The RUC widow left with a collusion legacy

Published in the Sunday World (March 25, 2018)

IT’S been over 40 years since Rosemary Campbell was left a heartbroken widow.
But for the 84 year-old nothing has changed since the day her Catholic RUC husband was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries.
That’s because the grandmother has been left with a collusion legacy where walls of silence still exist, and an unwillingness to open the dark doors of the past remains intact.
No-one will tell the Co Antrim woman, left to bring up eight children on her own, that her husband’s death did not involve paramilitary-linked RUC colleagues.
Her long-held belief unshaken despite the lack of conclusive evidence made available to the Police Ombudsman, and more recently, being “let down” by the PSNI.
She told the Sunday World: “Three years ago PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton visited me in my home.
“He had not read the file into Joseph’s murder and he said he wasn’t sure what else he could do for us.
“He said we’d got a trial, a Police Ombudsman’s report…then he suggested compensation.
“But as my daughter told him that day, the thing we really want no-one can give us – to hear Joseph voice again.
“My son did however give him some information on those involved, and he said he’d go straight back to the police headquarters, look into it and get back to him.
“We are still waiting. We feel completely let down.”
Last week the family were notified that 14 years after submitting a high court writ against the RUC over Sgt Campbell’s death, defence teams for the force have finally responded.
It is hoped the case will proceed this year, but the family say a time scale is currently unclear.
The Donegal-born Sergeant was shot dead as he locked up the gates of Cushendall RUC station in Co Antrim on February 25, 1977.
He’d previously served in Derry as well as Crossmaglen, where a Co Armagh nationalist MP launched a petition to keep him stationed after news he was to be moved.
The day after his murder a Church of Ireland minister broke down on TV as he paid tribute to the officer. He was admired by all sections of the community.
When he was gunned down it was first believed the 49 year-old had been murdered by the IRA.
But within days the murky truth of who was responsible began to emerge.
His son Joe said: “The reason my father was killed was because he was very good at his job. “He discovered something so sensitive that it led to the decision to kill him.
“But I am also confident that my father would not have been killed if he’d been of the Protestant faith.
“He knew that there were people in Special Branch in Ballymena working closely with the army and loyalist terrorists committing atrocities across south Derry and the north Antrim area.
“Key to that they were smuggling guns from our neighbouring parish in Waterfoot through Red Bay and they took the decision to kill him.
“A serial killer, Robin Jackson… was employed by, supported by and covered up for, by the security forces.”
Jackson was not only a member of the Mid-Ulster UVF, but also a member of the notorious Glenanne Gang and a Special Branch agent.
He is suspected of being involved in around 100 sectarian murders before his death in 1998.
Speaking at a Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) event held in Bellaghy, Co Derry last week, Joe told how he challenged Jackson face-to-face over his father’s murder.
Standing alongside other victims’ relatives and Troubles’ survivors including Stephen Travers, Alan McBride and Eugene Reavey, he said: “It didn’t end well. He didn’t admit to the killing.”
In 2014 a 11 year Police Ombudsman investigation into Sgt Campbell’s murder came to a conclusion.
It stated that the 49 year-old’s murder could have been prevented by senior RUC commanders.
The watchdog added that evidence of collusion could only be determined as “inconclusive”.
“I was briefed every few months in terms of the Ombudsman investigations,” said Joe.
“I was told Special Branch organised the murder by the Ombudsman, I was told there were systematic attempts at cover-up by hiding and destroying documents, a number of ex-RUC officers didn’t co-operate with the Ombudsman, there were many, many, many in senior positions who didn’t.
“Sir Kenneth Newman, who went on to head the Metropolitan Police, said he couldn’t remember the case. It was on his watch.
“Two other assistant chief constables refused to co-operate. One, the Ombudsman told me, that when investigators knocked on his door, he told them ‘f*** off’.”
The only conviction in the case, which was later quashed on appeal, was that of retired RUC Special Branch officer Charles McCormick.
He was convicted of charges including possession of explosives and firearms and armed robbery three years after the sergeant’s death.
A second man Anthony O’Doherty, originally from Portglenone in Co Antrim, was convicted of withholding information about the murder but later received a royal prerogative of mercy.
A republican, O’Doherty was recruited by McCormick to become a Special Branch informer.
Despite disappointment after disappointment, the family still hold out hope for justice, and the truth.
In 2014 the Attorney General ordered a fresh inquest into Sgt Campbell’s death.John Larkin made the call after being presented with fresh evidence by the family’s solicitor Fearghál Shiels.
Said Joe: “I’d say to the people out there looking for justice, don’t give up.
“It’s a hard road and the investigation took 11 years, concurrent to that we took out a writ against the RUC in 2004, they decided last week they are going to answer it.
“Meanwhile, we aren’t going to give up.”

ENDS

 

Bringing the horror of Ulster’s past into today’s classroom

 

By Patricia Devlin

POINTING at an image of his bandmates on an assembly hall screen, Stephen Travers asks a roomful of school pupils, ‘Can any of you identify the Protestants or the Catholics?’

It was a question no teacher would dare ask, but for the Miami Showband survivor it was part of an important lesson not being taught in today’s classroom – the horror of Ulster’s troubled past.

Some shook their heads, others sat in silence. All remained transfixed on the bass player’s harrowing words.

They heard about the bomb, how it prematurely ripped through the band’s bus before blowing the musicians off their feet.

They were told about the hail of bullets, how four of the band were shot at point blank range

And they learned how, as Stephen lay critically injured, he tried to whisper into the ear of his friend Fran O’Toole, unaware he’d just been shot 22 times in the face.

On Thursday 250 young people at St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena became the first in the province to hear Stephen’s story delivered in a school setting.

Three other men who also lost relatives in merciless attacks during the Troubles also spoke to students and staff about the devastating impact of paramilitary violence on their lives.

Eugene Reavey, who lost three brothers in a loyalist attack in their south Armagh home; Michael Gallagher whose only son Aodhan was killed in the Omagh bomb and Joe Campbell, whose RUC father was gunned down by loyalists, delivered heartbreaking testimonies to children as young as 12.

“You could have heard a pin drop when the stories were being told,” history and politics teacher Denise Johnston, who organised the event, told the Sunday World.

“I think they will take the stories they heard with them throughout their lives and in doing so seek out justice.

“Sometimes we shy away from talking to our young people about our past in an attempt to protect them from the full horror of it, but here in St Louis we believe that they are taught about past in variations,” Denise said.

“As part of our teaching of history and politics we want to give students the tools necessary to make informed decisions in the future.

“Our past is still our present in so many ways. The pupils fully engaged with the event.”

Stephen along with Eugene and the other relatives have been taking the Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) talks around Ireland for sometime.

But last week’s event was the first school they’d delivered their bomb and bullet legacy to.

Michael Gallagher spoke candidly about the day he lost son Aiden in the Real IRA’s 1998 Omagh bomb attack.

“One wee girl was very emotional,” he said. “In fact she left the hall but I was glad to see her come back again.

“The message certainly I was giving was we don’t want you to go through this pain and suffering, we want you to learn that there is a better way of resolving your disagreements and differences other than shooting and bombing. For me, that was the key message.

“And I do believe it should be part of the curriculum. The educationalists could put together something – that we probably would never totally agree on the narrative –  but yesterday I think listening to people’s person own experiences was absolutely invaluable.”

Stephen Travers, who watched three bandmates be murdered in the 1975 UVF Miami Showband massacre, agreed.

“Truth and Reconciliation Platform succeeds because it personalises the tragedy of violence by presenting a real, live link to the consequences of violence,” he said.

“The young people in Ballymena were able to identify and connect with the brother who lost his brothers, the father who lost his son, the son who lost his father and the friends who lost their friends; TaRP is a living history class.
“I certainly agree with Michael that it should be on the curriculum; for the past ten years, I’ve been inundated with requests to have my book be put on the curriculum and, perhaps, it’s time to seriously consider that.”

Two days after the event, the speakers are still getting inundated with messages of gratitude from the students they spoke to.

One wrote: “We heard things that we wouldn’t be able to read in a textbook or online.”

Another simply said: “They showed us how pointless the Troubles were and the true horror of these conflicts.”

ENDS