IRA detonation site ‘destroyed’ before RUC could inspect it

Smithwick tribunal

A detonation site used by the IRA in the 1979 Warrenpoint ambush, where 18 British army soldiers were killed on the same day as the attack which killed Lord Mountbatten in Sligo, was “destroyed” before RUC forensics experts could examine it, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

The forensics officers from Northern Ireland had to wait three days before gaining access to the site, which was on the southern side of the border.

A former RUC officer identified as Witness 69 accompanied the forensics officer, who was not an RUC officer. The RUC used the services of an independent forensics agency, he said.

When the men travelled south three days after the deadly explosions, the forensic expert “learned there was a reasonable forensic case” that might connect the scene with two men arrested by Gardai. Because it was late in the evening, they arranged to return the following morning.

“I know Witness 72 was quite excited, he said this looks like a good scene. He was quite certain evidence would be found.”

The officers were told on that evening that detective sergeant Owen Corrigan was in charge of the scene.

“Potentially it looked like a good site from a forensic point of view.”

The following morning, the RUC forensic team returned.

“I could see ferns had been cut down,” Witness 69 said.

“I could see very quickly the forensics team very becoming very agitated.”

“Witness 72 said there’s no point us being here, the forensic scene has been destroyed.”

The witness said the scene “looked like wholesale destruction.”

Mr Jim O’Callaghan, representing Mr Corrigan, said his client’s recollection was that he was at a different scene, where a tourist called Michael Hudson, who was caught in the IRA/British Army cross fire, was killed. Mr Corrigan said he was not at the bomb detonation site.

“I clearly saw the forensics officer talking to this plain clothes officer, who I believe was detective sergeant Corrigan, and an arrangement was made to preserve the site until the following morning,” Witness 69 said.

The witness also said that when he later worked in an anti-racketeering unit investigating paramilitary funding and smuggling, he was warned about Dundalk based detective sergeant Owen Corrigan, and told he had connections with smuggling.

Mr Corrigan, who is represented at the tribunal, denies any allegations of wrongdoing, and had described charges of collusion with the IRA as a “monstrous lie.”

Witness 69 said that republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy controlled “the whole of South Armagh” at the time.

“Certainly in those days he was in control of anything that happened, by way of terrorism, by way of smuggling, by way of criminality.”

But he also said he had very good experiences with Garda officers, and had worked on many cross-border smuggling and drugs cases, and the Fr Brendan Smyth case, and “the best detective in the history of policing in Ireland” was a garda detective sergeant he had worked with.

Barrister Michael Durack, representing the garda commisioner, said RUC documents showed officers had been granted access to sites south of the border.

The witness said that the forensics experts would have to give evidence about that, and that some of the documents seemed to refer to scenes other than the bomb detonation site.

The tribunal is looking at allegations that a garda leak led to the IRA ambush in which the two RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, were killed as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk garda station in March 1989.

The witness said that Witness 72 “had more than a national reputation, I would suggest he had an international reputation.

“He was an absolute expert. A deeply impressive man, very thorough, very impressive.”

“I can’t think of any case in which his findings were challenged and found to be flawed in any way.”

“Once he raised that issue with me, I knew we were in serious trouble with this investigation. I was bitterly disappointed.”