John Weir is intimate with collusion. He’s now a businessman, living in South Africa, but in February 1977, when Sergeant Joseph Campbell was shot dead as he locked the gates of Cushendall police station, Weir was both a sergeant in the Magherafelt RUC Special Patrol Group and an active loyalist paramilitary. His seniors in the police, he says, were well aware of his dual role.

“The RUC, and I suppose most police forces, it wasn’t a place where you could keep secrets, you know what I mean? You couldn’t be doing something and nobody knew about it. Do you think that we could have been operating without the knowledge of Special Branch and army intelligence and M15, M16 so on? Of course not,” Weir says.

“In their mind I was the best sergeant they’d ever had in that area.”

Weir was one of the leaders of an alliance of loyalists including paramilitary members, RUC officers and UDR soldiers that met in a remote farm near Glenanne. In her 2013 book Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, Anne Cadwallader dubbed them the Glenanne Gang- the nickname stuck.

“The Glenanne Gang, it is to me just a stupid name. There were other houses just the same as that around the countryside,” Weir tells The Currency

“It was a meeting place, a place where gear was stored, a place where operations were organised from, and it was frequented by the top brass from military intelligence. They called on a regular basis to exchange notes.”

This gang is held responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles: the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974, the Miami Showband Massacre in 1975 and the Reavey and O’Dowd killings in 1976. In 2006, the Cassel Report investigated 76 killings attributed to the group and found evidence that British soldiers and RUC officers were involved in 74.

“People would say he was a psychopath; he was not a psychopath. He was the top gun man I would have come across, the best operator of all the paramilitaries.”

Weir says he had nothing to do with the shooting of Joe Campbell. But while two police investigations, a murder trial and a 13-year Police Ombudsman’s Report have all failed to find his killer, Weir says he knows exactly who shot him and why; and he’s happy to tell anyone who wants to hear it. 

The case made by the prosecution at the trial of Special Branch Detective Charles McCormick for the murder in 1981 was that McCormick single-handedly planned and executed the shooting of Joe Campbell. Weir says this is not only incorrect, it is implausible. 

“For anyone who knows the way operations were done at that time, the official version is laughable. For anyone to think that Charlie McCormick walked across fields and shot Joe Campbell and came back to the car again? That is silly thinking,” Weir says.

“Charlie McCormick didn’t have it in him to do that. He would have been a mad man if he did, because that’s not the way things were done. I know that.”

Weir says that Joe Campbell was shot by Robin Jackson, a fellow leader in the Glenanne Gang. A UDR solider until his dismissal in 1974, Jackson was Brigadier of the UVF in Lurgan. He is also alleged to have been an agent for both RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence.

Before the media named him publicly, long after his death in 1998, his multiple killings were attributed to ‘The Jackal’. Jackson is estimated to have murdered more than 100 people, mostly Catholic civilians, but Weir believes the true number could be a lot higher.

“He was a very clever man. He was ruthless. People were scared of him. I would say even after he died, just the name scared people,” Weir says.

“People would say he was a psychopath; he was not a psychopath. He was the top gun man I would have come across, the best operator of all the paramilitaries. If he had joined the regular army, he probably would have been in the SAS and he would have been a hero.”

In the 1970s, Jackson worked closely with two men: Robert John “R.J.” Kerr, a Commander with the UDA in Portadown, and William ‘Billy’ McCaughey, who like Weir was both a member of the RUC’s Special Patrol Group [SPG] and the UVF.

“Our colour code was Orange and it was Orange by nature and several of us were paramilitaries,” McCaughey once boasted of his SPG group.

“We did actually have a Catholic once, a guy called Danny from Dungannon. The day after he joined, we had him dangling out from the back of a Land Rover with his chin inches from the road. He lasted a week.”

Weir worked closely with the three men. He remembers Jackson asking him take part in the killing of a policeman, telling him the request to shoot this particular RUC officer had come from a Special Branch man and reached Jackson through McCaughey. The agreement was that Jackson would carry out the shooting if the Special Branch man brought the weapon to the shooting point. He wasn’t given the officer’s name at the time, but Weir now believes the policeman Jackson wanted his help killing was Joe Campbell and the Special Branch man who wanted him dead was Charlie McCormick.

“I backed out of it because I was not going to start shooting policemen. I think Robin saw immediately that it wasn’t my thing and it was dropped,” Weir says.


Weir was at Crumlin Road Gaol serving a life-sentence for murder when Charlie McCormick and Anthony O’Doherty arrived at the prison. Jackson was also there on a seven-year sentence for possession of guns and ammunition, of which he would serve two.

Regardless of faith or religiosity, prisoners went to church. As Weir remembers it, everyone attended Reverend Bob Russell services simply to have something to do; all but O’Doherty who was being kept safely in solitary confinement.

“Charlie McCormick, for his own safety, would stand up in the gallery and on these occasions, Robin Jackson was making the sign that he was going to cut Charlie McCormick’s throat,” Weir recalls.

“There was one day, I was standing beside Robin and he was making all these gestures to Charlie McCormick and I said, making conversation, ‘I take it you’re the man who did Campbell’. And Jackson said, ‘Something like that, something like that’. He was threatening Charlie McCormick big time.”

Weir believes Jackson was signalling to McCormick that he would be killed if he talked about Joe Campbell’s murder to the CID. The CID had already spoken to Billy McCaughey, who was understood to have “spilled his guts about everything”. It was McCaughey who explained Campbell’s murder to Weir as ‘a replica’ of killing of Catholic chemist William Strathearn in April 1977.

“That’s the one I was convicted of,” Weir clarifies.

Based on his familiarity with Strathearn’s killing, Weir suggests this is how Joe Campbell’s murder would have been carried out:

O’Doherty would have brought Charlie McCormick to a point; McCormick would have been carrying the guns. McCormick would have come with O’Doherty so that if they were stopped with the guns, he could say he was on an operation with his IRA informer, which would have given him some cover.

Robin Jackson would have had RJ Kerr with him because he would have wanted a hardman he could depend on in case anything went wrong. Billy McCaughey would also have been on the scene. They were both big men.

On the night of the murder, when Rosemary Campbell heard the shot that killed her husband, she looked out of her front window. She saw a man in a green felt hat, hands in the pockets of his raincoat, standing, looking out. From his position on the road, this man had clear line of sight to both the barracks and the Campbell’s home. Rosemary still has no idea who he was. Weir believes it was Billy McCaughey.

Joe Campbell was an RUC officer murderd in 1977 in Cushendall County Antrim. The RUC station in which Joe served and outside which he was murdered. Pic. Bryan Meade 29/05/2022

“The reason for him being there would be in case the first shots missed and he made a run for the house. He would have got him between the police station and the house. I remember that being mentioned, that [McCaughey] was there just in case. They had to make sure of this job. There couldn’t be any room for mistakes.”

It was only after Weir left prison in 1993 that he heard why Joe Campbell had been killed. It came up in a casual conversation with his old friend and former Glenanne colleague Gary Armstrong. Armstrong, who was also an RUC sergeant, had received a two-year suspended sentence for kidnapping a Catholic priest. He told Weir it was all to do with the weapons Joe Campbell had discovered being shipped into Red Bay.

“He was shot because of those guns coming in. I would say they would have been for the Ulster resistance. It would have been the same sort of thing as the South African cargo that came in,” Weir says, referring to a load of assault rifles and rocket launchers brought into Northern Ireland by Ulster Resistance from South Africa 1987, described by loyalist paramilitaries as a ‘Godsend’.

“I remember asking Gary, ‘The Special Branch, were they involved in it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, they were all involved in it’. I think Robin would have been involved in that as well.”

Jackson, Kerr and McCaughey were also implicated in Strathearn’s murder, but only Weir and McCaughey were charged. At Weir’s trial in 1980, when the judge asked why Jackson and Kerr had not been presented as witnesses, Detective Inspector Cecil West explained that they could not be questioned by police or brought before the court ‘for reasons of operational strategy.’ The PSNI refuses to explain what West meant by this.

Potentially relevant is information provided by Major Colin Wallace, a former military intelligence officer in Northern Ireland, to investigators working for Professor Douglass Cassel in 2006. He told them that Jackson was an agent for both RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence. The PSNI refuses to confirm or deny this claim.

Weir pleaded not guilty to the murder of Strathearn and so was unable to give evidence in court. He has tried many times over the years to get hold of the transcripts from his trial but has been refused. Most recently, he was told that the documents had been shredded. But while he was unable to give evidence in court, he did write an affidavit in 1999. Over 62 paragraphs, his statement details incidents of collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, including the shooting of Joseph Campbell.

He gave further evidence of collusion to the Historical Enquiries Team [HET], a unit of the PSNI set up in 2005 to investigate the 3,269 unsolved murders committed during the Troubles, which was shut in 2014 following budget cuts. The HET found Weir to be a ‘credible witness’. Justice Barron, who chaired the inquiry set up by the Irish government into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, concluded in the Barron Report in 2003 that Weir’s ‘evidence overall is credible’.

Weir admits part of the reason he is willing to talk now is because he feels he was thrown under the bus to protect Jackson.

“The way I look on it, I got a raw deal out of the whole thing,” he says.

“I’ve no great ill feelings. If they hadn’t back-stabbed me, I’d still be working for them and I’d be 100 per cent loyal to them. But on the Campbell case I think that was a dirty action. It was dirty to kill a man for doing his job. That was shocking.”

Robin Jackson was never officially questioned about the murder of Joe Campbell, or any of the hundred or more murders he is thought to have committed between 1973 and his death from cancer in 1998. The only person known to have confronted him about his alleged killings is Joe Campbell Jr.

“I wanted the truth,’ Joe Jr says, attempting to explain what motivated him to knock on the door of a man who may turn out to be one of the most prolific killers in Northern Ireland’s history and accuse him of murdering his father. 


Sergeant Campbell’s two eldest boys, Tommy and Joe Jr, decided soon after their father’s funeral that if they wanted to know the truth about who shot him, they would need to find it themselves. By the time McCormick was acquitted of the killing in 1981, they were convinced of a greater conspiracy surrounding his murder.

“But we didn’t know where to go, it’s like scratching around in the ether. There was no such thing as the Ombudsman’s office then. What do we do?” Joe Jr recalls.

Tommy, a teacher, had stayed in Cushendall. His family home is just metres from the barracks where his father was killed. Joe Jr left for London almost immediately after the shooting, his two children were born and raised there. But during all the years the brothers were building careers and families of their own, their central preoccupation was solving their father’s murder.

The steps from the Campbell house which Joe went down on the night of his murder. Photo: Bryan Meade

In the 80s and 90s, Tommy and Joe Jr met and interviewed as many people still living and connected to the killing as they could. They spoke with Billy McCaughey, Robin ‘the Jackal’ Jackson’s right-hand man; Charles McCormick, the corrupt Special Branch officer charged and acquitted of murder; Anthony O’Doherty, the IRA man who was both McCormick’s accomplice and a prized Special Branch informer.

O’Doherty claimed to Tommy and Joe Jr that during his first interrogation at Castlereagh Police Station in August 1980, he had explained that he had seen Robin Jackson in Cushendall on the night of their father’s murder. O’Doherty claimed to the brothers, as he would later claim to The Currency, that he had also said that weapons were being shipped into Cushendall.

He claims that several months later a detective returned to the interview room in tears instructing him to change his statement because the people ‘upstairs’ did not want any mention Robin Jackson or the weapons coming into Red Bay.

The more the brothers heard, the more unanswered questions they had. At the trial, the prosecution had alleged that on the night of the murder, Charlie McCormick had walked from his parked Toyota Celica more than two miles down an over-grown lane carrying two guns in the pitch black to arrive behind Cushendall barracks. Tommy now lived at the foot of this lane and knew very well that it was impassable even in daylight. Could McCormick really have murdered their father with a single gunshot to the temple then run back along two miles of bumpy, over-grown, disused farmer’s road in the dead of night to make it back to O’Doherty in 15 minutes?

The crown’s solicitors had asserted that McCormick shot Sergeant Campbell from a hidden, elevated vantage point behind a hedge from a distance of 30 metres using a farmer’s rifle. Would a farmer’s rifle really cause such extensive damage to a skull from that sort of distance as their father had sustained? Was McCormick such a proficient killer that he could be confident of making the shot on such a high-stakes target as a fellow police officer alone at night? What if he had missed?

Noreen Delargy, Malachy Delargy’s sister, was a bank teller in Ballymena. She told the brothers that several years after their father was killed, a man came into her bank. She had very nearly fainted as she recognised him immediately as the person who had knocked on her door the night Sergeant Campbell was shot looking for her neighbour Sean McCauley. This man had also knocked for McCauley, but he wasn’t home. That man was Charlie McCormick. If McCormick, an experienced police officer, had been in Cushendall to carry out a murder, would he be knocking on doors and presenting himself to witnesses?

In the late 1990s, several leading journalists investigating collusion by British forces with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland became interested in the unsolved murder of Sergeant Joseph Campbell. Among them was Sean McPhilemy.

In 1993, McPhilemy had sued Rupert Murdoch and the Sunday Times for libel over an article claiming that his documentary The Committee, which alleged the existence of a loyalist conspiracy to murder Catholics and republicans in Northern Ireland, was a hoax. McPhilemy won his case.

In 1998, McPhilemy introduced the Campbell brothers to Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Catholic human rights lawyer. The brothers explained their case and after some consideration, Nelson agreed to take it on pro bono. She was the family’s first solicitor.

“I can assure you, representing a policeman probably wasn’t in her CV. I agonised. But for me it was about trust, and for her it was about trust. She was fearless, and that was enough for me,” Joe Jr says.

In this same period, another investigative journalist approached the brothers. In his youth, Martin O’Hagan had been a member of the Official IRA. He had been questioned in relation to the murders of a British soldier and a police officer, and served five years in Long Kesh prison for firearms offences. But after his release, O’Hagan rejected paramilitary activity and spent decades building a solid journalistic reputation investigating paramilitaries and alleged killings by British Security Forces for the Sunday World and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

“Martin O’Hagan’s words to me in the Crown pub in Belfast were, ‘Joe this is the case for me, this is the big one’,” Joe Jr says.

“Lots was said about what Martin did, and I suspect a lot of it’s true, but Martin had turned his life around. He was the leading on the doorstep sensational story journalist. He had all the contacts.”

O’Hagan had a particular interest in fellow Lurgan man, Robin Jackson. He was writing a book about the Jackal and had visited Anthony O’Doherty several times in prison. O’Doherty talked to him about Sergeant Campbell’s murder. O’Hagan had already tracked down Glenanne Gang member John Weir to South Africa, Weir had agreed to an interview and O’Hagan was going to fly out to meet him. But first, he wanted to find Jackson.

“Martin phoned me one day and said, “I’ve found out where he is. I’ve heard he’s not well, will you come over and see him?’” Joe Jr recalls. 

“I said, ‘I can be on a flight in the morning’.”

Joe Jr was wired up to record the confrontation. A transmitter was tucked into his belt, and a pin-head microphone concealed in his sleeve. O’Hagan parked his car directly outside Jackson’s council house and waited. Jackson’s young girlfriend opened the door.

“I said I was here to see Robin Jackson and I could hear the voice upstairs, ‘Who wants to see him’. And I said, Joe Campbell. And he said, ‘I was expecting you’.”

Jackson was clearly in frail health. He sat in his living room, his back to the wall, surrounded by books about politics, an oxygen tank next to him. Joe sat opposite, his back to the window. He put it to Jackson that he had murdered his father.

“Did I have hatred in my heart for the man? No. I was there very focused on the objective of trying to get the truth,” Joe Jr explains.

“But these sorts of things are not how they’re portrayed in thrillers. It doesn’t go down the line of yes or no, there’s mental gymnastics going on. And I’m risk assessing and reassessing every second I’m there. What’s being said, watching, listening;  listening for other cars, maybe other people coming up the back.”

Jackson talked a lot about Republican propaganda, which Joe Jr went along with for a time before pushing him on to the subject of the murder. He told Jackson that Billy McCaughey, his former right-hand man, had told him that he had shot his father.   

“Oh, that drunkard?”, he said. “He’ll be found lying behind a hedge some night.”

Joe Jr pushed Jackson again, asking if he had carried out the shooting. Jackson replied: ‘I am convinced I had nothing to do with that’.

Their meeting reached an abrupt conclusion when O’Hagan emerged over Joe’s shoulder through the window and snapped several pictures of Jackson, taking both men by surprise. Jackson demanded to know if Joe Jr was taping the conversation and Joe Jr admitted that he was. He handed Jackson the transmitter and with Jackson occupied tearing this apart, he managed to find his way out the front door, which was steel-plated and secured with three bolt locks. Joe Jr left satisfied.

“I am convinced I had nothing to do with that?” No, sorry. That’s not the answer,” Joe Jr says. “That told me all I wanted to know. He did it.”

O’Hagan and Joe Jr drove directly to his solicitor Rosemary Nelson’s office to tell her about the meeting.

“She nearly had a heart attack. She was almost eating cigarettes,” Joe Jr says.

But Nelson didn’t hear the recorded conversation or have time to develop her case. Within months, she was dead, killed by a bomb planted under her car that exploded as she drove away from her family home in Lurgan. Responsibility for her murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a loyalist paramilitary group drawn from the ranks of the LVF and the UDA, Jackson’s group. Nobody was ever convicted.

In September 2001, Martin O’Hagan was also killed, shot in the head as he walked home with his wife from his local bar Fa’ Joes in Lurgan. The LVF claimed responsibility and while charges were brought, no one has ever been sentenced for his murder.

It was Robin Jackson who died of natural causes. He succumbed to lung cancer at home in May 1998, shortly after Joe Campbell Jr’s visit. There is only one picture of him in circulation, a blurry mugshot. The pictures that O’Hagan took of Jackson over Joe Jr’s shoulder were lost in the processing room of the Sunday World newspaper.


Rosemary Campbell has forgiven whoever killed her husband, her children have not. It is 45 years since RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell was shot in the head at the gates of the now abandoned police barracks in Cushendall, North Antrim. Rosemary is now 88 years old but she is still fighting for the truth to be told. She wants her children to find some peace.

In November 2015, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland agreed to her request for a Coroner’s Inquest into Joe Campbell’s murder and the case has been listed to be heard in year three of the Attorney General’s five-year plan for legacy cases, which starts in April 2023. Rosemary hopes for a just outcome but knows better of the British justice system than to expect it.

“They will do all in their power to scupper the whole thing. I could cope with it but I don’t think it’s fair on the children after everything that’s happened. I know now that the things I wanted for my children I’m not going to get,” Rosemary says.

“I used to make them kneel down and say the rosary each night, pray for whoever killed Daddy. But it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.”

Two of Rosemary’s eight children have died. Peter, who reminded her most of Joe, suffered a massive heart attack in July 2016, days after she herself had returned home from open heart surgery. Tommy, her eldest, died within weeks of his cancer diagnosis in March 2019.  But Mandy, Rosemary Jr, Sarah and Philip all live within miles of the small bungalow where they grew up and they visit their mother there most days. Recently, Rosemary’s health has been poor.

Rosemary Campbell with her daughters Rosemary and Sara. Photo: Bryan Meade

Photographs of Joe Campbell in uniform hang in every room. Philip, the youngest, was four when he was killed. He was teased after his father’s death. The other boys at school would tell him Joe was in hell. On one occasion, a boy named Barry told him that his dad was at that moment tied to a great rock in hellfire. Philip was found in the graveyard by the priests trying to dig his father up with his bare hands. For him, the truth is no longer enough.

“If they turned round now and said, ‘You were right all along, we did do this’. That would be them laughing and saying, there you go, we got away with it. Are we meant to just go, ‘Oh, that’s alright then, as long as you’ve admitted it?’ After every turn for 45 years, telling us that we were lying?” Philip asks his mother.

“How do I sit my son down, look him in the eye and say it’s wrong to kill somebody when very obviously it’s only wrong depending on who you’re killing and who you’re killing them for? No matter if you get what you want, that’s not justice. Justice would have been it not happening in the first place.”

Rosemary admits that forgiveness has been difficult.

“It took me years. I remember hoovering the floor one day and his picture was sitting up there and I took the end of the hoover and fired it at the picture saying, ‘Why did you leave me?’ But that went away eventually,” she says.

“They abandoned you Mummy!” Sarah tells her.

“We’ve got no money! We’re sitting here at the minute begging them for new windows, new doors. That’s the life that they gave us,” Rosemary Jr says.

The compensation that Rosemary was offered following Joe’s murder barely covered the cost of his funeral. The family has never been able to afford legal representation; their current solicitors Madden & Finucane Solicitors are working on the case pro bono.

“They talk about you now like you’re a pain for bringing all this up,” Philip says.

“But this chip that’s on our shoulder, it’s them that put it there. We wouldn’t have been like this if this hadn’t had happened. That’s the tragedy of the whole thing.”

Each of Joe Campbell’s children wants justice for their father, it’s just that justice looks different to each of them. For Joe Jr, it is a matter of public record. For four decades, he has driven the family’s campaign to drag the authorities to account through their own legal system with steely determination.

“Joey has spent a big part of his life investigating it himself. I mean when you look back now at the people he visited, I wouldn’t have visited them! God! No wonder he didn’t tell me half the things,” Rosemary worries.

“As a young fella he was known as a fireball; that probably comes from my side of the family. You used to see this advertisement on television, the door opens and this young boy comes in from school, his cap’s sideways and his blazer off. That reminds me of Joey because if he’d be coming in from school and saw somebody else get hit, he would have dropped everything and run to help them.”

Joe Jr doesn’t enjoy the exposure that comes with campaigning, making himself available to journalists whenever his father’s unsolved murder catches the media’s attention, every detail of the long, tangled, bitter case at his fingertips. He only does it because he believes someone has to and he would rather that were him. He will protect his family from as much pain, pressure and scrutiny as he is able, he says, but he will not give up.

“I’m not one of those people who can stand and look the other way when I see wrong, when I see bullies, whether that’s states, individuals or organisations,” he says.

“I want the state to tell us the truth, but I’m a realist. They are not going to voluntarily tell us the truth, we’re going to have to get them kicking and screaming into court.”

NEXT: “The clock is ticking for everyone here, not least Rosemary Campbell.” Part 4 – Justice