Notorious loyalist killer Robin ‘The Jackal’ Jackson was linked to a consignment of weapons involved in the Loughinisland Massacre.
According to the Police Ombudsman’s damning report, which found security force collusion in the massacre of six Catholics, informers within loyalist paramilitary groups involved in bringing in a huge consignment of weapons from South Africa were protected from police investigation.
A rifle used in the 1994 massacre was part of the shipment imported in 1987. These weapons were used in 70 murders and attempted murders.
Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said “senior members of the UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance were not subject to police investigation” despite being linked to the gun smuggling plot.
Dr Maguire said: “This can be attributed to a decision by Special Branch not to disseminate intelligence implicating these individuals, some of whom were informants.
“It is a matter of significant concern that Special Branch failed to pass on intelligence about the alleged activities of loyalist paramilitaries, thereby protecting them from effective investigation.”
A large part of the consignment was seized at a police checkpoint near Portadown in January 1988, but despite the security force operation some of the weapons ended up in the hands of the notorious loyalist ‘Glennane Gang’ led by Jackson.
The Ombudsman said there was no suggestion the weapons were allowed into Northern Ireland deliberately to protect an informer, but he asked why only some of the weapons were intercepted even though police Special Branch knew about the operation.
The report confirmed some of those involved in the weapons smuggling had been under long-term surveillance by the police and army.
A surveillance team, watching loyalists as they went to collect the weapons, said they lost sight of the vehicles during the actual time they were being loaded with the guns.
A substantial part of the shipment was found in two cars stopped at a police checkpoint in Portadown about ninety minutes later, but not all of the weapons were seized.
According to the report detectives in Portadown realised the weapons had come from a farm because the men arrested had traces of manure, mud and straw on their shoes but had not been able to find the farm involved.
The Police Ombudsman said the rest of the shipment was stored at the home of James Mitchell - a former RUC Reservist thought to have been part of the ‘Glenanne Gang’ involving UDR and RUC members along with loyalist patramilitaries.
Police had found weapons on his farm in 1978 and in a confession he told them it was one of the main UVF arms dumps in Mid Ulster. His farm had also been under surveillance by police and army.
However, Special Branch did not pass this information to the detectives investigating the seizure.
The detective who led the investigation told the Ombudsman that if Special Branch had made him aware, he would have “taken the farm apart”.
Dr Maguire said: “Given the information already known about Mitchell and the fact that the detectives had been joined in one of their searches of the area by a police officer who had been present when Mitchell made his arms dump confession, I can find no logical reason why they failed to identify this property as a possible hide for these weapons.”
The Ombudsman said Mitchell was tipped off within two hours of the cars being stopped in Portadown that his farm was to be searched.
The rest of the weapons were moved to a different hiding place and were, the report says, in the hands of Robin Jackson within hours.
Jackson, a former UDR soldier, was the leader of the UVF in the Portadown area for a number of years. He lived in Donaghcloney and died of lung cancer in 1998.
Dr Maguire said: “There is no evidence that any other senior loyalists implicated through intelligence as having been involved in the importation, nor James Mitchell, were ever subject to investigation about these events.
“Given the gravity of the conspiracy and the impact it had on the lives of numerous citizens, this decision has proven in my view to be indefensible.”