Colonel’s smuggling report ‘significantly exaggerated’

Smithwick tribunal

Allegations made by a British Army colonel at a 1989 dinner in Stormont that prominent republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy was involved in cross-border smuggling were “significantly exaggerated”, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

The colonel’s claims, at a dinner attended by Secretary of State Tom King, led to a five-point direction to the RUC to provide a report on smuggling activity along the border “including the Garda view” and to “please treat as urgent”.

The tribunal was shown a direction from headquarters containing five points of action. A retired RUC officer, identified as Witness 39 at the tribunal, who was Mr Breen’s second in command, said there was also a sixth direction to hold a face-to-face meeting with Garda officers.

The inquiry, which was headed by chief superintendent Harry Breen, who was murdered along with his colleague superintendent Bob Buchanan as they returned from a meeting with senior Garda officers in Dundalk, Co Louth.

In the weeks between the dinner and his death, Mr Breen had also held meetings with Army, UDR, RUC and Special Branch officers in Gough Barracks, Crossmaglen, Forkhill, Newry, and Bessbrook Mill.

The tribunal is looking at allegations that a Garda leak allowed the IRA to set up the deadly ambush, just a few hundred yards north of the border.

The witness said he was aware of “allegations” of a Garda mole in Dundalk, but was never briefed about it.

And he said he had no recall of any direction being given to superintendent Buchanan by a senior officer not to travel south of the border in the days before his death.

The witness said Mr Breen seemed “unhappy” and “a bit down” at the prospect of having to make a cross-border journey

“Whether it was the situation having to got o Dundalk, I don’t know,” he said.

He said Mr Breen “knew there was a risk involved” in crossing the border.

Mr Breen’s second in command, identified as Witness 39 at the tribunal, said he assumed that a Royal Regiment of Fusiliers colonel he met in Bessbrook Mills after the murders, was the same colonel who had attended the Stormont dinner.

Witness 39 also met with RUC chief constable Sir Jack Hermon after the lethal ambush.

He said the Chief Constable spoke to him about Mr Breen’s widow, and “he was a bit concerned that she didn’t want him at the funeral.”

“He wanted to know if he should go and see her.”