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Will to prosecute UVF has been sapped from the top

(Newton Emerson, Irish News)

The PSNI is sitting on a bomb and the clock is ticking. Before this year is out the police ombudsman will publish a report into the 1997 murder of Raymond McCord jnr. The initial findings, which were widely leaked two years ago, suggest that an informer in the Mount Vernon UVF has murdered at least 13 people since his recruitment in 1993. Special Branch is alleged to have covered up each case. The list of victims is mostly Protestant but includes the all too familiar roll-call of randomly selected Catholics plus the clearly psychotic butchering of Portadown teenagers Andrew Robb and David McIlwaine. When the report breaks the fall-out will be spectacular. British Irish Rights Watch, which has already presented its own confidential findings to the American, British and Irish governments, says the case is: "As bad as it gets."

At least one more high-ranking UVF informer is likely to be exposed but the harshest glare will fall on those in authority who have humoured the phantom of political loyalism without any regard for human life. This is another all too familiar roll-call.

Successive secretaries of state and security ministers – up to and including the present incumbents – have persistently refused to review the UVF 'ceasefire' despite 30 murders since 1994. Nobody has been convicted for any of those murders, making it absurdly obvious that both the police and the Prosecution Service are under political instruction.

The Northern Ireland Office refused extra funding for the ombudsman's inquiry, delaying it by two years, during which eight of the 30 murders were committed.

The additional funding requested was £5 million – roughly what the children's commissioner has cost over the same period. The chief constable blocked publication of the coroner's report into the murder of David McIlwaine on security grounds, a move that can only have been made to protect an informer. Everyone involved in these decisions will shortly have to explain them in terms of a preventable death toll exceeding that of the Omagh bomb. It is perfectly possible to justify the use of dangerous informers and it is far too easy to criticise the horrendous compromises necessary when only evil people can provide good information. Shortly after his recruitment the Mount Vernon informer is thought to have led police to a UVF weapons dump and doubtless supplied further useful intelligence. Might he have saved lives overall? Former Special Branch detective Johnston Brown – who put Johnny Adair away only to see Mo Mowlam release him – definitely doesn't think so.

Speaking about the case on UTV two years ago, Mr Brown said: "Could we have put the majority of the Mount Vernon UVF in jail in 1997, 1998, 1999? Absolutely. Lives would have been saved time and time again. There appeared to be no will to prosecute certain individuals."

Given the attempts at every level to frustrate Nuala O'Loan's inquiry it seems that the will to prosecute the UVF has been sapped from the top.

The great and the good of amoral peace processing – Number 10 policy advisor Jonathan Powell springs especially to mind – remain determined to pursue identical policies towards republicans and loyalists although it has been plain for years that loyalists are not responding.

No doubt Number 10 blames working-class Protestants for not supporting David Ervine as instructed. No doubt too this makes the predominantly working class Protestant body count easier to bear. But only for a little while longer. As the UVF runs increasingly amok every unpunished outrage will only serve to underscore that looming report. Excuses that never washed in the first place will finally be hung out to dry.

What are informers for if their information is never used?

Why are prosecutions withheld for lack of evidence when informers can turn Queen's evidence – and the law was changed after Omagh to make a senior police officer's testimony sufficient evidence regardless?

How many loyalist murders did the NIO think were worth one loyalist MLA?

Was it more than 30, perhaps?

How many loyalist murders did it think were worth a two-year breather?

More than eight, apparently.

As the convenient flag of the Mount Vernon UVF now rises above the typically elusive killers of 15-year-old Thomas Devlin, the smell of fudge again pervades the air.

Hugh Orde, Peter Hain and Jonathan Powell need to wake up and smell the coffee.

They have less than three months to put the UVF out of business – before the UVF puts them out of business.


August 20, 2005

Newton Emerson is editor of the satirical website Portadown News.

This article appeared first in the August 18, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News