Channel 4 duped by hoaxer, claims RUC

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A hoaxer was responsible for a television programme that alleged collusion between loyalist death squads and members of the security forces in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary claimed yesterday.

Channel 4 Television and Box Productions, an independent programme maker, were fined pounds 75,000 for contempt of court by the High Court on Friday for refusing to name the chief source featured in the documentary.

The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, said in a statement yesterday that an investigation by the RUC had discovered the man who claimed he had originated the story in 1985. He had made it up in an attempt to discredit the RUC because he believed the force was being used to suppress loyalist opposition to the Anglo- Irish agreement.

Channel 4 last night strongly denied the accusation, saying that more than 100 people had been interviewed when the programme was being researched. It also said that 'Source A', a self-confessed loyalist terrorist interviewed in the Dispatches programme, The Committee, which was broadcast in October, was not the man who had given a statement to the RUC.

The documentary claimed to reveal the existence of a secret 'inner-circle' organisation, the Ulster Central Co-ordinating Committee, which identified and arranged for the assassination of suspected IRA supporters, resulting in at least 20 murders.

'Source A' said in the programme that he was a member of the 60-strong committee. According to Channel 4, he had been given an undertaking by the programme researcher that his identity would never be revealed because of the risk to his life.

Sir Hugh said last night that a written statement had been made to police in the presence of a solicitor by the witness who said he was the inventor of the 'inner-circle' story. This said: 'I invented a story about there being an inner circle in existence within the RUC and that members of this inner circle were prepared to take part in a coup in the event of a united Ireland.'

The witness, according to the RUC statement, then described how he had telephoned a journalist, whom he believed to be hostile to the RUC, and provided false information. The witness stated: 'These stories were untrue and made up by me. The whole story of the inner circle and the activities I described to the journalist were a complete fabrication on my part.'

But Channel 4 said the RUC's statement had not met 'the serious allegations made in the Dispatches programme'. It said: 'That programme was researched meticulously over many months. Over 100 people were interviewed in that time. It is a nonsense to suggest that one person could have simply invented the existence of the inner circle and the inner force which in itself was only one part of the programme.

'The difficulty attached to the RUC investigating itself is illustrated by the fact that - as we discovered through our lawyers - the statement by the man who claimed to have invented the story of the inner circle was witnessed by a solicitor who was himself one of the 19 people whose names we had supplied to the RUC in our dossier.'