5 July 2007 Edition
Collusion : Cover up and protection of killer agents continues
The ABC of collusion
BY LAURA FRIEL
Last week’s decision by the Public Prosecution Service in the Six Counties not to prosecute any members of the British Crown forces involved in the murders of several people including the high-profile assasination of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane can only be understood within a wider recognition of collusion as a sanctioned state policy. In the 18 years of campaigning for the truth precipitated by the Finucane murder, the British state has sought to deny collusion by serial redefinition.
Over the last two decades collusion has been presented as republican propaganda, a few bad apples, informal action by individuals acting on their own initiative, the consequence of using indigenous forces like the UDR and the result of rogue agents or more recently rogue units. Collusion has been presented as reactive rather than proactive, a failure at the point of intervention, investigative incompetence and a reluctance to prosecute.
All these are designed to perpetuate the one big lie the British state is determined to sustain, the lie that collusion is a result of failure in the system and not, as republicans have long contended, a mechanism established within and protected by the system. But how else can you account for the fact that after 18 years of investigation and three inquiries by one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Stevens has been left without a single prosecution?
In 2003 John Stevens, former British Metropolitan Commissioner and now chief security adviser to the Brown government, confirmed that he had uncovered evidence of collusion. He cited the murder of teenager Adam Lambert, shot dead by the UDA in the mistaken belief he was a Catholic and the murder of Pat Finucane.
“I have uncovered enough evidence to lead me to believe that the murders of Pat Finucane and Adam Lambert could have been prevented. I also believe that the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane’s murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers. I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them,” said Stevens.
Given the weight of evidence already within the public arena, Stevens’ conclusions were remarkably tame as was his characterisation of collusion in terms of failure to prevent and failure to investigate. But despite this it is clear that Stevens had a mind to prosecute on the basis of the evidence he presented in his report to the British government.
Before Stevens passed his findings onto the Prosecution Service in 2003 he sought legal advice from two top barristers in England who told him that of the 40 cases examined in the inquiry, 25 were strong enough to bring a prosecution. Acting on that advice, Stevens handed 25 files to the North’s PPS.
Last week, four years after receiving the files, the PPS announced its decision. No serving or former member of the crown forces is to face charges arising out of the Stevens’ inquiry. In relation to the Finucane killing, said the PPS, there was insufficient evidence to prove that the British Army’s Force Research Unite (FRU) had actively encouraged UDA intelligence office and British Agent Brian Nelson to commit murder.
Special Branch officers, who supplied UDA killers with weapons that were subsequently used in the murder of six Catholics, will also escape prosecution. In late 1989 Special Branch agent William Stobie handed over five weapons to his handlers at Knocknagoney RUC barracks in East Belfast. Within weeks the guns were handed back to the UDA.
Three years later one of Stobie’s weapons, a Browning pistol, was used in an attack on the Devenish Bar in West Belfast. One man died, Aidan Wallace, and three were injured, including an eight-year-old child who was shot in the face by one of the gunmen. Less than three months later the same weapon was used again. During a UDA attack on Sean Graham’s bookmakers on the Ormeau Road five people were killed and more injured.
As one victim, Mark Sykes told the media, it was bad enough to find out that the weapons used to shoot him and kill his brother-in-law were supplied by the RUC:
“Then they tell you that the police officers who supplied these weapons are being allowed to walk away because the PPS can’t find out their names.”
“Are we expected to believe that senior officers refused to reveal who handed these guns over to the UDA and the PPS just decided to leave it at that?” he said.
The PPS further concluded that Stevens had failed on a number of counts to provide enough evidence to prove that any member of the Crown forces had been guilty of “malpractice in public office”.
The victims and the families of victims were informed of the PPS decision not to prosecute by letter. “They came and knocked on people’s doors at 7.30am and handed us envelopes and just walked away,” said Mark Sykes, who was seriously injured during the bookmaker attack.
“No one knew anything about it, although its obvious they must have been planning this for months. We were later told the PPS had leaked it to certain favourable media outlets even before we had a chance to open the envelopes,” said Sykes.
Collusion has been a feature of the Six County state since its creation. British forces and unionist paramilitaries have traditionally shared intelligence, weapons and personnel.
In the 1980’s, under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, members of the British cabinet and their military intelligence agencies developed a specific collusion mechanism that established state sponsored murder as a formal strategy at the heart of British policy in Ireland.
The British state, through agencies like the FRU and Special Branch, rearmed, reorganised and redirected loyalist death squads. Supplying unionist paramilitaries with modern weaponry had an immediate and deadly impact on the number of killings in the North of Ireland.
Within six years of the arrival of weaponry, procured in South Africa and smuggled into the Six counties by British agents, loyalist murder gangs had increased their capacity to kill by 300%.
Through a network of agents, like Brian Nelson, the British state identified targets, supplied intelligence and provided back up to the killers. The FRU had the authority to ensure loyalist gunmen on a ‘hit’ a clear run to and from their target while Special Branch ensured any investigation into the killing did not result in prosecutions.
In other words the British state established an effective murder machine that enabled them to commission the killing of citizens within its own jurisdiction. The British justified collusion to themselves by promoting the notion that they were ‘taking the war to the IRA’ but in fact once the machinery of murder was up and running no one was safe.
They killed politicians, civil rights activists, election workers, defence lawyers and Catholic and Protestant civilians. They killed to cover their agents’ tracks. They killed agents who had outlived their usefulness and loyalists who knew too much. And they sacrificed their own soldiers and members of the RUC to retain their agents’ cover.
But by the late 1980’s the secret operation of the collusion strategy began to be exposed. In August 1989 the UDA killed Loughlin Maginn and claimed that he was a member of the IRA.
To support their claim the UDA produced classified British Intelligence documents that identified Maginn as an IRA Volunteer. In the months that followed thousands of British Intelligence documents in the hands of loyalists were shown to the media.
British police chief John Stevens was initially dispatched to investigate allegations based on the premise that collusion was nothing more than the leaking of documents. But the arrest of a British army agent, Brian Nelson, at the heart of UDA further exposed the nature of British collusion.
As a consequence the British state was no longer able to completely hide its hand. Covert attempts by the FRU, the hiding of Nelson’s paperwork at Palace Barracks and the mysterious fire at Stevens’ offices failed and Nelson’s prosecution proceeded.
The British feared that the information that might be exposed during a lengthy court case so much that they had to deploy ‘public’ mechanisms to curtail the trial. The fact the British state was forced to show its hand by involving the highest offices of state, top politicians, senior members of the judiciary and military officers, is an indication of the intrinsic nature of the collusion strategy.
The cover up involved the then British PM John Major, who met the trial judge Basil Kelly and the head of the British judiciary in the north, Chief Judge Brian Hutton. It involved the then Attorney General Patrick Mayhem and British Defence Minister and former NIO Secretary of State Tom King who provided a character reference for Nelson. And it also involved the partial exposure of the FRU and its operation by the trial attendance of Colonel ‘J’, now Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the then head of the FRU.
Kerr remained a key military and political figure under Tony Blair first as British military attaché to Beijing and more recently as a leader of covert forces in Iraq. Kerr’s posting to a “theatre of war” conveniently side stepped the latest Stevens’ inquiry by placing the British officer outside the jurisdiction of civilian policing.
It can be no coincidence that Kerr’s retirement was announced only shortly after last week’s decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute any member of the British Crown forces involved in the Finucane murder.
As information has increasingly emerged into the public arena the British had presented a roller coaster of notions about collusion. At first collusion was presented as a matter of unofficial ‘leaks’ between regular and irregular pro British forces. In this scenario there is no guiding hand, no pattern, no strategy, just the collective result of individual acts of collusion. Stevens focused upon indigenous groups like the UDR and unionist paramilitaries.
But the ‘leaks’ scenario collapsed as soon as Nelson revealed himself as a British agent working for a unit of British Military Intelligence. Then collusion became the consequences of a ‘rogue’ agent, Nelson, who it was claimed had strayed beyond his sanctioned role with the FRU. But that proved to be equally unsustainable.
Fearing his potential as a whistleblower, the British state felt compelled to rush to Nelson’s defence, manipulating the operation of the justice system and providing a British cabinet minister, Tom King and British army officer, Gordon Kerr as character witnesses during the trial. Nelson was described as a ‘ courageous hero’ by Kerr and a ‘valuable agent’ by King.
As the myth of Nelson as a rogue agent began to collapse, the lie moved onward to present the British army unit to which he was attached as a rogue unit. Now we were asked to believe the FRU acted beyond the sanction of their military and political masters but that lie also proved to be unsustainable.
The range of agencies involved in the Finucane killing and subsequent cover up shows the FRU was far from a solo player. The increasing insight into the operation of the FRU, the unit’s close working relationship with Special Branch and MI5 control of both agencies further undermined any notion that the FRU was acting alone.
Through MI5 to the Joint Intelligence Committee, the collusion chain of command runs directly to number ten Downing Street and the heart of the British government. The JIC is directly accountable to the British Prime Minister.
Having barely avoided total meltdown with the exposure of Brian Nelson, the British state has worked very hard at regaining ground by presenting collusion as a failure within the system. But the evidence already within the public arena just doesn’t stack up.
Bring the systematic supply of weaponry to unionist paramilitaries into the frame, and the scenario appears closer to Kitson’s strategy of counter gangs and the use of state sponsored paramilitaries in Latin America.
In 1996 relatives of some of those killed as a consequence of collusion presented a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa urging investigation into an arms shipment, organised by British agents during the former Apartheid regime to loyalists in the north of Ireland.
In 1985 Dick Wright, a loyalist from Portadown and British agent travelled from South Africa to the North of Ireland. At the time Wright was working in South Africa as an agent for an armaments company Armscor. In Belfast Wright met a leading member of the UDA, now widely believed to have been a British agent, and offered to supply loyalists with weaponry worth at least a quarter of a million pounds.
A second British agent was duly dispatched to South Africa to secure the deal. In June 1985 Brian Nelson travelled to South Africa. His trip was authorised by the British MOD and by a British minister whose identity is as yet unknown. In South Africa Nelson was met by another British agent with loyalist connections, Charles Simpson.
Charles Simpson, an MI5 agent and former member of Tara, a loyalist paramilitary group headed by the notorious William McGrath, was then working as a member of the equally notorious South African Defence Forces. In Durban Simpson took Nelson to inspect the shipment of weaponry that was later smuggled into the North of Ireland.
Final arrangements for the shipment were completed in December 1987. According to Nelson, he kept MI5 informed throughout, passing on all details including the method to be used to smuggle the weapons into the north.
The shipment is believed to have consisted of 200 AK47 automatic rifles, 90 Browning pistols, 500 fragmentation grenades, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 12 RPG7 rocket launchers and arrived in the north of Ireland in January 1988.
The weaponry was shared out between three unionist paramilitary groups, the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance. Part of the shipment was lost but the bulk still remains in loyalist hands.
British Military Intelligence has subsequently attempted to justify the fact that they allowed the shipment through on the grounds that seizure might have compromised an agent’s cover. But such a defence is nonsense.
It asks us to place the primacy of an agent’s cover above the hundreds of lives subsequently lost as a direct consequence of the South African shipment while still maintaining the myth that collusion is about “saving lives”.
In the 1980’s the British state adopted a strategy and developed a means by which it could commission the murder of citizens within its own jurisdiction. Thirty years later those mechanisms are yet to be dismantled and the policy of state collusion yet to be disavowed.
In the ABC of collusion ‘A’ is for absolution, the repeated absolution the British state and its agencies have been prepared to hand out to those involved in collusion. B is for the betrayal of families of the victims still denied truth and justice and C is for the continuing cover up of which the PPS played a role last week.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.