Protestant hitmen `had RUC help'

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The Independent Online
THE GHOST of an old controversy - the allegation of security force collusion with loyalist assassins - resurfaced yesterday at the worst possible time for the RUC.

With the future of policing subject to a fundamental review by the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, Northern Ireland's police have been concerned to project the best possible image to the world. But in a BBC interview, a senior member of the illegal Ulster Defence Association, Bobby Philpott, has claimed the organisation received large amounts of documents from members of the RUC, Army and Ulster Defence Regiment.

"I was getting that many documents that I didn't know where to put them," Mr Philpott told veteran reporter Peter Taylor in an interview, to be broadcast tomorrow night in the television series Loyalists.

The RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronald Flanagan responded by saying that his officers would interview Mr Philpott, who was recently released from prison after serving a sentence for attempted murder.

Sir Ronnie said: "These allegations are not new. They were thoroughly and vigorously investigated by John Stevens, who found no evidence of RUC collusion." Mr Stevens was a senior British police officer who produced a report on collusion some years ago.

Political reactions to the interview varied. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams called for a full independent inquiry into Mr Philpott's claims, saying he had raised such issues with Tony Blair.

He said: "The issue of collusion is an open secret. Everybody knows it. We have hundreds of people who have been widowed, who have been made orphans, because of this policy of collusion."

The Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party dismissed the claims as "sheer unadulterated nonsense", saying that the RUC had been put "under even greater threat as a result of these senseless and stupid remarks".

David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, and himself a former loyalist prisoner, said Mr Philpott's comments were "something of a Walter Mitty-style statement".

Mr Ervine added: "At best it's a massive exaggeration and I fear it feeds into the republican mentality that loyalism can only exist at the acquiescence of the SAS."

Alex Attwood of the nationalist SDLP said: "I don't think nationalists will draw any great conclusions from what Bobby Philpott says but I do think it places an onus on the Government to respond to the Pat Finucane affair."

This was a reference to the 1989 loyalist killing of a Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane. Last month more than a thousand local and international lawyers signed a petition calling for an investigation into his death.