PSNI had no evidence of Garda collusion

Smithwick tribunal

The PSNI had no evidence of garda collusion when they were asked in 2000 by gardai about reports that a garda mole passed on information that led to the deaths of two senior RUC officers in 1989, the Smithwick tribunal was told.Photo of Smithwick tribunal

Senior garda detectives spoke to their Northern counterparts following the publication of collusion allegations in journalist Toby Harnden’s 1999 book “Bandit Country” and an article in the Irish Times by Kevin Myers.

“No evidence exists, nor can any documentation be located, with evidence of garda collusion with subversives,” according to the document, drawing up after the cross border meeting.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were killed in an ambush a few hundred yards north of the border as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk garda station on 20 March 1989. They were the most senior officers to die in the troubles.

The tribunal heard that Buchanan was found behind the steering wheel of his car, his seatbelt still fastened. Breen’s body was left lying by the roadside. A white handkerchief was found nearby, slong with a pen and spectacles.

The car, a red Vauxhall Cavalier belonging to Breen, was hit 24 times on the driver’s side by a hail of bullets as Buchanan attempted to reverse away from the ambush. He was shot in the head and chest. Breen died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Eleven bullets struck the car’s front windscreen, seven on the driver’s side, two on the passenger side, and others on the bonnet on roof.

Breen’s wallet, warrant card and pager were removed from his body, and documents Buchanan was carrying for a book he was writing about the history of his local church were removed from the car.

An IRA statement afterwards claimed to have recovered “confidential documents” relating to cross-border operations.

One of the documents described the IRA attack as “a professional ambush sprung from a well-chosen point.”

It said that the attack was “a classic example of the exploitation of the patterns created by soft targets,” and had involved “a major surveillance operation in Eire”.

Supt Buchanan had visited Garda officers in Monaghan and Louth 15 times in the first three months of 1989.

Giving evidence at the tribunal was retired PSNI detective superintendent David McConville, who now works as a civilian consultant with a PSNI “cold case” team, who was asked about RUC and British Army files provided to the tribunal.

Diarmaid McGuinness SC asked if the fact a van was stolen two days before the attack showed the IRA was planning the attack in advance.

“I don’t known that I could comment on what the van was stolen for particularly,” Mr McConville said. “One would surmise, it would be a reasonable conclusion.”

Further RUC documents are expected later at the tribunal, which was told that not all documents expected yet had been received due to an oversight, and some were so heavily redacted to protect confidential information as to be indecipherable.

Observation data from British Army files showed three vehicles had been seen within minutes of Superintendent Buchanan crossing the border. One of these vehicles had not been seen again since the date of the ambush.

Two vehicles has also been seen near Dundalk garda station while Breen & Buchanan were there. A report from Sgt Leo Colton described how a car had driven slowly through the garda station car park as the driver looked around, and another report described a car which passed in front of the garda station driving slowly three times.

The van used in the attack was later spotted by a British Army helicopter, but was burned before officers could secure it, destroying any potential evidence.