News Letter
8 June 2012

THE one-time head of former RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon’s close protection team has said he finds claims that retired Garda sergeant Owen Corrigan was on first name terms with the police chief as “absolutely incredible”.

Jimmy Spratt, who is now a DUP MLA for South Belfast, gave evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal yesterday via video-link from Northern Ireland.

Evidence given to the tribunal by retired garda Terry Hynes last July included claims that Mr Corrigan was on first name terms with Sir John because he had escorted him to Dublin Airport so many times.

Mr Spratt, who headed up Sir John’s close protection team between 1980 and 1986, responded to this claim by saying: “I would find it absolutely incredible to believe any garda was on first name terms with Sir John Hermon.”

Mr Spratt said he contacted Banbridge solicitor John McBurney – who represents the family of murdered RUC officer Chief Constable Harry Breen – after seeing Mr Hynes’ claims in a report.

The tribunal is probing claims of collusion in the murders of Mr Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan on March 20, 1989 – minutes after they left a meeting at Dundalk Garda station.

Mr Spratt said he protected Mr Hermon on trips throughout the whole of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Sir John’s security team consisted of four officers, including two cars. Mr Spratt said he would travel in the main car with the Chief Constable along with a driver, and there was also a “tail car” which followed with two officers.

On occasions when Sir John travelled to the Republic of Ireland, the RUC tail car left at the border and a Garda tail car, organised via Dublin Castle according to Mr Spratt, joined them.

He said very few were made aware of the exact timings.

It was also put to Mr Spratt that Mr Hynes had told the tribunal Sir John had a son studying abroad and that he visited him, going through Dublin Airport.

Mr Spratt said that Sir John’s son at that time had been studying at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. He said Sir John’s daughter was living in America, but that Sir John always travelled through London airports to see her. He said going through Dublin Airport would have been a “security headache”.

“Never during my five-and-a-half to six years did he fly out of Dublin, all of the trips were via London. He travelled via London because the security headache would have been immense in those years,” Mr Spratt told the tribunal yesterday.

Immediately following the murders of Mr Breen and Mr Buchanan, Sir John ruled out the involvement of a Garda mole – however Mr Spratt said he thought the Chief Constable might have been being political.

“I think he was visionary, there was a process that was taking place, a peace process was taking place,” said Mr Spratt.

“So it doesn’t surprise me but I was shocked. I don’t think that was his real view.”

Mr Spratt added that he felt Sir John had had concerns about the border.

“I believe John Hermon in his heart of hearts knew things were happening in the border area,” he said.

“I can’t say it was collusion or individuals involved, but the bottom line is something was happening, someone was giving information on police movement.

“John Hermon never mentioned any individual, I would find it surprising that he did not think something was happening down there.”

Barrister Richard Smith, acting for former IRA double agent Kevin Fulton, also known as Peter Keeley, asked Mr Spratt if he would name senior RUC officers who had voiced concerns about Mr Corrigan, who has been named in the inquiry into claims of Garda/IRA collusion.

Mr Spratt would not do so in a public session but said he would be willing to provide those names to inquiry chairman Judge Peter Smithwick in a one-to-one meeting.

Judge Smithwick thanked Mr Spratt for attending, particularly as he had recently been unwell with a serious illness.