The revelation this week that a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland, Father James Chesney, got away with the murder of nine people as the architect behind the bombing in Claudy in 1972, finds an echo in the case of Father Bartholomew Burns in Scotland.
In both cases a Catholic priest dispensed with his vows to assist a terrorist organisation while the hierarchy, in the Chesney case, colluded in a cover-up, while in Glasgow they stopped just short.
Born in Sneem, County Kerry, in 1935, Burns, like many Irish priests at the time, was surplus to supply in his native land and so shortly after his ordination in 1960, became a curate, or junior priest, at St Eunan's in Clydebank, where he served for six years, before completing a second six-year stint at St Michael's in Parkhead.
He had not long moved to St Teresa's Church in Saracen Street in Possilpark, then, as now, one of the city's poorest areas when he assisted the IRA.
The story which Winning was told that spring evening was that in Burns' bedroom in the presbytery the priest had stored three cartons, each containing 210 sticks of gelignite, a total of 150lbs, 150 electrical detonators stored in an Aer Lingus bag, and various IRA documents, one headed "Notes for Unit Intelligence Officers" and another "Notes for Command Intelligence Officers", as well as Sinn Fein pamphlets.
Earlier in the day, three people, two brothers from Donegal and a 22-year-old Glasgow girl, Caroline Renehan, the daughter of Sinn Fein's Scottish secretary, had been arrested, but Burns had fled, driven away and then dropped off in the city centre by the parish priest, Fr John Martin.
Winning was stunned. But how, if they successfully arrested three others, did they miss Fr Burns? This was a source of embarrassment to the Special Branch who, during the subsequent trial of the three, admitted procedural errors had taken place.
Saturday, September 4, 2010