Published Date: 30.10.2007
The Police Ombudsman has found no evidence of security force collusion in the UVF murder of two young Catholic brothers in Co. Armagh in 1993, but has found that the police investigation of the murders, despite significant early effort, was flawed and cut short after three months.
PDF: Full Public Statement
Gerard Cairns (22) and his 18-year-old brother Rory were gunned down by two masked men who burst into the family home at Bleary, near Lurgan, at 8pm on 28 October 1993. Earlier that evening the family had been celebrating the 11th birthday of Gerard and Rory's sister Roisin.
No one has ever been convicted in connection with the murders, which happened in one of the bloodiest weeks of "The Troubles": 23 people died in a series of attacks including the Shankill bomb and the attack on the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel.
The Cairns family lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman which included allegations that the police and Army had prior knowledge of the attack on Gerard and Rory and had allowed a clear path for the murderers through what they believed to have been an unusually high level of security force activity in the area.
The family also alleged that the police had failed to carry out a proper investigation and had failed to keep the family updated on its progress.
Investigation examined police documentation spanning nine years, and military maps and documents. Police officers, retired soldiers and 54 civilians interviewed.
Police Ombudsman investigators examined police documentation spanning nine years. They assessed intelligence relating to the murder, obtained maps and documentation from the Army, and interviewed serving and retired police officers, 54 civilians and retired soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment.
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, said: "There is nothing to suggest that the security forces colluded in the brutal murders of Gerard and Rory.
"There is no evidence that police had any advance warning, that they knew Gerard and Rory would be targeted, and no evidence that they could have prevented the attack. This was a purely sectarian attack."
However, Mrs O'Loan said the investigation of the murder had been flawed, and revealed that Special Branch had failed to pass on all relevant intelligence to the police inquiry team.
"Although much good work was done in the initial stages of the investigation, within three months it had been stripped of resources and had effectively ground to a halt.
Within three months investigation had been stripped of resources and had effectively ground to a halt
"I acknowledge the enormous pressure on police during this difficult time. Nevertheless, it is unacceptable that the investigation effectively ended after just a few months and has not since been properly reviewed for new lines of enquiry.
"A number of significant investigative opportunities were missed, and forensic evidence has since gone missing. It is also a matter of serious concern that Special Branch failed to pass on all relevant intelligence.
"I have therefore upheld Mr Cairns' complaint that police failed to conduct a robust and thorough investigation of this tragic case."
ALLEGATION ONE: COLLUSION
Eamon Cairns expressed concern that the Army and RUC had colluded with the murderers by allowing them free passage to and from the murder scene despite heightened security force activity in the area.
He also alleged that the police had prior knowledge of the attack and may themselves have been involved in the murders.
In addition, he alleged that notorious Loyalists Billy Wright and Robin Jackson had carried out the attacks but had not been charged because they were security force agents.
Police Ombudsman investigators identified and interviewed 15 civilian witnesses who provided evidence of security force activity in the area around the Cairns family home on the night of the murders. Most recalled a series of Army Land Rover checkpoints and an Army helicopter which had been hovering over the area. Some witnesses recalled being stopped by police earlier in the day.
Investigators also requested information from the Army, which supplied a substantial amount of documentation about its patrols in the area. These indicated that there had been a number of RIR patrols in the area that day, as well as helicopter activity.
"We undertook a detailed analysis of this information, comparing that provided by the Army with the evidence of civilian witnesses," said Mrs O'Loan. "This analysis suggested that the reported Army activity was not exceptional.
"It would not have been unusual to see Army activity in the area. The Army frequently patrolled the area, used it for helicopter deployments and used local roads for transporting troops."
There is no evidence to suggest that there were additional or fewer patrols that day or that soldiers were engaged in any suspicious activities.
"Investigators also found documentation to show that the RUC had themselves analysed Army patrol movements as part of their murder investigation, after Mr Cairns raised concerns that the killers had been allowed to move freely through the area.
Other records showed that the RUC had properly investigated sightings of men and vehicles acting suspiciously in the area around the Cairns home in the days and weeks before the murder.
In relation to Mr Cairns' allegations about two prominent local Loyalists, Mrs O'Loan said as a matter of policy she could neither confirm nor deny whether either had been a security force agent.
"However, both men were arrested and questioned by police about the murders. It is clear though that police would have had insufficient evidence to charge either in relation to the attacks."
Mrs O'Loan added: "On the basis of the available evidence, I cannot substantiate the allegation of collusion in the murders of Gerard and Rory."
ALLEGATION TWO: POOR INVESTIGATION
Mr Cairns alleged that the RUC had lacked determination in its attempts to bring the murderers to justice, and believed the investigation of the murders had been poor as a result.
Police documentation showed that the RUC identified in excess of 200 "actions" and took 68 statements during the investigation.
However, despite the significant effort put into the investigation in its early stages, Mrs O'Loan expressed "grave concern" that the RUC had begun to wind down the investigation within just weeks of the murders. A decision was taken at a senior level in the RUC to move the SIO and his deputy to other enquiries.
No new lines of inquiry were identified just three weeks after the murder.
"While up to 20 officers were initially allocated to the case, there is evidence that after two weeks, most had been moved to other duties," said Mrs O'Loan. "No new lines of inquiry were identified just three weeks after the murder, and work on the investigation stopped after about three months."
"Neither is there evidence that the police produced any reports to assist any subsequent reviews of the investigation. Indeed, there is no evidence that any such review took place. This should have been done in order to identify any new lines of enquiry, particularly in relation to advances in forensic technology."
- Most of the significant forensic exhibits relating to the case had been lost by the RUC.
- All records of interviews with the nine suspects quizzed by the police had been destroyed as the police said they had become contaminated with asbestos.
- There was also evidence that not all intelligence relating to the murders had been forwarded by Special Branch to assist the enquiries by detectives.
Mrs O'Loan also found that although significant efforts were made to track down the person who purchased the getaway car at auction, a number of investigative opportunities had either been missed or were not recorded in police documentation.
Mrs O'Loan concluded that the RUC had failed to maximise all investigative opportunities.
"They also failed to review the case as they should have," she said.
Mrs O'Loan added that the RUC's Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) and his deputy had both co-operated fully with the Police Ombudsman's enquiries, although one retired officer had refused to co-operate.
ALLEGATION THREE: FAILURE TO UPDATE THE FAMILY ON PROGRESS
Mrs O'Loan upheld the family's complaint that police had failed to keep them adequately updated about progress on the investigation.
Notes of meetings with the family cease one month after the murders.
Although there had been early contact with the family, and eight days after the murder an officer was tasked to maintain close contact, notes of meetings with the family cease one month after the murders.
"It is important to point out that the concept of a Family Liaison Officer, which applies to policing today, did not exist in 1993, and family liaison was not given the same priority that it is today," said Mrs O'Loan.
"However, it is clear that the RUC could have made greater efforts to keep the family informed, particularly when it became clear that no new actions were being taken in relation to the investigation."
She concluded, however, that there was no evidence to substantiate a claim that an officer had tried to recruit Mr Cairns as an informer.
The Police Ombudsman has now recommended that the Historic Enquiries Team conduct a full review of the investigation.
She has also recommended that the HET contact the Cairns family to explain what the process will involve and discuss what opportunities remain to progress the investigation.