 May 1974, the day of the bombings, Jackson collected the three bombs and placed them onto his poultry lorry at James Mitchell‘s farm in Glenanne, County Armagh, which had been used for the construction and storage of the devices.

He then drove across the border to Dublin, crossing the Boyne River at Oldbridge. The route had been well-rehearsed over the previous months. Billy Hanna, then the Mid-Ulster UVF’s commander and the principal organiser of the attacks, accompanied him.

At the Coachman’s Inn pub carpark on the Swords Road near Dublin Airport, the two men met up with the other members of the UVF bombing team.  Jackson and Hanna subsequently transferred the bombs from his lorry into the boots of three allocated cars, which had been hijacked and stolen that morning in Belfast. The Hidden Hand producers named William “Frenchie” Marchant of the UVF’s A Coy, 1st Battalion Belfast Brigade, as having been on a Garda list of suspects as the organiser of the hijackings in Belfast on the morning of the bombings.

The cars, after being obtained by the gang of hijackers, known as “Freddie and the Dreamers”, were driven from Belfast across the border to the carpark, retaining their original registration numbers.

Journalist Joe Tiernan suggested that the bombs were activated by Billy Hanna.  Sometime before 4.00 p.m., Jackson and Hanna headed back to Northern Ireland in the poultry lorry after the latter had given the final instructions to the drivers of the car bombs.

 Upon their return, Jackson and Hanna went back to the soup kitchen they were running at a Mourneville, Lurgan bingo hall. With the UWC strike in its third day, it was extremely difficult for people throughout Northern Ireland to obtain necessities such as food. Neither man’s absence had been noticed by the other helpers.

Following Hanna’s orders, the three car bombs (two of them escorted by a “scout” [lead] car, to be used for the bombers’ escape back across the Northern Ireland border) were driven into the city centre of Dublin where they detonated in Parnell StreetTalbot Street, and South Leinster Street, almost simultaneously at approximately 5.30 pm.

No warnings were given. From the available forensic evidence derived from material traces at the scene, the bombs are believed to have contained, as their main tertiary explosive a gelignite containing ammonium nitrate, packed into the usual metallic beer barrel container used by loyalists in prior car bombings.

Twenty-three people were killed outright in the blasts, including a pregnant woman and her unborn child; three more people would later die of their injuries. The bodies of the dead were mostly unrecognisable. One girl who had been near the epicentre of the Talbot Street explosion was decapitated; only her platform boots provided a clue as to her sex.

The bombers immediately fled from the destruction they had wrought in central Dublin in the two scout cars and made their way north using the “smuggler’s route” of minor and back roads, crossing the border near Hackballs CrossCounty Louth at about 7.30 pm. 

Thirty minutes earlier in Monaghan, an additional seven people were killed instantly or fatally injured by a fourth car bomb which had been delivered by a team from the Mid-Ulster UVF’s Portadown unit. According to Joe Tiernan, this attack was carried out to draw the Gardaí away from the border, enabling the Dublin bombers to cross back into Northern Ireland undetected.

Jackson was questioned following the Yorkshire Television programme, and he denied any involvement in the Dublin attacks.[ His name had appeared on a Garda list of suspects for the bombings.  Hanna’s name was on both the Garda and the RUC’s list of suspects; however, neither of the two men were ever arrested or interrogated in connection with the bombings. The submissions made to the Barron Inquiry also stated that one week before the Dublin attacks, Jackson and others had been stopped at a Garda checkpoint at Hackballs Cross.

Image result for David Ervine belfast

As it turned out, nobody was ever convicted of the car bombings. Years later, British journalist Peter Taylor in an interview with Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) politician and former senior Belfast UVF member David Ervine questioned him about UVF motives for the 1974 Dublin attacks. Ervine replied they [UVF] were:

“returning the serve”.

Ervine, although he had not participated in the bombings, explained that the UVF had wanted the Catholics across the border in the Republic of Ireland to suffer as Protestants in Northern Ireland had suffered on account of the intensive bombing campaign waged by the Provisional IRA.

On 28 May 1974, 11 days after the bombings, the UWC strike ended with the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the power-sharing Executive.

See: Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

John Francis Green killing

Statements made by John Weir affirmed Jackson’s active participation in the killing of senior IRA member John Francis Green in Mullyash, near CastleblayneyCounty Monaghan.

Image result for IRA member John Francis Green
John Francis Green

On the evening of 10 January 1975, gunmen kicked down the front door of the “safe” house Green was staying in and, finding him alone in the living room, immediately opened fire, shooting him six times in the head at close range. The bullets all entered from the front, which indicated that Green had been facing his killers.

The UVF claimed responsibility for the killing in the June 1975 edition of its publication, Combat. Green’s killing occurred during an IRA ceasefire, which had been declared the previous month.

Assassination of Billy Hanna and leadership of UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade†

Ulster Volunteer Force mural. Robin Jackson led the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade from 1975 to the early 1990s.

Subsequent to his alleged killing of leader Billy Hanna outside his home in Lurgan in the early hours of 27 July 1975, Jackson assumed command of the Mid-Ulster Brigade.

Hanna and his wife Ann had just returned from a function at the local British Legion Club. When he stepped out of the car, Jackson and another man approached him. After asking them “What are you playing at?” Jackson produced a pistol, walked over and shot him twice in the head; once in the temple and afterwards in the back of the head, execution style as he lay on the ground. His wife witnessed the killing.

Joe Tiernan suggested that Jackson killed Hanna on account of the latter’s refusal to participate in the Miami Showband killings. Hanna apparently suffered remorse following the 1974 Dublin bombings, as he is believed by Tiernan to have instructed one of the bombers, David Alexander Mulholland to drive the car which exploded in Parnell Street, where two infant girls were among those killed.

 According to Tiernan and the Barron Report, David Alexander Mulholland was identified by three eyewitnesses. Tiernan also suggested that Hanna and Mulholland became informers for the Gardaí regarding the car bombings in exchange for immunity from prosecution. He added that although the British Army was aware of this, Jackson was never told, as it was feared he would decide to become an informer himself

Investigative journalist Paul Larkin, in his book A Very British Jihad: collusion, conspiracy, and cover-up in Northern Ireland maintained that Jackson, accompanied by Harris Boyle, had shot Hanna after learning that he had passed on information regarding the Dublin bombings.

Image result for A Very British Jihad: collusion, conspiracy, and cover-up in Northern Ireland

Martin Dillon also claims this in The Trigger Men. Dillon also stated in The Dirty War that because a number of UDR/UVF men were to be used for the planned Miami Showband attack, the UVF considered Hanna to have been a “security risk”, and therefore it had been necessary to kill him.

Image result for The Trigger Men martin dillon

David McKittrick in Lost Lives, however, suggested that Jackson had actually killed Hanna in order to obtain a cache of weapons the latter held.

The UVF drew its greatest strength as well as the organisation’s most ruthless members from its Mid-Ulster Brigade according to Irish journalist Brendan O’Brien.

Miami Showband massacre

See: Miami Showband massacre

Links to Captain Robert Nairac

Robert Nairac.jpg

It was stated by The Hidden Hand programme that Jackson had links to British Military Intelligence and Liaison officer Captain Robert Nairac.

The Hidden Hand alleged that Jackson and his UVF comrades were controlled by Nairac who was attached to 14th Intelligence Company (The Det). Former MI6 operative, Captain Fred Holroyd claimed that Nairac admitted to having been involved in John Francis Green’s death and had shown Holroyd a colour polaroid photograph of Green’s corpse to back up his claim. Holroyd believed that for some months leading up to his shooting, Green had been kept under surveillance by 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers, one of the three sub-units of 14th Intelligence.

This unit was based in Castledillon, County Armagh, and according to Holroyd, was the cover name of an SAS troop commanded by Nairac and Captain Julian Antony “Tony” Ball. Nairac was himself abducted and killed by the IRA in 1977, and Ball was killed in an accident in Oman in 1981.

Justice Barron himself questioned Holroyd’s evidence as a result of two later Garda investigations, where Detective Inspector Culhane discounted Holroyd’s allegations regarding Nairac and the polaroid photograph. Culhane concluded that the latter had been one of a series of official photographs taken of Green’s body the morning following his killing by Detective Sergeant William Stratford, who worked in the Garda Technical Bureau‘s Photography Section.

Weir made the following statements in relation to Jackson and Nairac’s alleged mutual involvement in the Green assassination:

The men who did that shooting were Robert McConnell, Robin Jackson, and I would be almost certain, Harris Boyle who was killed in the Miami attack. What I am absolutely certain of is that Robert McConnell, Robert McConnell knew that area really, really well. Robin Jackson was with him. I was later told that Nairac was with them. I was told by … a UVF man, he was very close to Jackson and operated with him. Jackson told [him] that Nairac was with them.

In his 1989 book War Without Honour, Holyroyd claimed that Nairac had organised the Miami Showband ambush in collaboration with Jackson, and had also been present at Buskhill when the attack was carried out.

Image result for book War Without Honour

Bassist Stephen Travers and saxophonist Des McAlea, the two bandmembers who survived the shootings, both testified in court that a British Army officer “with a crisp, clipped English accent” had overseen the operation. However, when shown a photograph of Nairac, Travers could not positively identify him as the soldier who had been at the scene.

Martin Dillon in The Dirty War adamantly stated that Nairac had not been involved in the Green killing nor in the Miami Showband massacre.

Image result for the dirty war book

The Barron Report noted that although Weir maintained that Jackson and Billy Hanna had links to Nairac and British Military Intelligence, his claim did not imply that the British Army or Military Intelligence had aided the two men in the planning and perpetration of the 1974 Dublin bombings. While in prison, Weir wrote a letter to a friend claiming that Nairac had ties to both Jackson and James Mitchell, owner of the Glenanne farm.

The 2006 Interim Report of Mr. Justice Barron’s inquiry into the Dundalk bombing of 1975 (see below) concluded that Jackson was one of the suspected bombers:

“reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence and or RUC Special Branch officers”.

In 2015, a biography of Nairac entitled “Betrayal: the Murder of Robert Nairac” was published. Written by former diplomat Alistair Kerr, the book provides documentary evidence that shows Nairac as having been elsewhere at the time the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, John Francis Green killing and Miami Showband ambush took place.

On 17 May 1974 he was on a months-long training course in England; 10 January 1975 there were three witnesses who placed him on temporary duty in Derry for a secret mission; and on 31 July 1975 at 4am he had started on a road journey from London to Scotland for a fishing holiday.

Other killings

1975

The 2006 Interim Report named Jackson as having possibly been one of the two gunmen in the shooting death of the McKearney couple on 23 October 1975. Peter McKearney was shot between 14 and 18 times, and his wife, Jenny 11 times. The shooting took place at their home in Moy, County Tyrone; Jackson was linked to the 9mm Sterling submachine gun used in the killings. “Glenanne gang” member Garnet Busby pleaded guilty to the killings and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Image result for john weir loyalist
John Weir

John Weir claimed that Jackson led the group who bombed Kay’s Tavern pub in Dundalk on 19 December 1975, which killed two men.  Barron implicated the “Glenanne gang” in the bombing, however, Jackson was not identified by any eyewitnesses at or in the vicinity of Kay’s Tavern.[

Gardaí received information from a reliable source that Jackson and his car – a Vauxhall Viva with the registration number CIA 2771 – were involved in the bombing; yet there were no witnesses who reported having seen the car. The RUC stated that Jackson had been observed celebrating at a Banbridge bar at 9.00 pm on the evening of the attack in the company of other loyalist extremists. The implication was that they were celebrating the Kay’s Tavern bombing.

1976

The following month, on 4 January 1976, Jackson supposedly organised the “Glenanne gang”‘s two co-ordinated sectarian attacks against the O’Dowd and Reavey families in County Armagh, leaving a total of five men dead and one injured.

 Weir maintained that it was Jackson who shot 61-year-old Joseph O’Dowd and his two nephews, Barry and Declan, to death at a family celebration in Ballydougan, near Gilford; although Jackson had not been at the scene where the Reavey brothers had been killed twenty minutes earlier.

The day after the double killing, ten Protestant workmen were gunned down by the South Armagh Republican Action Force, who ambushed their minibus near the village of Kingsmill. The shootings were in retaliation for the O’Dowd and Reavey killings. The Glenanne gang made plans to avenge the Kingsmill victims with an attack on St Lawrence O’Toole Primary School, Belleeks. This plan, which involved the killing of at least 30 schoolchildren and their teacher, was called off at the last minute by the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership), who considered it “morally unacceptable” and feared it would have led to a civil war.

Based on the description given by Barney O’Dowd, a survivor of the shooting attack at Ballydougan, one of the weapons used in the O’Dowd killings was a Luger with an attached silencer.  The findings noted in the HET Report on the Miami Showband killings revealed that on 19 May 1976, two fingerprints belonging to Jackson were discovered on the metal barrel of a home-made silencer constructed for a Luger pistol.

Both the silencer and Luger, as well as more firearms, ammunition, a magazine, explosives, and bomb-making material, were found by the security forces at the farm of a man by the name of Edward Sinclair, a former member of the “B Specials“. The exhibit, however, was mistakenly labelled indicating that his prints had been found on the black insulating tape wrapped around the silencer rather than the silencer itself.

After several unsuccessful attempts to apprehend Jackson between 20 and 30 May, Jackson was arrested at his home on 31 May under Section 10 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973; he was taken to Armagh Police Station. This was when the amended information regarding his fingerprints was delivered to Detective Superintendent Ernest Drew at Armagh. Drew and Detective Constable William Elder both questioned him; Jackson denied ever having been at Sinclair’s farm whilst admitting knowing him through the Portadown Loyalist Club which they both frequented.

When shown the Luger, silencer and magazine (but not the insulating tape), Jackson denied having handled them. When asked by Detective Superintendent Drew to provide an explanation should his fingerprints be discovered on either pistol or silencer, Jackson told him that one night at the Portadown Loyalist Club, Sinclair had asked him for some adhesive tape and Jackson claimed

“I gave him part of the roll I was using in the bar”.

Jackson had allegedly been using the tape whilst lapping hoses for beer kegs at the bar. In his statement to Detective Superintendent Drew, Jackson claimed that one week prior to his arrest, two high-ranking RUC officers had tipped him off about his fingerprints having been found on the insulating tape wrapped around the silencer used with the Luger. Jackson went on to say that he was forewarned, using the words:

“I should clear as there was a wee job up the country that I would be done for and there was no way out of it for me”.

On 2 June, Jackson was charged with possession of a firearm, a magazine, four rounds of ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life. He was detained in custody and went to trial on 11 November 1976 at a Diplock Court held at Belfast City Commission, charged only with possession of the silencer. Although the judge initially rejected his defence that his fingerprints were on the insulating tape and had “been innocently transferred to the silencer”, he managed to avoid conviction when he was acquitted of the charge.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Murray, had said: “At the end of the day I find that the accused somehow touched the silencer, but the Crown evidence has left me completely in the dark as to whether he did that wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly”.

As a result of the judicious examination of forensic ballistics procured from original RUC reports and presented to Justice Barron, the 9 mm Luger pistol, serial no. U 4 for which the silencer was specifically made, was established as having been the same one used in the Miami Showband and John Francis Green killings.

Image result for Miami Showband trumpeter Brian McCoy

According to journalist Tom McGurk, Miami Showband trumpeter Brian McCoy was shot nine times in the back with a Luger pistol.  The Miami inquiry team was never informed of these developments and Jackson was never questioned about the Miami Showband killings following the discovery of his fingerprints on the silencer. The Luger pistol serial no.U 4 was later destroyed by the RUC on 28 August 1978.

Barney O’Dowd claimed RUC detectives in the 1980s admitted to him that Jackson had been the man who shot the three O’Dowd men, but the evidence had not been sufficient to charge him with the killings.

In 2006, Barney O’Dowd spoke at the public hearings of the Houses of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on the Barron Report Debate. He maintained that in June 1976 an RUC detective came to see him at his home and told him the gunman could not be charged with the killings as he was the “head of the UVF” and a “hard man” who could not be broken during police interrogation. Additionally the UVF had threatened to start shooting policeman like the IRA were doing if the gunman was ever charged with murder.

Weir stated in his affidavit that on one occasion some months after he was transferred to Newry RUC station in October 1976, Jackson himself, and another RUC officer and “Glenanne gang” member, Gary Armstrong, went on a reconnaissance in south Armagh seeking out the homes of known IRA members, with the aim of assassinating them. Jackson, according to Weir, carried a knife and hammer, and boasted to Weir that if they happened to:

“find a suitable person to kill”, he [Jackson] “knew how to do it with those weapons”.

They approached the houses of two IRA men; however, the plan to attack them was aborted and they drove back to Lurgan. They were stopped at an RUC roadblock near the Republic of Ireland border, but the three men were waved through, after an exchange of courtesies, despite the presence of Jackson in the car with two RUC officers.

1977 and the William Strathearn killing

The village of AhoghillCounty Antrim, where the William Strathearn killing took place

He was implicated by Weir in the killing of Catholic chemist, William Strathearn,  who was shot at his home in AhoghillCounty Antrim after two men knocked on his door at 2.00 am on 19 April 1977 claiming to need medicine for a sick child.

Strathearn lived above his chemist’s shop. Weir was one of the RUC men later convicted of the killing, along with his SPG colleague, Billy McCaughey, and he named Jackson as having been the gunman, alleging that Jackson had told him after the shooting that he had shot Strathearn twice when the latter opened the door.

Weir and McCaughey had waited in Weir’s car while the shooting was carried out. The gun that Jackson used had been given to him by McCaughey, with the instructions that he was only to fire through an upstairs window to frighten the occupants and make sure they “got the message”, and not to kill anyone. As in the Dublin bombings, Jackson’s poultry lorry was also employed on this occasion, specifically to transport himself and Robert John “R.J.” Kerr, another alleged accomplice, to and from the scene of the crime. After the killing, Jackson and Kerr went on to deliver a load of chickens. Kerr was allegedly Jackson’s lorry helper, assisting in loading and unloading chickens which Jackson sold for a living.

Jackson was never questioned about the killing. According to an RUC detective, he was not interrogated for “reasons of operational strategy”. Weir suggested that “Jackson was untouchable because he was an RUC Special Branch agent.”

The Barron Report stated that Weir had made an offer to testify against Jackson and Robert John “R.J”. Kerr, but only on the condition that the murder charge against him was withdrawn. This offer was refused by the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions who said

Kerr and Jackson have not been interviewed by the police because the police state they are virtually immune to interrogation and the common police consensus is that to arrest and interview either man is a waste of time. Both men are known to police to be very active and notorious UVF murderers. Nevertheless the police do not recommend consideration of withdrawal of charges against Weir. I agree with this view. Weir and McCaughey must be proceeded against. When proceedings against them are terminated the position may be reviewed in respect of Jackson and Kerr.

It is noted in the Barron Report that Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Robert Lowry was aware of Jackson and Kerr’s involvement in the Strathearn killing, and that they were not prosecuted for “operational reasons”. Mr. Justice Barron was highly critical of the RUC’s failure to properly investigate Jackson.

Weir declared:

“I think it is important to make it clear that this collusion between loyalist paramilitaries such as Robin Jackson and my RUC colleagues and me was taking place with the full knowledge of my superiors”.

1978–1991

The interior of Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. Following his arrest in 1979 for possession of guns, ammunition, and hoods, Jackson was remanded in custody to the prison to await trial

Journalist Liam Clarke alleged that in early 1978, Weir and Jackson traveled to Castleblaney with the intention of kidnapping an IRA volunteer named Dessie O’Hare from a pub called The Spinning Wheel. However, when Jackson and Weir arrived, they discovered the publican had been warned of the kidnap plot and they were ordered to leave the premises.

Jackson’s sole conviction came after he was arrested on 16 October 1979 when a .22 pistol, a .38 revolver, a magazine, 13 rounds of ammunition, and hoods were found in his possession.He was remanded in custody to Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast to await trial. On 20 January 1981, Jackson was brought before the Belfast Crown Court on charges of possession of guns and ammunition, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

 He was released on 12 May 1983.

A man whose description matched Jackson’s was seen behaving suspiciously in the vicinity of Lurgan RUC barracks close to where three prominent republicans were later ambushed and shot by masked UVF gunmen after they left the police station on 7 March 1990. The republicans had been signing in at the station as part of their bail conditions for charges of possession of ammunition. Sam Marshall was killed in the attack; Colin Duffy and Tony McCaughey were both wounded. Although the shooting was claimed by the UVF, the gunmen were never caught. Two UVF members were later convicted of having supplied the car used in the ambush.

He reportedly perpetrated his last killings in March 1991, with the fatal shootings of three Catholics, Eileen Duffy, Catriona Rennie, and Brian Frizzell, at a mobile shop in Craigavon. Duffy and Rennie were teenage girls.

 Weir’s affidavit contradicted this as it pointed out that although Jackson was aware that the killings were to take place, he had not been at the scene of the crime; a solicitor informed Weir he had been with Jackson at his home at the time the shootings occurred to provide him with an alibi. Investigative journalist Paul Larkin suggested that the shooting attack against the shop was organised by Jackson upon receiving complaints from UDR soldiers after they had been refused service and insulted by the mobile shop employees.

Larkin identified one of the hitmen as Mark “Swinger” Fulton. Although the RUC initially arrested UVF members associated with Jackson, they then focused their attention on the men belonging to the Mid-Ulster Brigade’s Portadown unit led by Billy Wright. Fulton was a prominent member of this unit and served as Wright’s right-hand man.

Reputation and further allegations

Designated by Weir the “most notorious paramilitary in Northern Ireland”, at least 50 killings were directly attributed to Jackson, according to journalists Stephen Howe in the New Statesman,  and David McKittrick in his book Lost Lives.

Kevin Dowling in the Irish Independent, dubbed Jackson the “Lord High Executioner of the North’s notorious murder triangle”, adding that he was infamous from Belfast to the Irish border for “the intensity and fury of his instinct to kill”.

A former UDR soldier who had served with Jackson described him as a sectarian killer who had a visceral hatred of Catholics but that :

“you were always glad to have him with you when you were out on patrol”.

Unnamed Intelligence officers personally acquainted with Jackson stated that he was a psychopath who would often dress up and attend the funerals of his victims because he felt a need “to make sure they were dead.”

 Described as a sardonic man who was extremely dedicated; physically he was dark-haired, blue-eyed, “small, but firmly-built”. Suspicious by nature, he repeatedly advised his associates that they should never reveal secret information to anyone. His paranoia and fear of recognition by his potential victims was such that he attempted to destroy all photographs of himself including school and family pictures.

Psychological warfare operative Major Colin Wallace corroborated the allegations, stating that

[E]verything people had whispered about Robin Jackson for years was perfectly true. He was a hired gun. A professional assassin. He was responsible for more deaths in the North [Northern Ireland] than any other person I knew. The Jackal killed people for a living. The State not only knew that he was doing it. Its servants encouraged him to kill its political opponents and protected him.

Wallace also named Jackson as having been “centrally-involved” in the Dublin bombings, but like Weir, suggested that the principal organiser had been Billy Hanna.  Wallace’s psychological operations unit typically targeted loyalist extremists; however, during the period of 1973 and 1974 he was refused clearance to target principal members of the Mid-Ulster UVF despite an increase in paramilitary activity from the organisation.

In June 1974, a month after the bombings, Wallace was denied permission to target key loyalists including Jackson and Hanna, as their names were on a list which excluded them from being targeted for psychological operations. This appeared to indicate that in practice, those members of paramilitaries whose names were listed were also excluded from being targeted for prosecution.

Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times made the following statements regarding Jackson and his reported special relationship with the security forces and military intelligence:

Jackson had many allies still serving in the UDR and close links to special forces soldiers. These included Bunny Dearsley of military intelligence and Robert Nairac, Tony Ball and other soldiers attached to the undercover 14th Intelligence Unit. These officers met him at a bar in Moira and many suspect that he was involved in murders set up by military contacts at that time. In the late 1970s, he [Jackson] was a binge drinker and sometimes boasted to UVF associates of “someone looking after me”. Some took this as a reference to God, or even the Devil, but the most likely explanation is that it referred to members of the Army’s intelligence corps.

Originally nicknamed “Jacko”,  Jackson was given the more sinister sobriquet, “the Jackal” by Sunday World newspaper’s Northern Ireland editor Jim Campbell when he investigated and exposed Jackson’s alleged paramilitary activities – including his involvement in the Miami Showband killings – and links to British Military Intelligence.

 In retaliation, Jackson reportedly approached members of the violent loyalist Shankill Butchers gang in Belfast, who (at Jackson’s request) shot and seriously wounded Campbell on 18 May 1984.  According to journalist Joe Gorrod of The Mirror, it was reported in the Irish Times that the SAS took Jackson abroad where he received specialist training. In the late 1980s, he was also sent by MI5 to South Africa and Australia to buy weapons that were shipped back to loyalist paramilitaries and Ulster Resistance in Northern Ireland.[130]Gorrod wrote that Jackson kept hidden files that incriminated the politicians and businessmen who were involved with Jackson in the loyalist arms shipments.

In his book Loyalists, British journalist Peter Taylor devotes pages 187–195 to the loyalists’ South African arms deals which had taken place in the late 1980s. Jackson’s name does not appear in the account nor is Australia referred to. Joe Gorrod is the only journalist to make these allegations although Henry McDonald (of The Guardian) affirmed that Jackson lived for a period of time in South Africa during the 1980s.

Image result for Loyalists Peter Taylor

The purported files, which were kept with a friend, would have ensured Jackson that he would never be sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment.

Weapons used in the 1994 UVF shooting attack on patrons in the Heights Bar at Loughinisland were later found to have come from the South African arms shipment that had ended up in the hands of Robin Jackson.

Succeeded by Billy Wright

In the early 1990s, he handed over command of the Mid-Ulster UVF to Portadown unit leader Billy Wright, also known as “King Rat”. Wright formed the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) in 1996. This was after he and his Portadown unit had been stood down by the UVF’s Brigade Staff in Belfast on 2 August 1996, following the unauthorised killing of a Catholic taxi driver by members of Wright’s group outside Lurgan during the Drumcree disturbances when the UVF were on ceasefire.

Although Wright took the officially-disbanded Portadown unit with him to form the LVF, Jackson, despite being on friendly terms with Wright, remained loyal to the UVF leadership as did most of the other Mid-Ulster Brigade units. Wright was shot dead inside the Maze Prison on 27 December 1997 by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) inmates while waiting in a prison van which was transporting him to a visit with his girlfriend. Wright had been sentenced to eight years imprisonment for having threatened a woman’s life.

Jackson was confronted in 1998 by the son of RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell, a Catholic constable gunned down outside the Cushendall, County Antrim RUC station in February 1977, as he was locking up. It was rumoured that Jackson had been the hitman sent to shoot Campbell on behalf of an RUC Special Branch officer.

Weir, in his affidavit, claimed Jackson, prior to Campbell’s shooting, had informed him of the RUC officer’s request. Jackson, by then dying of cancer, told Campbell’s son that he had not been involved in the killing. The UVF, at a secret meeting with journalists, declared that Jackson had no part in Campbell’s killing. The case was later placed under investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

See: Billy Wright

Death

Jackson died of lung cancer at his Donaghcloney home on Saturday, 30 May 1998 and was buried the following Monday, 1 June in a private ceremony in the St. Bartholomew Church of Ireland churchyard in his native Donaghmore, County Down. His grave, close to that of his parents, is unmarked apart from a steel poppy cross. 

He was 49 years old. His father had died in 1985 and his mother outlived him for five years.

After his death, a friend of Jackson told Gorrod that Jackson had no regrets about his UVF activities; however, due to his religious upbringing he was tormented by feelings of remorse on his deathbed believing that he had been “drawn into a world of evil that wasn’t of his making”. One of his last wishes was that the secret documents incriminating the politicians and businessmen with whom he associated be released to the public. Liam Clarke suggested the killing of Billy Hanna was the only killing Jackson ever regretted, admitting it had been “unfair” to kill him.

Journalist Martin O’Hagan had been in the process of writing a book about Jackson but his assassination by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) in 2001 prevented its completion. Along with Billy Hanna and other senior loyalists, Jackson was commemorated in the UVF song Battalion of the Dead. In May 2010, angry relatives of UVF victims unsuccessfully sought the removal of the song from YouTube.

See : Miami Showband Killings – The Day The Music Died

See: The Glenanne Gang

See: Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

Advertisements

25th July – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

25th July

Monday 25 July 1983

The Goodyear tyre company announced that it was closing a plant in Craigavon, County Armagh with the loss of 800 jobs.

Wednesday 25 July 1984

James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said “I don’t think parliament or Westminster or Great Britain is particularly concerned about the [New Ireland] Forum Report”.

Thursday 25 July 1991

The case of the ‘Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) Four’ was referred to the Court of Appeal by Peter Brooke, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

[The four soldiers had been convicted of the murder of Adrian Carroll on 8 November 1983.]

Friday 25 July 1997

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) uncovered eight ‘coffee-jar bombs’ near Pomeroy, County Tyrone. Garda Síochána (the Irish police) discovered 20 handguns that were being smuggled into the port of Dublin.

[Security sources claimed that the guns were intended for Official Republicans based in the area of Newry, County Down.]

Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), held a meeting in Dublin with John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF).

The three men issued a joint statement in which they said that a settlement is possible “only with the participation and agreement of the Unionist people”.

Full Statment

Joint statement issued by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach, John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF) on 25 July 1997, following a meeting in Dublin.

“We are all committed to the achievement of lasting peace and reconciliation on this island based on justice and equality.

All-party engagement in inclusive political dialogue at this time is needed for the purpose of achieving agreement between all sections of the Irish people. We reiterate that we are totally and absolutely committed to exclusively democratic and peaceful methods of resolving our political problems. We recognise that ultimately we can resolve this problem only with the participation and agreement of the Unionist people.

All three of us endorse the principles set out in the Report of the New Ireland Forum and those that were agreed in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. The challenge is to find the structures that will protect and accommodate the equal rights and identities of both unionists and nationalists, and that can obtain the consent and allegiance of all.

We look forward to the opening of substantive all-party negotiations on 15 September. We have agreed to strengthen opportunities for consultation between the Irish government and parties to the talks.”

The three also reaffirmed their commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict. Martin McGuinness, then Vice-President of Sinn Féin (SF), went to the Maze Prison to hold a meeting with Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners. After the meeting McGuinness said that the prisoners supported the renewal of the IRA ceasefire.

Following direct discussions between representatives of the Orange Order and Nationalist residents in Castlewellan, County Down, agreement was reached on a contentious parade in the village.

Nationalists decided to cancel a planned protest against the parade once agreement was reached on details of the march.

Brendan Smyth, previously a Catholic priest, was sentenced in a Dublin court to 12 years imprisonment for sexually abusing children. Smyth had previously served a sentence in Northern Ireland for similar offences

 

Loyalist_News_250770r

——————————————

Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

4 People lost their lives on the 25th  July between 1972 – 1989

——————————————

25 July 1972

James Kenna,  (19)

Protestant

Status: Ulster Defence Association (UDA),

Killed by: Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA)

Shot while walking at the junction of Roden Street and Clifford Street, Belfast.

————————————————————–

.

25 July 1976

Patrick McNeice,  (54)

Catholic Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Shot at his home, Ardress, near Loughgall, County Armagh.

————————————————————–

25 July 1988

UVF kill IRA man Brendan Davidson

Brendan Davison, (33)

Catholic

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Shot at his home, Friendly Way, Markets, Belfast.

————————————————————–

 25 July 1989

Alexander Bell,  (39)

Protestant

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Died 18 days after being injured in land mine attack on Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) armoured patrol car, Red Arch Bay, near Cushendall, County Antrim.


Operation Banner – August 1969 – July 2007

Remembering all our murdered Hero’s

1441 British armed force personnel died in Operation Banner

During the 38 year operation, 1,441 members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner. This includes those who were killed in paramilitary attacks as well as those who died as a result of assault, accidents, suicide and natural causes

————————————-

Operation Banner – The Forgotten War Tribute

————————————-

Operation Banner was the operational name for the British Armed Forces‘ operation in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to July 2007. It was initially deployed at the request of the unionist government of Northern Ireland to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). After the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the operation was gradually scaled down. Its role was to assert the authority of the government of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland.

Image result for operation banner

The main opposition to the British military’s deployment came from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It waged a guerrilla campaign against the British military from 1970-97. An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated that, whilst it had failed to defeat the IRA, it had made it impossible for the IRA to win through violence, and reduced substantially the death toll in the last years of conflict

Number of troops deployed

At the peak of the operation in the 1970s, the British Army was deploying around 21,000 soldiers. By 1980, the figure had dropped to 11,000, with a lower presence of 9,000 in 1985. The total climbed again to 10,500 after the intensification of the IRA use of barrack busters toward the end of the 1980s. In 1992, there were 17,750 members of all British military forces taking part in the operation.

 

 

Image result for operation banner

The British Army build-up comprised three brigades under the command of a lieutenant-general. There were six resident battalions deployed for a period of two and a half years and four roulement battalions serving six-months tours.

In July 1997, during the course of fierce riots in nationalist areas triggered by the Drumcree conflict, the total number of security forces in Northern Ireland increased to more than 30,000 (including the RUC).

 

A British Army Ammunition Technical Officer approaches a suspect device in Belfast.

See: The Long Walk – Iconic Pictures & Story behind them

 

Equipment

Armoured vehicles:

Aircraft

Ships

Controversies

The British military was responsible for about 10% of all deaths in the conflict. According to one study, the British military killed 306 people during Operation Banner, 156 (~51%) of whom were unarmed civilians.

Another study says the British military killed 301 people, 160 (~53%) of whom were unarmed civilians.  Of the civilians killed, 61 were children.

Only four soldiers were convicted of murder while on duty in Northern Ireland. All were released after serving two or three years of life sentences and allowed to rejoin the Army. Senior Army officers privately lobbied successive Attorney Generals not to prosecute soldiers, and the Committee on the Administration of Justice says there is evidence soldiers were given some level of immunity from prosecution.

Image result for loyalist paramilitary

 

Elements of the British Army also colluded with illegal loyalist paramilitaries responsible for numerous attacks on civilians (see below). Journalist Fintan O’Toole argues that “both militarily and ideologically, the Army was a player, not a referee”.

———————————-

Northern Ireland in the 1960s/1970s Documentary

———————————-

Relationship with the Catholic community

 

Image result for Many Catholics initially welcomed the British Army's deployment

Many Catholics initially welcomed the British Army’s deployment, as Catholic neighbourhoods had been attacked by Protestant loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

However, relations soured between the British Army and Catholics. The British Army’s actions in support of the RUC and the unionist government “gradually earned it a reputation of bias” in favour of Protestants and unionists.

In the British Army’s campaign against the IRA, Catholic areas were frequently subjected to house raids, checkpoints, patrols and curfews that Protestant areas avoided. There were frequent claims of soldiers physically and verbally abusing Catholics during these searches.

In some neighbourhoods, clashes between Catholic residents and British troops became a regular occurrence. In April 1970, Ian Freeland — the British Army’s overall commander in Northern Ireland — announced that anyone throwing petrol bombs would be shot dead if they did not heed a warning from soldiers.

 

 

A memorial to those killed by British soldiers during the “Ballymurphy Massacre”

The Falls Curfew in July 1970, was a major blow to relations between the British Army and Catholics. A weapons search in the mainly Catholic Falls area of Belfast developed into a riot and then gun battles with the IRA. The British Army then imposed a 36-hour curfew and arrested all journalists inside the curfew zone.

It is claimed that, because the media were unable to watch them, the soldiers behaved “with reckless abandon”. A large amount of CS gas was fired into the area while hundreds of homes and businesses were forcibly searched for weapons.

The searches caused much destruction and there were scores of complaints of soldiers hitting, threatening, insulting and humiliating residents. The Army also admitted there had been looting by some soldiers. Four civilians were killed by the British Army during the operation and another 60 suffered gunshot wounds.

On 9 August 1971, internment (imprisonment without trial) was introduced in Northern Ireland. Soldiers launched dawn raids and interned almost 350 people suspected of IRA involvement. This sparked four days of violence in which 20 civilians were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes. Seventeen civilians were killed by British soldiers, 11 of them in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

No loyalists were included in the sweep and many of those arrested were Catholics with no provable paramilitary links. Many internees reported being beaten, verbally abused, threatened, denied sleep and starved. Some internees were taken to a secret interrogation centre for a program of “deep interrogation”.

The interrogation techniques were described by the European Court of Human Rights as “inhuman and degrading”, and by the European Commission of Human Rights as “torture“.

The operation led to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence over the following months. Internment lasted until December 1975 and during that time 1,981 people were interned.

 

Banner and crosses carried by the families of the Bloody Sunday victims on the yearly commemoration march

 

The incident that most damaged the relationship between the British Army and the Catholic community was “Bloody Sunday“, 30 January 1972. During an anti-internment march in Derry, 26 unarmed Catholic protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment; fourteen died. Some were shot from behind or while trying to help the wounded. The Widgery Tribunal largely cleared the soldiers of blame, but it was regarded as a “whitewash” by the Catholic community.

A second inquiry, the Saville Inquiry, concluded in 2010 that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

On 9 July 1972, British troops in Portadown used CS gas and rubber bullets to clear Catholics who were blocking an Orange Order march through their neighbourhood. The British Army then let the Orangemen march into the Catholic area escorted by at least 50 masked and uniformed Ulster Defence Association (UDA) militants.

At the time, the UDA was a legal organization. That same day in Belfast, British snipers shot dead five Catholic civilians, including three children, in the Springhill Massacre. On the night of 3–4 February 1973, British Army snipers shot dead four unarmed men (one of whom was an IRA member) in the Catholic New Lodge area of Belfast.

In the early hours of 31 July 1972, the British Army launched Operation Motorman to re-take Northern Ireland’s “no-go areas“. These were mostly Catholic neighbourhoods that had been barricaded by the residents to keep out the security forces and loyalists. During the operation, the British Army shot four people in Derry, killing a 15-year-old Catholic civilian and an unarmed IRA member.

 

From 1971–73, a secret British Army unit, the Military Reaction Force (MRF), carried out undercover operations in Belfast. It killed and wounded a number of unarmed Catholic civilians in drive-by shootings. The British Army initially claimed the civilians had been armed, but no evidence was found to support this. Former MRF members later admitted that the unit shot unarmed people without warning, both IRA members and civilians. One member said :

“We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group”.

 

At first, many of the drive-by shootings were blamed on Protestant loyalists. Republicans claim the MRF sought to draw the IRA into a sectarian conflict and divert it from its campaign against the state. The MRF was succeeded by the SRU, and later by the FRU.

See:  Military Reaction Force – Counter Insurgency Unit

Over time, the British Army modified its tactics and curbed the worst excesses of its troops in crowd control situations, leading to a gradual reduction in civilian fatalities. By the 1990s, these were a rare occurrence.

In May 1992, there were clashes between paratroopers and Catholic civilians in the town of Coalisland, triggered by a bomb attack which severed the legs of a paratrooper. The soldiers ransacked two pubs, damaged civilian cars and opened fire on a crowd.

 Three civilians were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. As a result, the Parachute Regiment was redeployed outside urban areas and the brigadier at 3 Infantry Brigade, Tom Longland, was relieved of his command.

Collusion with loyalist paramilitaries

A republican mural in Belfast with the slogan “Collusion Is Not An Illusion”

 

In their efforts to defeat the IRA, there were incidents of collusion between the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries throughout the conflict. This included soldiers taking part in loyalist attacks while off-duty, giving weapons or intelligence to loyalists, not taking action against them, and hindering police investigations. The Army also had double agents and informers within loyalist groups who organized attacks on the orders of, or with the knowledge of, their Army handlers.

The De Silva report found that, during the 1980s, 85% of the intelligence that loyalists used to target people came from the security forces. A 2006 Irish Government report alleged that British soldiers also helped loyalists with attacks in the Republic of Ireland.

The Army’s locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) was almost wholly Protestant.  Despite the vetting process, loyalist militants managed to enlist; mainly to obtain weapons, training and intelligence.

A 1973 British Government document (uncovered in 2004), “Subversion in the UDR”, suggested that 5–15% of UDR soldiers then were members of loyalist paramilitaries.

The report said the UDR was the main source of weapons for those groups,although by 1973 weapons losses had dropped significantly, partly due to stricter controls.

By 1990, at least 197 UDR soldiers had been convicted of loyalist terrorist offences and other serious crimes including bombings, kidnappings and assaults. Nineteen were convicted of murder and 11 for manslaughter.

This was only a small fraction of those who served in it, but the proportion was higher than in the regular British Army, the RUC and the civilian population.

————————–

Operation ‘Banner’ 1969 – 2007

————————–

Initially, the Army allowed soldiers to be members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Despite its involvement in terrorism, the UDA was not outlawed by the British Government until 1992. In July 1972, Harry Tuzo (the Army’s GOC in Northern Ireland) devised a strategy to defeat the IRA, which was backed by Michael Carver, head of the British Army.

It proposed that the growth of the UDA:

“should be discreetly encouraged in Protestant areas, to reduce the load on the Security Forces”,

and suggested they “turn a blind eye to UDA arms when confined to their own areas”.

 

That summer, the Army mounted some joint patrols with the UDA in Protestant areas, following talks between General Robert Ford and UDA leader Tommy Herron.

In November 1972 the Army ordered that a soldier should be discharged if his sympathy for a paramilitary group affects his performance, loyalty or impartiality. Within three years, 171 soldiers with UDA links had been discharged.

In 1977, the Army investigated a UDR battalion based at Girdwood Barracks, Belfast. The investigation found that 70 soldiers had links to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), that thirty soldiers had fraudulently diverted up to £47,000 to the UVF, and that UVF members socialized with soldiers in their mess. Following this, two soldiers were dismissed on security grounds.

The investigation was halted after a senior officer claimed it was harming morale. Details of it were uncovered in 2011.

 

See: The Gleanne Gang

During the 1970s, the Glenanne gang—a secret alliance of loyalist militants, British soldiers and RUC officers—carried out a string of attacks against Catholics in an area of Northern Ireland known as the “murder triangle”.

It also carried out some attacks in the Republic. Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland claims the group killed about 120 people, almost all of whom were reportedly uninvolved Catholic civilians.

The Cassel Report investigated 76 murders attributed to the group and found evidence that soldiers and policemen were involved in 74 of those. One member, RUC officer John Weir, claimed his superiors knew of the collusion but allowed it to continue.

The Cassel Report also said some senior officers knew of the crimes but did nothing to prevent, investigate or punish. Attacks attributed to the group include the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (1974), the Miami Showband killings (1975) and the Reavey and O’Dowd killings (1976).

The Stevens Inquiries found that elements of the British Army had used loyalists as “proxies”.

Through their double-agents and informers, they helped loyalist groups to kill people, including civilians. It concluded that this had intensified and prolonged the conflict.

The Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) was the main agency involved. Brian Nelson, the UDA’s chief ‘intelligence officer’, was a FRU agent. Through Nelson, FRU helped loyalists target people for assassination. FRU commanders say they helped loyalists target only republican activists and prevented the killing of civilians

The Inquiries found evidence only two lives were saved and that Nelson/FRU was responsible for at least 30 murders and many other attacks – many of them on civilians.One victim was solicitor Pat Finucane. Nelson also supervised the shipping of weapons to loyalists from South Africa in 1988. From 1992–94, loyalists were responsible for more deaths than republicans, partly due to FRU.

Members of the security forces tried to obstruct the Stevens investigation.

Casualties

During the 38 year operation, 1,441 members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner. This includes those who were killed in paramilitary attacks as well as those who died as a result of assault, accidents, suicide and natural causes.

  • 692 soldiers in the regular British Army were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 689 died from other causes.
  • 197 soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 284 died from other causes.
  • 7 soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 60 died from other causes.
  • 9 soldiers from the Territorial Army were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 8 died from other causes.
  • 2 members from other branches of the Army were killed as a result of paramilitary violence.
  • 21 Royal Marines were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 5 died from other causes.
  • 8 Royal Navy servicemen were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 3 died from other causes.
  • 4 Royal Air Force servicemen were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 22 died from other causes.

It was announced in July 2009 that their next of kin will be eligible to receive the Elizabeth Cross.

According to the “Sutton Index of Deaths”, at the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN), the British military killed 305 people during Operation Banner.

Another detailed study, Lost Lives, states that the British military killed 301 people during Operation Banner.

  • 160 (~53%) were civilians
  • 121 (~40%) were members of republican paramilitaries
  • 10 (~3%) were members of loyalist paramilitaries
  • 8 (~2%) were fellow British military personnel
  • 2 were RUC officers[10]

Last years

Crossmaglen RUC/Army base, showing a watchtower built during the operation that was later demolished as part of the demilitarisation process. The barracks were handed over to the PSNI in 2007

The operation was gradually scaled down since 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement, when patrols were suspended and several military barracks closed or dismantled, even before the beginning of IRA’s decommissioning.

The process of demilitarisation started in 1994, after the first IRA ceasefire. From the second IRA ceasefire in 1997 until the first act of decommission of weapons in 2001, almost 50% of the army bases had been vacated or demolished along with surveillance sites and holding centers, while more than 100 cross-border roads were reopened.

Eventually in August 2005, it was announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign was over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by 1 August 2007.

This involved troops based in Northern Ireland reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security was entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment — which grew out of the Ulster Defence Regiment — were stood down on 1 September 2006. The operation officially ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army’s history, lasting over 38 years. 

While the withdrawal of troops was welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party opposed to the decision, which they regarded as ‘premature’. The main reasons behind their resistance were the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.

Adam Ingram, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has stated that assuming the maintenance of an enabling environment, British Army support to the PSNI after 31 July 2007 was reduced to a residual level, known as Operation Helvetic, providing specialised ordnance disposal and support to the PSNI in circumstances of extreme public disorder as described in Patten recommendations 59 and 66, should this be needed, thus ending the British Army’s emergency operation in Northern Ireland.

Analysis of the operation

In July 2007, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 the Ministry of Defence published Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland, which reflected on the Army’s role in the conflict and the strategic and operational lessons drawn from their involvement.

The paper divides the IRA activity and tactics in two main periods: The “insurgency” phase (1971–1972), and the “terrorist” phase (1972–1997). The British Army claims to have curbed the IRA insurgency by 1972, after Operation Motorman. The IRA then reemerged as a cell-structured organisation.

The report also asserts that the government efforts by the 1980s were aimed to destroy the IRA, rather than negotiate a political solution. One of the findings of the document is the failure of the British Army to tackle the IRA at strategic level and the lack of a single campaign authority and plan.

The paper stops short of claiming that :

“Northern Ireland has achieved a state of lasting peace” and acknowledges that as late as 2006, there were still “areas of Northern Ireland out of bounds to soldiers.”

 

The report analyses Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld‘s comments on the outcome of the operation:

Martin van Creveld has said that the British Army is unique in Northern Ireland in its success against an irregular force. It should be recognised that the Army did not ‘win’ in any recognisable way; rather it achieved its desired end-state, which allowed a political process to be established without unacceptable levels of intimidation. Security force operations suppressed the level of violence to a level which the population could live with, and with which the RUC and later the PSNI could cope. The violence was reduced to an extent which made it clear to the PIRA that they would not win through violence. This is a major achievement, and one with which the security forces from all three Services, with the Army in the lead, should be entirely satisfied. It took a long time but, as van Crefeld [sic] said, that success is unique.

The US military have sought to incorporate lessons from Operation Banner in their field manual

Dublin and Monaghan Bombings – 17 May 1974

Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

17 May 1974

The Dublin and Monaghan

 

The Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974 were a series of co-ordinated no-warning car bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Republic of Ireland. Three exploded in Dublin during rush hour and a fourth exploded in Monaghan almost ninety minutes later. They killed 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child, and injured almost 300.

The bombings were the deadliest attack of the conflict known as the Troubles, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the Republic’s history. Most of the victims were young women, although the ages of the dead ranged from five months to 80 years.

 

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility for the bombings in 1993. It had launched a number of attacks in the Republic since 1969. There are credible allegations that elements of the British state security forces helped the UVF carry out the bombings, including members of the Glenanne gang. Some of these allegations have come from former members of the security forces.

The Irish parliament‘s Joint Committee on Justice called the attacks an act of international terrorism involving British state forces. The month before the bombings, the British government had lifted the UVF’s status as a proscribed organisation.

Troubled Images Exhibition, Belfast, August 2010 (03).JPG

The bombings happened during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike. This was a general strike called by hardline loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland who opposed the Sunningdale Agreement. Specifically, they opposed the sharing of political power with Irish nationalists, and the proposed role for the Republic in the governance of Northern Ireland. The Republic’s government had helped bring about the Agreement. The strike brought down the Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly on 28 May.

No-one has ever been charged with the bombings. A campaign by the victims’ families led to an Irish government inquiry under Justice Henry Barron. His 2003 report criticised the Garda Síochána‘s investigation and said the investigators stopped their work prematurely.

It also criticised the Fine Gael/Labour government of the time for its inaction and lack of interest in the bombings.  The report said it was likely that British security force personnel were involved but had insufficient evidence of higher-level involvement. However, the inquiry was hindered by the British government’s refusal to release key documents. The victims’ families and others have continued to campaign for the British government to release these documents.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this page and  documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors

—————————-

Dublin and Monaghan Bombings 1974


Explosions

Dublin

A hijacked green 1970 model Hillman Avenger was used in the Parnell Street explosion which killed 10 people

 

A 2006 view of Talbot Street where a further 14 people died

 

 

At about 17:30 on Friday 17 May 1974, without warning, three car bombs exploded in Dublin city centre at Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street during rush hour. The streets all ran east-west from busy thoroughfares to railway stations. There was a bus strike in Dublin at the time, which meant there were more people on the streets than usual.

According to one of the Irish Army‘s top bomb disposal officers, Commandant Patrick Trears, the bombs were constructed so well that 100% of each bomb exploded upon detonation. Twenty-three people died in these explosions and three others died from their injuries over the following few days and weeks. Many of the dead were young women originally from rural towns employed in the civil service. An entire family from central Dublin was killed. Two of the victims were foreign: an Italian man, and a French Jewish woman whose family had survived the Holocaust.

First Bomb

 

The first of the three Dublin car bombs went off at about 17:28 on Parnell Street, near the intersection with Marlborough Street.

It was in a parking bay outside the Welcome Inn pub and Barry’s supermarket at 93 and 91 Parnell Street respectively, and near petrol pumps. Shop fronts were blown out, cars were destroyed, and people were thrown in all directions. A brown Mini that had been parked behind the bomb was hurled onto the pavement at a right angle. One survivor described

“a big ball of flame coming straight towards us, like a great nuclear mushroom cloud whooshing up everything in its path”

 

The bomb car was a metallic green 1970 model Hillman Avenger, registration number DIA 4063. It had been facing toward O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. This car, like the other two bomb cars, had its original registration plates. It had been hijacked in Belfast that morning.

Ten people were killed in this explosion, including two infant girls and their parents, and a World War I veteran. Many others, including a teenaged petrol-pump attendant, were severely injured.

Second Bomb

 

The second of the Dublin car bombs went off at about 17:30 on Talbot Street, near the intersection with Lower Gardiner Street. Talbot Street was the main route from the city centre to Connolly station, Dublin’s primary railway station. It was parked at 18 Talbot Street, on the north side, opposite Guineys department store. The bomb car was a metallic blue mink Ford Escort, registration number 1385 WZ. It had been stolen that morning in the Docks area of Belfast.

The blast damaged buildings and vehicles on both sides of the street. People suffered severe burns and were struck by shrapnel, flying glass and debris; some were hurled through the windows of shops.

Twelve people were killed outright, and another two died over the following days and weeks. Thirteen of the fourteen victims were women, including one who was nine months pregnant. One young woman who had been beside the bomb car was decapitated; the only clue to her sex was the pair of brown platform boots she was wearing

Several others lost limbs and a man was impaled through the abdomen by an iron bar. Several bodies lay in the street for half an hour as ambulances struggled to get through traffic jams.  At least four bodies were found on the pavement outside Guineys. The bodies of the victims were covered by newspapers until they were removed from the scene.

Third Bomb

The third bomb went off at about 17:32 on South Leinster Street, near the railings of Trinity College and not far from Leinster House, the seat of the Oireachtas. Two women were killed outright; they had been very close to the epicentre of the blast. The bomb car was a blue Austin 1800 Maxi registration number HOI 2487; like the Parnell Street car, it had been hijacked in Belfast that same morning from a taxi company.[10] Dental students from Trinity College rushed to the scene to give first-aid to the injured.

Monaghan

Almost ninety minutes later, at about 18:58, a fourth car bomb (weighing 150 pounds) exploded in the centre of Monaghan town, just south of the border with Northern Ireland. It had been parked outside Greacen’s pub on North Road. The car was a green 1966 model Hillman Minx registration number 6583 OZ; it had been stolen from a Portadown car park several hours before.

As in Dublin, no warning had been given. This bomb killed five people outright, and another two died in the following weeks. There is evidence that the car bomb was parked five minutes before the explosion.

The bomb site, which was about 300–400 yards from the Garda station, was preserved by a roster of eight Gardaí from 19:00 on 17 May until 14:30 on 19 May, at which time the technical examination of the area had been complete .  Forensic analysis of the metal fragments taken from the site suggested that the bomb had been in a beer barrel or similar container.  It has been suggested that the Monaghan bombing was a “supporting attack”; a diversion to draw security away from the border and thus help the Dublin bombers return to Northern Ireland.

Aftermath

Remembering the Victims

——————————-

The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

——————————-

Victims

33 Innocent People  lost their lives

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Marie Butler,  (21)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974
John Dargle,   (80)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Patrick Fay,  (47)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974
Elizabeth Fitzgerald,   (59)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Injured when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin. She died 19 May 1974

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Antonio Magliocco,  (37)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Italian national. Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street,

————————————————-

17 May 1974

John O’Brien,   (24)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Anna O’Brien  (22)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Jacqueline O’Brien,   (1)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin

————————————————-

17 May 1974
Anne Marie O’Brien,  (0)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Edward O’Neill,  (39)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Breda Turner,   (21)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Parnell Street

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Anne Byrne,  (35)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Simone Chetrit,   (30)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
French national. Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Colette Doherty,  (21)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Breda Grace,  (35)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ)

, Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Anna Marren,   (20)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian

(Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

May McKenna,   (55)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Dorothy  Morris,  (57)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Marie Phelan,   (20)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Siobhan Roice,   (19)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Maureen Shields,  (46)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

John Walshe,   (27)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Josephine Bradley,  (21)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Injured when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin. She died 20 May 1974

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Concepta  Dempsey,  (65)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Injured when car bomb exploded Talbot Street, Dublin. She died 11 June 1974.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Anna Massey,  (21)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded South Leinster Street, Dublin

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Christine O’Loughlin,   (51)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded South Leinster Street, Dublin.

————————————————-

17 May 1974


Patrick Askin,   (44)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan

————————————————-

17 May 1974
Thomas Campbell,  (52)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan

————————————————-

17 May 1974

John Travers,   (28)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Peggy White,   (45)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

George Williamson,   (72)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Archie Harper,  (73)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Injured when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan. He died 21 May 1974.

————————————————-

17 May 1974

Thomas Croarkin,   (36)

nfNIRI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Injured when car bomb exploded Church Square, Monaghan, County Monaghan. He died 24 July 1974.

————————————————-

After the blasts, bystanders rushed to help the wounded, and emergency response personnel were on the scene within minutes. Hospitals across Dublin were put on standby to receive casualties. However, rescue operations in Dublin were hampered by heavy traffic due to the bus strike. Rescuers, feeling that help was not coming fast enough, lifted the dead and wounded, wrapped them in coats and bundled them into cars to get them to the nearest hospital. Garda squad cars escorted surgeons through the crowded streets to attend the wounded. Many people, on finding out what had happened, went straight away to offer blood.

Paddy Doyle of Finglas, who lost his daughter, son-in-law, and two infant granddaughters in the Parnell Street explosion, described the scene inside Dublin’s city morgue as having been like a

“slaughterhouse”, with workers “putting arms and legs together to make up a body”.

 

At 18:00, after all of the dead and injured had been removed, Garda Síochána officers cordoned off the three bomb sites in Dublin. Fifteen minutes earlier, at 17:45, the orders were given to call out ‘national cordons’, to stop the bombers fleeing the state. Garda officers were sent to Connolly Station, Busáras, Dublin Airport, the B&I car ferry port, and the mail boat at Dún Laoghaire.

At 18:28, the Dublin-Belfast train was stopped at Dundalk and searched by a team of 18 Gardaí led by an inspector. During the evening of 17 May, Gardaí from the Ballistics, Photography, Mappings, and Fingerprints section visited the three bomb sites in Dublin and examined the debris.

Some accounts give a total of 34 or 35 dead from the four bombings: 34 by including the unborn child of victim Colette Doherty, who was nine months pregnant; and 35 by including the later still-born child of Edward and Martha O’Neill. Edward was killed outright in Parnell Street.

Martha O’Neill was not caught up in the attack, although two of their children were seriously injured in the bombing; one of them, a four-year-old boy, suffered severe facial injuries. The 22 months-old daughter of Colette Doherty survived the Talbot Street blast; she was found wandering about near the bomb site, relatively unharmed.

Six weeks after the bombings, the elderly mother of Thomas Campbell, who was killed in the Monaghan bombing, allegedly died of the shock she received at the death of her son.

Due to the bombings, the Irish Army withdrew its troops from UN peacekeeping missions for four years.

Reactions

Reverse of Talbot Street memorial

 

In Northern Ireland, Sammy Smyth, then press officer of both the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) Strike Committee, said,

“I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them.”

 

However, neither the UDA nor UVF admitted responsibility. A ‘Captain Craig’ telephoned the Irish News and Irish Times, claiming responsibility for the bombings on behalf of the ‘Red Hand Brigade’, which is believed to be a covername.

The bombings were condemned by the Irish and British governments, and the Irish government vowed to pursue those responsible. However, there have been complaints from the victims’ families and others about the Irish government’s reaction. The Fine GaelLabour Party government refused to hold a national day of mourning, because, according to a spokesman from the Government Information Bureau, “More than 1,000 people have now died in the current Troubles”.

The previous government had held a national day of mourning for those killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland. A decision was also made not to fly the national flag at half-mast, but this was quickly reversed.

In Leinster House, about 300 metres from the site of the South Leinster Street blast, political leaders commented at the next session of Dáil Éireann. Statements by government ministers appeared to suggest that the bombings were an inevitable result of the IRA campaign.

Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, of Fine Gael, recorded his disgust, but added:

The blood of the innocent victims of last Friday’s outrage—and of the victims of similar outrages in the North and in England—is on the hands of every man who has fired a gun or discharged a bomb in furtherance of the present campaign of violence in these islands—just as plainly as it is on the hands of those who parked the cars and set the charges last Friday. In our times, violence cannot be contained in neat compartments and justified in one case but not in another.

The opposition leader Jack Lynch, of Fianna Fáil, was “sickened” by the “cruel” events, but also widened the question of blame:

Every person and every organisation which played any part in the campaign of bombing and violence which killed and maimed people and destroyed property in Belfast, Derry or any other part of our country and indeed in Britain over the past five years, shares the guilt and the shame of the assassins who actually placed these bombs on the streets of Dublin and Monaghan last Friday.

In secret memos, the then British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, Arthur Galsworthy, noted the reactions in Dublin immediately after the bombings. He said the bombings had hardened attitudes against the IRA:

There is no sign of any general anti-Northern Protestant reaction … The predictable attempt by the IRA to pin the blame on the British (British agents, the SAS, etc) has made no headway at all. … It is only now that the South has experienced violence that they are reacting in the way that the North has sought for so long. … it would be … a psychological mistake for us to rub this point in. … I think the Irish have taken the point.

Responsibility for the bombings

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed responsibility for the bombings in 1993, following a TV documentary on the bombings that named the UVF as the perpetrators, and which alleged that elements of British security forces were involved in the attack.

 

Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre

Dublin Monaghan Bombings 1974 – First Tuesday -1993

On 7 July 1993, Yorkshire Television broadcast a documentary about the bombings, named Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre. The documentary-makers interviewed former Irish and British security force personnel, as well as former loyalist militants. They were also given access to Irish police documents.

The programme claimed the bombings were carried out by the UVF, with help from members of the British security forces.  It named a number of UVF members whom it said were involved, and who had since been killed in the Troubles.

These included Billy Hanna (a sergeant in the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment – UDR), Robert McConnell (a UDR corporal), Harris Boyle (also a UDR soldier), and a loyalist referred to as “the Jackal”. He was later identified as former UDR soldier Robin Jackson, who was still alive at the time of broadcast. The documentary claimed that all of these men were working as agents for British Military Intelligence and RUC Special Branch.

William Marchant was named as leader of the Belfast UVF gang who hijacked the cars used.  The documentary also suggested that British Army officer Robert Nairac, a member of the covert Special Reconnaissance Unit/14 Intelligence Company, may have been involved. The narrator said:

“We have evidence from police, military and loyalist sources which confirms […] that in May 1974, he was meeting with these paramilitaries, supplying them with arms and helping them plan acts of terrorism”.

 

Reference was made to the complexity of the attack and the sophistication of the bombs. Former British Army officer Fred Holroyd, former Garda Commissioner Eamon Doherty, and retired bomb disposal experts Lieutenant Colonel George Styles (British Army) and Commandant Patrick Trears (Irish Army) all suggested the bombs were not characteristic of the UVF and that it could not have mounted the attack without help from the security forces.

It was suggested that elements of the British security forces were using loyalist paramilitaries as proxies. It was said that a significant element within the security forces favoured a military solution to the conflict, and opposed a political solution, which was being pursued by the UK’s Labour government. Merlyn Rees, the British government’s Northern Ireland Secretary, believed that his polices in pursuit of peace in 1974 had been undermined by a faction in British Army Intelligence. The inference was that the bombings were intended to wreck the Sunningdale Agreement and to make both governments take a stronger line against the IRA.

UVF claims responsibility

U.V.F Logo
U.V.F Logo

One week later, on 15 July 1993, the Ulster Volunteer Force confirmed responsibility for the bombings, but also denied that it was aided by British security forces.

The UVF claimed that:

The entire operation was from its conception to its successful conclusion, planned and carried out by our volunteers aided by no outside bodies. In contrast to the scenario painted by the programme, it would have been unnecessary and indeed undesirable to compromise our volunteers anonimity [sic] by using clandestine Security Force personnel, British or otherwise, to achieve [an] objective well within our capabilities. … Given the backdrop of what was taking place in Northern Ireland when the UVF [were] bombing republican targets at will, either the researchers decided to take poetic licence to the limit or the truth was being twisted by knaves to make [a] trap for the fools. … The minimum of scrutiny should have revealed that the structure of the bombs placed in Dublin and Monaghan were similar if not identical to those being placed in Northern Ireland on an almost daily basis. The type of explosives, timing and detonating methods all bore the hallmark of the UVF. It is incredulous [sic] that these points were lost on the Walter Mittys who conjured up this programme. To suggest that the UVF were not, or are not, capable of operating in the manner outlined in the programme is tempting fate to a dangerous degree.

Campaign by victims’ families

In 1996, relatives of the victims of the bombings, Justice for the Forgotten, launched a campaign for a public inquiry The group believed that they had been forgotten by the Irish state and that British forces may have been involved in the bombings.

On 23 July 1997, the group lobbied the European Parliament. MEPs from many countries supported a call for the British government to release its files relating to the bombings. On 27 August that year, however, an Irish court declined to order the release of the file.

In August 1999, Irish Victims Commissioner, John Wilson, reported on the demand for a public inquiry. He proposed a judicial inquiry, held in private. In December 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appointed Mr Justice Liam Hamilton to undertake an inquiry into the bombings. The inquiry began work early in 2000 and in October Mr Justice Henry Barron was appointed to succeed Mr Justice Hamilton.

The Irish Government and others reported that the British Government were slow to co-operate with the inquiry.  It wrote to the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, in November 2000. He replied in February 2002, saying that British documents on the bombings would not be made available due to national security concerns. The ‘Barron Report’ was published in December 2003. The report said it was likely that British security force personnel were involved in the bombings but had insufficient evidence of higher-level involvement. However, the inquiry reported that it was hindered by the British Government’s refusal to release key documents. For details on the Barron Report’s findings.

An Irish government Sub-Committee was then established to consider the Barron Report and make recommendations. These recommendations (which are outlined below) were published in March 2004. It recommended the Irish Government bring a case before the European Court of Human Rights to force the British Government to hold a public inquiry into the bombings. In June 2005, the Irish Government said it would consider bringing the British Government to the European Court of Justice, to force the release the files on the bombings.

Two motions were passed unanimously by the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) in 2008 and 2011, urging the British Government to make the documents available to an independent, international judicial figure for assessment. In 2012 and 2013, Justice for the Forgotten met with the British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland and proposed the documents be assessed in Britain by an agreed assessor. However, a further meeting to move the process forward was cancelled by the British side in November 2013.

In May 2014, the victims’ families announced that they were taking a civil action against British government agencies including the British Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Office and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The Barron Report

Main findings

On 10 December 2003, Mr Justice Henry Barron’s report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings was published.The publication of the report caused a sensation in Ireland, as shown by the political and media reaction. It is generally agreed that the report raised more questions than it answered and that it opened up new avenues of inquiry.

Regarding the circumstances and perpetrators of the bombings, it said the following:

  • The bombings were carried out by two groups of loyalist paramilitaries, one based in Belfast and the other in the Portadown/Lurgan area. Most, though not all of those involved were members of the UVF.
  • The bombings were a reaction to the Sunningdale Agreement – in particular to the prospect of a greater role for the Irish government in the administration of Northern Ireland.
  • It is likely that UDR soldiers and RUC officers helped prepare the attack, or were aware of the preparations. It is also likely that the farm of RUC officer James Mitchell at Glenanne played a big part in the preparations. Based on the material available, there is insufficient evidence that senior security force personnel were involved. However, it is possible that UDR/RUC involvement was covered-up at a higher level.
  • There is no evidence that any branch of the security forces knew of the bombings beforehand. If they did know, it is unlikely there would be any official records.
  • The Inquiry believes that within a short time of the bombings, the security forces in Northern Ireland had good intelligence to suggest who was responsible. Furthermore, some of the suspects were reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence and RUC Special Branch officers.

The Inquiry said it was obstructed by the British authorities in investigating collusion and faced the same problems as the Stevens Inquiry. The British government refused to show the Inquiry intelligence documents, and the Inquiry said this hindered its investigation.

Criticism of the Irish police and government

The Barron Report criticised the Irish police (Garda) investigation into the bombings, and the reaction of the Fine Gael/Labour government of the time.

The Report said that the Garda investigation failed to make full use of the information it had. For example, when the RUC told the Gardaí it had arrested some of the suspected bombers, the Gardaí apparently did not ask their names nor what information led to their arrest. It revealed that there is a great deal of official Garda documentation that is missing. Barron said that Department of Justice files on the Dublin bombings were “missing in their entirety” and that the Department did not give any records to the Inquiry. The Report concluded that the Garda investigation team stopped their work before they should have.The specially-appointed investigation team was disbanded in July 1974, two months after the bombings.

Barron’s report noted that the Fine Gael/Labour government of the time “showed little interest in the bombings” and did not do enough to help the investigation.

“When information was given to them suggesting that the British authorities had intelligence naming the bombers, this was not followed up”.

It failed to put political pressure on the British government to secure better co-operation from the RUC. It was also alleged that the Fine Gael/Labour government caused or allowed the Garda investigation to end prematurely, for fear that the findings would play into the hands of republicans.  However, the Inquiry had insufficient evidence the investigation was stopped as a result of political interference.

Sub-Committee recommendations

Following the release of the Barron Report, an Oireachtas Sub-Committee was established to consider the Report and make recommendations. These recommendations were published in March 2004 as a ‘Final Report’.

The Sub-Committee concluded there should be further and extensive investigation into the culprits and claims that British forces colluded with the bombers. It said the information it received has reinforced the suspicion that there was collusion. However, it noted that to investigate this, access to documentation and witnesses in the UK is vital.

Because the documentation and suspects are in the UK, the Sub-Committee said there should be a Public Tribunal of Inquiry in Northern Ireland and/or Britain. It recommended the Irish Government bring a case before the European Court of Human Rights to force the British Government to hold such an inquiry into the bombings.

In 2005, the Irish Government threatened to bring the British government to the European Court of Justice, to force it to release its files on the bombings. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was not enough evidence to justify a public inquiry.

Following a recommendation from the Sub-Committee, the Irish Government established a further commission of investigation in May 2005 under Patrick McEntee. The ‘McEntee Inquiry’ was tasked to investigate why the Garda investigation was wound down, why the Garda did not follow-up on some leads, and the missing Garda documents.The report was handed to the Irish government in March 2007  and published shortly thereafter.

Subsequent reports by Henry Barron into the Miami Showband massacre, the killing of Seamus Ludlow, and the bombing of Keys Tavern found evidence of extensive collusion with the same UVF members, amounting to “international terrorism” on the part of British forces.

Allegations of British security force involvement

Colin Wallace’s claims

At the time of the bombings, Colin Wallace was a senior British Army Intelligence officer at the Army’s Northern Ireland headquarters. Since his resignation in 1975, he has exposed scandals involving the security forces, including state collusion with loyalists. He gave evidence to the Barron Inquiry.

In an August 1975 letter to Tony Stoughton, chief of the British Army Information Service in Northern Ireland, Wallace writes:

There is good evidence the Dublin bombings in May last year were a reprisal for the Irish government’s role in bringing about the [power sharing] Executive. According to one of Craig’s people [Craig Smellie, the top MI6 officer in Northern Ireland], some of those involved – the Youngs, the Jacksons, Mulholland, Hanna, Kerr and McConnell – were working closely with [Special Branch] and [Military Intelligence] at that time. Craig’s people believe the sectarian assassinations were designed to destroy Rees‘s attempts to negotiate a ceasefire, and the targets were identified for both sides by [Intelligence/Special Branch]. They also believe some very senior RUC officers were involved with this group. In short, it would appear that loyalist paramilitaries and [Intelligence/Special Branch] members have formed some sort of pseudo gangs in an attempt to fight a war of attrition by getting paramilitaries on both sides to kill each other and, at the same time prevent any future political initiative such as Sunningdale.

In a further letter of September 1975, Wallace writes that MI5 was backing a group of UVF hardliners who opposed the UVF’s move toward politics. He adds:

 

I believe much of the violence generated during the latter part of last year was caused by some of the new [Intelligence] people deliberately stirring up the conflict. As you know, we have never been allowed to target the breakaway UVF, nor the UFF, during the past year. Yet they have killed more people than the IRA!

In his evidence to the Barron Inquiry, Wallace argues that the security forces had so thoroughly infiltrated the UVF they would have known such a huge bombing operation was being planned and who was involved. He then noted that the bombing investigation team was disbanded a very short time after the bombings. Barron noted that Wallace’s August 1975 letter was “strong evidence that the security forces in Northern Ireland had intelligence information which was not shared with the Garda investigation team.”

As with Fred Holroyd and John Weir, there were unsuccessful attempts to undermine Colin Wallace. Barron notes that Wallace was targeted by the same security services he had served. He was forced to resign in 1975, ostensibly for trying to pass a classified document to journalist Robert Fisk.

Wallace claims the real reasons for his dismissal were his refusal to continue working on the Clockwork Orange project, and his discovery that the security forces were involved in a child sex abuse ring. After his dismissal, Wallace attempted to expose these scandals, as well as state collusion with loyalists. In 1980, shortly after making some of his allegations, he was arrested and convicted of manslaughter. He was released on parole in 1985 and proclaimed his innocence. Various people have alleged that Wallace was framed.

He later had his conviction overturned and was paid £30,000 compensation for unjust dismissal from government service. His role within the British Army intelligence service had been officially, though belatedly, acknowledged in 1990.[59] Wallace was fully vindicated.[60][61]

John Weir’s claims

John Weir was an officer in the RUC’s Special Patrol Group during the 1970s. In 1980, he and fellow RUC officer Billy McCaughey were convicted of taking part in the murder of a Catholic civilian. Following their convictions, they implicated fellow RUC officers and UDR soldiers in a string of loyalist attacks.

In a sworn affidavit, Weir revealed that he had been part of the ‘Glenanne gang‘ – a secret alliance of UVF members and security force personnel who carried out numerous attacks on the Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist community in the 1970s. Most of its attacks took place in the area of County Armagh and Tyrone referred to as the “murder triangle”, but it also launched some attacks in the Republic. According to Weir, this included the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.

He named people who he said were involved in a number of these attacks. He also named a farm in Glenanne, he claimed was used as a base of operations by the group. Furthermore, he alleged that senior RUC officers knew of, and gave tacit approval to, these activities.

According to Weir, the main organiser of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings was Billy Hanna, a UDR sergeant and UVF ‘brigadier’. He claimed that Hanna, Robin Jackson, Davy Payne and William Marchant carried out the Dublin bombings, while Stewart Young and brothers John & Wesley Somerville (both UDR soldiers) carried out the Monaghan bombing.

He claimed the explosives had been provided by Captain John Irwin, a UDR Intelligence Officer, and that the bombs had been assembled at the Glenanne farm of RUC officer James Mitchell, with help from fellow officer Laurence McClure. Weir claims British Army Intelligence and the RUC knew who the culprits were but did not arrest them.Furthermore, he says it is likely that Army Intelligence/RUC knew about the bombings beforehand, due to its contacts with the Glenanne group.

The RUC furnished the Gardaí with a report that attempted to undermine Weir’s evidence. Barron found this RUC report to be highly inaccurate and lacking credibility.The Barron Inquiry believes that Weir’s evidence is credible, and “agrees with the view of An Garda Siochana that Weir’s allegations regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings must be treated with the utmost seriousness”.

The Barron Inquiry found evidence to support Weir’s claims. This included a chain of ballistics history linking the same weapons to many of the attacks Weir outlined.[69] Journalist Susan McKay noted that “The same individuals turn up again and again, but the links weren’t noted. Some of the perpetrators weren’t prosecuted despite evidence against them”.[69]

Fred Holroyd’s claims

Evidence for British security force involvement in the bombings is also supported by British Army Captain Fred Holroyd, who worked for MI6 during the 1970s in Northern Ireland. Holroyd said that “the bombings were part of a pattern of collusion between elements of the security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries”. He claimed that the main organiser of the bombings, UDR sergeant Billy Hanna, had contact with an intelligence officer who reported to Holroyd.

Holroyd also claimed that elements of the Irish security forces secretly agreed to ‘freeze’ border areas for British forces. This meant Irish forces would leave an area for a given amount of time, primarily so that British forces could cross the border to kidnap IRA members.

Holroyd claimed the Assistant Garda Commissioner, Edmund Garvey, met him and an RUC officer at Garda headquarters in 1975. Holroyd named Garvey and another Garda (codenamed ‘the badger’) as being on the “British side”. Garvey later denied that the meeting took place. However, Barron found: “The visit by Holroyd to Garda Headquarters unquestionably did take place, notwithstanding former Commissioner Garvey’s inability to recall it”.

Garvey was dismissed by the incoming Fianna Fáil Government in 1978, who simply stated it no longer had confidence in him as Garda Commissioner.

The Barron Inquiry found that members of the Gardaí and RUC attempted to unfairly and unjustly undermine Holroyd’s evidence. It says that “Some of the RUC officers interviewed by the Inquiry, in their apparent eagerness to deny Holroyd any credibility whatsoever, themselves made inaccurate and misleading statements which have unfortunately tarnished their own credibility”

Popular Culture References

The Song ‘Raised by Wolves’ by U2, from their 2014 album Songs of Innocence references the Talbot street bombing. The liner notes to the album mention a childhood friend of lead singer Bono who witnessed the aftermath of the bombings: “the scene never left him” and he struggled with addiction.

Miami Showband Killings – The Day The Music Died

Miami Showband Killing

The Miami Showband killings (also called the Miami Showband Massacre) was an attack by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, on 31 July 1975. It took place on the A1 road at Buskhill in County Down, Northern Ireland. Five people were killed, including three members of The Miami Showband, who were then one of Ireland’s most popular cabaret bands.

The Day The Music Died

The band was travelling home to Dublin late at night after a performance in Banbridge. Seven miles (11 km) north of Newry, their minibus was stopped at what appeared to be a military checkpoint, where gunmen in British Army uniforms ordered them to line up by the roadside. At least four of the gunmen were serving soldiers from the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) but, unbeknownst to the band, all were members of the UVF. While two of the gunmen (both soldiers) were hiding a time bomb on the minibus, it exploded prematurely and killed them.

It has been suggested that the plan had been for it to explode en route and kill the band, who would be branded IRA bomb smugglers. The other gunmen then opened fire on the dazed band members, killing three and wounding two.

Two serving British soldiers and one former British soldier were found guilty of the murders and received life sentences; they were released in 1998. Allegations of collusion between British military intelligence and the loyalist militants persist. According to former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agent Captain Fred Holroyd, the killings were organised by British Army Captain Robert Nairac (a member of 14th Intelligence Company), in collaboration with the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade and its commander Robin “The Jackal” Jackson.

Robin Jackson.jpg

Robin ( The Jackal)  Jackson

The Historical Enquiries Team, which investigated the killings, released their report to the victims’ families in December 2011. It confirmed that Jackson was linked to the attack by fingerprints. There are claims that those involved in the Miami Showband killings belonged to the Glenanne gang; a secret alliance of loyalist militants, rogue police officers and British soldiers.

In a report published in the Sunday Mirror in 1999, Colin Wills called the Miami Showband attack “one of the worst atrocities in the 30-year history of the Troubles”. Irish Times diarist Frank McNally summed up the massacre as “an incident that encapsulated all the madness of the time”

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this post and page are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.

They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors

Background

Political situation in Northern Ireland

UVF-logo123.png

The conflict in Northern Ireland, known as “The Troubles“, began in the late 1960s. The year 1975 was marked by an escalation in sectarian attacks and a vicious feud between the two main loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). On 4 April 1974 the proscription against the UVF had been lifted by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This meant that both it and the UDA were legal organisations.

The UVF would be once more banned by the British government on 3 October 1975.

In May 1974 unionists called a general strike to protest against the Sunningdale Agreement – an attempt at power-sharing, setting up a Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland, which would have given the Government of Ireland a voice in running Northern Ireland. During that strike on 17 May, the UVF carried out the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings, which killed 33 civilians. The Provisional IRA were suspected by British police of bombing two pubs in the English city of Birmingham the following November, resulting in 21 deaths.

UK Home Secretary Roy Jenkins introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gave the government unprecedented powers against the liberty of individuals in the United Kingdom in peacetime. At Christmas 1974 the IRA declared a ceasefire, which theoretically lasted throughout most of 1975. This move made loyalists apprehensive and suspicious that a secret accord was being conducted between the British government and the IRA, and that Northern Ireland’s Protestants would be “sold out”.

Their fears were slightly grounded in fact, as the MI6 officer Michael Oatley was involved in negotiations with a member of the IRA Army Council, during which “structures of disengagement” from Ireland were discussed. This had meant the possible withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. The existence of these talks led unionists to believe that they were about to be abandoned by the British government and forced into a united Ireland; as a result, the loyalist paramilitary groups reacted with a violence that, combined with the tit-for-tat retaliations from the IRA (despite their ceasefire), made 1975 one of the “bloodiest years of the conflict”.

In early 1975 Merlyn Rees set up elections for the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention at which all of Northern Ireland’s politicians would plan their way forward. These were held on 1 May 1975 and the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC), which had won 11 out of 12 Northern Irish seats in the February 1974 general election, won a majority again. As the UUUC would not abide any form of power-sharing with the Dublin government, no agreement could be reached and the convention failed, again marginalising Northern Ireland’s politicians and the communities they represented

Robin Jackson and the Mid-Ulster UVF

 

refer to caption

Ulster Volunteer Force mural.

The UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade, led by Robin Jackson, was one of the most ruthless paramilitary groups that operated in the 1970s.

The UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade operated mainly around the Portadown and Lurgan areas. It had been set up in Lurgan in 1972 by part-time Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) sergeant and permanent staff instructor Billy Hanna, who made himself commander of the brigade. His leadership was endorsed by the UVF’s leader Gusty Spence.

The brigade was described by author Don Mullan as one of the most ruthless units operating in the 1970s. At the time of the attack the Mid-Ulster Brigade was commanded by Robin Jackson, also known as “The Jackal”. Jackson had assumed command of the Mid-Ulster UVF just a few days before the Miami Showband attack, after allegedly shooting Hanna dead outside his home in Lurgan on 27 July 1975.

According to authors Paul Larkin and Martin Dillon, Jackson was accompanied by Harris Boyle when he killed Hanna. Hanna was named by former British Intelligence Corps operative Colin Wallace as having organised and led the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, along with Jackson.  Journalist Joe Tiernan suggested that Hanna was shot for refusing to participate in the Miami Showband attack and that he had become an informer for the Gardaí in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the Dublin bombings.  Dillon suggested that because a large number of joint UDR/UVF members were to be used for the planned Miami Showband ambush, Hanna was considered to have been a “security risk”, and the UVF decided he had to be killed before he could alert the authorities.

Jackson was an alleged RUC Special Branch agent who was said by Yorkshire Television‘s The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre programme to have had links to both the Intelligence Corps and Captain Robert Nairac.  A report in the Irish Times implicated Jackson in the Dublin bombings. More than 100 killings have been attributed to him by the Pat Finucane Centre, the Derry-based civil rights group.

The Miami Showband

 

refer to caption

The Miami Showband in 1975; one of the last photos of the band before the attack
L–R: Tony Geraghty, Fran O’Toole, Ray Millar, Des McAlea (“Des Lee”), Brian McCoy, Stephen Travers

The Miami Showband was a popular Dublin-based cabaret band, enjoying fame and, according to journalist Peter Taylor, “Beatle-like devotion” from fans on both sides of the Irish border. A typical Irish showband was based on the popular six- or seven-member dance band. Its basic repertoire included cover versions of pop songs that were currently in the charts and standard dance numbers. The music ranged from rock and country and western to Dixieland jazz. Sometimes the showbands played traditional Irish music at their performances.

Originally called the Downbeats Quartet, the Miami Showband was reformed in 1962 by rock promoter Tom Doherty, who gave them their new name. With Dublin-born singer Dickie Rock as frontman, the Miami Showband underwent many personnel changes over the years. In December 1972, Rock left the band to be briefly replaced by two brothers, Frankie and Johnny Simon. That same year keyboardist Francis “Fran” O’Toole (from Bray, County Wicklow) had won the Gold Star Award on RTÉ‘s Reach For the Stars television programme.

 

In early 1973, Billy MacDonald (aka “Billy Mac”) took over as the group’s frontman when the Simon brothers quit the band. The following year, Fran O’Toole became the band’s lead vocalist after Mick Roche (Billy Mac’s replacement) was sacked. O’Toole was noted for his good looks and popularity with female fans.  was described by the Miami Showband’s former bass guitarist, Paul Ashford, as having been the “greatest soul singer” in Ireland. Ashford had been asked to leave the band in 1973, for complaining that performing in Northern Ireland put their lives at risk.

He was replaced by Johnny Brown, who in turn was replaced by Dave Monks until Stephen Travers eventually became the band’s permanent bass player. In late 1974, the Miami Showband’s song Clap Your Hands and Stomp Your Feet (featuring O’Toole on lead vocals) reached number eight in the Irish charts.

The 1975 line-up comprised four Catholics and two Protestants. They were: lead vocalist and keyboard player Fran O’Toole (28, Catholic), guitarist Anthony “Tony” Geraghty (24, Catholic) from Dublin, trumpeter Brian McCoy (32, Protestant) from Caledon, County Tyrone, saxophonist Des McAlea (aka “Des Lee”), 24, a Catholic from Belfast, bassist Stephen Travers (24, Catholic) from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary and drummer Ray Millar (Protestant) from Antrim. O’Toole and McCoy were both married; each had two children. Geraghty was engaged to be married.

Their music was described as “contemporary and trans-Atlantic”, with no reference to the Northern Ireland conflict. By 1975 they had gained a large following, playing to crowds of people in dance halls and ballrooms across the island.The band had no overt interest in politics nor in the religious beliefs of the people who made up their audience. They were prepared to travel anywhere in Ireland to perform for their fans.

According to the Irish Times, at the height of the Irish showband’s popularity (from the 1950s to the 1970s), up to as many as 700 bands travelled to venues all over Ireland on a nightly basis.

Ambush

Bogus checkpoint

refer to caption

Volkswagen Type 2 (T2)
similar to the minibus used by the band

 

Five members of the Dublin-based band were travelling home after a performance at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, County Down on Thursday 31 July 1975. Ray Millar, the band’s drummer, was not with them as he had chosen to go to his home town of Antrim to spend the night with his parents. The band’s road manager, Brian Maguire, had already gone ahead a few minutes earlier in the equipment van. At about 2.30 a.m., when the band was seven miles (11 km) north of Newry on the main A1 road, their Volkswagen minibus (driven by trumpeter Brian McCoy with Stephen Travers in the front seat beside him) reached the townland of Buskhill.

Near the junction with Buskhill Road they were flagged down by armed men dressed in British Army uniforms waving a red torch in a circular motion. During “The Troubles” it was normal for the British Army to set up checkpoints daily, at any time.

Assuming it was a legitimate checkpoint, McCoy informed the others inside the minibus of a military checkpoint up ahead and pulled in at the lay-by as directed by the armed men.

As McCoy rolled down the window and produced his driving licence, gunmen came up to the minibus and one of them said in a Northern Irish accent,

“Goodnight, fellas. How are things? Can you step out of the van for a few minutes and we’ll just do a check”.

The unsuspecting band members got out and were politely told to line up facing the ditch at the rear of the minibus with their hands on their heads.  More uniformed men appeared from out of the darkness, their guns pointed at the minibus. About 10 gunmen were at the checkpoint, according to author and journalist Martin Dillon.

After McCoy told them they were the Miami Showband, one gunman, Thomas Crozier (who had a notebook) asked the band members for their names and addresses, while the others bantered with them about the success of their performance that night.

As Crozier took down the information, a car pulled up and another uniformed man appeared on the scene. He wore a uniform and beret noticeably different from the others. He spoke with an educated English accent and immediately took charge, ordering a man who appeared to have been the leader of the patrol, to tell Crozier to obtain their names and dates of birth instead of addresses.

The jocular mood of the gunmen abruptly ceased. At no time did this new soldier speak to any of the band members nor did he directly address Crozier. He relayed all his instructions to the gunman in command.  Travers, the band’s new bass player, assumed he was a British Army officer; an opinion shared by McCoy. Just after the arrival of this mysterious soldier, McCoy nudged Travers, who was standing beside him, and reassured him by saying “Don’t worry Stephen, this is British Army”.  Travers thought that McCoy, a Protestant from Northern Ireland, was familiar with security checkpoints and had reckoned the regular British Army would be more efficient than the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), who had a reputation for unprofessional and unpredictable behaviour especially towards people from the Irish Republic.

McCoy, son of the Orange Order‘s Grand Master for County Tyrone,  had close relatives in the security forces; his brother-in-law was a former member of the B Specials which had been disbanded in 1970. Travers described McCoy as a “sophisticated, father-type figure. Everybody was respectful to Brian”. McCoy’s words, therefore, were taken seriously by the other band members, and anything he said was considered to be accurate.

Explosion

 

At least four of the gunmen were soldiers from the UDR; a locally recruited infantry regiment of the British Army in Northern Ireland. Martin Dillon suggested, in The Dirty War, that at least five serving UDR soldiers were present at the checkpoint.

All the gunmen were members of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade, and had been lying in wait to ambush the band having set up the checkpoint just minutes before.

Out of sight of the band members, two of the gunmen placed a ten-pound (4.5 kg) time bomb in the rear of the minibus.  The UVF’s plan was that the bomb would explode once the minibus had reached Newry, killing all on board. However, Martin Dillon alleged that the bomb was meant to go off in the Irish Republic.

He suggested that had all gone according to plan, the loyalist extremists would have been able to clandestinely bomb the Republic of Ireland, yet claim that the band were republican bomb-smugglers carrying explosives on behalf of the IRA. They had hoped to embarrass the Government of Ireland, as well as to draw attention to its under-patrolled border. This would have resulted in the Irish authorities enforcing tighter controls over people crossing the border, thus greatly restricting IRA operations.

Dillon opined that another reason the UVF decided to target the Miami Showband was because the nationalist community held them in high regard; to attack the band was to strike the nationalists indirectly.

Stephen Travers heard the gunmen rummaging in the back of the minibus, where he kept his guitar. Concerned it may be damaged, he approached the two gunmen and told them to be careful. Asked whether he had anything valuable inside the case, Travers replied no. The gunman turned him round, punched him in the back and pushed him on the shoulder back into the line-up.

When the two gunmen closed the rear door, clumsy soldering on the clock used as a timer caused the device to explode prematurely, blowing the minibus apart and killing the gunmen Harris Boyle (aged 22, a telephone wireman from Portadown) and Wesley Somerville (aged 34, a textile worker from Moygashel) instantly. Hurled in opposite directions, they were both decapitated and their bodies dismembered. What little that remained intact of their bodies was burnt beyond recognition; one of the limbless torsos was completely charred.

Shootings

refer to caption

Luger P08 pistol
similar to the one used to kill Brian McCoy

Following the explosion, the remaining gunmen opened fire on the dazed band members, who had all been knocked down into the field below the level of the road from the force of the blast. The order to shoot was given by the patrol’s apparent leader, James McDowell, to eliminate witnesses to the bogus checkpoint and subsequent bombing. Three of the musicians were killed: lead singer Fran O’Toole, trumpeter Brian McCoy, and guitarist Tony Geraghty.

Brian McCoy was the first to die, having been hit in the back by nine rounds from a 9mm Luger pistol in the initial volley of gunfire.  Fran O’Toole attempted to run away, but was quickly chased down by the gunmen who had immediately jumped down into the field in pursuit. He was then machine-gunned 22 times, mostly in the face, as he lay supine on the ground. Tony Geraghty also attempted to escape; but he was caught by the gunmen and shot at least four times in the back of the head and back. Both men had pleaded for their lives before they were shot; one had cried out,

“Please don’t shoot me, don’t kill me”.

 

Bassist Stephen Travers was seriously wounded by a dum-dum bullet which had struck him when the gunmen had first begun shooting.

He survived by pretending he was dead, as he lay beside the body of McCoy.Saxophone player Des McAlea was hit by the minibus’s door when it was blown off in the explosion, but was not badly wounded. He lay hidden in thick undergrowth, undetected by the gunmen. He also survived. However, the flames from the burning hedge (which had been set on fire by the explosion) soon came dangerously close to where he lay; he was forced to leave his hiding spot. By this time the gunmen had left the scene, assuming everyone else had been killed. Travers later recalled hearing one of the departing gunmen tell his comrade who had kicked McCoy’s body to make sure he was not alive: “Come on, those bastards are dead. I got them with dum-dums”.

McAlea made his way up the embankment to the main road where he hitched a lift to alert the RUC at their barracks in Newry.

Forensic and ballistic evidence

 

When the RUC arrived at the site they found five dead bodies, a seriously injured Stephen Travers, body parts, the smouldering remains of the destroyed minibus, debris from the bomb blast, bullets, spent cartridges, and the band members’ personal possessions, including clothing, shoes, and a photograph of the group, strewn across the area. They also discovered a stolen white Ford Escort registration number 4933 LZ, which had been left behind by the gunmen, along with two guns, ammunition, green UDR berets and a pair of glasses later traced to James McDowell, the gunman who had ordered the shootings.

One of the first RUC men who arrived at Buskhill in the wake of the killings was scenes of crime officer James O’Neill. He described the scene as having “just the smell of utterly death about the place … burning blood, burning tyres”. He also added that “that bomb was definitely placed there with a view to killing all in that band”.

The only identifiable body part from the bombers to survive the blast (which had been heard up to four miles away) was a severed arm belonging to Wesley Somerville. It was found 100 yards from the site with a “UVF Portadown” tattoo on it.

refer to caption

Sterling submachine gun
similar to the those used in the attack

 

The RUC’s investigative unit, the Assassination or “A” Squad of detectives, was set up to investigate the crime and to discover the identities of the UVF gunmen who perpetrated the killings.  Afterwards, as Travers recovered in hospital, the second survivor Des McAlea gave the police a description of McDowell as the gunman with a moustache and wearing dark glasses who appeared to have been the leader of the patrol. Some time after the attack, RUC officers questioned Stephen Travers at Dublin Castle. He subsequently stated they refused to accept his description of the different-coloured beret worn by the soldier with the English accent.

The UVF gunmen had worn green UDR berets, whereas the other man’s had been lighter in colour.

The dead bombers were named by the UVF, in a statement issued within 12 hours of the attack.  Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville were UDR soldiers as well as holding the rank of major and lieutenant, respectively, in the UVF.

In 1993 Boyle was named by The Hidden Hand programme as one of the Dublin car bombers.

The stolen Ford Escort belonged to a man from Portadown, who according to Captain Fred Holroyd, had links with one of the UVF bombers and the driver of the bomb car which had been left to explode in Parnell Street, Dublin on 17 May 1974. He was also one of the prime suspects in the sectarian killing of Dorothy Traynor on 1 April 1975 in Portadown.

Ballistic evidence indicates that the 10-member gang took at least six guns with them on the attack.  An independent panel of inquiry commissioned by the Pat Finucane Centre has established that among the weapons actually used in the killings were two Sterling 9mm submachine guns and a 9mm Luger pistol serial no. U 4. The submachine guns, which had been stolen years earlier from a former member of the B Specials, were linked to prior and later sectarian killings, whereas the Luger had been used to kill leading IRA member, John Francis Green, the previous January.

 

In a letter to the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Bombing of Kay’s Tavern dated 22 February 2004, the Northern Ireland Office stated that: “The PSNI [The Police Service of Northern Ireland] have confirmed that a 9mm Luger pistol was ballistically traced both to the murder of John Francis Green and to the Miami Showband murders.”

In May 1976, Robin Jackson’s fingerprints were discovered on the metal barrel of a home-made silencer constructed for a Luger.[53] Both the silencer and pistol – which was later established to have been the same one used in the Miami Showband killings – were found by the security forces at the home of Edward Sinclair. Jackson was charged with possession of the silencer but not convicted, the trial judge having reportedly said: “At the end of the day I find that the accused somehow touched the silencer, but the Crown evidence has left me completely in the dark as to whether he did that wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly”. The Luger was destroyed by the RUC on 28 August 1978.[54]

Aftermath

Reactions

Within 12 hours of the attack the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership) issued a statement. It was released under the heading Ulster Central Intelligence Agency – Miami Showband Incident Report:

A UVF patrol led by Major Boyle was suspicious of two vehicles, a minibus and a car parked near the border. Major Boyle ordered his patrol to apprehend the occupants for questioning. As they were being questioned, Major Boyle and Lieutenant Somerville began to search the minibus. As they began to enter the vehicle, a bomb was detonated and both men were killed outright.

At the precise moment of the explosion, the patrol came under intense automatic fire from the occupants of the other vehicle. The patrol sergeant immediately ordered fire to be returned. Using self-loading rifles and sub-machine guns, the patrol returned fire, killing three of their attackers and wounding another. The patrol later recovered two Armalite rifles and a pistol.

The UVF maintains regular border patrols due to the continued activity of the Provisional IRA. The Mid-Ulster Battalion has been assisting the South Down-South Armagh units since the IRA Forkhill boobytrap which killed four British soldiers. Three UVF members are being treated for gunshot wounds after last night but not in hospital.

It would appear that the UVF patrol surprised members of a terrorist organisation transferring weapons to the Miami Showband minibus and that an explosive device of some description was being carried by the Showband for an unlawful purpose. It is obvious, therefore, that the UVF patrol was justified in taking the action it did and that the killing of the three Showband members should be regarded as justifiable homicide. The Officers and Agents of the Ulster Central Intelligence Agency commend the UVF on their actions and tender their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the two Officers who died while attempting to remove the bomb from the minibus.

Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville were given UVF paramilitary funerals conducted by Free Presbyterian minister William McCrea, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician.[

The killings shocked both Northern Ireland and Ireland and put a serious strain on Anglo-Irish relations.

The Irish Times reported that on the night following the attack, the British ambassador Sir Arthur Galsworthy was summoned to hear the Government of Ireland’s strong feelings regarding the murder of the three band members. The government held the view that the British Government had not done enough to stop sectarian assassinations in Northern Ireland.

Following the post-mortems, funerals were held for the three slain musicians; they received televised news coverage by RTÉ, Ireland’s public service broadcaster. According to RTÉ,

“Their families were in deep mourning and Ireland mourned with them”.

According to Peter Taylor, the Provisional IRA’s gun and bomb attack on the loyalist Bayardo Bar in Belfast’s Shankill Road on 13 August was in retaliation for the Miami Showband ambush. Four Protestant civilians (two men and two women) and UVF member Hugh Harris were killed in the attack.

Two days later, Portadown disc jockey Norman “Mooch” Kerr, aged 28, was shot dead by the IRA as he packed up his equipment after a show at the Camrick Bar in Armagh. Although not a member of any loyalist paramilitary group, he was a close friend of Harris Boyle and the two were often seen together.

 

Robert Nairac

See Robert Nairac

The IRA said it killed him because of an alleged association with British Army officer and member of 14th Intelligence Company, Captain Robert Nairac, and claimed it was in possession of his diary, which had been stolen in Portadown.

Altnamachin attack

Less than one month after the Miami Showband massacre, another UVF unit, operating as part of the Glenanne gang, used the same modus operandi on 24 August 1975, at Altnamachin, outside Tullyvallen, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. Two Gaelic football supporters, Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer, were stopped in their car by a UVF patrol wearing full military combat uniforms at a bogus vehicle checkpoint. The two men were ordered out of the car and then both were shot dead a short distance away. Three RUC men had earlier been stopped in their unmarked car by the same “soldiers”, who let them through upon ascertaining their identity.

The RUC, however, had suspected that the checkpoint had been fake. After receiving radio confirmation that there were no authorised regular army or UDR checkpoints in the area that night, they reported the incident and requested help from the British Army to investigate it, but no action was taken.  UDR corporal Robert McConnell was implicated by RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir in this attack.

Convictions

A number of suspects were arrested by the RUC in early August 1975. One of these men, Lance-Corporal Thomas Raymond Crozier (aged 25, a painting contractor from Lurgan) of C Company, 11th Battalion UDR was charged with the Miami killings. It was believed he had been betrayed to the RUC by a member of the gang.

Thomas Crozier recounted that on the night of the killings, he had driven to the grounds of a school in Lurgan where he had picked up two men. He then drove to a lay-by on the Newry-Banbridge dual carriageway and met up with another five men, who were all wearing British Army uniforms. They subsequently set up a roadblock with “all the trappings of a regular military checkpoint”. Crozier told police, and later a court, that he had not played a large part in the attack. He refused to name his accomplices, as he felt that to do so would put the lives of his family in danger.

On 22 January 1976, a second UDR soldier, Sergeant James Roderick Shane McDowell (aged 29, an optical worker, also from Lurgan) was arrested and charged with the Miami killings. He served in C Company, 11th Battalion UDR. The RUC were led to him through his glasses which had been found at the murder scene. Tests done on the glasses, which were eventually traced back to McDowell, revealed that the lenses were of a prescription worn by just 1 in 500,000 of the population.

McDowell’s statement of admission was published in David McKittrick‘s book Lost Lives:

“There was very little planning. I only came into it because of my UDR connection and the fact that I had a uniform. I was given a sub-machine gun but I had never fired it. I passed out when the explosion happened and that was when I lost the gun, the glasses, and a UDR beret”.

On 15 October 1976, Crozier and McDowell both received life sentences for the Miami Showband murders. McDowell had pleaded guilty. Crozier had pleaded not guilty. The judge, by sentencing McDowell and Crozier to 35 years imprisonment each, had handed down the longest life sentences in the history of Northern Ireland; he commented that “killings like the Miami Showband must be stopped”. He added that had the death penalty not been abolished, it would have been imposed in this case.

A third person, former UDR soldier John James Somerville (aged 37, a lorry-helper and the brother of Wesley), was arrested following an RUC raid in Dungannon on 26 September 1980. He was charged with the Miami Showband murders, the attempted murder of Stephen Travers, and the murder of Patrick Falls in 1974. He was given a total of four life sentences (three for the murders of the Miami Showband members and one for the Falls murder) on 9 November 1981;  he had pleaded not guilty.

The three convicted UVF men, although admitting to having been at the scene, denied having shot anyone. None of the men ever named their accomplices, and the other UVF gunmen were never caught. The three men were sent to serve their sentence in the Maze Prison, on the outskirts of Lisburn. Fortnight Magazine reported that on 1 June 1982, John James Somerville began a hunger strike at the Maze to obtain special category status. Crozier, McDowell, and Somerville were released after 1998 under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

Allegations

A continued allegation in the case has been the presence of Captain Robert Nairac at the scene. Former serving Secret Intelligence Service agent Captain Fred Holroyd, and others, suggested that Nairac had organised the attack in co-operation with Robin Jackson and the Mid-Ulster UVF.  In his maiden parliamentary speech on 7 July 1987, Ken Livingstone MP told the House of Commons,  “it was likely” that Nairac had organised the attack.

Surviving band members Stephen Travers and Des McAlea told police and later testified in court that a British Army officer with a “crisp, clipped English accent” oversaw the Buskhill attack, the implication being that this was Nairac.

 

In his book The Dirty War, Martin Dillon adamantly dismissed the allegation that Nairac had been present. He believed it was based on the erroneous linkage of Nairac to the earlier murder of IRA man John Francis Green in County Monaghan – the same pistol was used in both attacks. Regarding the soldier with the English accent, Dillon wrote:

it is to say the least highly dubious, if not absurd to conclude from such superficial factors that Nairac was present at the Miami murders. I was told by a source close to “Mr. A” and another loyalist hitman that Nairac was not present at either murder [Miami Showband and John Francis Green].

Travers had described the English-accented man as having been of normal height and thought he had fair hair, but was not certain. Travers was not able to positively identify Nairac, from his photograph, as having been the man at Buskhill . The RTÉ programme Today Tonight aired a documentary in 1987 in which it claimed that former UVF associates of Harris Boyle revealed to the programme’s researchers that Nairac had deliberately detonated the bomb to eliminate Boyle, with whom he had carried out the Green killing.

Emily O’Reilly Senate of Poland.JPG

Journalist Emily O’Reilly noted in the Sunday Tribune that none of the three men convicted of the massacre ever implicated Nairac in the attack or accused him of causing Boyle’s death.

The band’s road manager, Brian Maguire stated that when he drove away from Banbridge in the lead, a few minutes ahead of the band’s minibus, he passed through security barriers manned by the RUC. As Maguire continued ahead, up the by-pass towards Newry, he noticed a blue Triumph 2000 pulling-out from where it had been parked in a lay-by. Maguire recalled that the car first slowed down, then it accelerated, flashing its lights. Two men had been observed acting suspiciously inside the Castle Ballroom during the band’s performance that night, suggesting that the Miami Showband’s movements were being carefully monitored.

Another persistent allegation is the direct involvement of Mid-Ulster UVF leader Robin Jackson. He was one of the men taken in by the RUC in August 1975 and questioned as a suspect in the killings, but was released without charge. The independent panel of inquiry commissioned by the Pat Finucane Centre concluded that there was “credible evidence that the principal perpetrator [of the Miami Showband attack] was a man who was not prosecuted – alleged RUC Special Branch agent Robin Jackson”.

The same panel revealed that about six weeks before the attack, Thomas Crozier, Jackson, and the latter’s brother-in-law Samuel Fulton Neill, were arrested for the possession of four shotguns.  Neill’s car was one of those allegedly used in the Buskhill attack. He was later shot dead in Portadown on 25 January 1976, allegedly by Jackson for having informed the RUC about Thomas Crozier’s participation in the attack.

The panel stated that it was unclear why Crozier, Jackson, and Neill were not in police custody at the time the Miami Showband killings took place. Martin Dillon maintained in The Dirty War that the Miami Showband attack was planned weeks before at a house in Portadown, and the person in charge of the overall operation was a former UDR man, whom Dillon referred to for legal reasons as “Mr. A”. Dillon also opined in God and the Gun: the Church and Irish Terrorism that the dead bombers, Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, had actually led the UVF gang at Buskhill.

Journalists Kevin Dowling and Liam Collins in the Irish Independent however, suggested in their respective articles that Jackson had been the leader of the unit.

Former British soldier and writer Ken Wharton published in his book Wasted Years, Wasted Lives, Volume 1, an alternative theory that was suggested to him by loyalist paramilitarism researcher Jeanne Griffin; this was that the ambush was planned by Robin Jackson as an elaborate means of eliminating trumpet player Brian McCoy.

Griffin suggests that McCoy, who originally came from Caledon, County Tyrone and had strong UDR and Orange Order family connections, was possibly approached at some stage by Jackson with a view of securing his help in carrying out UVF attacks in the Irish Republic. When McCoy refused, Jackson then hatched his plan to murder McCoy and his band mates in retaliation, even macabrely choosing Buskhill as the ambush site due to its similarity to Bus-kill. Griffin goes on to add that the bogus checkpoint was set up not only to plant the bomb on board the van but to ensure the presence of McCoy which would have been confirmed when he handed over his driver’s license to the gunmen.

She also thinks that had everything gone to plan once the bomb was planted in the van McCoy would have been instructed to drive through Newry where the bomb would have gone off and the UVF could then afterwards portray the Miami Showband as IRA members on a mission to blow up the local RUC barracks. Griffin based her theory on the nine bullets that were fired from a Luger into McCoy’s body and that Jackson’s fingerprints were found on the silencer used for a Luger.

She furthermore opined that Jackson was the man Travers saw kicking McCoy’s body to make sure he was dead.

The Pat Finucane Centre has named the Miami Showband killings as one of the 87 violent attacks perpetrated by the Glenanne gang against the Irish nationalist community in the 1970s. The Glenanne gang was a loose alliance of loyalist extremists allegedly operating under the command of British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch. It comprised rogue elements of the British security forces who, together with the UVF, carried out sectarian killings in the Mid-Ulster/County Armagh area. Their name comes from a farm in Glenanne, County Armagh, which was owned by RUC reservist James Mitchell; according to RUC Special Patrol Group officer John Weir, it was used as a UVF arms dump and bomb-making site.

Weir alleged the bomb used in the Miami Showband attack came from Mitchell’s farm. Weir’s affidavit implicating Robin Jackson in a number of attacks including the 1974 Dublin bombings was published in the 2003 Barron Report; the findings of an official investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Judge Henry Barron.

Later years

During the six years from the onset of “The Troubles” until the July 1975 attack, there had never been an incident involving any of the showbands. The incident had an adverse effect on the Irish showband scene, with many of the bands afraid to play in Northern Ireland. The emergence of discos later in the decade meant that ballrooms were converted into nightclubs, leaving the showbands with few venues available in which to perform. By the mid-1980s, the showbands had lost their appeal for the Irish public; although The Miami Showband, albeit with a series of different line-ups, did not disband until 1986.

The Miami Showband reformed in 2008, with Travers, Des McAlea, Ray Millar and other new members. It is fronted by McAlea, who returned to Northern Ireland the same year after living in South Africa since about 1982.

In 1994, Eric Smyth, a former UDR member and the husband of Brian McCoy’s sister, Sheila, was killed by the IRA.

Travers travelled to Belfast in 2006 for a secret meeting with the second-in-command of the UVF’s Brigade Staff, in an attempt to come to terms with the killing of his former colleagues and friends. The meeting was arranged by Rev. Chris Hudson, a former intermediary between the government of Ireland and the UVF, whose role was crucial to the Northern Ireland peace process. Hudson, a Unitarian minister, had been a close friend of Fran O’Toole.

The encounter took place inside Hudson’s church, All Souls Belfast. The UVF man, who identified himself only as “the Craftsman”, apologised to Travers for the attack, and explained that the UVF gunmen had opened fire on the band because they “had panicked” that night.  It was revealed in Peter Taylor’s book Loyalists that “the Craftsman” had been instrumental inbringing about the 1994 Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) ceasefire.

Travers also visited the home of Thomas Crozier, hoping to meet with him, but the latter did not come to the door. He presently resides near Craigavon. James McDowell lives in Lurgan, and John James Somerville became an evangelical minister in Belfast.  The UVF had cut all ties with Somerville after he had opposed the 1994 ceasefire. In January 2015 he was found dead in his Shankill Road flat. Aged 70, he died of cancer of the kidney.

Memorials

refer to caption

Memorial to the three dead band members at Parnell Square, Dublin

 

A monument dedicated to the dead Miami Showband members was unveiled at a ceremony at Parnell Square North, Dublin, on 10 December 2007. Survivors Stephen Travers and Des McAlea were both present at the unveiling, as was the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who made a tribute. The monument, made of limestone, bronze and granite, by County Donegal sculptor Redmond Herrity, is at the site of the old National Ballroom, where the band often played.

A mural and memorial plaque to Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville is in the Killycomain Estate in Portadown, where Boyle had lived. The plaque describes them as having been “killed in action”.

In a report on Nairac’s alleged involvement in the massacre, published in the Sunday Mirror newspaper on 16 May 1999, Colin Wills called the ambush “one of the worst atrocities in the 30-year history of the Troubles”.

Irish Times diarist, Frank McNally, summed up the massacre as “an incident that encapsulated all the madness of the time”.  In 2011, Journalist Kevin Myers denounced the attack with the following statement: “in its diabolical inventiveness against such a group of harmless and naïve young men, it is easily one of the most depraved [of the Troubles]”.

A stamp was issued in Ireland on 22 September 2010 commemorating the Miami Showband. The 55-cent stamp, designed with a 1967 publicity photograph of the band, included two of the slain members Fran O’Toole and Brian McCoy as part of the line-up when Dickie Rock was the frontman. It was one of a series of four stamps issued by An Post, celebrating the “golden age of the Irish showband era from the 1950s to the 1970s”.

The HET Report

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which was set up to investigate the more controversial Troubles-related deaths, released its report on the Miami Showband killings to the victims’ families in December 2011. The findings noted in the report confirmed Mid-Ulster UVF leader Robin Jackson’s involvement and identified him as an RUC Special Branch agent.

According to the report, Jackson had claimed during police interrogations that after the shootings, a senior RUC officer had advised him to “lie low”. Although this information was passed on to RUC headquarters, nothing was done about it. In a police statement made following his arrest for possession of the silencer and Luger on 31 May 1976, Jackson maintained that a week before he was taken into custody, two RUC officers had tipped him off about the discovery of his fingerprints on the silencer; he also claimed they had forewarned him: “I should clear as there was a wee job up the country that I would be done for and there was no way out of it for me”.

Although ballistic testing had linked the Luger (for which the silencer had been specifically made) to the Miami Showband attack, Jackson was never questioned about the killings after his fingerprints had been discovered on the silencer, and the Miami inquiry team were never informed about these developments.

Robin Jackson died of cancer on 30 May 1998, aged 49.

The families held a press conference in Dublin after the report was released. When asked to comment about the report, Des McAlea replied, “It’s been a long time but we’ve got justice at last”. He did, however, express his concern over the fact that nobody was ever charged with his attempted murder.

Stephen Travers

Stephen Travers offered, “We believe the only conclusion possible arising from the HET report is that one of the most prolific loyalist murderers of the conflict was an RUC Special Branch agent and was involved in the Miami Showband attack”.

The HET said the killings raised “disturbing questions about collusive and corrupt behaviour”.