Hugh Orde, commander of the predominantly Protestant police force, said he accepted O'Loan's recommendations in full and offered "a wholehearted apology for anything done or left undone".
Regret and reform
In the report, both Orde and O'Loan noted that the police force's intelligence-gathering arm had been drastically reformed since 2003 in hopes of ensuring such abuses never happened again.
In London, an official spokesman for Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, called it "a deeply disturbing report about events totally wrong that should never have happened. The fact that they did is a matter of profound regret and the prime minister shares that regret".
"[The ex-officers] always acted in the best pursuit of justice and had nothing to be ashamed of'"
Statement from ex-special branch agents
In Dublin, Dermot Ahern, the Irish foreign minister, said the report demonstrated that special branch Irish police agents "lost all moral compass at that time".
He said the British state had "failed in one of its primary duties" – to protect its citizens.
Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, said that special branch agents helped to cover up hundreds of other killings by anti-Catholic extremists since the conflict over Northern Ireland erupted in 1969.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Adams, whose own survival of a 1984 assassination bid is being investigated by O'Loan as a potential case of police collusion.
O'Loan, said her team had interviewed about 100 current and former officers, but suffered years of obstruction, refusals to talk and outright lying from some.
|Adams said the report was just the |
"tip of the iceberg" [EPA]
She said special branch agents had either never kept legally required records of how they handled informers or destroyed such documents to hamper her investigation.
O'Loan began her investigation with the 1997 killing by that UVF unit of a 22-year-old Protestant man, Raymond McCord Junior, who had been a member of the paramilitary group.
The victim's father, Raymond McCord, said he had evidence that the UVF unit's commander at the time, Mark Haddock, was protected by police because he was on the special branch payroll providing tipoffs on UVF activities.
McCord said he turned to O'Loan in 2002 after senior police officers dismissed him as "some sort of crank".
O'Loan's report concluded that special branch detectives turned a blind eye to several killings and other crimes committed by Haddock's unit because of the information they were receiving from him and other, lower-ranking UVF members.
Naming no names
The published report did not name any of the retired special branch officers involved in collusion.
A secret version of the report that includes these names was delivered over the weekend to Orde, Peter Hain, the British Northern Ireland secretary of state, and a handful of other British officials.
One former detective questioned by O'Loan's investigators, Johnston Brown, said many rank-and-file detectives were prevented from doing their jobs by special branch elite that hoarded information.
Brown, who was a detective in the police's Criminal Investigations Division, said special branch colleagues repeatedly stymied his efforts to solve crimes involving members of the UVF and another illegal Protestant group, the Ulster Defence Association.
In a statement, a group of former special branch officers rejected the findings. The ex-officers said they "always acted in the best pursuit of justice and had nothing to be ashamed of".