News Letter
8 June 2012

FORMER RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon was so alarmed on one occasion at having a garda escort from Dundalk that he ordered his close protection school to take a detour of almost 40 miles to avoid crossing the border at Killeen, a collusion probe heard yesterday.

Killeen, a section of the main road between Dublin and Belfast, became infamous during the Troubles following a series of deadly bombs. The Hanna family and Mr Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife Cecily died in separate bombings on that section of the road in the later 1980s.

However, the incident involving the Chief Constable – as described to the Smithwick Tribunal yesterday – occurred in the early 1980s.

Jimmy Spratt, who acted as Sir John’s chief bodyguard between 1980 and 1986, said garda escorts, or tail cars as he referred to them, were always organised through Garda headquarters.

However, on one occasion a tail car had to be brought from Dundalk.

Mr Spratt – who is now a DUP MLA – said he remembered the event very clearly due to Sir John’s reaction. He said the Chief Constable became unusually agitated and told Mr Spratt that he wanted to lose the tail.

On that particular day, a meeting had run on and, due to a major government event in Dublin which a lot of VIPs were attending, most of the senior garda close protection teams were busy.

Mr Spratt said Dublin had instead organised for a car to come down from Dundalk.

“Sir John came out, he would always glance at the tail car, he had an amazing ability to recognise people, he said, ‘are those Joe’s men?’

“I said, ‘no sir, things have changed, Mr Ainsworth’s team are not able to escort, Dundalk are going to’.

“At that point he became agitated, John Hermon was not somebody who would meddle in the arrangements, he had a team he expected to do the job and do it properly.

“He didn’t meddle in any arrangement. He became unusually agitated which I found quite surprising because John Hermon was very placid.

“He became very concerned to the extent that at one point, as we started to proceed from Dublin, he asked me to lose the tail car.

“We had two tails – driver did some hairy overtaking but obviously it wasn’t possible.

“A couple of times he asked, ‘is it still with us?’.

“He then suddenly asked details of arrangements. I told him that I had a route cleared to cross at Killeen.

“He gave me a direct order, said under no circumstances are we crossing at Killeen.”

Mr Spratt told the tribunal that after consulting maps he decided to instead cross at Aughnacloy, on the border between Monaghan and Armagh – a detour of around 35 miles.

As this was before mobile phones and RUC radios did not work well in border areas, they were not able to alert the RUC tail car waiting at Killeen, where Mr Spratt had felt it was “reasonably safe to cross” because there was a permanent Army checkpoint.

Mr Spratt said Sir John never offered any explanation for his actions, but he said the incident was widely talked about in close protection circles.