05 February 2006

Special Branch ‘destroyed shooting evidence’, says O’Loan

Sunday Business Post

**Via Newshound

By Anton McCabe
05 February 2006

Nuala O’Loan will say in her report that PSNI Special Branch officers deliberately destroyed evidence about the 2003 killing of Neil McConville in Co Antrim, and that PSNI officers in Belfast attempted to frustrate her investigation into how McConville was gunned down.

McConville, a native of Bleary, Co Down, was shot by armed PSNI officers on April 29,2003, in Upper Ballinderry, Co Antrim. He was driving from Belfast to Craigavon with another man.

The report comes at a time when Sinn Fein are under pressure from the two governments to sign up to the new policing structures in the North. O’Loan has also concluded that there were major faults in the PSNI’s handling of the operation leading to the shooting.

Officials from her office have told McConville’s family that the officers deliberately sought to cover up information relating to the killing.

According to the minutes of a meeting between the family and O’Loan’s officials, the ombudsman was obstructed from investigating the events surrounding the death.

‘‘When the ombudsman arrived at Special Branch offices, they [the officers] had removed all material relating to the case, including the hard drive used to store the intelligence on. ‘Human error’ was said to be the cause,” said the minutes. The ombudsman’s staff said they believed this was deliberate.

Staff in the police control room overseeing the operation against McConville were described as ‘‘non-cooperative, obstructive and difficult’’. At 3.10pm on the day of the shooting, the PSNI received information that McConville’s passenger, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was going to collect a gun in Belfast.

‘‘Further intelligence was received at 15.50 stating the location the gun was to be picked up at,” the ombudsman’s representatives told the McConvilles.

‘‘At 16.30 Operation Trill was initiated to locate the red Cavalier car [this man] was in.” Police officers from the PSNI’s headquarters mobile support units (HMSU) were mobilised to support the surveillance team entrusted with finding the Cavalier car.

‘‘They were told if the car leaves Belfast assume there is a gun on board,” according to the minutes.

The Ombudsman’s officials said McConville and his passenger were under constant surveillance in Belfast. A police helicopter was used in the operation.

When McConville and his passenger left Belfast, 21 PSNI officers in seven cars were involved, with more on stand-by.

At 6.55pm, two police cars pulled up behind McConville’s car and ordered him to stop. Police claimed they identified themselves after pulling up alongside McConville’s car, which allegedly swerved into their vehicle, went into a spin and turned sideways in the road. Police left their cars and smashed the driver and passenger windows on McConville’s car.

McConville allegedly reversed his car, striking a PSNI officer. Another officer then fired three shots, hitting McConville. The officer, who had allegedly been knocked down, administering medical assistance, but McConville died just over an hour later.

The Ombudsman also criticised the police command structure. ‘‘Superintendent B [in charge in Belfast] fails to appoint a firearms and tactical advisor in the control room to advise him on the best way to stop the vehicle,” said the minutes.

‘‘Superintendent B did not keep any verifiable records of the operation in the control room, and the ombudsman stated that they do not believe he is telling the truth and that they will state the fact clearly in the published report. There was no clear command of the HMSU on the ground.

‘‘According to the HMSU, stopping from behind is the last resort option; it is a ‘hazardous method of stopping a car where a weapon may be on board, this can result in a chaotic situation’.”

McConville had no links to paramilitary organisations, but was known to have been involved in petty crime.

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