Sergeant did not know passports were for IRA

Smithwick tribunal

A disgraced garda sergeant signed passport applications knowing they contained fake identities at the behest of a colleague, but did not know they would end up in the hands of the IRA, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

Four detectives have given evidence to the Smithwick tribunal about interviews with a retired garda sergeant Leo Colton, accused by a colleague Finbarr Hickey of supplying the IRA with false passports.

Hickey later pleaded guilty in the Special Criminal Court. No charges were brought against Mr Colton.

Mr Colton, who retired from the force in 1992, was arrested six years later when Hickey said that Mr Colton had asked him to sign eight passport forms, three of which ended up in the hands of IRA members. Mr Colton was not charged in relation with the offences.

“I carried out no checks because I knew they were false identities,” Hickey told detectives when arrested.

“I thought Colton was fixing up these identities for fellows who were messing around with women in the North.”

Hickey told detectives he would not have signed the application forms if he knew the passports would end up in the hands of the IRA.

But Mr Colton, who was also arrested, strenuously denied the allegations.

During questioning, MR Colton was asked about an arcade owner he worked for after his retirement from the force, who was alleged to have IRA links.

Detective superintendent Dominic Hayes said that the man owned several arcades in Northern Ireland, and employed a number of IRA members.

And he said that based on the evidence during the passport investigation in 1998, he believed Mr Colton had “played a part” in organising passports for the IRA.

But Colton’s lawyers said that his employer had no criminal convictions.

Tribunal lawyers also confirmed that Mr Colton’s employer had never been charged or convicted of any offence to their knowledge.

The tribunal also heard from retired detective garda John Fitzpatrick, who interviewed Mr Colton along with a colleague, detective sergeant John Melody.

Interview notes read into the tribunal record showed Mr Colton denying the allegations put to him, describing them as “rubbish” and “lies”.

Colton told the detectives that Hickey “is telling nothing but lies and he is trying to implicate me”.

Retired detective sergeant John Melody told the inquiry that at a briefing during arrests into the passport case “there was some reference to, he [Hickey] had been taking drugs, hashish”.

And he said an anonymous letter had been received from a member of the public said there was a garda sergeant taking drugs.

Colton also told detectives during his arrest “Finbarr’s stupid, the drugs have him that way. You can’t believe anything he says.”

Mr Melody said he had no evidence of collusion between any Garda in Dundalk and the IRA.

Detective Garda James Hanley, who arranged a encounter between the two men in Garda custody, said Mr Hickey was “timid” during the encounter, while Mr Colton “was belittling him”.

The tribunal was set up to examine claims that a leak from within the Gardai led to the IRA ambush in which RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan were murdered in 1989.

Both Mr Hickey and Mr Colton, as well as another former sergeant, Mr Owen Corrigan, deny they had anything to do with the deaths of the two RUC officers.