|Part of The Troubles|
The Heights Bar (white building)
|Location||The Heights Bar, Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland|
|Date||18 June 1994
|Perpetrator||Ulster Volunteer Force|
The Loughinisland massacre took place on 18 June 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fired on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub was targeted because it was frequented by members of the Catholic community. The attack is believed to have been a retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Allegations persist that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) informers were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation.
At the request of the victims' families, the Police Ombudsman investigated the police. The Ombudsman concluded that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. However, the Ombudsman did not investigate the role of informers and the report was branded a whitewash. Ombudsman investigators demanded to be disassociated from the report because their original findings "were dramatically altered without reason", and they believed key intelligence had been deliberately withheld from them. This led to the report being quashed, the Ombudsman being replaced and a new inquiry ordered.
The UVF's goal was to combat Irish republicanism – particularly republican paramilitary groups like the Provisional IRA – and maintain Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom. However, most of its victims were Irish Catholic civilians, who were often chosen at random. Whenever it claimed responsibility for its attacks, the UVF usually claimed that those targeted were IRA members or IRA sympathizers. Other times, attacks on Catholic civilians were claimed as "retaliation" for IRA actions, since the IRA drew most of its support from the Catholic community. Since the early 1970s the UVF had carried out many gun and bomb attacks on Catholic-owned pubs. During the conflict there was much collusion between the UVF and members of the state security forces.
On 16 June 1994, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) shot dead three UVF members – Colin Craig, David Hamilton and Trevor King – on the Shankill Road in Belfast. The following day, the UVF launched two retaliatory attacks. In the first, UVF members shot dead a Catholic civilian taxi driver in Carrickfergus. In the second, they shot dead two Protestant civilians in Newtownabbey, whom they assumed were Catholics. The Loughinisland massacre, a day later, is believed to have been a further retaliation.
Attack on The Heights Bar
At 10:10pm, two UVF members wearing boiler suits and balaclavas, and armed with assault rifles walked into the pub and opened fire on the crowd. Six men were killed outright, and five other people were wounded. Witnesses said the gunmen then ran to a getaway car, "laughing". The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Greene (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O'Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians. O'Hare was the brother-in-law of Eamon Byrne and Greene was one of the oldest people to be killed during the Troubles.
The UVF claimed responsibility within hours of the attack. It claimed that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for the INLA attack. However, police said there is no evidence that The Heights Bar had any links to republican paramilitary activity. Journalist Peter Taylor suggested in his book Loyalists that it was not entirely certain that the UVF Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership) had sanctioned the attack, and that it was instead carried out by a local UVF unit. In the event of an "enemy" attack, these UVF units were granted autonomy to retaliate against what they considered to be appropriate targets. Taylor had been told by an unnamed UVF member that the UVF had received faulty intelligence which had claimed IRA members would be present in the Heights Bar that evening. The Brigade Staff later assured Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leader David Ervine that there would never again be another attack such as Loughinisland.
Provisional IRA response
Shortly after the massacre, with the IRA ceasefire looming, the Provisionals staged a series of "revenge attacks", which included a number of top members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA); Ray Smallwoods, Joe Bratty and his right-hand man Raymond Elder were shot and killed in July. It was claimed that Smallwoods' killing on 11 July was in retaliation for the Loughinisland massacre. The IRA stated that Smallwoods was directing UDA's shootings against Catholics, while Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine condemned the attack as a "totally cynical exercise" given Smallwoods' work towards peace. The deaths led to a temporary return to tit-for-tat violence.
Investigation and campaign by victims' families
The morning after the attack, the getaway car—a red Triumph Acclaim—was found abandoned in a field near Crossgar. On 4 August, one of the vz. 58 rifles used in the attack was found hidden at a bridge near Saintfield along with a holdall containing boiler suits, balaclavas, gloves, three handguns and ammunition.
In 2006, following claims that "an RUC agent" had supplied the getaway car to the gunmen, the victims' families lodged an official complaint about the investigation with the Police Ombudsman. The complaint included allegations "that the investigation had not been efficiently or properly carried out; no earnest effort was made to identify those responsible; and there were suspicions of state collusion in the murders". It was alleged that police agents or informers within the UVF were linked to the attack, and that the police's investigation was hindered by its desire to protect those informers. The victims' families also alleged that the police had failed to keep in contact with them about the investigation, even about significant developments.
It was revealed that police had ordered the destruction of key evidence and documents. The car had been disposed of in April 1995, ten months into the investigation. In 1998, police documents related to the investigation were destroyed at Gough Barracks RUC station, allegedly because of fears they were contaminated by asbestos. It is believed they included the original notes, made during interviews of suspects in 1994 and 1995. A hair follicle had been recovered from the car but nobody had yet been charged, while the other items (balaclavas, gloves, etc) had not been subjected to the advances in forensic science. It was alleged that the rifle used in the attack had been part of a shipment smuggled into Northern Ireland for loyalists by British agent Brian Nelson.
A key eyewitness claimed she gave police a description of the getaway driver within hours of the massacre, but that police failed to record important information she gave them and never asked her to identify suspects. A serving policeman later gave her personal details to a relative of the suspected getaway driver. Police then visited her and advised her to increase her security for fear she could be shot.
Police Ombudsman's report and aftermath
In September 2009 it was revealed that a Police Ombudsman’s report on the killings was to be published on 15 September. At the same time, some details of the report were made known. Police sources said that the report will expose the role of four RUC informers in "ordering or organising" the attack. The report was also said to highlight a series of major failings in the police investigation – including that not enough effort was made to identify those responsible, that police failed to speak to people of interest, that key evidence was destroyed and that there was poor record management. However, shortly after these revelations, the Ombudsman postponed publication of the report as "new evidence" had emerged.
The Ombudsman's report was finally published on 24 June 2011. It said that the police investigation had lacked "diligence, focus and leadership"; that there were failings in record management; that significant lines of enquiry were not identified; and that police failed to communicate effectively with the victims' families. However, it said that there was "insufficient evidence of collusion" and "no evidence that police could have prevented the attack". The report was harshly criticized for not investigating the role of RUC informers inside the UVF. Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Margaret Ritchie said the findings were flawed and contrary "to a mountain of evidence of collusion". She added: "It completely lets down the victims' families and the wider community. Al Hutchinson paints a picture of an incompetent keystone cops type of police force when the reality was that the RUC and Special Branch were rotten to the core". Niall Murphy, the solicitor for the victims' relatives, described the report's findings as "timid, mild and meek". He added: "The ombudsman has performed factual gymnastics to ensure there was no evidence of collusion in his conclusion". The relatives stated that they believe the report proves police colluded with those involved and made "no real attempt to catch the killers".
After the report's publication, there were calls for Al Hutchinson to resign, and the victims' families began a High Court challenge to have the report's findings quashed. In September 2011, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) criticized Hutchinson and recommended that the Ombudsman's Office be suspended from investigating historic murders because its independence had been compromised. CJI inspectors found "major inconsistencies" in the Ombudsman's report. Ombudsman investigators had demanded to be disassociated from the report because their original findings "were dramatically altered without reason". Ombudsman investigators also believed that key intelligence had been deliberately withheld from them. In 2012, Belfast High Court quashed the report's findings and Hutchinson was replaced by Michael Maguire, who ordered a new inquiry into the massacre.
In June 2006 two people were arrested in Belfast in connection with the massacre, but were subsequently released without charge. In June 2008 a man was arrested in Maidstone, Kent and was brought to Antrim for questioning. He was also released without charge. At this time it was revealed that, since the shootings, up to 20 people had been arrested for questioning but none had ever been charged.
In January 2010 a reserve Police Service of Northern Ireland officer (formerly an RUC officer) was arrested by detectives from the Police Ombudsman's Office and questioned over "perverting the course of justice" and "aiding the killers' escape". The Ombudsman's Office reported the officer to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), but in November 2010 the PPS concluded that there was not enough evidence to prosecute. In reply, the Ombudsman's Office stated that it would be considering "disciplinary matters" against the officer.
On the 18th anniversary of the attack, the Republic of Ireland football team again played Italy – this time in the Euro 2012 at Poznań. The Irish team wore black armbands during the match, to commemorate those killed while watching the same teams playing 18 years before. The idea was proposed by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and backed by UEFA. Some prominent loyalists berated the move. South Belfast UDA brigadier Jackie McDonald said that it was "bringing politics into sport" and would lead to "dire repercussions" for football. Another leading loyalist, Winston Churchill Rea, also raised concerns about the tribute. However, the victims' families fully supported the gesture.
- List of massacres in the United Kingdom
- Timeline of Ulster Volunteer Force actions
- Greysteel massacre
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