Officers ordered not to cross border

Smithwick tribunal

A retired senior RUC officer has insisted he instructed two of his officers not to cross the border, days before they were killed in an IRA ambush on their way back from a meeting with their Garda counterparts.Photo of Smithwick tribunal

Witness 18, an Assistant Chief Constable, said that he met with the RUC Chief Constable Jack Hermon on 16 March 1989, and the Chief Constable told him that RUC officers were not to cross the border.

The tribunal is looking into allegations of Garda collusion in the killing of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan in March 1989, as they returned from a meeting with Garda officers in Dundalk.

The two men had died because they “disobeyed an order”, said the Assistant Chief Constable, who was in charge of Rural East, covering counties Armagh, Down and parts of Tyrone.

Giving evidence behind a screen to protect his identity, the witness said he met with Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan at 5pm that evening, and told them of the instruction.

The witness also discussed a planned cross-border operation against smuggling.

“They were not to go across the border,” he said.

“There was no necessity to do it.”

The witness insisted that Mr Breen was present at the meeting, although his diary for the day said simply he was “Off”, and his widow Mrs June Breen said in a statement that he had gone shopping with her in Lisburn and Belfast and not returned until the evening.

“I can tell you he was there. There would be no point in speaking with Mr Buchanan, he was there as a courtesy. My business was with Mr Breen.”

Later another witness, Inspector Day, who had travelled south with Supt Buchanan a week before the ambush, said he thought they were being followed by a Hiace van on the return journey, and had pointed it out to his colleague.

“It could have been something, it could have been nothing,” he said.

Earlier an RUC officer who worked in the regional command headquarters said he was “amazed” at the frequency with Supt Buchanan crossed the border to meet with Garda counterparts, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

The witness, identified only as Witness 6, gave evidence from behind a screen to protect his identity.

“I was amazed it was necessary to cross ten times a month, that’s twice a week,” he said, referring to Supt Buchanan.

“In my time in Newry that frequency was way beyond what we did, maybe ten times a year.”

The witness said the IRA in South Armagh were “a very effective element”, and carried out surveillance on RUC members constantly, noting their movements and collating intelligence.

“We were warned they were constantly gathering intelligence on themovements of senior officers,” the witness said.

He said Chief Supt Breen would have been known to IRA members in the area, but he was not so sure about Supt Buchanan.

And he said another officer, Sgt Alan Mains, was concerned about the security of RUC officers.