updated 1/22/2007 10:21:13 AM ET 2007-01-22T15:21:13

Police intelligence officers covered up at least 10 killings and other crimes committed by Protestant outlaws who were on the payroll as informants, an investigation found Monday.

Following a 3-year probe, Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan concluded that former officers in the Special Branch paid informants in the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force who were permitted to pursue killings, bombings, drug dealing and extortion.

Her report called for police to reopen dozens of cases from the 1990s and investigate ex-officers involved in cover-ups of their informants’ crimes.

The commander of the predominantly Protestant police force, Chief Constable Hugh Orde, said he accepted O’Loan’s conclusions and recommendations in full. In the report, both he and O’Loan noted that the police force’s intelligence-gathering arm had been overhauled since 2003.

'A very dark corner'
Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, said the report illuminated “a very dark corner of behavior by a limited number of Special Branch officers in the 1990s.” He said both UVF veterans and former police officers should stand trial.

O’Loan, a Catholic who has the power to investigate complaints against Northern Ireland’s police, started her investigation with the 1997 killing by that UVF unit of a 22-year-old Protestant man, Raymond McCord Jr., who had been a member of the paramilitary group.

The victim’s father, Raymond McCord, said he had evidence that the UVF unit’s commander at the time, Mark Haddock, was protected by police because he was on the Special Branch payroll providing tip-offs on UVF activities.

McCord said he turned to O’Loan after senior police officers dismissed him as “some sort of crank.”

No names revealed
The published report did not identify by name any of the retired Special Branch officers involved in collusion. A secret version of the report that includes these names was delivered Friday to Orde, Hain and a handful of other British officials.

One of the former detectives questioned by O’Loan’s investigators, Johnston Brown, said many rank-and-file detectives were prevented from doing their jobs by a Special Branch elite that hoarded information.

Brown, who was a detective in the police’s Criminal Investigations Division, said Special Branch colleagues repeatedly stymied his efforts to solve crimes involving members of the UVF and another outlawed Protestant group, the Ulster Defense Association.

In a statement, a group of former Special Branch officers rejected the reported findings. The ex-officers said they “always acted in the best pursuit of justice and had nothing to be ashamed of.”

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