The release of Michael Stone, the UDA/UFF man convicted of killing Thomas McErlane, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh and John Murray at the funeral in March 1988 of three IRA personnel murdered by British troops in Gibraltar, raises yet again the importance of accountability for state involvement in the conflict. While directly responsible for killing Sean Savage, Mairead Farrell and Danny McCann in Gibraltar – who were all unarmed and defenceless when they were shot – the British state was also intimately involved in supplying information to the UDA to assist them in targeting their victims.
RFJ has issued statements on behalf of the families of Dermot Hackett, Thomas McErlane and John Murray, all of them victims of Stone’s actions. Dermot was killed in May 1987 in Tyrone. None of them were done the courtesy of being told when Stone would be released; they found out through the media.
They are united in their wish to focus on their loved ones rather than what Stone does now. But their focus is also on the absence of truth and justice in the deaths of their loved ones. It is highly suspicious that, at a time when West Belfast was saturated with British troops and RUC officers and levels of surveillance and patrolling were intense, Stone was able to move freely from his home in the Braniel estate to Milltown cemetery carrying a weapon and explosives. In contrast to his “hands-off” treatment getting to the funeral, the RUC got to Stone very quickly after the attack to save him from an angry crowd of mourners who had shown great bravery in chasing an armed man. Once again, the suspicion is that he was allowed by RUC and British army personnel to attack the mourners.
But apart from these suspicions, there is the fact that Stone was using weapons which had been imported by loyalists with the connivance of both MI5 and the RUC, as is clear from the Police Ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland attack. Moreover, in relation to the killing of Dermot Hackett, Stone himself claims that he got targeting information from the RUC. It is, finally, worth remembering the fact that a British intelligence assessment in the mid-1980s reckoned 85% of all UDA/UFF targeting information was from British army and RUC sources. (This was revealed by Desmond de Silva in his review of the Pat Finucane case.) And this of course was the very period when Stone was most active.
Because Stone was caught red-handed, as it were, he was convicted at trial, where he offered no defence. However, the fact that there was a trial meant that no inquest was held. This means that the disturbing facts and suspicions outlined above have never been properly examined or investigated. All the individuals in British security organisations who facilitated the importation of loyalist weapons, all those who passed information on an industrial scale to loyalists from the army or the RUC need to be held accountable. This is the supporting matrix which supported and enabled the likes of Michael Stone and his UDA/UFF colleagues to do what they did.
This is why the families bereaved by Stone’s actions signed the RFJ letter some days ago to the British Prime Minister and an Taoiseach calling for the Stormont House Agreement to be implemented. They along with the 3,500 who also signed the letter want to see allegations of collusion independently investigated as was promised in 2014. It’s all very well for the foot soldiers like Stone to be held to account. But the British state and its senior enablers and agents need to be held to account too.