Evidence against IRA suspects ‘was good’ (News Letter)

Published on Thursday 4 October 2012 20:41

A probe into alleged IRA-Irish state collusion has heard a top forensic official express surprise that two men were not prosecuted for killing 18 British soldiers.

The former head of the Irish Republic’s forensic state laboratory, Dr James O’Donovan, told an inquiry in Dublin evidence against two suspects arrested by gardai on the day of the Narrow Water bombing had been quite good.

The attack, on August 27 1979, caused the highest death toll suffered by the British Army in a single incident during the Troubles, and came just hours after the Queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed when a bomb exploded on his boat off County Sligo.

The majority of the dead were paratroopers.

Dr James Donovan, the founder and former director of the Irish state laboratory, told the Smithwick Tribunal he was surprised prime suspects Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan were never prosecuted.

“Why was the Criminal Prosecution Act not used?” he asked under-cross examination.

“I thought the evidence was good on the basis that they gave false name and addresses, they were arrested on a motorcycle that had been near the scene of the detonation.”

The retired forensic scientist continued: “There were cigarette butts, saliva samples, one of them had fern material in his underpants.

“Go to the law library and you would not find many with fern in their underpants,” he added.

“On summation the evidence was quite good.”

The two suspects were arrested on the day of the blast, but later released.

The tribunal previously heard claims from an unnamed senior RUC officer that police in the Irish Republic were ordered by a former Taoiseach not to co-operate with the investigation into the bombing because of paratroopers’ involvement in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry.

Mr Burns was killed in 1988 when a bomb he was transporting exploded prematurely, while Mr Brennan was later convicted of firearms charges in Northern Ireland.

The Smithwick Tribunal is investigating allegations of Garda collusion in the IRA killing of two senior RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, in Dundalk in 1989, minutes after they left a meeting with gardai.

Earlier, a retired superintendent said he presumed rumours that a sergeant was a maverick associating with the IRA along the border were known within Garda headquarters.

Tom Butler said he had been aware of claims in the mid-1980s that former officer Owen Corrigan was getting information from terrorists.

Former Detective Sergeant Corrigan and two other named officers deny any allegations of collusion.

Mr Butler worked in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation at Harcourt Square for four years before he was appointed head of border control in the Monaghan-Cavan region in November 1988.

“When I was at Harcourt Square there were rumours Owen Corrigan was a maverick and was associating with people who I would have thought were not in the best interest of An Garda Siochana,” he said.

When questioned if Garda higher up were also aware of the claims, he replied: “All I can do is presume so.

“Anything I heard about him was strictly rumour,” he added.

Mr Butler said Mr Buchanan was his opposite in Northern Ireland, adding they often travelled together or sent armed detectives to meet the other at the border.

The retired officer said he had not been aware of claims the IRA made threats that Mr Buchanan would be shot some six to 12 months before he was murdered until it emerged in evidence at the tribunal earlier this year.

He said both men knew their job was dangerous and were conscious of their personal safety and tried to take different routes when driving.

“He was a very spiritual man and he believed he was going to be looked after,” Mr Butler added.

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