Stakeknife: Spy linked to 18 murders, BBC Panorama finds
April 25, 2017
The British spy Stakeknife – described by an Army general as “our golden egg” – is now the subject of a £35m criminal inquiry called Operation Kenova.
The inquiry has been triggered by a classified report which Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC has told Panorama “made for very disturbing and chilling reading”.
What Stakeknife actually did has been wreathed in speculation since he was identified in 2003 as Belfast bricklayer Freddie Scappaticci.
The one stand-out fact, however, has not been in doubt: for over a decade Scappaticci maintained his cover in the IRA by interrogating fellow British agents to the point where they confessed and were then shot.
One British spy was preparing other British spies for execution.
Step back over Stakeknife, PPS deputy asked
Chief investigator calls for witnesses
New investigation into Stakeknife launched
Stakeknife linked to up to 50 murders
And there were a lot of executions: 30 shot as spies by the IRA’s so-called Nutting Squad which, I am told, Scappaticci eventually came to head.
Panorama has learned that Scappaticci is linked to at least 18 of those “executions”.
Not all the victims would have been registered agents like him who produced the best intelligence.
Some were akin to “informers” – people with close access to IRA members, or who passed on what they saw and heard to the security forces.
A few were innocent of the IRA’s charge of spying.
Still, the spectacle of one British agent heading an IRA unit dedicated to rooting out and shooting other British spies is so extraordinary that I’ve often wondered how exactly the state benefitted by the intelligence services having tolerated this for the whole of the 1980s.
The obvious person to ask is Scappaticci himself – but a draconian injunction stops journalists from approaching him, even to the point of making any enquiries about where he now lives or what he does.
The Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, Jon Boutcher (left), is leading the investigation with the delegated authority of the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton
Scappaticci was recruited by a section within military intelligence called the Force Research Unit, or FRU.
I’m told the Army have assessed his intelligence as having saved some 180 lives.
Can Scappaticci’s intelligence have been so valuable that the sacrifice of other agents was a price worth paying to maintain his cover?
It’s not quite that simple.
Had the cavalry been sent in every time Scappaticci tipped off his handlers about who was at risk, he himself wouldn’t have lasted long.
Yet protecting him also meant the murders he knew about – or was even involved in – were never properly investigated, driving a “coach and horses” through the criminal justice system, according to Mr McGrory.
Barra McGrory said the report made for “disturbing and chilling reading”
Also, the Army’s assessment that Stakeknife saved 180 lives doesn’t translate to the number of actual lives saved as a direct consequence of actioning Stakeknife’s intelligence by, for example, interdicting an IRA unit on active service.
I understand that figure of 180 is partly the army’s guesstimate of lives that would have been lost had Stakeknife’s intelligence not led to arrests and the recovery of weapons.
Of course Stakeknife also contributed significantly to “building a picture” of the IRA, an insight much valued by the intelligence services.
An ex-FRU operative with access to his intelligence told me: “He knew all of the main players and picked up a tremendous amount of peripheral information.
“As the [IRA] campaign changed and the political side became more important again he was highly placed to comment on that.”
‘Cunning and resilience’
No doubt, but it’s hard to quantify “picture building” in terms of actual lives saved.
One thing is for sure: leading a double life at the heart of an IRA unit with a Gestapo-like hold over its rank and file would have required cunning – and resilience.
Especially since Scappaticci told his army handlers he disliked gratuitous violence.
He seems to have managed the violence bit though, even when it was close to home.
I’m told that in January 1988, Scappaticci sent a young boy up to the home of Anthony McKiernan, asking him to call by to see Scappaticci.
The Scappaticcis and McKiernans were friends – children from both families had sleepovers.
That was the last McKiernan’s wife and children saw of him. Accused by Scappaticci’s Nutting Squad of being a spy – something the family strongly deny – some 24 hours later, he was shot in the head.
Unsurprisingly, Scappaticci’s ex-IRA comrades paint a less flattering picture than his handlers.
They say he was a prodigious consumer of pornography, loved James Bond movies and – although he was on the IRA’s Belfast Brigade staff – was never a “true republican.”
That might explain why, after Scappaticci was released from detention without trial in December 1975, he drifted away from the republican movement and got involved in a building trade VAT scam.
There were family holidays in Florida.
But then he was arrested by the police and agreed to work for the fraud squad as an informer.
His former IRA comrades also speak of a man with an intimidating manner, handy with his fists and a large ego who liked to be at the centre of things.
His appointment to the IRA’s Nutting Squad – a job most IRA members ran a mile from – certainly gave him that opportunity.
It provided Scappaticci with unrivalled access to what the IRA high command were thinking and their war plans.
Mr Scappaticci left Northern Ireland when identified by the media as Stakeknife, in 2003
It also gave him access to the names of new IRA recruits on the pretext of vetting them, plus details of IRA operations on the pretext of debriefing IRA members released from police custody to establish whether they gave away too much to their interrogators.
That explains why military intelligence was so eager to recruit Scappaticci when, in September 1979, he graduated to the FRU from spying for the fraud squad.
He got an agent number – 6126 – and a codename. Stakeknife.
His luck ran out in January 1990 after police agent Sandy Lynch was rescued from the clutches of the nutting squad.
The police thought Lynch was about to be shot, Scappaticci having got him to confess. The ordinary CID who did not know Scappaticci was a spy found a thumb print in the house where Lynch had been held.
Scappaticci fled to Dublin. However, a senior police officer who was in the know advised the FRU to get Scappaticci to concoct an alibi for his thumbprint.
It worked. On his return to Belfast in the autumn of 1992, Scappaticci was arrested and then released without charge.
His handlers hoped he could return to spying. But by now the IRA were suspicious and removed him from the security unit.
With Scappaticci’s access to IRA secrets gone, the FRU formally stood him down as an agent in 1995.
How did he escape the same treatment at the hands of the IRA that he had helped mete out to others?
Probably because the sight of his body dumped on a roadside would have provoked a slew of questions about those IRA leaders who appointed him to protect the IRA from spies like him – and who also ignored warnings from their more sceptical comrades along the border that “Scap” was not to be trusted.
That did not stop the IRA in Belfast from putting Scap in his place.
After being sidelined, he agreed to help the staunchly republican Braniff family clear the name of a brother, Anthony, who was shot as a spy in 1981. He was eventually exonerated by the IRA.
But when Scappaticci spoke up for Anthony at a private meeting of republicans, to his embarrassment, the IRA’s most senior man in Belfast, Sean “Spike” Murray suddenly appeared and slapped him down.
When Scap was eventually outed as Stakeknife by a former FRU operative in 2003, he was spirited to England where MI5 told him the IRA knew he had been a spy.
He rejected MI5’s offer of protective custody, flew straight back to Belfast and sought a meeting with the IRA.
He gambled on not being shot because he calculated the IRA now had every reason to support a denial that he was a spy – even though he knew they didn’t believe him.
His gamble was based on the fact that the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein were now engaged in the peace process.
Scappaticci calculated that were the IRA to admit they’d long suspected he was a spy, it would undermine the official line that they’d fought the British to an honourable draw.
Any such admission would provoke the rank and file into questioning whether the IRA had been pushed into peace, paralysed by the penetration of agents like him.
His gamble paid off.
After meeting two of the most senior representatives of the IRA leadership, Martin “Duckster” Lynch and Padraic Wilson, I’m told Scappaticci and the IRA came to an understanding: Scappaticci would issue a firm denial which the IRA would not contest.
To this day, that’s been the IRA’s official position – even though, as they say in Belfast, the dogs in the street know it’s nonsense.
Once again, Agent 6126 had relied on his wits and native cunning.
Whether the 71-year-old Scappaticci now outwits the 50 detectives trawling over everything he did, what his handlers allowed him to do, and what the IRA leaders authorised him to do, is another question.
You might say he’s the spy who knows too much – because he knows the answers to all these questions.
By John Ware
Reporter, BBC Panorama
11 April 2017
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watch the documentary
Stakeknife: double agent in IRA ‘was given alibi by senior British officials’
April 25, 2017
Panorama documentary claims agent who leaked secrets to British army is
linked to 18 murders in 1980s and 90s
One of Britain’s most important agents inside the IRA has been linked to
18 murders and was provided with an alibi by a senior police officer to
avoid getting him arrested during the Troubles, it has emerged.
Army whistleblower to testify on IRA double agent Stakeknife
The Guardian can also reveal that the informer codenamed “Stakeknife”
reported directly to the late Martin McGuinness in the 1980s and 90s
when the man who would become Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister
was the IRA’s northern commander and army council member.
Stakeknife, whose real name is believed to be Freddie Scappaticci, was
the IRA’s chief spycatcher, briefing McGuinness, all the while betraying
some of the most important secrets to the British army.
Further light is shone on the career of Stakeknife in the BBC Panorama
documentary titled The Spy in the IRA to be broadcast on Tuesday night.
The programme focuses on Scappaticci’s role as head of the IRA’s
so-called “nutting squad”, whose task was to smoke out, interrogate and
in most cases kill members suspected of being informers.
Panorama claims to have linked Stakeknife directly to 18 murders of IRA
members accused of being agents, with Scappaticci’s unit responsible for
30 deaths overall.
In the film, a retired Royal Ulster Constabulary DI, Tim McGregor,
claims that a superior officer in the force thwarted his and his
colleagues’ efforts to arrest Scappaticci. McGregor and fellow RUC
officers wanted to question Scappaticci after a forensic investigation
found his thumbprint in a Belfast house where the police believed one of
their agents was about to be shot by the IRA.
The programme alleges that an army report stated a senior police officer
told Scappaticci’s handlers about the pending arrest and an alibi was
concocted by them to prevent Stakeknife being taken into custody.
McGregor tells Panorama that without that alibi Scappaticci would have
been arrested and charged in connection with the other informer’s
IRA informer accuses police of abandoning him to die
Northern Ireland’s director of public prosecutions, Barra McGrory, who
was once a solicitor for the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams,
described any move to “allow” certain informers to die in order to
promote and protect Stakeknife within IRA’s ranks as having “driven a
coach and horses” through the criminal justice system.
McGrory refused to comment on allegations aired in the programme over
the retirement of the deputy director of public prosecutions after
reviewing her decision in 2007 not to prosecute Scappaticci over claims
he committed perjury in court. The Belfast-born son of Italian
immigrants denied in court he was Stakeknife.
The then senior DPP lawyer, now deputy DPP, who made that decision was
Pamela Aitchison but her former boss McGrory tells the programme he
could not discuss “personnel issues”.
A former RUC assistant chief constable, Raymond White, also declines to
state how many of his agents or informers he lost while Scappaticci led
the IRA’s internal security unit.
Meanwhile, the whistleblower who first exposed the existence of
Stakeknife back in 2003 accused the agent’s associates of “turning a
blind eye” to the corruption of the criminal justice system.
Ian Hurst, a former military intelligence operative for the army’s Force
Research Unit, told the Guardian: “The political class created this and
other similar intelligence problems. That said, they needed and relied
upon weak-minded or selfish people in sensitive positions to facilitate
“The aim of the state cover-up was to degrade the available evidence and
make it almost impossible to portion blame upon culpable individuals.
The state succeeded on both points,” he said.
‘Stakeknife’: police spy in IRA to be investigated over murders
The “Stakeknife” scandal is being investigated by an independent police
team led by former counter-terrorism detective John Boutcher, now chief
constable of Bedfordshire. Boutcher’s Operation Kenova has a budget of
£30m but has so far been unable to interview Ian Hurst, the man who
first made public the existence of Stakeknife.
A Ministry of Defence court injunction still bars Hurst from talking to
police officers about his knowledge of Stakeknife from his time as a FRU
Another military intelligence officer who operated in the region when
Stakeknife was being managed as a high-grade agent, compared the IRA
relationship between Scappaticci and McGuinness respectively to that of
the “operation manager” and the “managing director” in terms of deciding
on the approach to suspected spies and their fate once unmasked.
Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
Tuesday 11 April 2017 06.02 BST
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Copyright The Guardian
Undercover soldiers ‘killed unarmed civilians in Belfast’
November 22, 2013
Soldiers from an undercover unit used by the British army in Northern Ireland killed unarmed civilians, former members have told BBC One’s Panorama.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the ex-members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which was disbanded in 1973, said they had been tasked with “hunting down” IRA members in Belfast.
The former soldiers said they believed the unit had saved many lives.
The Ministry of Defence said it had referred the disclosures to police.
The details have emerged a day after Northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin, suggested ending any prosecutions over Troubles-related killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The soldiers appeared on Panorama on condition their identities were disguised
The proposal has been criticised by groups representing relatives of victims.
Panorama has been told the MRF consisted of about 40 men handpicked from across the British army.
Before it was disbanded 40 years ago, after 18 months, plain-clothes soldiers carried out round-the-clock patrols of west Belfast – the heartland of the IRA – in unmarked cars.
Three former members of the unit, who agreed to be interviewed on condition their identities were disguised, said they had posed as Belfast City Council road sweepers, dustmen and even “meths drinkers”, carrying out surveillance from street gutters.
But surveillance was just one part of their work.
One of the soldiers said they had also fired on suspected IRA members.
He described their mission as “to draw out the IRA and to minimise their activities… if they needed shooting, they’d be shot”.
Continue reading the main story
Reporter, BBC Panorama
For 15 years, Northern Ireland has been divided about how to deal with the legacy of three decades of conflict.
The compromise has been the establishment of the Historical Enquiries Team, a group of former detectives, who are reviewing all deaths in Northern Ireland during the conflict, primarily to answer questions from their relatives.
But now the Northern Ireland attorney general has reignited the vexed issue of whether truth recovery through a virtual amnesty is preferable to prosecution.
John Larkin has called for an end to all prosecutions and inquiries in relation to Troubles-related killings.
The disclosures by Panorama are bound to add to this debate.
The closest former MRF soldiers have previously come to breaking cover is as the pseudonymous authors of two semi-fictionalised paperbacks, one of whom has referred to the MRF as a “legalised death squad”.
The factual account of the MRF may not be quite as colourful. Nonetheless, the evidence gleaned from seven former members, declassified files and witnesses, does point to a central truth – that MRF tactics did sometimes mirror the IRA’s.
‘Targets taken down’
Another former member of the unit said: “We never wore uniform – very few people knew what rank anyone was anyway.
“We were hunting down hardcore baby-killers, terrorists, people that would kill you without even thinking about it.”
A third former MRF soldier said: “If you had a player who was a well-known shooter who carried out quite a lot of assassinations… then he had to be taken out.
“[They were] killers themselves, and they had no mercy for anybody.”
In 1972 there were more than 10,600 shootings in Northern Ireland. It is not possible to say how many the unit was involved in.
The MRF’s operational records have been destroyed and its former members refused to incriminate themselves or their comrades in specific incidents when interviewed by Panorama.
But they admitted shooting and killing unarmed civilians.
When asked if on occasion the MRF would make an assumption that someone had a weapon, even if they could not see one, one of the former soldiers replied “occasionally”.
“We didn’t go around town blasting, shooting all over the place like you see on the TV, we were going down there and finding, looking for our targets, finding them and taking them down,” he said.
Patricia McVeigh says her father Patrick was shot in the back as he stopped to talk to men at a checkpoint
“We may not have seen a weapon, but there more than likely would have been weapons there in a vigilante patrol.”
Panorama has identified 10 unarmed civilians shot, according to witnesses, by the MRF:
Brothers John and Gerry Conway, on the way to their fruit stall in Belfast city centre on 15 April 1972
Aiden McAloon and Eugene Devlin, in a taxi taking them home from a disco on 12 May 1972
Joe Smith, Hugh Kenny, Patrick Murray and Tommy Shaw, on Glen Road on 22 June 1972
Daniel Rooney and Brendan Brennan, on the Falls Road on 27 September 1972
Patricia McVeigh told the BBC she believed her father, Patrick McVeigh, had been shot in the back and killed by plain clothes soldiers on 12 May 1972 and said she wanted justice for him.
“He was an innocent man, he had every right to be on the street walking home. He didn’t deserve to die like this,” she said.
Her solicitor Padraig O’Muirigh said he was considering civil action against the Ministry of Defence in light of Panorama’s revelations.
The MoD refused to say whether soldiers involved in specific shootings had been members of the MRF.
Continue reading the main story
Troubles in Northern Ireland
The conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century is known as the Troubles.
More than 3,600 people were killed and thousands more injured.
During a period of 30 years, many acts of violence were carried out by paramilitaries and the security forces.
Read more about the Troubles
It said it had referred allegations that MRF soldiers shot unarmed men to police in Northern Ireland.
But the members of the MRF who Panorama interviewed said their actions had ultimately helped bring about the IRA’s decision to lay down arms.
Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the British army, and a young paratrooper captain in 1972, said he had known little of the unit’s activities at the time, but admired the bravery of soldiers involved in undercover work.
He said: “That takes a lot of courage and it’s a cold courage. It’s not the courage of hot blood [used by] soldiers in a firefight.
“You know if you are discovered, a pretty gruesome fate may well await you – torture followed by murder.”
The IRA planted nearly 1,800 bombs – an average of five a day – in 1972
Col Richard Kemp, who carried out 10 tours of Northern Ireland between 1979 and 2001, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme charges could be brought if there was new evidence unarmed civilians had been killed.
But he added: “Soldiers often speak with bravado and I wonder how many of those soldiers are saying that they themselves shot and killed unarmed civilians.”
Panorama has learnt a Ministry of Defence review concluded the MRF had “no provision for detailed command and control”.
Forty years later and families and victims are still looking for answers as to who carried out shootings.
Former detectives are reviewing all of the deaths in Northern Ireland during the conflict as part of the Historical Enquiries Team set up following the peace process.
Around 11% of the 3,260 deaths being reviewed were the responsibility of the state.
21 November 2013 Last updated at 05:50 ET
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BBC © 2013
Undercover Northern Ireland soldiers accused of killing unarmed civilians
November 22, 2013
Former members of Military Reaction Force admit on BBC Panorama they did not always follow guidelines on lethal force
Claims that members of an undercover army unit shot unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland during the 1970s have been referred to the police, according to the Ministry of Defence.
The allegations against the Military Reaction Force (MRF) are contained in a BBC Panorama programme, Britain’s Secret Terror Force, to be broadcast on Thursday evening.
Seven former members of the plain-clothes detachment – which carried out surveillance and, allegedly, unprovoked attacks – have spoken to the programme. The existence of the MRF is well known but its unorthodox methods and the scope of its activities have been the source of continuing speculation.
The soldiers in the Panorama report are not identified. One said that surveillance had been the MRF’s main purpose, but that it also had a “hard-hitting anti-terrorist” role. “We were not there to act like an army unit,” he explained. “We were there to act like a terror group. We had our own rules, but I don’t recall being involved in the shooting of an innocent person.”
Their weaponry was not always standard issue. On one occasion, the programme reports, a Thompson sub-machine gun was used. The men drove Hillmans and Ford Cortinas with microphones built into the sun visors; some were cars that had been stolen and recovered.
The year 1972 was the most violent of the Troubles: 497 people were killed including 134 were soldiers.
All seven former MRF soldiers told the programme that they sometimes acted in contravention of the “yellow card” – the strict rules that spelled out the circumstances under which soldiers could open fire. Lethal force was generally only lawful when the lives of security forces or others were in immediate danger.
One soldier explained: “If you had a player who was a well-known shooter who carried out quite a lot of assassinations …it would have been very simple – he had to be taken out.” All the soldiers, however, denied that they were part of a “death” or “assassination squad”.
Two fatal shootings have been linked to the MRF. On the night of 12 May 1972, an MRF patrol shot dead Patrick McVeigh, a father of six children and a member of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Club whose members had been manning barricades in Belfast.
The soldiers involved made statements to the Royal Military Police saying they had been shot at and returned fire. However, the programme, made by the production company twenty2vision for Panorama, says there is no evidence that McVeigh or anyone beside him were members of the IRA. Those hit tested negative when swabbed by the police for firearms deposits, the programme says.
In September that year, another MRF patrol, the BBC programme says, shot dead 18-year-old Daniel Rooney in West Belfast. An MRF sergeant was acquitted of attempted murder following a trial in 1973. After 18 months’ duty, the MRF was dissolved in late 1972 following army concerns about the adequacy of its command and control structures.
An MoD spokesperson told the Guardian: “This is a matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team (PSNI HET), who are examining all deaths that occurred during Operation Banner; the Ministry of Defence has co-operated fully with their inquiries.
“The UK has strict rules of engagement which are in accordance with UK law and international humanitarian law. This applied to operations in Northern Ireland. Soldiers were at all times subject to the general criminal law on the use of force, which was made clear to them in training and before operations.”
The PSNI said it would wait to see the programme. A spokesman added: “It would be inappropriate to comment at this point.”
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 06.12 GMT
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Spy warned of Omagh bomb weeks before blast
August 30, 2013
A SECRET email reveals that intelligence chiefs were told that Omagh was a prime target for a terrorist attack – weeks before the Real IRA bomb that devastated the town.
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The communique from FBI spy David Rupert warned that dissident republicans were in the final stages of planning a major attack, and identified Omagh as a likely target.
The confidential memo now forms a key part of a report commissioned by victims’ families who are campaigning for a full public inquiry into the atrocity. Relatives claim the dossier proves that authorities failed to share vital intelligence, which they say could have prevented the bombing.
Although the report was presented to the British and Irish governments more than a year ago, the families have not been told if an inquiry will be held.
The victims’ relatives said they would go to court if their calls are rejected. It is understood that legal action could begin within weeks.
Michael Gallagher (pictured), who lost his son Aidan in the 1998 massacre, said the lack of answers from the governments was prolonging the families’ agony. The families were particularly critical of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice in Dublin said Mr Shatter is still considering the report, presented to him by the group in July 2012.
The report draws on 4,000 emails from Mr Rupert, an American informant who infiltrated the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, and his MI5 handler. The huge tranche of emails are understood to provide detail on potential planning, locations and personnel for an attack in the weeks leading up to August 1998.
One of the emails identifies Omagh as being one of two likely targets. The note is marked secret and dated April 11, 1998 – four months before the bombing – and was sent by Mr Rupert to his handlers.
“Derry or Omagh would be 2 suspect viable targets,” it states.
Speaking in Omagh yesterday, Mr Gallagher said he was startled by the correspondence.
“We feel there was an enormous amount of intelligence available – that intelligence was not used properly. As a result of that we have had no convictions,” he said. He said that if a decision wasn’t made, or their calls were rejected, the families would launch legal action.
Adrian Rutherford – 09 August 2013
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Dark secrets Omagh bomb suspect Seamus McKenna took to the grave Lonely, chronic alcoholic who died penniless felt he was betrayed by Real IRA
August 30, 2013
In death, Seamus McKenna is an unlikely hero, a man who, according to the dissident Republican Network for Unity, had nobly spent his life “confronting partition and British rule in Ireland” and a man worthy of a paramilitary funeral this month.
In reality, his life was, by McKenna’s own admission, “a largely unhappy existence”. Not only was he very strongly suspected of driving the car bomb into Omagh that led to the deaths of 29 people and two unborn children in 1998, he was also a chronic alcoholic and a lonely, isolated man incapable of holding down work for more than a few weeks at a time.
I got to know him very well over the last two years. As an attorney in New York, I had discussed with some wealthy Irish-Americans the possibility of McKenna giving evidence against one of the accused in the Omagh case – the last-gasp attempt to finally win some convictions in the worst atrocity of the Troubles.
I first tracked him down to Simon Community-supported housing in Dundalk, where he had been living after splitting with his wife Catherine. I left a note under his door and he called me several hours later. In the window, I could see a pair of pants and a crinkled shirt drying in the living room and an empty can of beans and an unwashed plate on the table. Several of the men in nearby accommodation were long-term alcoholics who, like McKenna, would be homeless without subsidised housing.
I met him the next day, New Year’s Day 2011, at a Chinese restaurant in Dundalk.
He was wearing the khaki pants and chequered shirt that had been hanging in his living room and was wearing a smart pair of glasses. He looked nothing like his post-Omagh mugshot, when he was dragged into a police station still dressed in a building site woolly jumper and with unkempt, hopelessly outdated Seventies-style sideburns.
Over a meal, McKenna asked me why I had come all the way from America to see him. I said that I and many other people would be willing to help him out if he was willing to give evidence.
“About what?” “About events 13 years ago,” I said. “Events 13 years ago” needed no further explanation. “Ah … no, I don’t think I could do that,” he said, but added that he was willing to listen.
He was so nervous about any mention of the word “Omagh” that his hand would jitter and he would stumble to take a swig of his drink, so we used alternative phrases like “the thing that happened” or, as he preferred, “the civil action”. (He was the only one not found liable in a civil action taken by victims’ families against five of the bombers – the others included McKenna’s building company boss Colm Murphy and his workmate Seamus Daly.)
He told me that, as a result of the bombing, he had been barred, at least temporarily, from many of the pubs in Dundalk. “But not this one,” he said with pride, referring to the pub to which we had walked after our meal, as he ordered yet another pint of the Dutch lager he loved because, so he claimed, it gave a less severe hangover than Harp.
When he drank, he would open his mouth fully to meet the pint glass and take in a giant mouthful between his lips. If too much went in, he would blow some back into the glass before wiping his mouth and look at me through bleary, worn eyes.
He said that he could not give evidence on Omagh because it had taken him so long to rebuild a relationship with his family. I asked if his concern was security for his family or loss of esteem in their eyes.
“Loss of esteem,” he said bluntly. “I would give everything I have to bring my father back to life, I don’t want to lose my son.”
Although largely isolated, he found company in animals. His neighbour said McKenna left out bread for the wild birds in the winter and took great satisfaction in watching them eat it. “Sure who else would feed them?” McKenna said to me once.
Just when I was starting to enjoy his conversation, the depravity of Omagh would come back to mind. He had a habit of sitting sideways as he drank, and as he lifted his pint, it occurred to me that the hand in front of me is the one that allegedly changed the gears in a stolen Vauxhall that exploded in Omagh, killing the son of my friend Michael Gallagher, destroying three generations of the Grimes family, leaving Liz Gibson without a sister and permanently blinding Claire Gallagher, a talented young pianist.
“What do you think of the Omagh bombing?” I once asked in a pub in Dundalk in May 2011. “Do you think, like Padraig Pearse, that the blood of the people has to flow or do you think it was an atrocity?”
“I think it was a terrible thing,” he said. “But having said that, I would like to see British soldiers shot dead and I’d like to be the one pulling the trigger.”
“To what end?” I asked. “What better society can be created by killing more soldiers?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but like I say, I’d like to be the one pulling the trigger.”
So much of his limited self-esteem was caught up in the republican cause that it was impossible for him to let go, and after a split in the Continuity IRA, he sided with the more militant Oglaigh na hEireann.
He wasn’t a boaster or a hard man like some IRA members, but he enjoyed a certain menace. “If you had approached me like this 10 years ago, you’d have been shot,” he told me over and over until I told him to shut up and deal with the present reality of his life.
When he was drinking, he made clumsy, pathetic moves on women. At closing time one night, the barmaid opened the door to let us out. “Ah, pet you’re great,” said McKenna, giving her a huge hug and refusing to let go, while pushing his body as close as possible to hers. She looked over her shoulder and grimaced at me. I told him we had to go. “Good girl,” said McKenna. “Good girl,” repeating it until I gripped his arm. “Jesus, great knockers,” he said to me as explanation for this excruciating scene.
The next morning, instead of joining my girlfriend and me at a local cafe for breakfast, he was already in the pub.
“Ye carry on, come over to the pub after,” he said. When we got there at 11am, he was already drunk, and leering all over my girlfriend, breaking off conversation with me to stare at her buttocks when she went up to the bar. He then asked her to come to his house to see “my wee dog. You’d like him. Come to my house any time,” he said, while wiping lager from his lips.
Despite the international outrage over Omagh, he soon got over his six-month-long self-pitying bender and was back building car bombs. In 2003, he was caught red-handed with some of the other suspects building a 1,000lb car bomb – twice the size of the Omagh bomb.
He found himself in Portlaoise jail with his old boss, Colm Murphy, who was in on unrelated charges and whom he found “quiet and very withdrawn, a bit odd really”.
Although he liked Murphy, he had nothing but disdain for Liam Campbell, the officer commanding of the Real IRA and the man who allegedly made the last of the vague warning calls on the day of the Omagh bombing. Campbell blamed McKenna for giving unclear details of the car’s locations to the rest of the bomb team. I asked McKenna directly why he didn’t like Campbell. “Why do you think?” he said bluntly.
Most upsetting for McKenna, and the other disaffected foot soldiers of the dissident terror groups, was the Criminal Assets Bureau investigation into Campbell, which revealed that he had more than €800,000 in the bank, a network of other payments to close associates, and at least five properties. (Not to mention 96 magnums of champagne found in his cow shed.)
“And we had nothing,” said McKenna. He said that he and now deceased Omagh suspect, Kevin ‘Kiddo’ Murray, and even Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, realised too late that Campbell was using the Provisional IRA, and then the Real IRA, to disrupt security services along the border while he creamed off vast profits from smuggling. Their phoney war, which led to the deaths of so many innocent people, had been a giant scam.
McKenna admitted it one night, when he was preparing to walk to his sad little apartment. He could not afford a taxi and could only stagger home. “Campbell did us all in,” he said through sad eyes. “And we have nothing left. Nothing at all.”
By Sean O’Driscoll – 29 July 2013
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Intelligence on Omagh bomb ‘withheld from police’
August 30, 2013
Security forces had two agents in the Real IRA but did not share that information with Northern Ireland officers, report claims
The Omagh Support and Self Help Group report focuses on the role of two state agents who infiltrated the Real IRA. Photograph: Mike Mahoney/Reuters
MI5, the FBI and Garda special branch “starved” police in Northern Ireland of vital intelligence that could have prevented the Real IRA bomb that killed 29 people at Omagh in 1998, a damning new report on the atrocity concludes.
The investigation, commissioned by families of the Omagh victims, will show evidence that they claim proves that information from two key informers inside the Real IRA – one in the United States, the other in the Irish Republic – was not passed on to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The Omagh bomb was the single biggest atrocity of the Northern Ireland Troubles. No one has been convicted in a criminal court in connection with the bombing in the County Tyrone market town.
Ahead of the publication of the report in Omagh, the father of Aidan Gallagher, a young man killed in the blast, said access to new intelligence files proved that the FBI, the security services and the Garda’s crime and security branch (the Republic of Ireland’s main anti-terrorist unit) all withheld vital information.
Michael Gallagher, who has campaigned since the atrocity for a cross-border public inquiry, said: “All good policing is based on intelligence, especially prior intelligence before any criminal act is committed. In the case of the events running up to the Omagh bomb, it is now clear that the police in the north were starved of information. The security forces in America, Britain and the Republic had two key agents inside the Real IRA but did not share the information they were providing to the police in Northern Ireland.”
The Omagh Support and Self Help Group also demanded an inquiry into the explosion.
“There has been no full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Omagh bomb. The inquest did not inquire into the intelligence, the criminal prosecutions did not lead to any convictions, and the civil action did not deal with the issue of preventability. The police investigation has been heavily criticised and the report highlights such concerns that the states [UK and Ireland] must now establish a full cross-border public inquiry,” a spokesperson for the group said, adding that failure to do so would be a failure to comply with obligations under article 2(1) and article 3 of the European convention on human rights.
“This report is compiled from a significant amount of information some of a sensitive nature which has come into the possession of the families,” the spokesperson said.
The report, compiled by London law firm SBP, aided by several retired security experts, focuses on the role of two state agents who infiltrated the Real IRA. They were David Rupert, an American who was run by the FBI, and Paddy Dixon, a convicted criminal who procured cars in the Irish Republic for the Real IRA for transporting car bombs into Northern Ireland throughout 1998.
Rupert arrived in Ireland in the mid 1990s and offered his services first to the Continuity IRA and later the Real IRA. The 6ft 5in, 20-stone bankrupt businessman with links to Irish Americans had been targeted by the FBI as a potential agent.
By the summer of 1997, Rupert became involved with British intelligence. An FBI agent took him to a hotel in central London, where he was introduced to an MI5 officer who called himself Norman.
Norman advised Rupert not to pass all his information to the Gardai and provided him with a PO box address and a secret contact phone number.
MI5 urged him to offer intelligence to the Continuity IRA about British army and police bases in Northern Ireland. Posing as American tourists awe-struck by the security installations, Rupert and his wife would stop at border crossing points such as Aughnacloy and take pictures and videos of themselves. According to the Omagh Self Help and Support group new intelligence files indicate Rupert was also aiding the Real IRA, including sending bomb component parts from America. It was Rupert’s testimony that helped convict the Real IRA founder Mickey McKevitt of organising acts of terrorism in 2003.
Dixon provided intelligence to a Garda handler on the Real IRA throughout 1998. He had a long-standing connection with a republican in south Co Dublin known as the Long Fellow. His handler suggested – under orders from senior Garda command – that his old agent reactivate his relationship with the Long Fellow, who owned a breaker’s yard in south Dublin where Dixon’s stolen cars were replaced and huge explosive devices were secreted inside the vehicles.
Over the next seven months Dixon would give the Garda vital insight into the Real IRA terror machine. Between February and August 1998 Dixon gave the Irish police force inside information on at least nine separate Real IRA attacks culminating in the bomb at Omagh.
The Omagh families claim the “starving of intelligence” coming from Rupert and Dixon was designed to bolster the pair’s credibility in the Real IRA’s eyes. However, the Omagh campaigners claim the new report will show that this was a lethal error of judgment in relation to the terror group’s final and most catastrophic attack in 1998.
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 8 August 2013
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MI5 allegedly applies for secret court session after informant sues for being denied protection
May 10, 2013
Former IRA mole accuses Home Office of cover-up and claims he was denied medical treatment after being shot by IRA hit team
MI5 has allegedly applied for a controversial secret court hearing after being sued by a former IRA mole who claims he has been denied medical treatment after being shot in a reprisal attack.
Martin McGartland, originally from west Belfast, has been credited with saving the lives of 50 police officers and soldiers in Northern Ireland as a spy within the IRA providing intelligence to the special branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
He is suing MI5 and the Home Office for failing to support him after he was attacked and repeatedly shot by an IRA hit team who tracked him to a safe house in North Tyneside in 1999.
Mr McGartland has told The Independent that solicitors acting for the Home Office, the government department responsible for the Security Service, have applied to have the matter dealt with by a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) hearing.
At CMPs, due to come into force shortly with the introduction of the Justice and Security Act 2013, claimants must be represented before the judge by special advocates who have been cleared for security. Such a hearing would mean that neither Mr McGartland or his lawyers were able to attend.
Labour, which says CMPs deviate from the “tradition of open and fair justice”, has called for the use of such closed proceedings to be limited unless a judge agrees a fair verdict cannot be reached by any other means.
The Law Society president, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, has also raised objections to CMPs on the grounds that they undermine the essential principle of justice that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all the evidence placed before the court.
CMPs are seen by the Government as a way of bringing before a judge information which, for security reasons, cannot be revealed in open court.
Mr McGartland said that funding for treatment he was receiving for the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered after the assassination attempt had been stopped. He claimed the secret hearing was designed to cover up the Home Office’s failure to meet its duty of care, rather than to protect genuine state secrets.
“This is being done despite my legal case against them being related to their removing funding for my medical treatment, which they were funding after my 1999 shooting,” he told The Independent. “They removed the medical funding even after they were supplied two medical reports stating that I required a further three to five years of treatment. That resulted in a serious deterioration in my condition and it also led to my now requiring round-the-clock care, help and support. In other words MI5 are going to use CMP solely to cover up their own embarrassment and wrongdoing and not, as the Government has been claiming, in cases that relate to ‘National Security’.”
Monday, 6 May 2013
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Bloody Sunday murder inquiry planned
December 27, 2012
Police to launch criminal investigation into deaths of 14 people after British paratroopers opened fire on crowd, in 1972
British troops behind a wire barricade in Derry, on Bloody Sunday, when 13 people were killed at a protest march, in 1972. Photograph: Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images
A murder inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry is to begin in the new year.
Senior commanders from the Police Service of Northern Ireland on Thursday briefed relatives of the 14 people who died after British paratroopers opened fire on demonstrators in the city, in 1972.
Earlier this year, police signalled an intent to investigate the incident after they and prosecutors reviewed the findings of the Saville public inquiry into the controversial shootings. Until now it had been unclear when such an investigation would start.
After the 12-year inquiry, Lord Saville found that the killings were unjustified and none of the dead posed a threat when they were shot.
That contradicted the long-standing official version of events, outlined in the contentious 1972 Widgery report, which had exonerated soldiers of any blame.
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 20 December 2012 17.31 GMT
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British agents ‘facilitated the murder’ of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane during the Troubles
December 16, 2012
David Cameron deeply sorry for ‘shocking’ state collusion
They went to London in hope more than expectation. The family of Pat Finucane never supported this review of evidence by a “lawyer with strong links to the Conservative Party”, demanding instead the public inquiry they were initially promised by Tony Blair.
They leave with the personal apology of a Prime Minister for the “collusion” of British agents in Pat’s murder. But not, they say, the truth.
Mr Finucane’s wife Geraldine was in the House of Commons chamber to hear David Cameron say he was “deeply sorry” after the findings of the Da Silva report were made public today. But, ultimately, she was there to hear him refuse the public inquiry she believes her family needs and deserves.
“This report is a sham. This report is a whitewash. This report is a confidence trick dressed up as independent scrutiny and given invisible clothes of reliability. Most of all, most hurtful and insulting of all, this report is not the truth,” she told reporters afterwards.
She said the family wanted to be in the Commons to hear the words from Mr Cameron’s own lips. “We could have watched it on a television screen at home but we felt that was important. We felt that, after all this time, we needed to be there,” she told the Independent.
The sombre mood in the chamber this afternoon matched the occasion: a British government denied any “over-arching state conspiracy” but admitted to the collusion of agents of the state in the murder. “It was measured, rather than being raucous. [The Commons] can often come across very rowdy on television but this was not the occasion for that,” said Mrs Finucane.
Appearing before reporters dressed all in red, she said this latest report into her husband’s murder at the hands of Loyalist paramilitaries in 1989 was the result of a “process in which we have had no input; we have seen no documents nor heard any witnesses”. In short, she said, the family has had no opportunity to see the evidence for themselves.
“We are expected to take the word of the man appointed by the British government,” she said.
Flanked by her sons Michael and John and her brother-in-law Martin Finucane, she added: “Despite all these misgivings, we have tried our best to keep an open mind until we have read and considered the final report. We came to London with the faint hope that, for once, we would be proved wrong. I regret to say that, once again, we have been proved right.
“At every turn, it is clear that this report has done exactly what was required: to give the benefit of the doubt to the state, its cabinet and ministers, to the Army, to the intelligence services, to itself.
“At every turn, dead witnesses have been blamed and defunct agencies found wanting. Serving personnel and active state departments appear to have been excused. The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others.
Michael Finucane, dressed – like his brother and his uncle – in a dark suit and tie, said that the public inquiry the family seeks has been promised to them by Ed Miliband, if he becomes Prime Minister. The refusal to grant one by successive governments, he said, was because the British state “has the most to hide”.
He said he accepted the use of the word ‘collusion’ in the report, as opposed to the stronger accusation of conspiracy because the former more accurately encapsulated “not just the deliberate acts of people who decide to do something, but also a culture that encourages and fosters them”.
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Find this story at 12 December 2012
David Cameron admits ‘shocking levels of collusion’ in Pat Finucane murder
December 16, 2012
Prime minister apologises to Finucane’s family after report reveals special branch repeatedly failed to warn lawyer of threat
The prime minister’s frankest admission yet that the state colluded in the 1989 murder of the Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane has failed to quell demands from his family, human rights organisations and the Irish government for a full public inquiry.
Fresh revelations on Wednesday – about special branch’s repeated failure to warn Finucane that his life was under threat, the RUC’s “obstruction” of justice, and MI5’s “propaganda initiatives” that identified the lawyer with republican paramilitaries who were his clients – only reinforced calls for a more thorough investigation.
David Cameron’s apology to Finucane’s family in the Commons followed publication of a scathing report by the former war crimes lawyer Sir Desmond de Silva QC that cleared ministers but blamed “agents of the state” for the killing. The prime minister acknowledged there had been “shocking levels of collusion” in what was one of the most controversial killings of the Troubles.
The extent of the co-operation between the security forces and Finucane’s loyalist killers was unacceptable, Cameron added. “On the balance of probability,” he admitted, an officer or officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary did propose Finucane as a target to loyalist terrorists.
The report made for extremely difficult reading, Cameron said. “I am deeply sorry,” he told the Finucane family, who were in the Commons gallery to hear his statement. He said he “respectfully disagreed” with the demand for a full, independent public inquiry, citing the cost of the Bloody Sunday tribunal as one reason.
Cameron, however, tried to divert blame away from the Tory former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg over comments he made before the murder in which Hogg said some solicitors in Northern Ireland were unduly sympathetic to the IRA.
The Ulster Defence Association was responsible for shooting Finucane dead in front of his family at their north Belfast home in February 1989, but de Silva said state employees “furthered and facilitated” the murder of the 38-year-old father-of-three.
The family and human rights campaigners have insisted over the past 23 years that there was collaboration between the UDA in west and north Belfast and members of the security forces.
In his report, de Silva concluded: “My review of the evidence relating to Patrick Finucane’s case has left me in no doubt that agents of the state were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder.
“However, despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the state, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an overarching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane.”
Dismissing the report and Cameron’s statement as a “confidence trick” and a sham, Finucane’s widow Geraldine said: “At every turn, dead witnesses have been blamed and defunct agencies found wanting. Serving personnel and active state departments appear to have been excused. The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others.”
She demanded that the government order a public inquiry so witnesses can be cross-examined and account for their actions. Her calls were echoed by the Irish government and human rights groups. The Irish premier, Enda Kenny, said he supported the Finucanes’ campaign. He said: “I spoke with prime minister Cameron … before his statement to the House of Commons, and repeated these points to him once again. I have also spoken today with Geraldine Finucane and I know that the family are not satisfied with [the] outcome.”
Micheal Martin, the current Fianna Fáil leader, who was Ireland’s foreign minister during a critical time of the peace process, said the UK government was still obliged under an international agreement to set up a public inquiry into the murder.
He said the UK government under Tony Blair had committed itself to such an inquiry.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s director in Northern Ireland, said: “The Finucanes, and indeed the public, have been fobbed off with a ‘review of the paper work’ – which reneges on repeated commitments by the British government and falls short of the UK’s obligations under international law.”
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president and Irish deputy, said: “The information provided by Desmond de Silva is a damning indictment of British state collusion in the murder of citizens. It reveals some of the extent to which this existed. It does not diminish the need for a public inquiry. On the contrary, it makes such an inquiry more necessary than ever.”
The SDLP MP Mark Durkan questioned the idea in the report that there was no overall, structured policy of collusion. He said: “Between special branch, FRU and secret services we had a culture of anything goes but nobody knows. And as far as Desmond de Silva is concerned now we still have to accept that nobody knows!”
Henry McDonald and Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, Wednesday 12 December 2012 21.17 GMT
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© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
UDA: Murdered chief was spy
October 19, 2012
Murdered loyalist Alan McCullough was a military intelligence spy who double-crossed both factions of a feuding terror organisation, his killers claimed.
As detectives continued to question a man about the murder, the Ulster Defence Association also accused McCullough of being heavily involved in four assassinations.
The paramilitary grouping provoked a wave of revulsion for killing McCullough, a former ally of ousted loyalist Johnny Adair, after apparently agreeing to lift a death sentence against him.
The 21-year-old fled to England after the UDA drove supporters of Adair’s ruthless C Company unit out of Northern Ireland at the height of the internecine war.
But in a statement issued the UDA claimed it wanted to set the record straight “once and for all”.
It said: “Alan McCullough was an MI5 agent who “Judased” both the UDA and his murdering mates in C Company who were exiled from Northern Ireland.
“McCullough was military commander of the notorious, now defunct, C Company who gave the orders for four murders, numerous gun and bomb attacks and death threats throughout Northern Ireland.”
A brutal power-struggle between Adair and his rival UDA commanders saw four men shot dead either side of the New Year.
Among those killed were the organisation’s hardline South-East Antrim brigadier John “Grug” Gregg and his associate Robert Carson near Belfast docks.
Find this story at 15 October 2012
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Northern Ireland loyalist shootings: one night of carnage, 18 years of silence
October 19, 2012
In 1994 six men were shot dead in a bar at Loughinisland – but no one was charged. Ian Cobain follows the supply of arms used in the massacre and investigates allegations of state collusion
Aidan O’Toole, a survivor of the Loyalist attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994, and Emma Rogan, daughter of one of the six dead, in the room as it is today. Photograph: Paul McErlane for the Guardian
Shortly after 10pm on 18 June 1994, Ireland were 1-0 up against Italy in the opening match of the 1994 World Cup. at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The second half had just kicked off, and inside the Heights Bar at Loughinisland, 21 miles south of Belfast, all eyes were on the television. The bar is tiny: there were 15 men inside, and it was packed.
Aidan O’Toole, the owner’s 23-year-old son, was serving. “I heard the door open and then I just heard crack, crack, crack and felt a stabbing pain inside me,” he recalls. “I just ran. It was instinctive. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew I had to get away.”
Others inside the bar turned when the door opened and saw two men in boiler suits, their faces hidden by balaclavas. One of the intruders dropped to one knee and fired three bursts from an automatic rifle. Barney Green was sitting with his back to the door, close enough for the gunmen to reach out and tap his shoulder had they wished. He took the first blast, with around nine rounds passing through him before striking other men. Green, a retired farmer, was 87.
Green’s nephew, Dan McCreanor, 59, another farmer, died alongside him. A second burst killed Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, who was at the bar, and Adrian Rogan, 34, who was trying to escape to the lavatory. A third burst aimed at a table to the right of the door missed Willie O’Hare but killed his son-in-law, Eamon Byrne, 39. O’Hare’s son Patsy, 35, was also shot and died en route to hospital. Five men were injured: one, who lost part of a foot, would spend nine months in hospital.
O’Toole returned to the bar from a back room after hearing the killers’ car screech away. A bullet was lodged in his left kidney and a haze of gun smoke filled the room. But he could see clearly enough. “There were bodies piled on top of each other. It was like a dream; a nightmare.”
Most of the victims had been hit several times. Thirty rounds were fired, and some had passed through one man, ricocheted around the tiny room, then struck a second. Adrian Rogan’s father pushed his way into the bar and whispered a short prayer in his son’s ear, knowing he was not going to survive.
Loughinisland had been scarcely touched by the Troubles. A village of 600 or so people, where Catholics and Protestants had lived side by side for generations, none of its sons or daughters had been killed or hurt before, and none had been accused of terrorist offences. It is not a republican area – many of its Catholic inhabitants were so uninterested in politics that they did not vote even for the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) – and Protestants often drank at the Heights. Only by chance were no Protestants killed or wounded that night.
Ninety minutes after the attack, a loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), telephoned a radio station to claim responsibility.
Despite years of death and destruction in Northern Ireland, people around the world were shocked by the slaughter at the Heights. The Queen, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton sent messages of sympathy. Local Protestant families visited their injured and traumatised neighbours in hospital, expressing shock and disgust.
The police told the victims’ families they would leave no stone unturned in their efforts to catch the killers and bring them to justice.
The morning after the killings, the gunmen’s getaway car, a red Triumph Acclaim, was found abandoned in a field seven miles from Loughinisland. The farmer who spotted it called the police at 10.04am. The recovery of such a vehicle was quite rare during the Troubles – paramilitaries often torched them to destroy forensic evidence – and police were soon at the scene to take possession. There was no forensic examination of the area around the car, however.
A few weeks later, workmen found a holdall under a bridge a couple of miles from where the car had been found. Inside were three boiler suits, three balaclavas, three pairs of surgical gloves, three handguns, ammunition and a magazine. Not far from the bridge, police found a Czech-made VZ-58 assault rifle, which scientists confirmed was the weapon used to kill the men at the Heights.
The same weapon had been used the previous October in a UVF attack on a van carrying Catholic painters to work at Shorts aircraft and missile factory in Belfast, in which one man died and five others were wounded.
In the months that followed the Loughinisland shootings, nine people were arrested and questioned. All nine were released without charge. A 10th was arrested and released the following year, and two more suspects were arrested for questioning a year after that, all released without charge. The police repeatedly assured the families that no stone would be left unturned.
Emma Rogan was eight years old when her father, Adrian, was killed at the Heights. “I was told that these bad men came into the bar, and that my daddy was dead. I didn’t really know what they meant.”
As she grew up, she had no reason to doubt the police when they said they were doing everything in their power to catch the killers. “We didn’t question the police: that’s what this area is like. If they said they would leave no stone unturned, you took that at face value.”
By the time the 10th anniversary of the killings came around, Rogan was anxious to learn more about her father’s death, and hear of any progress the police had made. A series of meetings was organised between senior investigators of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the victims’ relatives, and later more information emerged when the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland published a report in 2011 on the investigation. Relatives of the dead men came to the conclusion, as Rogan puts it, that “they had treated us like mushrooms, keeping us in the dark for years and feeding us whatnot”.
A memorial plaque in the room where six men were murdered in a 1994 Loyalist attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul McErlane for the Guardian
The getaway car had passed through four owners in the eight weeks before it was used in the shooting, changing hands so quickly that the first person in the chain remained the registered owner. The morning after the killings, a Belfast police officer was asked to call at this person’s home. The officer did so, but found the man was out. The officer then recorded the time of his visit as 9.30am – 34 minutes before the farmer had rung police to tell them he had discovered the car.
Some time between 11am and noon, a second police officer – a detective with no connection to the murder inquiry – telephoned the second person in the ownership chain, and asked him to come to the local police station to give a statement. How this detective came to know that the car had passed through this man’s hands is unclear. What is known, however, is that a statement was given, and that a note was attached to it, saying that the individual who gave it could be contacted only through the detective who took it.
The Loughinisland families argue this amounts to evidence that the person who gave this statement – one of the people involved in supplying the car used by the killers – was a police informer.
The Guardian has interviewed this man. He is Terry Fairfield, and today he runs a pub in the south of England. Fairfield confirms that he was a member of the UVF at the time, but denies he was a police informer. He says he did subsequently receive several thousand pounds from the detective, for helping him take a firearm and some explosives out of circulation. He accepts that being invited to attend a police station, rather than being arrested, was highly unorthodox. The detective says he had known Fairfield for years and contacted him after hearing of the Loughinisland shooting, but that only members of the murder inquiry could decide whether to arrest him.
A second man, who is widely suspected locally of having been in the getaway car, and who is also alleged to have been an informer, has also told the Guardian that he has never been arrested.
The families also question the failure to take samples from some of the people arrested for questioning. The Guardian understands that at least five of the men arrested in the months after the shootings were not fingerprinted before being released without charge. No DNA swabs were taken from either of the two people arrested in 1996.
One man, Gorman McMullan, who has been named as a suspect in a Northern Ireland newspaper, was arrested the month after the shootings and released without charge. He was one of the people who were released without being fingerprinted and no DNA swab was taken. McMullan firmly denies that he has ever been to Loughinisland or that he was ever in the getaway car, and no further action was taken against him in connection with the shootings. He acknowledges however that he was “involved in the conflict”.
The police admitted to the families at one of their meetings that they had handed the getaway car to a scrap metal firm to be crushed and baled. They said this had been done because the vehicle was taking up too much space in a police station yard. That decision means it can never again be tested for comparison with samples taken from any new suspects.
Emma Rogan and Aidan O’Toole cannot believe that the destruction of the car or other failings in the investigation were an accident. They believe that this is evidence of police collusion. “They knew exactly what they were doing,” Rogan says.
The families lodged a complaint with the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland. When the ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, published his report, it contained mild criticism of an investigation that displayed “a lack of cohesive and focused effort”. To the anger of the families, it refused to state whether or not police informants were suspected of involvement and appeared to gloss over the forensic failures. It concluded that the destruction of the car was “inappropriate”, rather than evidence of corruption or collusion.
The report was widely condemned in Northern Ireland. Hutchinson agreed to leave his post, and his successor is now reviewing the report. There will be no examination of the arms shipment, however, as the ombudsman’s remit extends only to the police, not the army.
Much of the suspicion about British involvement in the 1987 arms shipment revolves around Brian Nelson, a former soldier who joined the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in the early 70s. In 1985, Nelson offered himself as an informant to the Force Research Unit (FRU), a covert unit within the army’s intelligence corps that recruited and ran agents in Northern Ireland. He quit the UDA the following year and moved to Germany with his wife and children. The FRU, operating with the approval of MI5, approached Nelson in Germany and persuaded him to return to Belfast to rejoin the UDA as an army agent.
For the next three years, Nelson was paid £200 a week by the government while operating as the UDA’s intelligence officer, helping to select targets for assassination. He informed his army handlers in advance of attacks: only two were halted, while at least three people were killed and attempts were made on the lives of at least eight more.
A detailed account of this extraordinary operation appears in a report on the loyalist killing of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane that Peter Cory, a retired Canadian supreme court judge, prepared at the request of the government in 2004. An FRU report from July 1985 discloses that the army paid Nelson’s travel expenses when he travelled to Durban in South Africa that year to make initial contact with an arms dealer. “The [British] army appears to have at least encouraged Nelson in his attempt to purchase arms in South Africa for the UDA,” Cory concludes. “Nelson certainly went to South Africa in 1985 to meet an arms dealer. His expenses were paid by FRU. The army appears to have been committed to facilitating Nelson’s acquisition of weapons, with the intention that they would be intercepted at some point en route to Northern Ireland.”
Nelson is said to have told the FRU that the UDA possessed insufficient funds at that time to purchase any arms. “The evidence with regard to the completion of the arms transaction is frail and contradictory,” Cory says. As a result, “whether the transaction was consummated remains an open question”.
In July 1987, the funds to purchase a large consignment of weapons were secured with the robbery of more than £325,000 from a branch of Northern Bank in Portadown, 30 miles south-west of Belfast. The proceeds of the robbery were to be used to purchase weapons that were to be split three ways between the UDA, the UVF and Ulster Resistance (UR), a paramilitary organisation set up by unionists in response to the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement.
What happened next is described by a former senior employee with South Africa’s Armscor, a man who was intimately involved in the plot to smuggle the weapons into Northern Ireland. According to this source, officials in South Africa introduced a senior figure within UR to one of the corporation’s representatives in Europe, an American arms dealer called Douglas Bernhardt.
In October 1987, Bernhardt is said to have flown to Gatwick airport for a face-to-face meeting with a senior UDA commander, John McMichael, after which couriers carried money from the bank raid, in cash, to Bernhardt’s office in Geneva.
Bernhardt was not told where the money had come from, according to the Armscor source. “When you get that sort of dirty banknote, you don’t ask,” the source says. Bernhardt obtained a bank draft which was then sent to an arms dealer in Beirut, who had obtained the weapons from a Lebanese militia.
As the operation progressed, according to the Armscor source, Bernhardt would regularly call his UR contact at his place of work. This man would then call back from a payphone, and they would talk in a simple code, referring to the weapons as “the parcel of fruit”. At each stage, Bernhardt is said to have been told that the arrangements needed to be agreed by McMichael and by his intelligence officer – Brian Nelson. “Everything had to be run by the head of intelligence.”
Bernhardt is said then to have travelled by ship to Beirut, where arrangements were made to pack the weapons into a shipping container labelled as a consignment of ceramic floor tiles. Bills of lading and a certificate of origin were organised, and the weapons were shipped to Belfast docks via Liverpool.
“There were at least a couple of hundred Czech-made AKs – the VZ-58,” the Armscor source recalls. “And 90-plus Browning-type handguns: Hungarian-made P9Ms. About 30,000 rounds of 7.62 x 39mm ammunition, not the 51mm Nato rounds. Plus a dozen or so RPGs, and a few hundred fragmentation grenades.”
Sources within both the police and the UVF have confirmed that one of the VZ-58s was used at Loughinisland.
According to the Armscor source, the UR member who dealt with Bernhardt was Noel Little, a civil servant and former British soldier. Now in his mid-60s and living quietly in an affluent Belfast suburb, Little denies this. “My position is that I wasn’t involved,” Little says. But he adds: “I would deny it even if I was.”
Little confirms, however, that he was a founder member of UR, and a central figure within the organisation at the time that the weapons arrived in Belfast. He also appears to possess detailed knowledge of the way in which the arms were smuggled and distributed.
The weapons arrived in Belfast in December 1987, a few days before McMichael was killed by an IRA car bomb. Early in the new year, they were split three ways at a farmhouse in County Armagh. The UDA lost its entire slice of the pie within minutes: its share of about 100 weapons was loaded into the boot of two hire cars that were stopped a few minutes later at a police roadblock near Portadown. The three occupants were later jailed, with their leader, Davy Payne, receiving a 19-year sentence.
The following month, police recovered around half the UVF’s weapons after a tip-off led them to an outhouse on the outskirts of north Belfast. Fairfield says he recalls being shown what remained of the UVF’s new arsenal, in storage at a house in the city that was being renovated. “I made the mistake of touching one,” he says, adding that this could result in him being linked to the October 1993 killing outside the Shorts factory.
Little was also arrested, after his telephone number was found written on the back of Payne’s hand. “John McMichael had given it to him, in case he got into any trouble in Armagh,” Little says. “I lost three-quarters of a stone [4.75kg] during the seven days I was questioned. The police put me under extreme psychological pressure.” Eventually, he was released without charge.
Little says that while UR redistributed a few of its weapons – “there were some deals around the edges” – most of its consignment was kept intact.
“They were never used. They were for the eventuality of the British just walking away – doing an Algeria – after the Anglo-Irish agreement was signed.” As far as he is aware, the consignment has never been decommissioned.
The following year saw Little arrested again, this time in France, in dramatic fashion. He had travelled to Paris with two fellow loyalists, James King and Samuel Quinn, to meet Bernhardt and a South African intelligence officer operating under the name Daniel Storm. Officers of the French security agency, Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), seized the three Ulstermen and the South African in a raid on a room at the Hilton International, at the same moment that Bernhardt was being grabbed in the foyer of the Hôtel George-V, and lifted bodily, according to one witness, out of the building and into a waiting car.
The five had been caught red-handed attempting to trade stolen parts from the sighting system of a ground-to-air missile that was under development at the Shorts factory. The apartheid regime wanted to use the parts in the development of its own missile for use in Angola, where its ground forces were vulnerable to attack by Cuban-piloted MiGs. “This deal was about speed,” says the Armscor source. “If you’ve got Cuban-piloted jets whacking your troops in border wars, you don’t have the luxury of saying: ‘We’ll have a research programme over time.’ You’ve got to speed up the R&D.”
Storm was set free after claiming diplomatic immunity, while the others were interrogated in the basement of the DST’s headquarters in the 15th arrondissement. “I was slapped about a little,” says Little. “But not too much.” The DST told Bernhardt it had listened in on a meeting the previous night, through a bug in the chandelier of the room at the George-V where the men had gathered. “They knew all about the fruit code used in 1987,” the Armscor source says. “They thought the talk about pineapples was a huge joke. They must have been monitoring the phone calls. And they knew all about Lebanon.
“My guess is that the British were intercepting those phone calls. But the British didn’t get all the weapons. How much did they know in advance? Why didn’t they move more quickly? Maybe they were perfectly happy to have that material … sort of ‘arrive’, and put into the hands of the loyalists. Christ knows, the IRA had had enough of their own shipments, everywhere from Boston to Tripoli.”
Noel Little also suspects the British turned a blind eye to the 1987 arms shipment. “It is a theory I can’t discount,” he says. “Brian Nelson was inserted into the UDA as an agent, he wasn’t a recruited member. Ho w could he know about it and not tell his handler?”
Little believes that his attempt to hand over stolen missile technology to Armscor in Paris – straying into “secrets and commerce”, as he puts it – would have been a step too far for the British authorities, obliging them to tip off the French.
After eight months on remand, the four men were brought to court charged with arms trafficking, handling stolen goods and terrorism-related conspiracy. Bernhardt told the court that he had helped arrange the Lebanese arms deal for loyalist paramilitaries in 1987. The four were sentenced to time served and fined between 20,000 and 100,000 francs (£2,000-£10,000 then).
Brian Nelson was finally arrested in January 1990 after John Stevens, then deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire, had been brought in to investigate collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. While awaiting trial, Nelson wrote a journal in which he recounted his time as an army agent inside the UDA. “I was bitten by a bug … hooked is probably a more appropriate word. One becomes enmeshed in a web of intrigue, conspiracies, confidences, dangers …”
After flying to Durban in 1985, he wrote, his South African contacts had asked whether he would be able to obtain a missile from Shorts. Two years later, while talking about the South African connection with “Ronnie”, his FRU handler, he had been told that “because of the deep suspicion a seizure would have aroused, to protect me it had been decided to let the first shipment into the country untouched”. Nelson added that “Ronnie” assured him that the arms consignment would be under surveillance.
In 1993, an intelligence source told the BBC that this had happened: the consignment had indeed been under surveillance by a number of agencies, but the wrong port was watched, with the result that the weapons slipped through.At Nelson’s eventual court appearance, a plea deal resulted in Nelson being jailed for 10 years after he admitted 20 offences, including conspiracy to murder. Murder charges were dropped. More than 40 other people were also convicted of terrorism offences as a result of the Stevens investigation. They did not include any of the intelligence officers for whom Nelson worked.
Stevens’ investigation team was well aware of concerns surrounding the importation of the weapons. Members of the team talked to former Armscor officials in South Africa, but concluded that an investigation into the matter was so unlikely to produce any results as to be fruitless. However, a senior member of the inquiry team says he believes it feasible that the UK authorities could have been involved in bringing the weapons into Belfast – or at least turned a blind eye. “It’s not at all far-fetched,” he says.
By the time of the Loughinisland massacre, loyalist gunmen with access to the Armscor arsenal were killing at least as many people as the IRA. Czech-made VZ-58 assault rifles were used in many of the killings. A few weeks after the shootings at the Heights Bar, the IRA announced a ceasefire.
Many in Northern Ireland are convinced that the importation of the Armscor weapons, and the large numbers of killings that followed, contributed greatly to the IRA’s decision. Among them is Noel Little, who says: “There’s no doubt that that shipment did change things.”
Increasingly, the IRA was forced to defend itself against attacks by loyalists, it was diverted into targeting loyalist paramilitaries rather than police officers or soldiers, and it came under pressure from nationalists as more and more Catholic people were slaughtered. To Little’s way of thinking, the Armscor weapons “tipped the balance against the IRA and eventually forced them to sue for peace”. And while he accepts – and says he deplores – the slaughter of innocent people at Loughinisland and elsewhere, he adds: “Innocent bystanders are killed in every war.”
Six weeks after the IRA’s announcement, loyalist paramilitaries announced their own ceasefire.
With the Loughinisland families no nearer to discovering the truth about the deaths of their loved ones following publication of the ombudsman’s report, they embarked on their civil actions against the Ministry of Defence and the police in January this year. A letter of claim sent to the MoD says the claim is based in part on “the army’s knowledge of and facilitation of the shipment”, while one sent to the Police Service of Northern Ireland says the claim arises from a series of failings, including “closing off investigative opportunities” and “the destruction of vital evidence”.
The Guardian, Monday 15 October 2012 18.08 BST
Find this story at 15 October 2012
© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
UK accused of helping to supply arms for Northern Ireland loyalist killings
October 19, 2012
Relatives of Catholics killed in 1994 claim compensation, alleging security service complicity in arming UDA
The bloodstained interior of the Heights Bar at Loughinisland, the morning after six Catholic men had been killed and five others injured in a loyalist gun attack. Photograph: Pacemaker
Allegations that the government helped to arm loyalist gangs with a large arsenal of weapons at the height of Northern Ireland’s Troubles are to surface in court proceedings arising from one of the most notorious massacres of the 30-year conflict.
The Ministry of Defence and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are being sued by relatives of six men murdered by a loyalist gunman who opened fire inside a bar crowded with people watching football on television in Loughinisland, County Down, in June 1994. While the families are claiming compensation, they say their aim is to uncover the truth about the killings.
The authorities are alleged to have assisted – or at least turned a blind eye – as about 300 automatic rifles and pistols, hundreds of grenades and an estimated 30,000 rounds of ammunition were smuggled into Belfast in 1987. One of the rifles, a Czech-made VZ-58 assault rifle, was used in the attack in the village.
According to a number of those involved in the shipment, the weapons were provided by Armscor, the arms sales and procurement corporation of apartheid-era South Africa. A deal was struck between Armscor and leading loyalists after a British agent, who infiltrated the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) for the army and MI5, visited South Africa in 1985.
The agent was shopping for arms for the UDA. But the MoD has conceded that the trip was funded by the taxpayer, with an army intelligence unit paying his expenses.
There is no conclusive proof that the agent’s South Africa trip led directly to the arsenal being smuggled into Belfast two years later. But Niall Murphy, lawyer for the families, said: “We are confident that evidence of British involvement does exist, and we look forward to applying to the high court for its disclosure.”
A number of people in South Africa and Belfast who were involved in the talks after the agent’s visit told the Guardian they believe the government must have been aware that an arms deal was being arranged, and took no action to prevent the weapons from being smuggled into Northern Ireland, where they were divided between three paramilitary groups.
Within weeks of the consignment arriving in Northern Ireland, loyalist gunman Michael Stone was hurling several of the grenades and firing one of the pistols in an attack that claimed the lives of three people at the funeral of three IRA members at Milltown cemetery in west Belfast. From then on, the number of killings by loyalists rose sharply: during the six years before the weapons were landed, loyalists had killed about 70 people; in the six years that followed, they killed about 230.
Many of the victims were Catholics who had no involvement with the conflict, and as the death toll mounted the IRA came under increasing pressure to call a ceasefire.
There is reason to believe that a number of the paramilitaries connected to the attack were police informers.
There are serious concerns about the way the Loughinisland killings were investigated, with a subsequent inquiry by the police ombudsman establishing that police failed to take some suspects’ fingerprints or DNA samples. Police have admitted that one key piece of evidence – the getaway car – was destroyed. There is no evidence that any officer sought or gave permission for this to be done.
The families of the dead men are also bringing civil proceedings against the PSNI after the police ombudsman in Belfast examined the initial investigation and then produced a report which was widely criticised for refusing to acknowledge whether police informers were involved in the massacre. Murphy said: “The experience of these six families demonstrates that the current mechanisms for truth recovery do not work.”
The Guardian, Monday 15 October 2012 18.06 BST
Find this story at 15 October 2012
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