Published Date: 04.12.2014
An investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s Office has found no evidence that police colluded to protect members of the IRA who killed a man in north Belfast.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr. Michael Maguire, found that although there were failures in the RUC investigation of the man’s murder, there was nothing to suggest these were prompted by a desire to ensure his killers escaped justice.
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“Investigative failures are not in themselves automatic evidence of collusion. We did not find any evidence that police chose not to pursue relevant lines of inquiry or that information was withheld from the detectives investigating the murder,” he said.
Arthur Rafferty was shot on 15 August 1974 in Newington Street near to its junction with the Limestone Road in north Belfast and died several weeks later from his injuries.
Police documentation indicates that army and police personnel arrived on the scene and that 12 spent gun cartridges and a bullet head were recovered.
It also refers to a piece of card with writing on it which was attached to a coat hanger and found at the scene.
Later that night the IRA issued a statement to a local newspaper in which it said it had carried out the attack.
Police spoke to Mr Rafferty in hospital several times and to his wife, but these interviews did not open up any new lines of enquiry. They also submitted some of his clothing for forensic examination.
On 23 September 1974, police received a report that a rifle, ammunition and clothing had been found in a flat in Newington Street. The rifle and ammunition were submitted for forensic examination, which showed the weapon had been used in the attack on Mr Rafferty and in two other shooting incidents.
A man was arrested in 1974, but there are no notes available to indicate whether or not this person was interviewed.
In 1977, police authorised the destruction of the rifle and ammunition which had been found.
In 1978, a police search of a social club in Belfast on an unconnected matter uncovered a handwritten document which appeared to be a debrief of Mr Rafferty’s shooting. The document made reference to three people’s involvement. Two people were subsequently arrested and interviewed in connection with the murder.
In 2005 a member of Mr Rafferty’s family provided police with names of people they believed were involved in the murder. Police later recorded that there was nothing to link the named people to what happened.
In 2007, this family member provided the Police Ombudsman’s Office with the names of two people he believed were involved in the attack. Records would indicate that one of these people was in prison at the time of the murder, while the other one was in police custody.
A member of Mr Rafferty’s family made a number of allegations to the Police Ombudsman’s Office which centred on the belief that police colluded with the killers by failing to investigate the murder properly in order to protect police informants within the IRA. They alleged that police had destroyed the murder weapon, lost significant exhibits and failed to pursue the names of five suspects which had been supplied to them.
Failures in the police investigation, which led to the destruction or loss of important evidence.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office substantiated that part of the complaint which alleged there had been failures in the police investigation, which led to the destruction or loss of important evidence.
It found that police had not managed the crime scene properly: it had not been cordoned off and potentially critical evidence was not preserved or examined.
Similarly, it found no meaningful investigation in how police responded to the discovery of guns, ammunition and clothing. There is no evidence that the person who reported this material to police was ever interviewed, no rationale why police submitted the rifle and ammunition for examination, but not the clothing and no audit trail of what ever happened to any of these items.
No evidence that failures are an indication that police colluded with the killers.
Dr. Maguire said there is no evidence these failures are an indication that police colluded with the killers:
“We have looked in great detail at all the available information and intelligence, both about the murder itself and about the various people family members thought were linked to it.
“We found no evidence that would indicate police knew about the planned attack beforehand and could have done something about it, or that anyone was protected from arrest or prosecution because they were a police informant,” he said.