RUC officer ‘trusted Corrigan with his life’

Smithwick tribunal

A senior RUC officer who served along the border during the 1970s and early 1980s has said he trusted a controversial former Garda detective with his life.

Gerry McCann, who worked in Newry as a detective inspector in the 1970s and 1980s, said he knew Dundalk detective sergeant Owen Corrigan well and had worked with him and great respect for him and other Garda officers, and had often spoken with the detective about travel plans when he had to travel to Dublin to the Special Criminal Court.

The tribunal is investigating allegations of garda collusion in the IRA ambush which killed two RUC officers in March 1989. Mr Corrigan denies allegations of collusion, describing them as a “monstrous lie”.

“The information I was passing Owen Corrigan regarding my movements was putting my life at risk if he was

“I never heard any talk that Owen Corrigan was untrustworthy or that I should be concerned in any way.”

“If I had heard anything like that I would have made a point of querying it and finding out what was behind it.”

“There was suspicion of collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries, but I never came across anything to give me concern about collusion between the Guards and the IRA.”

Mr McCann, who also investigated the 1979 Narrowater bombing in which 18 British soldiers and a civilian were killed, said that Owen Corrigan was not in charge of the investigation into the attack on the southern side of the border.

He said the officer in charge of the scenes was Inspector Brian McCabe.

The tribunal had previously heard that a scene was “obliterated” on the southern side before RUC forensics experts could examine it, potentially destroying valuable forensic evidence.

Mr McCann said Mr Corrigan had an “excellent relationship” with several RUC officers, including Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon.

And he said that during his time working along the border in Newry, Mr Corrigan was the senior Special Branch detective in Dundalk garda station. “He was the man in charge, he was the Ayotollah,” he said.

Later, tribunal barrister Mary Laverty SC said the tribunal had asked the garda commissioner to provide details of a flood in Garda headquarters in which evidence collected during a raid on an IRA bombmaking factory was lost.

Fingerprints collected when the Omeath site was raided were never identified, but the property owner, Mr Joseph Parker, later pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence in the Special Criminal Court in December 1989.

Retired garda detective inspector John McGee, who worked in the fingerprint Section at Garda HQ, collected evidence at the scene, but was unable to identify any suspects to match the fingerprints he found.

He told the tribunal that he had since been informed the records had been destroyed in a flood in the basement of the Garda Technical Bureau offices.

Last December, British agent Kevin Fulton, who says he infiltrated the IRA, told the tribunal he was a party to manufacturing the 1500lb bomb and had gone into hiding afterwards, one of the largest ever found in the Republic, but that afterwards he and other men involved were later told that it was safe to comeo ut of hiding as there was no evidence against them.

Mr Neil Rafferty BL, who represents Mr Fulton, put it to the witness that within 48 hours he would have been able to determine If fingerprints could have been identified. Mr Fulton said a garda contact had told him no evidence was found by that time. The witness agreed.

Mr McGee said he would first have checked any fingermarks against the owner of the property, then against suspects nominated by the investigating gardai, and then against a database of known suspects.

He told Mr Rafferty that this was before records were computerised. Mr Rafferty said searching every fingerprint record by hand was like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The witness, who retired in 1999, could not say if the fingerprint records from the Omeath investigation had been computerised before the original files were destroyed by flood damage.