The documentary, titled "Britain’s Secret Terror Deals", detailed British security forces collusion with illegal paramilitary groups in the North on a vast scale, running thousands of informants and agents, many of them known criminals and murderers.
Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan told the program that some paramilitary informants recruited by the security forces during “the Troubles” were serial killers, and that their crimes – including murder, intimidation, drug smuggling and terrorism – were covered up.
“They were running informants and they were using them,” O’Loan told the program.
“Their argument was that by so doing they were saving lives, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people died because those people were not brought to justice and weren’t stopped in their tracks,” she said.
"There was impunity really for these people to go on committing their crimes. Many of them were killers, some were serial killers."
Former head of Scotland Yard, Lord Stevens, who led three government investigations into the actions of British security forces in Ireland, also appeared on the documentary.
He told the Panorama program that thousands of agents and informants were recruited during the Troubles, and that just one of the paid agents – Brian Nelson – may be linked to "many dozens" of murders.
Nelson provided targets for the three main Loyalist paramilitary groups – the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Red Hand Commando – to assassinate.
Another agent in north Belfast, Mark Haddock, has been linked to 20 murders. Haddock ran one of the UVF’s most notorious terror gangs, and was paid at least £79,000 for his efforts.
According to Stevens, during his investigations his team arrested 210 paramilitary suspects, 207 of whom turned out to be agents or informants of the state.
Hundreds of murders
The police ombudsman is currently investigating a further 60 murder cases where there are accusations of state involvement, but the investigations have been delayed because the police refused to hand over crucial evidence to the ombudsman.
It eventually took a court challenge from the current Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, to make new Chief Constable George Hamilton hand over the relevant intelligence files.
The program alleged collusion in the killings of ten Protestant men in Kingsmill village in 1976, the 1992 Ulster Defence Association (UDA) shooting of five Catholics in a bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in Belfast and the 2001 Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) murder of Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan, along with many others.
An assault rifle used in the Ormeau Road shooting in 1992 was recovered by police, but when later required for forensic testing, it was reported by police that it had been “disposed of”, along with key interview statements.
The Panorama program revealed that the weapon has now been found – on display – in London’s Imperial War Museum, and has been linked to at least two other unsolved murders.
The show also touched on the 1989 UDA murder of Belfast human rights and defence solicitor Pat Finucane.
In fact, Finucane was investigating state killings when the British state conspired to kill him, MI5 spreading deliberate lies that he was in the IRA and police officers proposed him as a target to paramilitary killers.
|Murdered human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane|
While the British government has now accepted that there was state collusion in Finucane’s murder, it has stated that no action will be taken against those responsible because it is “too late”, as many of those involved have retired.
Finucane’s son John told the program “we’re not interested in who pulled the trigger, we’re interested in who pulled the strings”. The family want an independent public inquiry to expose the full truth of collusion.
Amnesty International has called for the claims aired in the program to be fully investigated, as they follow numerous other credible allegations of widespread collusion between members of the UK security forces and paramilitary groups in the North.
Amnesty Northern Ireland program director Patrick Corrigan said: “The breadth and depth of collusion being alleged here is truly disturbing.”
“Killing people targeted by the state, using intelligence provided by the state and shooting them with guns provided by the state - if all this is proven, we’re not talking about a security policy we’re talking about a murder policy.”
“There must now be a full, independent investigation into the scale of the policy where the police, army and MI5 worked with illegal paramilitary groups, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of people,” Corrigan said.
“Without full accountability for past actions, there can be no public confidence in today’s justice mechanisms.”
In her book Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, former journalist and caseworker for the Pat Finucane Centre, Anne Cadwallader, lays bare a similar shocking level of collusion in state terror with loyalist terror groups in over 100 murders and cover-ups.
Based on fifteen years of research, it draws on evidence from police files, giving forensic, ballistic and eyewitness accounts establishing that serving officers in the RUC and soldiers in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in dozens of shootings and bombings.
These killings took part on both sides of the Irish border. Of the deaths chronicled, nearly a third were murdered south of the border – 34 dying in the Dublin/ Monaghan bombings (the single largest loss of life in any one day of the Irish conflict).
It alleges that members of the RUC, and the UDR were part of a loyalist gang operating from two farms in south Armagh and Tyrone that was responsible for the deaths of 120 civilians between 1972 and 1976.
|Details of Anne Cadwallader's Australian speaking tour|
It provides fully sourced evidence that has prompted more than 20 families to sue the British government and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the book is now an official legal exhibit in those lawsuits.
Between them, the Panorama program and Lethal Allies provide ample evidence that the British state was never an “honest broker” in Ireland.
Rather, it prosecuted a decades-long war of terror on a civilian population, using terror groups as its proxies.
Cadwallader will be touring Australia in late June, promoting her book and outlining the lethal collusion that the British government was responsible for.
This tour comes at a point when the Irish peace process is in trouble. Reconciliation appears as far away as ever while divisions over the legacy of the conflict continue to dominate public and political discourse.
If there is to be forward movement, international solidarity will be vital in ensuring bereaved relatives are treated with the respect and acknowledgement they deserve.
See cairdesinnfein.com or the Facebook event for details of the speaking tour.