Just after 10 pm on Saturday the 18th of June 1994, two men wearing boiler suits and balaclavas entered the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down, where a group of local people had gathered to watch a live television broadcast of Ireland playing Italy in the FIFA World Cup. Shouting “Fenian bastards!”, one of the individuals fired sixty rounds into the main room of the small country pub using a vz.58 automatic assault rifle, part of a consignment of weapons smuggled to loyalist or pro-British terrorists in the north-east of Ireland in the 1980s with the connivance of the United Kingdom’s intelligence services and their counterparts in the apartheid-era government of South Africa. Six customers were killed in the spray of bullets and five others seriously wounded before the attackers left the building, reportedly laughing as they sat into a waiting getaway car. In the weeks that followed it became clear to local journalists and politicians that the UK’s paramilitary police force in the war-torn region, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), was engaged in little more than a perfunctory investigation of the atrocity, which had been claimed by the militant Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Despite five suspects being identified within twenty-four hours of the murders, it took another month before known extremists in the Co. Down area were questioned by the RUC, the collection of forensic evidence taking place in a completely haphazard manner, leading to the case being eventually shelved the next year.
We now know that the vehicle used in the Loughinisland Massacre had been provided to the UVF gang by a police agent and that the car had been surreptitiously disposed of in April 1995, just ten months after the investigation began, following its recovery by the RUC. Similarly, we’ve subsequently learned that other evidence and documents gathered by policemen in the wake of the killings were destroyed on the flimsiest of pretexts in 1998. This and other matters of concern led the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland to conclude in 2016, some two decades later, that active collusion between the British Forces and loyalist terror factions in the County Down locality had been a “significant feature of the Loughinisland murders”. In particular, a new investigation noted that the eventually disbanded Royal Ulster Constabulary had been “compromised” by having close associations with or sympathy for pro-union terrorists during the period under question, with leaks to the UVF coming from within the force.
Given the above scandal it is incredible that the interest of the local authorities in the British-administered north-east of Ireland is now almost wholly focused on a recent documentary film by the Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, No Stone Unturned, which has presented the massacre and new evidence of state-backed terrorism by the UK to a global audience. Since its release in November 2017, the film-makers have been subject to a wave of vitriolic attacks in the press and online, culminating in the August 2018 arrests of the producer Trevor Birney and the reporter Barry McCaffrey. On the day of their detention the two men were confronted in their Belfast homes by large detachments of armed officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the supposedly reformed successor to the feared RUC, before being led away in a high-profile operation clearly designed to deter further investigation into Britain’s murky counterinsurgency campaign during the so-called Troubles of 1966-2005. Following fourteen hours of interrogation both men were eventually released on highly restrictive bail conditions, their movements subject to police oversight, while they were accused of theft, the handling of stolen goods, data protection crimes and offences under the UK’s draconian Official Secrets Act 1989.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in London has taken up the case and below is a short introductory video from the reporter Tim Dawson.