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PSNI lose secret document linked to brutal 1972 murder of UDR soldier James Elliott

Mr Elliott’s body was booby-trapped and had been connected to a massive roadside bomb

James Elliott ’s body lies at the side of the road in south Armagh

James Elliott

Ciaran O'NeillSunday World

The PSNI appears to have lost a document which could unlock more details about a brutal murder 51 years ago.

The family of UDR soldier James Elliott, who was kidnapped and shot dead by the IRA before his booby-trapped body was left by a roadside in 1972, are still trying to get to the truth behind his horrific death.

They believe a document which could shed some light on the killing, for which no one has ever been convicted, is buried deep inside police archives.

However, the PSNI say they have searched for the document but cannot find it.

Mr Elliott, a part-time corporal, was working as a truck driver and was making a delivery between counties Cavan and Down on April 17, 1972 when he was kidnapped at gunpoint by masked men near a border crossing at Newry.

The 36-year-old father of three was held for 30 hours before being shot dead.

His body was left a few yards from the border at Newtownhamilton in Co Armagh.

James Elliott

Mr Elliott’s body was booby-trapped and had been connected to a massive roadside bomb in an attempt to kill more members of the security forces. Several landmines were also placed near the site.

Following an operation that involved security forces on both sides of the border, his body was recovered after the explosives were removed and detonated at a nearby field.

The Attorney General, Dame Brenda King, this week informed the Elliott family of her direction to hold a fresh Inquest.

Mr Elliott’s son, Jim, said the new inquest was a “big boost” to their efforts to get justice.

The document being sought from the PSNI by Mr Elliott’s family is a record of a confidential meeting in 1999 between RUC and garda officers.

The meeting was organised to discuss an affidavit made by notorious former RUC officer John Weir in connection with a libel case.

In 1980, Weir was convicted of the murder of Catholic chemist shop owner William Strathearn in Ahoghill, Co Antrim, three years earlier.

Weir, who was released from prison in 1992, was a self-confessed member of the UVF’s Glenanne Gang which was linked to 120 murders in the Mid Ulster area.

The convicted killer was interviewed by journalist Sean McPhilemy for his 1998 book The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland.

The book alleged a group made up of unionist business people, clergy and the security forces had colluded with loyalist terrorists to kill republicans and nationalists.

When he was sued in relation to the contents of the book, Weir provided Mr McPhilemy’s legal team with an affidavit in relation to the contribution he had made to the book.

Within the affidavit, Weir makes a reference to the 1972 murder of James Elliott.

He writes: “The IRA had murdered an Ulster Defence Regiment officer called Elliott.

“After his death, I received information that he had been held and murdered at the home of [name removed] at Mollyash, Castleblayney, across the border in Co Monaghan. I passed this information on to Sergeant John Poland in RUC Special Branch camp in Armagh.

“A short time later John Francis Greene, a known IRA man who was on the run from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was shot dead in [name removed’s] house. I later learned that my name was being linked to the second murder and that rumours were circulating that I had organised the murder of John Francis Greene, in retaliation for the Elliott murder. Although this was untrue, these rumours put me at additional risk from the IRA and as a result, I was transferred to Belfast.”

Weir submitted his affidavit in January 1999 and the meeting between the RUC and garda officers to discuss its contents was held in May of that year.

Gardai have confirmed to the Elliott family they have a record of the meeting, but they are under no obligation to release it and have not done so.

However, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request for the RUC’s record of the meeting was made in August 2020 to the PSNI, which replaced the RUC in 2001, on behalf of the UDR man’s family.

In response, the PSNI said it had searched for the document but could not find it.

The police said they had searched through all the files they have in relation to Mr Elliott’s murder but could not locate any record of the 1999 meeting.

Searches were also carried out within a number of PSNI departments, including the Legal Services Department and the Executive Support Team, which handles correspondence to the offices of the Chief Constable.

Under the terms of the FoI legislation, a public body can turn down a request if it believes it will cost too much to find the requested information.

If it is believed that it would take more than 18 hours to find the information, at a cost of £25 per hour, then an organisation can turn down a request.

Following the initial trawl of its archives, the PSNI said it would take “well in excess of 18 hours to ascertain definitively whether or not it does hold” a record of the 1999 meeting between the RUC and garda officers.

As a result, the Elliott family’s request was turned down, but they made a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

An ICO report into the matter said the initial searches carried out by the PSNI for the 1999 document were “appropriate” and that the time estimates for further searches were “credible”.

As a result, the ICO agreed with the PSNI’s decision.

“The Commissioner’s decision is that it would take in excess of 18 hours for PSNI to be able to confirm definitively whether or not it holds the information the complainant has requested,” the report concluded.

Jonathan Larner, an advocacy support worker with Ulster Human Rights Watch, who submitted the FoI request on behalf of the Elliott family, said they were disappointed with the outcome.

“It doesn’t quite seem right that the document is missing. It seems very odd,” he said.

“There was a desire to see it to find out if James Elliott’s murder had been considered [at the 1999 meeting] and, if it had been considered, what was the police’s take on it. We can’t get an answer and now they can’t even find the document which seems absurd.”

Last year, the Elliott family was given access to the court file of the trial of two men convicted at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin in the early 1970s in connection with events around the UDR’s man murder. However, Mr Larner said the documents “did not shed any new light” on the attack.

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