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In this brief message from the Pat Finucane Centre, Derry, and the following article from today's Belfast Telegraph newspaper, on the 30th anniversary of the infamous Reavy and O'Dowd family massacres, there is a startling claim of evidence linking serving RUC "police officers" to guns used in loyalist sectarian killings of Catholics in the so-called "Murder Triangle" areas of Counties Armagh, Tyrone and Down and along the border with County Louth, involving the gang responsible for the Dundalk bombing and the murders of Jack Rooney and Hugh Watters.


To PFC subscribers

Today, January 4, marks the 30th anniversary of two co-ordinated gun attacks on the Reavey family of Whitecross, Co Armagh, and the O'Dowd family of Ballyduggan, Co Down. In all three members of each family died in the attacks which were carried out by loyalist paramilitaries and members of the security forces. On the following day republicans murdered 10 Protestant workmen at nearby Kingsmills. Less than two weeks earlier, on December 19th, the same Glenanne based loyalist gang carried out a gun and bomb attack on Donnellys Bar in Silverbridge and left a car bomb outside Kays Tavern in Dundalk. Five people in all died including Trevor Brecknell whose son Alan now works for the PFC. Permutations of the same gang were responsible for over 120 deaths in the Murder Triangle and beyond in the 1970s. For some time the PFC has carried out research into the activities of this gang in a project called the Recovery of Living Memory Archive or ROLMA. Some of this research is included in the article below which was published today in the Belfast Telegraph.  



Finding a deadly link

By Chris Thornton

04 January 2006

Thirty years ago the IRA was on ceasefire and the Government had been trying to entice loyalists into politics, but the period saw some of the worst sectarian warfare. Chris Thornton reports on a previously undisclosed link between the RUC and loyalists who murdered six people 30 years ago today

CYCLES of violence were always the simple way of explaining the Troubles. Someone would shoot somebody and someone else would get shot in revenge: Protestants and Catholics at each other's throats.

Simple doesn't mean wrong. In 1975 and '76, Armagh and its environs - the border, parts of Tyrone, bits of Down known collectively as the murder triangle - were in a prolonged cycle of violence that cost scores of lives and culminated exactly 30 years ago in 16 deaths across two brutal evenings.

But simple doesn't tell everything.

It doesn't explain the decay of the IRA's ceasefire during that period. Or the increase in UVF attacks that followed their legalisation by the Government. Nor does it explain the direct involvement of RUC officers in an attack on a Catholic bar, an attack that took place while at least one of them was on duty.

This was the time of Miami, of Tullyvallen, of attacks that today, 30 years later, are cited by some as acts of provocation for what came after.

In the last six months of 1975, around 50 people were killed in the murder triangle, a rate of about two a week. They died in groups, in pub bombings or a spray of gunfire or both, or alone, as assassins waited while they backed their car out of the driveway.

It's difficult to see where it started, but with hindsight it's easy to see where it led.

On January 4, 1976, co-ordinated attacks on the homes of two Catholic families, the Reaveys of Whitecross, Co Armagh and the O'Dowds of Ballyduggan, Co Down, left five men dead. The youngest was 19 and the oldest 61. A 17-year-old wounded in the first attack, Anthony Reavey, would die before the month was out.

The murders looked like they had been carried out as reprisal for a New Year's Eve bomb attack on a Protestant bar, which may have been retaliation for a murder in a Catholic bar the night before, and so on.

And so it went on: the night after the Reaveys and O'Dowds were murdered in their homes, ten Protestant workmen were killed by the IRA at Kingsmills, Co Armagh.

The three Reavey boys - John, 24, Brian, 22, and Anthony - were home on their own, watching television after most of their large family had gone out. It was just after six o'clock when a gunman twisted the key in their front door and stepped inside with two others.

Anthony, who survived long enough to give police a statement, described the first gunmen opening fire without saying a word. His brother John was killed by the first burst, and he and his brother Brian were both shot as they ran for a bedroom.

"There was constant shooting at this time," he said. "I think I was shot as I ran into the room, and again as I lay under the bed. I heard shooting whilst I was under the bed; I could hear Brian making a noise."

At least 43 bullets were fired, then the gunmen methodically searched the house, but found no one else.

When the shooting and the sounds of searching stopped, and he could hear only the TV, Anthony pulled himself from under the bed. His brothers were dead, and he staggered to a neighbour's house. He was discharged from hospital two weeks later, but died unexpectedly on January 30.

"We were in shock," recalled Seamus Reavey, another brother, this week. "We didn't know until later years what fear was in the country. Later we were told everybody was buying locks, but we weren't told these things until afterwards."

In that part of the world at least, there would be no keys left in locks after that night.

About the time Anthony Reavey reached his neighbours, gunmen were also walking into the home of the O'Dowd family, outside Gilford. Family and friends were gathering to see off Barry O'Dowd, who was returning to oil rig work after being home for the holidays. The attackers shot 19-year-old Declan in the hallway, then entered the living room and shot every man in it.

Barry, who was 24, died immediately and his uncle, 61-year-old Joe O'Dowd, was also killed. Barry and Declan's father, Barney, was hit nine times, but survived. The notorious loyalist Robin Jackson, known as the Jackal, was believed to have been one of the gunmen.

The bloodshed of that night and the next seemed most remarkable for the concentration of such a number of killings in such a short period of time; in terms of the clinical brutality with which they were carried out, they were almost typical of the time.

But there was another exceptional factor. Four guns were fired in the Reavey murders, and three of them are known to have been used again. Two of those - a 9mm pistol and a 9mm sub-machine gun - were fired five months later in an attack that remains one of the most curious of the Troubles.

The gun and bomb attack on the Rock Bar in Granemore, near Keady, Co Armagh, has faded from most accounts of the conflict, not least because no one died. And when the perpetrators were convicted, the headlines were dominated by the related conviction of a policeman for kidnapping a priest.

On the same day that Constable William McCaughey was jailed for kidnapping Fr Hugh Murphy, he and three other RUC officers he served alongside were convicted in relation to a gun and bomb attack on the Rock Bar in June 1976. McCaughey, who was already serving a life sentence for the UVF murder of Catholic chemist William Strathearn, was the only one given a jail sentence for the attack, which left one customer wounded.

That customer had been leaving the rural pub when a green car containing hooded gunmen pulled up. The car contained McCaughey and two other officers, Constables Lawrence McClure and Ian Mitchell. According to court records, McCaughey admitted shooting the departing customer, who was wounded in the stomach. One of the other attackers then placed a bomb at the door of the pub, which still had 17 people inside. Its detonator exploded, but the main charge failed to go off. With McCaughey, the other two officers admitted causing an explosion and other charges.

Here were police officers leading dual lives - carrying out an attack as hooded gunmen and investigating the same as members of the RUC. The difference was hard to distinguish: Mitchell was involved in taking statements from witnesses to a similar pub attack a few months later.

And the PSNI told the Pat Finucane Centre, the Derry-based human rights organisation which specialises in examining breaches by the security forces, that McClure was actually on duty at the time of the attack.

William McCaughey, recalling the events of Kingsmills and the other attacks this week, contends that it was "perfectly natural" to be in the UVF and the RUC. "There was no contradiction," he said. "Whatever way you could fight the IRA. As simple as that. No great conspiracy."

McCaughey says suggestions of collusion are overblown. He says the Armagh attacks "may have been in a climate and environment that British intelligence created" but adds: "As far as I'm concerned I was involved in activities with the UVF and, when I was involved in those activities, the UVF was in primary control.

After McCaughey was arrested for the Strathearn murder, the RUC questioned him and the other officers about the Rock Bar attack. A fourth constable was convicted of withholding information about the attack.

A sergeant he identified as saying that a bomb had been prepared for the Rock Bar was not charged, but was jailed for helping McCaughey carry out the kidnapping.

The then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lowry, gave all but McCaughey suspended sentences. They had acted under "powerful motives", he said, which were in one case the "mortal danger of their service and in the other the feeling that more than ordinary police work was needed and justified to rid the land of the pestilence which has been in existence".

He praised the RUC for acting without fear or favour in bringing their own before the court. But what the court had not heard - and what was not disclosed to anyone for almost another quarter century - was that the guns used by the police officers to attack the Rock Bar had also been used in the Reavey murders. One of the two weapons had also been used in an earlier double murder.

Such forensic links don't constitute conclusive proof: if someone shoots a gun once, it doesn't necessarily mean they shot it before. But it does indicate a strong connection - it was at least evidence that whatever the "powerful motives" the officers might have been operating under, they were linked to a murderous paramilitary ring.

The forensic links were suspected, but not disclosed. In its investigations of a series of incidents in South Armagh, the Pat Finucane Centre noticed that similar guns were used repeatedly.

"We had a number of meetings with the police," said Alan Brecknell, whose father Trevor was killed by a gun used in the Reavey murders (but not the Rock Bar attack). "They would have said things like such and such a gun was used in a shooting - a Webley revolver, say, and a Stirling sub-machine gun. Then we'd go into another meeting later in the day and the same guns would come up again."

Nor was this the first time forensic links had been raised. A few years after his brothers were murdered, Seamus Reavey said a Royal Marine approached his family and told them there ballistic links between the killings and a series of attacks, including one in which two soldiers in civilian clothes had been killed, possibly in mistake for IRA members.

The group asked Justice Henry Barron, the Dublin judge investigating the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, to seek forensic information. In an appendix to his report on those bombings, he said the PSNI gave him "considerable information", including the forensic links between the gun attacks.

He said the information showed a link between the Rock Bar attack and a series of other attacks attributed to loyalists, which tied into the Dublin investigation. "It confirmed what we'd suspected - the same guns were being used in the murders," said Alan Brecknell.

More information may emerge later this month. Trevor Brecknell's widow, Alan's mother, is due to take a High Court action in an attempt to force the Director of Public Prosecutions to explain why two people charged in connection with his murder - including Laurence McClure, one of the Rock Bar officers - were never prosecuted.

And Mr Justice Barron is expected to produce a new report detailing events behind a loyalist attack on Kay's Tavern in Dundalk.

It took place the same night that Trevor Brecknell and two others were killed in a similar pub attack in Silverbridge.

The PSNI Historical Inquiries Team is expected to review the cycle of South Armagh killings, but the force would not comment on specific cases. Alan Brecknell and Seamus Reavey both say they believe the first investigations into the deaths of their relatives were inadequate.

"I think what all this points to is that we need some sort of a truth process where everyone who was a party to the conflict comes forward and tells their version of what happened and why it happened," said Mr Brecknell.

"That includes government and whoever. They need to tell everything about commission or omission - that is, whether they were directly involved or let things happen."

Like so many victims, they still want an explanation that says more than it was just their turn in the cycle.

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Barron Report into the murder of Seamus Ludlow is Published - Download the Barron Report from the Oireachtas website (pdf file) - Statement from Justice for the Forgotten - Joint Oireachtas Committee inquiring into the Barron Report on the murder of Seamus Ludlow Request for Submissions


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Last edited: 04 January 2006 18:04:34

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Revised: January 04, 2006 .