Did the British state collude in the killing of three unarmed republicans?

Sam Marshall’s assassination in 1990

Now we know the security services were there.


The only people who knew that three men were signing on at the Royal Ulster Constabulary post in Lurgan Northern Ireland in 1990 were the three men themselves, their solicitor the police and security services.

It was always a dangerous visit – Sam Marshall, Tony McCaughey and Colin Duffy were Republicans, they were traveling through hostile Loyalist territory to the police station. These visits were part of their bail conditions.

Duffy noticed a familiar red Maestro circling them – these men’s lives depended on noticing everything, and he’d noticed it before.

Minutes later the three were ambushed in a torrent of bullets. Sam Marshall died, the other two escaped.

The smell of collusion has swirled around that ambush for 20 years. It was, of course denied.  Who was in that red Maestro?  And who was traveling in the maroon Rover that accompanied it? The first evidence to vindicate charges of collusion emerged during an extradition case in the US, when the police admitted that the Maestro men were security services personnel. And the weapons that fired the 49 bullets had been used in other assassinations.

Twenty-two years later we have been told by the Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-17251032

that there were eight officers around the scene, and six cars. Two soldiers had followed the men from the police station and ‘partially witnessed’  shooting, only yards away. They did not intervene. The assassins escaped. The guns were not found.

The HET comes to no conclusion about security forces’ collusion in the killing – but does not rule it out.


The men’s families believe that the guns used were part of a cache of weapons smuggled from South Africa by the security services, through their agent Brian Nelson, and distributed among the main loyalist paramilitary organizations.

See a fuller account of this in my book Agreement! The State, Conflict and Change in Northern Ireland, Lawrence and Wishart 2008.


The British re-invigorated a campaign of assassination against republicans – just at the moment when both sides in the Northern Ireland armed conflict were contemplating peace.



Murder report opens 'can of worms'
 Sam Marshall

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