By Chris Thornton
BELFAST — The mystery over the burglary of a police intelligence office in Belfast has deepened after it emerged that a car disguised to resemble a police vehicle was found shortly after the raid.
Sinn Fein has accused the Police Service of Northern Ireland of covering up the find because it did not suit the theory that the IRA was responsible for the break-in at the Castlereagh Special Branch office.
The car was what is known as a “sleeper.” It was the same make, color and model as one belonging to a police officer, and had been fitted with false license plates to make it identical.
The sleeper car was found burned out in Carryduff, south of Belfast, on March 19, two days after the Castlereagh burglary. The officer who owns the twin car was said to be unaware of the duplication. The Police Service has refused to say whether he worked in Castlereagh.
The police have widely leaked their suspicion that the IRA carried out the St. Patrick’s night to get sensitive intelligence files. Both Sinn Fein and the IRA have denied involvement, and claim the raid was inside job.
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Whoever carried out the burglary got past several layers of security at the station, overpowered a Special Branch detective whose job was to link up with informers, and spent about 20 minutes going through files. They stole some documents and left as easily as they had entered.
Police have subsequently arrested and questioned senior republicans, including Bobby Storey, the Belfast republican who is reported to be the head of IRA intelligence in the North.
Details of the investigation pointing to republican involvement have also been leaked, including the disappearance of an American chef who worked in the station on the morning after the raid. The chef is said to have spoken to republicans on cell phones on the night of the raid.
However, it is still unclear what advantage the intelligence would give the IRA that outweighed the risks involved. The mere suspicion of IRA involvement has brought political fallout, with unionists saying the group has violated its cease-fire.
If the republicans had been caught carrying out the raid or are yet proven to have been behind it, the consequences for the peace process would be enormous.
Sinn Fein claimed the latest information backed up their position that an intelligence agency was involved in the raid.
“This is a very significant circumstantial piece of evidence,” said Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly. “Carryduff is not a republican or Catholic area. This car would appear to have been a PSNI car. They knew about the car shortly after the raid and yet they chose to bury this piece of information. That doubles the suspicion that what they are up to is something very underhand.
“The partisan role of the PSNI in selective briefings around the Castlereagh raid is central to the current destabilization of unionism and the political process.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams added: “This story is likely to have more twists and turns than Chubby Checker. “We are sticking to our original position, which is shared by the vast majority of people, including unionists, that this was an inside job.”