Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman investigation into UVF collusion claims

Bobby Moffett
Image caption Bobby Moffett, a former loyalist prisoner, was shot dead on the Shankill Road in May 2010

The police ombudsman in Northern Ireland has launched an investigation into allegations of collusion between the police and senior members of the UVF in the Shankill Road area of Belfast.

A special team has been set up to examine why there have not been charges or convictions in a number of high-profile murders.

The most recent killing being investigated was that of Bobby Moffett.

He was shot dead in May 2010.

This followed a dispute with a senior figure within the UVF.

The International Monitoring Commission said the murder of the former loyalist prisoner was sanctioned by UVF leaders.

The Shankill Road is home to the leadership of the UVF.

It has been claimed for a number of years that senior figures within the organisation have been immune from prosecution because they were police informers.

In a statement to the BBC, the ombudsman confirmed he is examining allegations that police failed to properly investigate a series of fatal shootings in north and west Belfast between 1989 and 2010.

It is understood investigators will examine claims that no one has been charged or convicted in connection with the murders because informers were being protected.

In a statement, the police said: "PSNI are involved in a major investigation into criminality in north and west Belfast involving the UVF which stretches back over a considerable period of time and which runs parallel to the ombudsman investigation Operation Stafford.

"With regard to the investigation into the murder of Bobby Moffett, this remains a live investigation into which police have committed very considerable resources and gone to substantial length to bring charges.

"PSNI has left no stone unturned in the Moffett investigation and is greatly frustrated that it has not been able, thus far, to bring charges of murder against those involved."

Operation Ballast

The deaths being reviewed by the ombudsman are believed to include that of Jackie Coulter, a UDA leader shot dead by the UVF during a loyalist feud in August 2000.

The investigation into the killing of Mr Moffett is also understood to be under review.

Image caption Jackie Coulter was shot dead in August 2000

This is the second major investigation by the ombudsman's office into allegations that UVF informers have been protected by the police.

Five years ago, Nuala O'Loan published a report called Operation Ballast.

It said Special Branch officers had protected informers who were part of a gang based in the Mount Vernon area of north Belfast which was linked to 16 murders.

The report was hugely damaging for the police and was strongly criticised by a number of former senior special branch officers.

This investigation is potentially even more damaging. In the past, there have been allegations of collusion involving members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

However, Bobby Moffett was killed just two years ago, so this investigation is examining allegations that his killers were protected by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

If the ombudsman substantiates that claim, it will have serious implications for the police.

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