Special branch detective dismisses ‘headline-grabbing’ claim

Smithwick tribunal

A retired senior RUC special branch detective dismissed as “headline grabbing” a claim in a British newspaper that two senior RUC officers were killed by a British agent inside the IRA to prevent their capture and interrogation.

“No agent of the state or anyone who was recruited at that time was in any way involved in the shooting,” the witness told the Smithwick tribunal.

The tribunal was set up to examine claims of garda collusion in the murder of chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.

The witness, a former special branch detective inspector identified only as Witness 62, gave evidence from behind a screen at the tribunal.

He was questioned by Mr Dermot McGuinness SC, representing the garda commissioner, about a British newspaper report of a statement attributed to Mr Peter Keeley, AKA Kevin Fulton.

The witness said a claim in a Guardian article that Breen and Buchanan were killed by an agent so that they could not be interrogated by the IRA was “nonsense” and “headline grabbing”.

He said that “people like Keeley and other intelligence nuisances” often had some information they could give to journalists, but after they told their story they still wanted attention and rewards, and “imparted intelligence they invented”.

The former Special Branch officer also named the man who headed the IRA unit which organised the murders of two senior RUC officers as they returned from a cross-border meeting was named as Sean Gerard Hughes at the Smithwick tribunal.

The witness said the operation on 20 March 1989 involved the “North Louth/Drumintee” Provisional IRA, with extra personnel provided by the IRA in South Armagh. Between them, the two units were responsible for almost 300 murders, the witness said.

And he said prominent republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy would not have been involved in the operation, but was a “patriarch” and had ben chief of staff of the IRA Army Council.

The witness said the IRA were “ultra-cautious”, and would call off an operation if there was any hint of trouble.

“Their philosophy was, we’ll live to fight another day,” he said.

The witness said he had never met but knew of Owen Corrigan, a former garda detective sergeant based in Dundalk, and had heard after the murders that Mr Corrigan “was close to certain members of the Provisional IRA and was a severe problem for the Guards.”

Mr Corrigan had denied any allegations that he leaked information to the IRA.

Witness 62 also said he spoke to gardai who “accepted they had a problem there but it was very difficult to deal with.”

“There was tacit approval, almost an embarrassed nod,” he said.

And he said he was told by a senior officer two ranks higher than he was “Don’t be so hasty, there’s another boy” when he spoke about Mr Corrigan.

The witness said he understood from this that there could have been ore than one Garda mole.

But he agreed that he had no direct knowledge or evidence of a mole.

The witness also said there were problems in transferring officers both in An Garda Siochana and the RUC, adding “we had the devil’s own job even moving them sideways.”

The witness also said that Peter Keeley (also known as Kevin Fulton) was not regarded as a reliable source of information, although he had provided useful intelligence on some occasions.

Mr Neil Rafferty said his client had provided good intelligence at first, but this became less reliable when Mr Keeley came under suspicion and was investigated by the IRA.