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British Army confronted by demonstrators on William Street. Photograph Photo by: Fulvio Grimaldi

British government accused of supplying loyalists with arms during the Troubles

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British Army confronted by demonstrators on William Street. Photograph Photo by: Fulvio Grimaldi

The British Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are being sued by the relatives of six men killed by a loyalist gunman. They claim that during the Troubles, the British Government supplied loyalist gangs with an arsenal of weapons.

In June 1994 a loyalist gunman opened fire inside bar in Loughinisland, County Down. Those shot were in the packed Heights pub watching soccer on TV. The families of the six men who were killed are seeking compensation and to uncover the truth about where the weapons came from.

According to these families, the authorities assisted in, or at least ignored, the smuggling of as many as 300 automatic rifles and pistols, hundreds of grenades, 30,000 rounds of ammunition. This arsenal of weaponry was smuggled out of Belfast in 1987, according to the Guardian. It was one of these rifles, a Czech-made VZ-58, that was used in the Heights shooting.

Those involved claim the weapons were provided by Armscor, the arms sales and procurement corporation of apartheid-era South Africa. Armscor and the loyalists struck a deal after a British agent visited South Africa in 1985.

The agent who infiltrated the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was shopping for arms.
However, the MOD admits that this visit was funded by the British taxpayer.

Although there is no conclusive evidence of a link between the two, Niall Murphy, the lawyer for the families said, “We are confident that evidence of British involvement does exist, and we look forward to applying to the high court for its disclosure."

A number of people in South Africa and Belfast involved in the talks told the Guardian they believed the British government were aware that an arms deal with the loyalists was being arranged and took no action to stop them entering Northern Ireland.

Weeks after the weapons arrived in Ireland, Michael Stone threw grenades and fired a pistol, with armed linked to these deals. He killed three people attending the funeral of three IRA members.

The number of murders carried out by the loyalists from this point on rose. During the six years before these weapons arrived to Ireland the loyalists killed 70 people, during the six years after they killed 230. Many of the victims were innocents and Catholics.
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."
 

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