A County Down man has told how he only learned of a loyalist plot to kill him on reading the Police Ombudsman report into the Loughinisland massacre.
The same UVF gang responsible for the 1994 atrocity in Loughinisland intended to shoot Kilcoo man Peter McCarthy, a farmer and former teacher, nineteen months earlier but abandoned the plan.
Mr McCarthy, whose family own the Thierafurth Inn just outside the Kilcoo village, was a cousin of Peter McCormack who was shot dead in the pub a fortnight later.
He said he only became aware of the previous murder bid when the Ombudsman’s Report was published last month.
Mr McCarthy believes there were at least four attempts on his life around that time and the RUC and security services allowed the UVF murder squad to operate freely. He added: “They were a sectarian, bigoted force backed up by the British establishment. On 6 November 1992, a unionist death squad abandoned a plan to kill me. They pulled out after fearing their murder bid may have been compromised. During the attempt, a car was hijacked and its owners held at gunpoint to stop them reporting the vehicle as stolen.”
Mr McCormack (42) was shot dead in November 1992 after UVF gunmen burst into the Thierafurth Inn and opened fire.
Several other people were injured during the indiscriminate attack. The ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland killings revealed that an RUC officer who investigated the murder later claimed the pub was frequented by “bad people”.
Referred to as ‘Officer Four’, he was the deputy senior investigating officer and later became the senior investigating officer for the Loughinisland massacre where six people were shot dead. He queried to ombudsman investigators why Mr McCormack, who was brought up in Kilcoo, had been at the local pub on the night of the attack.
In his report, Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: “This commentary by a senior police officer charged with the investigation is considered to be poor practice and suggests a lack of objectivity”.
Mr McCormack’s sister Mary Sloan last night said she would like to see the killers held accountable and added: “That police officer (Officer Four) is the man I would like to speak to, to find out what made him so biased.”
Mrs Sloan said she could not understand the motives of those who killed her brother.
“I wonder what happened to make them so bitter in the first place, that they could go out and kill a complete stranger and take satisfaction from it.”
One of those suspected of the attack was a man known as Person A, a member of the UDR, who was arrested by police investigating the Loughinisland murders in August 1994 after an arms find near Saintfield in Co Down.
On the night of the Thierfurth attack he and another UVF man known as Person K were also stopped at a security force checkpoint in Ballynahinch and allowed to continue their journey.
Dr Maguire revealed that by mid-1993 the RUC received intelligence that Person A was one of two gunmen at the Thierfurth Inn while Person K was the getaway driver and prior to the attack those involved had attended a meeting in east Belfast.
The intelligence also said the date of the attack was chosen because it was ‘darts night’ in the pub.
The intelligence was marked ‘No Downward Dissemination/Slow Waltz’, meaning it was only seen by senior officers.
Gavin Booth, solicitor for the Sloan family and Peter McCarthy, added “There are a number of unanswered questions in relation to the Thierafurth Inn.”
Peter McCarthy said he believes the RUC allowed the UVF gang to operate freely in the County Down area.
The RUC first became aware of its members’ links with a unionist death squad in the region following the 1988 murder of Dundrum builder Jack Kielty, father of TV host and comedian Patrick Kielty.
Jack’s killing was believed to have been carried out to stop him giving evidence in court on a loyalist protection racket.
In the subsequent RUC investigation, the Orange Hall at Clough was raided and various firearms, balaclavas, ammunition, British Army maps and a UDR album containing photographs and details of suspected republicans were recovered. One of those pictured in the album was Peter McCarthy from Kilcoo.
The Police Ombudsman notes that the investigation into the murder of Jack Kielty “was successful in identifying personalities and associations, including those within and associated with the security forces, within a small, embryonic loyalist paramilitary unit operating mainly in the Newcastle Sub-Division of the RUC’s ‘G’ Division”.
It criticises the RUC, nevertheless, for failing to monitor and investigate this death squad “as a result of which it re-emerged a number of years later as a fully functional UVF unit, embarking on a campaign of murder that would ultimately escalate to the Loughinisland atrocity”.
The Police Ombudsman notes an attempt to murder Peter McCarthy – whose name and photograph were found in Clough Orange Hall – was planned for 6 November 1992 but was abandoned.
Two weeks later, Peter McCarthy’s cousin, Peter McCormack, was murdered in the Thierafurth Bar when a UVF death squad burst in and opened fire indiscriminately, killing Peter McCormack and injuring three other customers.
The UVF attack came hours after the IRA had shot dead a British soldier in Portadown. In a phone-call to Downtown Radio, the UVF claimed responsibility for the attack claiming the “IRA commander in South Down was in the pub at the time” and was their intended target.
The Police Ombudsman’s report found that, by mid-1993, the RUC had extensive intelligence indicating who was responsible for the attack – including a UDR soldier – but this intelligence was not circulated.
This same UDR soldier’s fingerprints had been found on the UDR album containing photographs of suspected republicans which was found during the raid on Clough Orange Hall several years earlier.
This same UDR soldier was later arrested by the RUC investigating the 1994 Loughinisland Massacre.
The Police Ombudsman’s report also said the RUC officer leading the investigation told the Ombudsman investigators that the Thierafurth Inn “had been frequented by ‘bad people’ and queried why Mr McCormack was in the public house that night”.
The Ombudsman noted: “This commentary by a senior police officer charged with the investigation is considered to be poor practice and suggests a lack of objectivity.”
Peter McCormack’s sister, Mary Sloan, said: “That Police officer (Officer 4) is the man I would like to speak to, to find out what made him so biased.”
Gavin Booth, a solicitor with KRW Law said there is a huge amount of unanswered questions in relation to the Thierafurth Inn and added: “The families deserve truth and we will be calling for that process to move forward.”