October 21st, 2014

Former RUC man still 'holds key' in Sgt Joe Campbell murder

Northern IrelandBy Hugh Jordan
Charlie McCormick
Charlie McCormick

The old man pictured here is still the No.1 suspect in the mysterious Sergeant Joe Campbell murder case, the Sunday World has been told.

He is Charlie McCormick – a former RUC Special Branch officer – who once stood trial for the shocking killing of the popular police officer. 

McCormick was acquitted of the crime but re-arrested and quizzed in connection with the murder five years ago. 

After studying a file on the matter for four years, the DPP decided not to proceed with a case against McCormick.

Yesterday, a former RUC officer who served in Co. Antrim alongside both Campbell and McCormick, told the Sunday World: “Charlie McCormick holds the key to the unsolved murder of Sgt. Joe Campbell. 

 

“He is still the main suspect in the case and I’ll never understand why a decision was taken not to proceed with a second trial.”

 

He added: “If Charlie McCormick doesn’t appear in court for this, then no-one else will. He is still the No.1 suspect.”

On Friday, the Police Ombudsman’s Office published its report into Sgt. Campbell’s murder. It was 12 years in preparation and it was heavily criticised by the murdered man’s widow Rosemary who insisted it fell short “because it does not contain the full account of the murder which I had hoped for.”

Charlie McCormick wasn’t named in the Ombudsman’s report, although there are clear references to him standing trial for the murder. 

UVF serial killer Robin ‘The Jackal’ Jackson was named, as were McCormick’s RUC colleagues, John Weir and Billy McCaughey, both later convicted in connection with the murder of Ahoghill shopkeeper William Strathearn.

However, the document stops short of naming anyone as the gunman who pulled the trigger when Joe Campbell was shot.

A 49-year-old father of eight, Joe Campbell was well known and liked in the Glens of Antrim where he had served for many years. 

He was hit by a rifle shot to the head as he locked up Cushendall RUC Station on February 25 1977. 

Joe Campbell had told senior officers that he suspected McCormick and one of his republican informants were involved in serious crime including armed robbery.

In his report Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said Sgt. Campbell’s death was ‘preventable’.

He said there was “sufficient reliable evidence” that the then head of Special Branch and probably the Chief Constable “were aware of concerns which had been documented about the threat to his life and had failed to act on them”

Although he was acquitted of Sgt. Campbell’s murder, Charlie McCormick was given a 20 year sentence in 1982 for armed robberies, hijackings, possession of explosives and a rifle used in a bank heist. 

It was alleged in court, that McCormick had carried out the lengthy catalogue of crime alongside IRA man Tony O’Doherty. 

The IRA man told the court that McCormick said to him: “Campbell is on to us, he has to go.”

McCormick became O’Doherty’s police handler after persuading the Portglenone republican to work for him as a police ‘tout’ and Special Branch double agent inside the IRA. 

 Sgt. Joe Campbell

Even though he was already serving an 18 year sentence for terrorist crime, Tony O’Doherty became the chief Crown witness against McCormick.

Two years later, McCormick had his convictions for armed robbery and other charges quashed when the case was referred to the Court of Appeal. 

And although he walked from court a free man, he was later dismissed from his job as an RUC Special Branch detective.

In 2009, a full 32 years after the murder, McCormick then 72 and in ill health, was re-arrested and questioned once more about the Campbell killing. 

The move against the former Special Branch man came shortly after the law on double jeopardy was changed to allow the authorities to pursue for a second time a suspect already acquitted of murder.

Shortly before he was detained the Sunday World revealed the bungalow McCormick shared with his second wife Roberta in Gracehill, Co. Antrim, had been the the focus of a sophisticated listening system based in Scotland.

Before marrying McCormick in 1995, Roberta Gray, a local school teacher, had been romantically linked with McCormick for many years. 

During his trial for the murder of Sgt. Campbell, Roberta Gray gave alibi evidence to the court on McCormick’s behalf.

When the Sunday World caught up with McCormick in the garden of his Gracehill home we asked him if he expected to be re-arrested in connection with his former police colleague’s murder.

The ex-Special Branch officer replied: “ I’m not saying anything. I could say plenty, but I’m not going to at the moment.

When pressed to reveal whether he believed Robin Jackson was Campbell’s killer, McCormick replied: “Go and ask Joe’s family. Everyone knows that – they knew that 25 years ago.

“I could tell you things that would make the hair on your head stand up.”

McCormick continued: “Joe Campbell was a decent man. Thanks be to God, the Campbells sat with me in my front room and I told them that.”

He added: “Joe Campbell shouldn’t have been killed in the way he was.”

Shortly after the Sunday World confronted Charlie McCormick he was arrested and taken in for questioning. 

For the second time a file on McCormick’s alleged involvement in the Campbell murder was prepared and forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service which considered the matter for four years, before deciding not to pursue the case.

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