Northern Ireland

No new evidence of 'state collusion with Glenanne gang'

Miami Showband Massacre Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The cases being examined include the Miami Showband Massacre in 1975

Investigative reviews of atrocities committed by a loyalist gang behind more than 100 murders yielded no new leads or evidence of state collusion, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for the Chief Constable said the independent Historical Enquiries Team (HET) had carried out an "exhaustive" examination of 26 cases.

The lawyer was speaking on day two of a legal challenge against the PSNI chief.

It has been taken by the families of more than 100 1970s murder victims.

It centres on allegations that members of the security forces colluded with loyalists.

The challenge is over an alleged failure to complete an overarching report on the sectarian campaign by the loyalist Glenanne gang in Mid Ulster and Irish border areas throughout the 1970s.

Relatives of victims claim the authorities knew about the activities of an Ulster Volunteer Force gang based at a farm in Glenanne, south Armagh.

They also claim the gang contained members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment.

Up to 120 murders in nearly 90 incidents are under scrutiny.

They include the 1975 Miami Showband Massacre, where three members of the popular group were taken from their tour bus and shot dead on a country road in Banbridge, County Down, and the Step Inn pub bombing in Keady a year later, in which two Catholics died.

The families are seeking a court order that police chiefs must ensure the inquiries are finished and make the findings public.

A draft report into alleged security force collaboration with the loyalist murderers was said to have been 80% finalised before being shelved.

Judicial review proceedings have been brought in the name of a brother of one schoolboy victim.

Patrick Barnard, 13, was one of four people who died in a bomb at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon, County Tyrone, on St Patrick's Day 1976.

Bereaved relatives again packed into the High Court in Belfast for the second day of the case.

With the HET now effectively shut down, Patrick's brother, Edward Barnard, wants a judge to compel police to complete the full investigation and publish the findings.

But a barrister for the chief constable, argued that "detailed and searching" scrutiny of the Hillcrest Bar killings and other cases had been carried out.

"There was no further evidential opportunities to be examined and no evidence of collusion," he said.

The lawyer said that "fragments" of review summary reports from 14 different incidents that feature in the challenge did not reveal the full picture.

Only one of them resulted in a referral being made to the Police Ombudsman's Office, the court heard.

He argued that the draft report added "no value".

"We are concerned that the relatives of those who have lost individuals in these appalling acts are left with the impression that there's some panacea to be found in the entire analysis by the HET.

"The analysis has been done by the HET, and what these reports will show is that in each of these cases there's no further evidential opportunities."

He added: "We do question the utility of this litigation, and question the utility of asking your Lordship to make an order directing the chief constable operationally to conduct a task he has considered will be of no investigative value whatsoever."

The case has been adjourned until next month.