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The Murder Machine – The British War In Ireland

Several weeks ago I examined the acquittal in a British-run court in the North of Ireland of the long-time Irish Republican activist Colin Duffy. Following years of imprisonment while awaiting trial (colloquially known as “internment on remand”) he was found not guilty of the killings of two British soldiers shot dead during an attack on the Masserene Military Base outside Belfast by the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). For Duffy and his supporters it was a validation of his claims to innocence and further evidence of a campaign of persecution conducted against him by the British state since the late1980s.

In the light of those developments I examined some of Colin Duffy’s history, in particular the attempted murder of Duffy and two other Republicans some twenty years previously. In March 1990, shortly after attending an appointment at a British paramilitary police base of the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (later reformed as the Police Service of Northern Ireland), Duffy and his companions, Tony McCaughey and Sam Marshall, were attacked by a group of British terrorists. Leaping from a car two British gunmen opened fire with a hail of bullets from automatic assault rifles wounding Sam Marshall who fell to the ground, while Duffy and McCaughey narrowly managed to escape. The badly injured 31 year old father was then shot to death as he lay defenceless on the street.

Returning to their vehicle the terrorists sped off, apparently “escorted” by a second car identified by several witnesses as a red Maestro. In 1999 a news documentary for the BBC revealed that the second vehicle was in fact a registered undercover car manned by members of British Military Intelligence and that a number of soldiers were present both on foot and in other vehicles observing the attack. These revelations further fueled already existing allegations that the assassination attempt was the result of co-operation between elements of the British Forces in Ireland and their British terrorist counterparts. The Irish Examiner now brings us the latest revelations in this ongoing scandal:

“…undercover British soldiers were at the scene of a high-profile killing carried out by loyalist paramilitaries in the North, a dramatic new report has revealed.

The revelations centre on a controversial attack where three republicans were ambushed minutes after they left a police station in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in 1990.

Former republican prisoner Sam Marshall was killed in a hail of automatic gunfire, but the presence nearby of a red Maestro car, later found to be a military intelligence vehicle, sparked claims of a security force role in the killing.

The presence of the Maestro, and questions over how the loyalists knew when the republican trio would be leaving the police station, sparked major controversy in the 1990s and led the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and government to deny anything suspicious had taken place.

A review of the unsolved case by the police Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has now found:

  • At least eight undercover soldiers were deployed near the killing, with their commander monitoring from a remote location;
  • The armed military intelligence personnel at the scene were in six cars, including the noted red Maestro;
  • Two plain-clothed soldiers with camera equipment were in an observation post at the entrance of the police station as the three republicans arrived and left;
  • Two undercover soldiers followed the republicans on foot, and were within 50-100 yards of the attack, but said they did not to see the killing in which the gunmen fired 49 shots;
  • After the two masked loyalists jumped from a Rover car and started shooting, the troops did not return fire, claiming it was out of their line of sight and too far away, but alerted colleagues who launched an unsuccessful search for the killers. Despite being in a republican area, the soldiers make no reference to feeling at risk from the gunmen.
  • The killers’ guns are believed to have been used in four other murders and an attempted murder. Weapons of the same type have been linked by police to seven further killings and four attempted murders carried out in 1988/89;
  • The RUC found gloves near the gang’s burned-out getaway car, but the gloves were subsequently lost;
  • The RUC sought to deny the existence of a surveillance operation by giving “misleading or incomplete” statements. But RUC Special Branch had briefed the undercover troops;
  • Investigators could not rule in, or rule out, that the RUC leaked information to the loyalists.”

In a further twist to the story it has now been revealed in the Irish Times that the rifles used in the attack were part of a consignment of weapons from Apartheid-era South Africa smuggled into Ireland by British Intelligence agents to arm the British terror groups operating here.

“The guns used to kill Sam Marshall were from a haul smuggled into Northern Ireland by a top security force agent, the murdered man’s family has claimed.

Brian Nelson was a leading member of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and a prized asset of military intelligence.

He has been linked to a string of controversial killings, including the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.

…the family obtained a copy of the original RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) report on the killing, after the document was handed to a US court as part of an extradition case in 1993.

* It confirmed the guns were VZ58 automatic rifles, similar in appearance to the infamous AK47 weapon.

* Victims groups have said the rifle model was among a consignment smuggled into Northern Ireland for use by loyalist paramilitaries in the late 1980s with the help of Brian Nelson.

* The rifles formed part of a major arms shipment from South Africa and the entire stockpile has been linked to 95 of the estimated 225 loyalist murders carried out in the six years following the arrival of the cache.

The family further claimed that by comparing information with other victims of loyalist violence, they have directly linked the guns that killed Sam Marshall to four other murders and an attempted murder.

The Marshall family has also questioned whether the description of a man seen acting suspiciously near Lurgan police station on a previous bail signing by the three republicans matched that of Robin Jackson.

The leading UVF member, known as “The Jackal”, featured in a recent HET report on the murder of members of the Miami Showband pop group in 1975, which pointed to collusion by security forces.

Rosemary Nelson, a Lurgan solicitor who took up the Marshall family’s case, was killed by loyalists in 1999 amid allegations of state collusion.”

Britain’s war in Ireland. Pitiless, remorseless, unending.

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