Francis Thomas Murray, police officer; born February 23, 1945, died March 21, 1996

A SENIOR Ulster police officer, who returned to his anti-terrorist duties despite being severely injured in an IRA bomb attack, has died from cancer at the age of 51. Chief Superintendent Frank Murray lost an arm, a leg, and an eye in a booby-trap explosion in 1976 but rejected medical advice to stand down and, after returning to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, became head of its Special Branch.

He was nicknamed ``The Bionic Man'' because of his injuries and was commended on almost 40 occasions in his 32-year career. As head of the RUC Special Branch he maintained a low profile but was instrumental in directing many operations against terrorist groups including the IRA.

In 1987 he played a leading role in directing the undercover operation that led to the deaths of eight IRA men who had planned a gun and bomb attack on Loughgall RUC station in County Armagh. As the IRA attackers began their assault on the base they were ambushed by the SAS, working in co-operation with Mr Murray's force.

During his time at the top of the RUC Special Branch he developed a close working relationship with the SAS, and undercover soldiers were involved in several operations against the IRA, the most significant being in Loughgall.

Regarded as one of the IRA's main targets, Mr Murray was forced to move home on several occasions because of threats to his life. In recognition of his courageous service in the Ulster police force, he was awarded the MBE in 1977, and the Queen's Police Medal only two weeks ago.

Mr Murray joined the plain-clothes branch four years after joining the force and, by the time of his retirement through illness this year, had become one of the RUC's most influential and powerful figures, despite being relatively unknown to the general public in Northern Ireland.

It is now known that he had been due to fly in the Chinook helicopter which crashed on the Mull of Kintyre in June, 1994, with the deaths of 29 police and military passengers. At the last minute Mr Murray pulled out of the trip to Scotland because of a security operation in Ulster.

Francis Thomas Murray fulfilled a boyhood ambition to join the RUC and he rose rapidly through its ranks. Details of much of his career remain shrouded in secrecy because so many of his duties related to undercover operations involving informers and the gathering of intelligence.

A colleague said yesterday that despite terrible injuries sustained in 1976 he never complained, even though he suffered much pain. Although seriously ill, he still managed to leave his sick bed to attend the investiture at Hillsborough Castle at which he received the Queen's Police Medal.

Mr Murray is survived by his wife, Laraine, a daughter, and a son.