Ombudsman ‘shocked’ to hear cops returned ‘disabled’ weapons to loyalist groups
Returning deactivated weapons to paramilitary organizations was common practice during the Troubles.
It was a tactic regularly employed by security forces in an attempt to thwart gun attacks.
This involved acting on agents removing weapons intended for use in planned attacks, which were then passed to handlers who had disabled them, usually with the firing pin removed, before being returned safely knowing that the weapon had been rendered useless.
But over time, terrorist organizations have developed the technical capacity and know-how to reactivate the weapons.
And that’s what happened in the case of the South Belfast UDA. The police ombudsman’s report revealed that a Browning 9mm pistol in police possession had been returned to the organization through a state agent.
He was reactivated and used in the Sean Graham bookmaker murders.
Ombudsman Marie Anderson, in her report, said the Special Branch should have known the UDA had the ability to reactivate and was shocked the practice was in place.
The weapon, which was also used in the murder of Aidan Wallace in December 1991, who was shot while playing pool at the Devenish Arms on Finaghy Road North.
The South Belfast UDA’s killing spree has been fueled by its share of a shipment of arms smuggled into Northern Ireland from South Africa.
Loot included handguns and semi-automatic weapons.
The VZ58 assault rifle – essentially an AK-47 – used at Sean Graham’s was part of the 1987 South African shipment which was split between the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance.
Police watched the cache as it was transported north in a convoy of cars. Two were intercepted and 60% of the weapons were seized.
Thirty-eight VZ58s were used in incidents between 1988 and 2005 involving up to 70 murders, including those in Loughinisland in 1994 when the UVF shot dead six people while watching a World Cup match at Heights Bar.
Although police records indicated that use of the rifle at bookies was subject to a disposal order, it turned out to be an exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London.
“Victims and survivors of the attack believed for many years that the police had destroyed this weapon.
“Research undertaken by my office led to the discovery of the VZ58 rifle used in the attack on Sean Graham Bookmakers at the Imperial War Museum.”
Operation Achille is the latest in a series of reports which have revealed “collusive behaviour” between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries.
Former Metropolitan Police chief Sir John Stevens carried out three inquiries and since then there has been the da Silva report into security force collusion in the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, and the former ombudsman Nuala O’Loan who uncovered police collusion with UVF murderer Mount. Vernon unit.
Last week’s publication follows the publication last month of his report into collusive behavior implicating the UVF/UDA in 19 murders between 1989 and 1993.
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