STORMONT: cops cleared

It was confirmed for the first time last night that a top cop – already linked to a string of high-profile cases involving mainstream republicans – personally ordered the raid on Sinn Féin’s Stormont offices on October 4, 2002.

The central role played by the prominent Detective Chief Superintendent in orchestrating the raid was revealed in a report by the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan.

In her report, published last night, Mrs O’Loan threw out five of the six complaints made against the PSNI over the raid – including the allegation that the media had been tipped off. The only complaint that she upheld related to the “disproportionate” nature of the high-profile invasion of Stormont by twenty-five boiler-suited PSNI members.

And in a conclusion that has astonished some informed observers, Mrs O’Loan states that the raid was not “politically motivated”, nor “designed to damage Sinn Féin” or the peace process.

The Police Ombudsman stated that she could find “no evidence” to support the majority of the complaints.

“That decision to conduct the search at Stormont was made by the Detective Chief Superintendent who was overseeing the whole operation. An application was then made to a Justice of the Peace for the necessary warrant.

“On the basis of the intelligence available, I can say that the Detective Chief Superintendent’s decision to seek a warrant authorising a search of a specific desk in the Sinn Féin offices was reasonable, proportionate and legal,” said Nuala O’Loan.

“No proper consideration was given by police to the fact that they were searching the buildings of a legislative assembly,” she said.

Sinn Féin last night claimed that the Ombudsman’s failure to mention the Special Branch operation – codenamed Torsion – which precipitated the raid, called her findings into serious question.


At the time of the raid on Sinn Fein’s Stormont offices on October 4, 2002, there was widespread anger in the nationalist community at the actions of Special Branch.

It later emerged that the raid was part of a Special Branch operation – codenamed Torsion – which had been ongoing for many months in a bid to implicate republicans.

It also emerged that the British government was fully aware of Operation Torsion for many months in advance.

A team of twenty-five PSNI Task Support Group members and three detectives searched a single desk for fifty minutes before taking away one Windows back-up disc and one CD-rom from Sinn Féin’s offices, only to return them to Sinn Féin four days later.

Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, said that the raid was “too high a risk, too high-profile, too audacious a stroke, not to follow through” with charges of some description.

“Whoever took this decision [to raid Stormont] is the person who’s trying to pull all of this down in a way which casts the blame upon republicans,” he said.

Irish Senator, Dr Martin Mansergh, said that it was “an extraordinary thing in any democracy for the parliamentary offices of a political party to be heavily raided by a police force”.

“I mean, this is the sort of thing you associate more with Turkey, President Mugabe… countries that are sort of democratic. If some of this dates back a year, why the particular timing?” he asked pointedly.

The then Secretary of State, John Reid, told the media during an official press briefing at Millbank on the evening of Friday, October 4, 2002, that he had been aware of Operation Torsion “for a considerable time”.

“I was aware of it prior to July 24th. The knowledge of that investigation was part of the reason why I made the statement on July 24th warning people – as I did again yesterday – that democracy and any involvement in terrorist activity were completely incompatible,” said Mr Reid.

That same evening, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat received a confidential report from the Northern Ireland Office about the raid earlier that day on Sinn Féin’s Stormont office. The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, subsequently said (October 23, 2002) that “it has to be acknowledged as well that the timing of the recent arrests and their high-profile manner – particularly the search of Sinn Féin offices at Stormont – have also led to some suspicions that their purpose was essentially political, to place Sinn Féin in the dock at a time when, as a result of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting on September 21, unionists were under some critical scrutiny.”

On Monday October 7, 2002, PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde apologised for the manner of the raid at Stormont. He said that “in terms of planning, we need to take a look at how that planning took place. There was no pre-planning in relation to the issues around Stormont. At the time of the arrests, the plan was not to carry out other searches.”

Policing Board Vice-Chairperson, Denis Bradley, said that “there is certainly a large part of the community, if not a major part of the community, and it may also be more than just nationalists, who are concerned at the manner of the policing raid on Stormont.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright appeared at a press conference on November 12, 2002, to sensationally announce that the Stormont investigation had taken the PSNI to the heart of the IRA.

“In the documentation alone there are 19,000 pages to be read through, assessed and examined. Our hope is to find out exactly who had possession of each of those documents apart from those who should have,” he claimed.

A confidential Ombudsman report subsequently revealed that this press conference was held as part of a top-level media strategy to “distract attention” away from revelations about Operation Torsion becoming publicised in the broadcast media.

On November 17, 2002, the PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said that following the raids of October 4, 2002 an internal leaks investigation had been commenced.

“There is a major issue of leaks to selected members of the press and we are going to have to do something about it. These leaks are disgraceful and undermine the credibility of the PSNI,” he said.

The former Regional Intelligence Advisor for Urban Region PSNI, Bill Lowry - who since left his post - has made widely publicised comments that the objective of Operation Torsion was to “take skulls” and that the raid on Sinn Féin’s Stormont office was an attempt to “regain ground”.

Neither the PSNI, the NIO, the Policing Board, nor the Ombudsman’s Office have yet reported the findings of Alan McQuillan’s 2002 leaks investigation.
Meanwhile, Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright – who has been involved in a number of high profile ‘politically sensitive’ cases against mainstream republicans, including that of Roisin McAliskey – has risen to effectively become the North’s most senior detective, now holding the key operational post within the PSNI’s Crime Operations Branch.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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