IT was one of the most brutal of massacres as the Troubles drew to a bloody close.
Six innocent men, the oldest 87-year-old Barney Green, watching Ireland playing their opening match in the World Cup USA in June 1994, slaughtered to death by a UVF hit team sent from Belfast to seek revenge for the INLA murder of two loyalists on the Shankill Road just weeks earlier.
Now lawyers acting for the relatives of the Loughinisland pub massacre have launched legal proceedings in the High Court for damages.
They are claiming a British intelligence agent funded by the Ministry of Defence bought a cache of weapons which were eventually used in the attack on The Heights Bar.
The Belfast Daily an reveal that the agent was Brian Nelson, a former soldier in the Scottsh Black Watch regiment, who was recruited by the British Army’s shadowy Force Research Unit to infiltrate the UDA on its behalf.
So important was it for the FRU that Nelson penetrate deep into the UDA that he quickly rose up the ranks of the paramilitary group to become its chief intelligence officer.
FRU had Nelson where they needed him – directing attacks against Provisional IRA suspects and senior members of Sinn Fein in a deadly game of political assassination.
In 1985, Nelson was secretly sent by his FRU handlers, with the direct knowledge of MI5, to South Africa with an arms shopping list.
It was all part of a carefully crafted MI5 plan to arm loyalists for a ‘Doomsday’ plan to try force the Provisional IRA to stop the murders and bring Sinn Fein in from the political cold and to the negotiating table.
With a bag full of taxpayers cash, Nelson met members of a company called Armscor who provided him with 300 automatic rifles and pistols, hundreds of grenades and an estimated 30,000 rounds of ammunition.
Now the deal was done, it was only a matter of MI5 clearing the ports in Belfast to enable the shipment to come in and re-arm loyalist paramilitry groups for a ‘Doomsday’ scenario.
Eventually the consignment of weapons were smuggled into Belfast in 1987.
One of the rifles, a Czech-made VZ-58 assault rifle, was used in the attack in the Loughinisland village.
The Ministy of Defence has now conceded that the trip was funded by the taxpayer, with an army intelligence unit paying his expenses.
There is no conclusive proof that the agent’s South Africa trip led directly to the arsenal being smuggled into Belfast two years later.
Lawyers for the families of the Loughinisland massacre victims are pursuing a claim in the High Court in Belfast for damages against the MoD, Brian Nelson’s paymasters.
Solicitor But Niall Murph said: “We are confident that evidence of British involvement does exist, and we look forward to applying to the high court for its disclosure.”
Security sources said that at the time eyebrows were raised at how the UDA and UVF were able to buy weapons in south Africa.
“It didn’t take an Einstein to work out that they were getting help,” said a former security force member involved in anti-terrorist operations.
“It was well known within the security forces that the Force Research Unit was basically MI5’s intelligence arm.
“MI5’s military wing was the 14th Intelligence and Security Group. They did MI5’s dirty work while FRU gathered the intelligence for it.”
Within weeks Nelson’s consignment arriving in Northern Ireland, it was already being used in attacks.
Loyalist gunman Michael Stone used several of the South African grenades and firing one of the pistols in the Milltown cemetery in west Belfast killing three people in 1988. His plan was to kill senior Sinn Fein figures, including its president Gerry Adams.
Re-armed loyalists, being supplied with high grade intelligence from FRU, increased their level of operations against nationalist and republican targets.
Figures show that in the six years before landing the shipment, loyalists killed 70 people. However, in the six years afterwards, they murdered 230, many of whom were innocent Catholics.
Many of the victims were Catholics who had no involvement with the conflict, and as the death toll mounted the IRA came under increasing pressure to call a ceasefire.
In the Loughinisland case, all six men raked to death in a hail of South African gunfire were innocent Catholic men.
It is claimed that up to four UVF figures, including its leader John ‘Bunter’ Graham, were high level RUC Special Branch informers.
A dumbed down Police Ombudsman’s report into the massacre showed up massive failings in the RUC CID investigation, including the fact that the getaway car, a Triumphy Toledo, was subsequently and mysteriously destroyed without any order being given or sought.
However, relatives of the victims believe the report was “nobbled” to stop any furhter embarrassment being heaped on the PSNI’s ‘C3’ intelligence department following the Ombudsman’s damning ‘Operation Ballast’ report into the UVF murder of Raymond McCord jnr in 1997 which cited collusion between the killers and their RUC Special Branch handlers.
The Ombudsman’s report into Loughinisland also found glaring mistakes in the CID investigation.
This included the fact that police failed to take some suspects’ fingerprints or DNA samples, a basic detective tool to catch a suspect in a crime.
Brian Nelson may have died after a lonely existence Wales and the FRU shut down and moved into the Joint Covert Operations Unit Northern Ireland (JCOUNI).
But the Loughinisland families are determined not to rest until they find out the real truth of what happened that night in June 1994.
At present they are bringing civil proceedings against the PSNI after the police ombudsman in Belfast examined the initial investigation and then produced a report which was widely criticised for refusing to acknowledge whether police informers were involved in the massacre.
Solicitor Niall Murphy said: “The experience of these six families demonstrates that the current mechanisms for truth recovery do not work.”
And it is not likely to work once the British Government introduce the new Justice and Security Bil which will give lawyers the power keep high grade intelligence secret from defence teams on the grounds of ‘national security’.
An MoD spokesman said: “There is not much we can say at this stage beyond confirming that a claim has been made. This will be dealt with in accordance with the normal process – gathering evidence and presenting it to the courts.”
A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “We would be unable to comment as this is an ongoing legal case.”