Report: N. Ireland Police Shielded Killers

Raymond McCord, with son Glen, left, attends a news conference in Belfast. McCord, a Protestant, triggered inquiry with a complaint to the police ombudsman in 2002 after another son was killed.
Raymond McCord, with son Glen, left, attends a news conference in Belfast. McCord, a Protestant, triggered inquiry with a complaint to the police ombudsman in 2002 after another son was killed. (By Peter Morrison -- Associated Press)
By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

LONDON, Jan. 22 -- Police in Northern Ireland colluded with Protestant paramilitary informers, protecting them from prosecution even as they were implicated in murders and other violent crimes, often committed against Catholics, according to a government report released Monday.

In dozens of cases, most of which took place during the 1990s, police officers essentially gave the criminals immunity in exchange for information, according to the three-year investigation by an independent police ombudsman.

To protect informers, police officers blocked weapons searches, created fake notes of their interviews and even "babysat" informers so they wouldn't incriminate themselves in crimes that included drug-dealing and a bomb attack. Police paid one informer, believed to be involved in more than 10 murders, more than $150,000 a year, the report said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair called the report "deeply disturbing" and said the actions "were totally wrong and should never have happened." He also stressed that the report was "about the past" and that changes had been made so that "these events could not happen now."

The role of the police remains a formidable and emotional stumbling block as Northern Ireland's Protestant and Catholic political parties attempt to devise a power-sharing government after more than 3,600 lives were lost in three decades of sectarian violence.

Minority Catholics in the province have long accused the predominantly Protestant police force of discriminating against them and often participating in violence against them.

Martin McGuinness, a leader of Sinn Fein, the largest Catholic political party in the province, called the report "critically important" and said it confirms what many Catholics have long alleged. But he said in an interview that it "only scratched the surface" and that "hundreds of families want the truth" of what happened to their sons, daughters and parents.

McGuinness said there have been changes in the police force and that many "rats deserted a sinking ship." But to this day, he said, there is little trust of the police force among Catholics. Sinn Finn also issued a statement saying: "Clearly some of those involved in collusion are still in policing. Sinn Fein is determined to drum these human rights abusers out of policing."

Asked if he wanted those officers who covered up crimes to be prosecuted, McGuinness said, "We don't want words of regret, we want action."

Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, said the report "paints a picture of despicable past behavior." Now, he said, "it is essential that justice be done, and be seen to be done, in these cases. In the face of such a damning report, follow-up action and reassurance is essential."

The report comes at a delicate time for the peace process. On Sunday, about 2,000 members of Sinn Fein are to gather to vote on whether to support the Northern Ireland police, a key step toward getting Protestant leader Ian Paisley to agree to share power with Sinn Fein.

The investigation into Northern Ireland's police was triggered in 2002 when Raymond McCord, the father of a 22-year-old Protestant killed five years earlier, complained to the ombudsman that members of the force were protecting informers. After making inquiries into that case, the independent police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, decided to widen the investigation into the police handling of informers in the 1990s and as late as 2003.

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