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Common practice Ombudsman 'shocked' to learn cops returned 'deactivated' guns to Loyalist groups

A 9mm pistol in the possession of the police was handed back to the UDA, who then reactivated it and used it in the Sean Graham bookies killings

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Five people died in the shooting at Sean Graham’s Bookies in February, 1992

Five people died in the shooting at Sean Graham’s Bookies in February, 1992

Five people died in the shooting at Sean Graham’s Bookies in February, 1992

Returning deactivated weapons to paramilitary organisations was common practice during the Troubles.

It was a tactic regularly employed by security forces in an attempt to thwart gun attacks.

It involved acting on agents removing guns intended for use in planned attacks, which were then passed to handlers who had them deactivated, usually with the firing pin being removed, before being handed back safe in the knowledge the weapon had been rendered useless.

But in time terrorist organisations developed the technical ability and know-how to reactivate guns.

And that’s what happened in the case of south Belfast UDA. The Police Ombudsman report revealed a Browning 9mm pistol in the possession of the police was handed back to the organisation though a state agent.

It was reactivated and used in the Sean Graham bookies killings.

Ombudsman Marie Anderson in her report said Special Branch should have been aware the UDA had the ability to reactivate and was shocked the practice was in place.

The gun, which was also used in the murder of Aidan Wallace in December 1991, who was shot as he played snooker at the Devenish Arms on Finaghy Road North.

South Belfast UDA’s killing spree was powered by their share of a consignment of weapons smuggled into Northern Ireland from South Africa.

The haul included handguns and semi-automatic weapons.

The VZ58 assault rifle – essentially an AK-47 – used at Sean Graham’s was part of the 1987 South African shipment which was divided between the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance.

Police monitored the cache as it was transported north in a convoy of cars. Two were intercepted and 60 per cent of the weaponry was seized.

Thirty-eight VZ58s were used in incidents between 1988 and 2005 involving up to 70 murders including those at Loughinisland in 1994 when the UVF shot dead six people as they watched a World Cup match at the Heights Bar.

Despite police records indicting the rifle use at the bookies had been the subject of a Disposal Order, it turned up as an exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London.

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“The victims and survivors of the attack had for many years believed that police destroyed this weapon.

“Research undertaken by my Office led to the discovery of the VZ58 rifle used in the Sean Graham Bookmakers attack at the Imperial War Museum.”

Operation Achille is the latest in a series of reports which have exposed “collusive behaviour’’ between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries.

Former Metropolitan Police chief Sir John Stevens conducted three inquiries and since then there has been the da Silva report into security force collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, and former Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan who uncovered the police collusion with the UVF’s murderous Mount Vernon unit.

Last week’s publication comes on the heels of the release last month of her report into collusive behaviour involving the UVF/UDA in 19 murders between 1989 and 1993.

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