The case of Raymond McCord
In November 1997 22 year old Raymond McCord was beaten to death and his body dumped in Ballyduff quarry in Newtownabbey on the outskirts of North Belfast.
Last month Raymond McCord's father, also called Raymond, came to see me at my office on the Falls Road to ask for support for his campaign to have an independent international inquiry into his son's death. McCord alleges that at least two members of the UVF gang who murdered his son were agents working for the Special Branch. He named both men. Most of the information to substantiate this case comes, he says, from RUC or PSNI sources.
"I know exactly what happened to Raymond," he says. "I have challenged the UVF and the PSNI to come clean. My life is now under threat from the UVF and I was harassed continuously by PSNI officers until I went to the office of the Police Ombudsman."
Raymond McCord snr alleges that his son was killed because he was in possession of a holdall containing cannabis belonging to the UVF in Mount Vernon, a housing estate in north Belfast. He was murdered to prevent the UVF Command on the Shankill Road from finding out about this. The murder was ordered, it is claimed, by the head of the Mount Vernon UVF, who was in prison at the time, and who, it is claimed, is a Special Branch agent. Another informer was present during the killing. One of these men has been allegedly involved in a number of killings while working for the Special Branch.
Raymond McCord snr says he has been told this by a police officer who said, "until now, this agent was considered to be too valuable to be charged with any of these killings". Both men were also allegedly involved in an attempt to bomb a Sinn Féin office in County Monaghan months before the murder of Raymond McCord jnr.
It is now eight years since Raymond McCord's death. Ronnie Flannigan was Chief Constable of the RUC at the time and is now the Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. He was the head of the RUC Special Branch when the UVF leader in Mount Vernon was allegedly recruited as an agent.
Raymond McCord claims that the police investigation into his son's death has gone nowhere because those involved in the killing were working for the police. He has complained to the Police Ombudsman about this. The Ombudsman has no authority to investigate the murder – she can only investigate complaints against the police.
Her office is expected to produce a report on this case shortly.
In the meantime, Raymond McCord snr has been subjected to a campaign of threats and intimidation by the UVF. There has been determined efforts to get him to leave the North but he has resisted these and maintained a defiant and public campaign in pursuit of his son's killers. The detail of his claims about police collusion and cover-up around his son's murder, and other killings, is compelling.
I have written to the Taoiseach about this and I understand that Mr McCord will meet Mr Ahern in the next few weeks. I have also written to Tony Blair. Mr Blair should put in place the type of investigation demanded by Raymond McCord's father.
Raymond McCord's murder is not the only case of its kind I have raised with the British Prime Minister. By that I mean that Mr McCord is not the only person from a unionist background who has come to me alleging police collusion in the deaths, or protection of the killers of their loved ones.
Another father came to see me last year. His son also was killed by a UVF gang. He also was concerned at what he saw as a failure, or "refusal" by the police to properly investigate this case. The family was tipped off, again it is claimed by police sources, that a Special Branch agent was involved. Since then another PSNI officer has been investigating the case. The family tell me that they were briefed recently by this officer and that he has told them of DNA evidence not properly investigated at the time of the murder and of evidence destroyed by serving PSNI officers because it was linked to an agent.
The Special Branch agent has yet to be brought to justice and at least one of the original PSNI investigation team accused of wrongdoing is still an influential member of the PSNI's Crime Operations Department.
None of this should come as any surprise to anyone who is familiar with collusion and the use of "counter-gangs" as part of the counter insurgency operations by British intelligence and the Special Branch.
But there are two aspects of both these cases which make them different from the campaigns conducted by "non-unionists". From early on, serving and former police officers were prepared to tell the families about this collusion. In my view, as the lid is slowly lifted on these murky events, much more of these details will emerge and other families as well as the McCord's will be grateful for the courage and determination of Raymond McCord snr.