25 February 1999 Edition
UDR men acted as covert British death squad
by Laura Friel
Ulster Defence Regiment members were recruited by British Army special forces to assist in covert assassinations and bombings in the 1970's it has been revealed. In interviews with the British Sunday Times John Weir, a former RUC Sergeant, detailed how he and other RUC members colluded with loyalist death squads. Weir also claimed that a number of UDR members had been recruited by British special forces for covert operations.
John Weir, a serving RUC officer of ten years standing at the time, was convicted in 1980 of the murder of William Strathearn, a Catholic pharmacist shot dead in Ahoghill, County Antrim. The killing was claimed by the UVF.
According to Weir an informer working for the RUC had revealed to him that British undercover soldier Robert Nairac was a frequent visitor to his home. Weir claims that Nairac had named those responsible for a series of loyalist attacks at the time including the names of members of the UDR who were `helping' British army special forces.
In a curious twist, Weir's allegations have been confirmed by relatives of two UDR members who were later killed by the IRA. A group based in Armagh and including prominent members of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), an anti-Agreement victims' group closely associated with Ian Paisley's DUP, are to ask Amnesty International to investigate the circumstances of their relatives' deaths. These were members of the UDR, recruited into covert death squads by British special forces, and later killed by the IRA. The families believe that Robert Nairac, in a bungled attempt to infiltrate the IRA, passed the names of those responsible for a series of gun and bomb attacks on nationalists and republicans at the time.
Captain Robert Nairac was attached to the British army's 14 Intelligence Unit, working closely with the SAS. The unit had a cover name of 14 Field Survey and the British House of Commons was told in 1987 that all records of the unit had been destroyed. The unit's commander was Julian `Tony' Ball who died in Oman in 1981. The second-in-command was Robert Nairac. Nairac was abducted outside a bar in County Armagh in 1977 and is presumed dead. Nairac, whose role in Britain's `dirty war' may never be fully exposed, is implicated in some of the most dastardly acts of the period including the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of May 1974, the assasination of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green in Monaghan in January 1975, and the Miami Showband massacre in July 1975.
Willie Frazer, a spokesperson for FAIR, whose father Robert was a UDR soldier killed by the IRA in August 1975, claims his father had ``worked closely with 14 Intelligence.'' Frazer claims:''It was those who were helping the SAS and special forces who were selected for killing by the IRA. Other members of the UDR weren't assassinated. The IRA drove past the homes of other UDR members to get him [Robert Frazer]. The IRA picked a group of people who had been in something together. It was not just any member of the security forces.''
Frazer's comments not only acknowledge the quality of IRA Intelligence at the time, they also confirm what republicans and nationalists have known for a long time- official British forces have been actively engaged in the operation of sectarian death squads, either with the collusion of loyalists or under loyalist flags of convenience.
Allegations that UDR members were involved in covert assassinations and bombings under the command of British special forces has been reiterated by another relative, Brian McConnell, a nephew of UDR member Robert McConnell. According to FAIR member Brian McConnell, his uncle `liaised' between British special forces and loyalist killers in the UVF and whose `information' would have led to the deaths of IRA members. Robert McConnell, a member of the UDR was killed by the IRA in April 1976.
In a documentary by Yorkshire Television screened in 1993, ``Hidden Hand-the Forgotten Massacre'' Robert McConnell was named as one of the prime suspects in the Dublin Monaghan bombings. The programme named three other leading members of the gang, Billy Hanna and Harris Boyle both UVF leaders in Portadown and a loyalist assassin known as the Jackal
The four prime suspects had one thing in common, they were all former or serving members of the UDR. Harris Boyle was one of two loyalists killed a year later by their own bomb as they were planting the device on the Miami Showband's minibus. Robert McConnell has also been linked to the killing of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green.
A source, described by the Sunday Times as `` a man acting as a loyalist assassin at the time and who has since served a life sentence'', said that in the early 1970's a section of the British army had wanted to use loyalist paramilitaries as ``a kind of unofficial SAS'' but it had failed. He described UDR member Robert McConnell as ``part of that abandoned strategy.''
A second source, described as a UDR Officer at the time, claims that in 1974 Nairac's 14 Intelligence unit began recruiting members of the UDR. ``There were interviews. There was talk of Operation Big Sleep, a mission to take out the IRA. When the interviews were all over we were told it had been called off.'' The UDR source said some UDR members and civilians did continue to work with the SAS and other covert groups within the British army. According to a friend Robert McConnell was one. ``They [British soldiers] used to call at Robert's house for him after he had finished his normal duties and he often crossed the border with them, `` he said.
Unsolved murders linked to UDR
A County Derry man whose brother and a companion were shot dead in 1975 believes members of a UDR patrol where responsible for the killings. The family also have reason to believe that Robert McConnell was a member of that UDR patrol.
GAA fans Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer, returning to Derry from a football match in Dublin, were found dead at the side of a road near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh. Both had been shot.
Speaking to AP/RN last week, Sean McCartney, a brother of Colm, said that his family believe the pair were killed by members of a UDR patrol which was in the area at the time.
At the inquest into the deaths three RUC members made statements saying they were on patrol in the area just before the two men were killed and were themselves stopped by armed men who spoke to them ``with Ulster accents''.
``These RUC men put the UDR patrol in the area at about 11.45pm on Sunday night and at about quarter past midnight the bodies were found. The time of death was put at about midnight'', says Sean McCartney. He continued: ``There has never been an adequate investigation into the deaths of the two men. As far as I am concerned it was brushed under the carpe.''
A second unsolved sectarian killing has also recently been linked to the UDR- the brutal murder of Patsy Kelly, an independent nationalist councillor, on July 24 1974 in the County Tyrone village of Trillick.
To date no one has ever been questioned, arrested or charged in connection with this killing. However, the recent confession of a former UDR soldier, who was present the night Patsy was killed, has broken the silence surrounding the murder.
The story of this confession was first exposed in Ireland on Sunday and the family of Patsy Kelly have since appealed to the former UDR man, who had no direct involvement in the killing and broke down as he recalled the events of the fatal encounter, to come forward and make a full statement. They say Patsy met his killers as he was returning home after working in the Corner Bar in Trillick, when his car was stopped by a UDR patrol.
A source told AP/RN that the UDR patrol consisted of ``notorious loyalists'' who were locally known to be ``involved in paramilitary activity''. Patsy was taken from his car and shot at least six or seven times. The former UDR man, who made the confession, named six UDR soldiers who were present that night. The named killers included a currently prominent unionist politician in County Tyrone, who shot Patsy ``at least two times'', and another man who fired four shots into Kelly.
Patsy's younger brother, Peter, recalls how ``thousands of local people were involved in the search for Patsy''. Bloodstains, shirt buttons and cartridge cases were discovered along the roadside one mile from Trillick, at the place Patsy is believed to have been murdered. His car was also found, burnt out, the day after his disappearance in Colebrooke, County Fermanagh ten miles away. Three weeks later a fisherman came across Patsy's body floating in the remote Lough Eyes, also in Fermanagh.
The killers may have hid the body to conceal the fact that their victim had been killed with a legally held weapon. Patsy was shot with a Smith and Wesson revolver, standard issue to the UDR at the time.
The former UDR man told his story to a local man. The two men were watching the news in a public place, when Gerry Adams's picture appeared on the television. The eyewitness to the confession said, ``I think the troubles are over'', to which the ex-soldier replied, ``It's too late for poor Patsy. I was there the night they killed Patsy''. The UDR man admitted he was in the back of a van with other UDR men, and witnessed the killing through the open back door. He described how Patsy's body was taken to Lough Eyes, attached to two 56lb agricultural weights, and dropped into the lough.
Members of the UDR and British military intelligence are also being linked to the murder of County Louth man Seamus Ludlow. Ludlow's body was discovered dumped at the side of the road in May 1976. He had been shot through the heart, right lung and liver with a .38 revolver. The dead man had been returning to his sister's home after an evening at The Lisdoo Arms in Dundalk when he fell into the hands of loyalist killers when he accepted a lift.
Details of the killing recently emerged after a loyalist travelling with Ludlow's killers gave a full account of the murder. Paul Hosking, at the time active on the fringes of the UDA, had been out drinking with three other men when Seamus Ludlow was lured into their car. Two of the gang were members of the UDR, one a captain. The third man was a loyalist from Comber. All three were active in the Red Hand Commando.
Events which followed the killing suggest that Ludlow's killers were more than a gang of drunken sectarian thugs. In a cover up which was to follow, the Gardai attempted to blacken the dead man's name and implicate members of his family by branding Ludlow an informer and the killing as an IRA execution. The investigation into the death was abruptly dropped. The family were only given 45 minutes prior notice that the inquest was being held. At the inquest there was no ballistic or forensic evidence. Twenty years later a senior Garda officer admitted that the force had suppressed crucial evidence.
The family of Seamus Ludlow believe the explanation behind Garda inaction and hostility is that at least two of the killers were working as agents for British military intelligence and therefore ``above the law.'' The British/Irish Rights Watch is supporting the family's demand for a full inquiry and have produced a dossier on the Ludlow case.
Key facts about the UDR/Royal Irish Regiment
The Ulster Defence Regiment was established in April 1970. In the first month almost half of the applicants to join the UDR came from the notorious B Specials.
By May 1972 almost two-and-a-half thousand former B Specials had been recruited into the UDR. Between 1970-'75 over 500 nationalists were killed in sectarian gun and bomb attacks. In the first ten years of the UDR's existence nearly 200 members were convicted, many for offences linked to a sectarian murder campaign.
In the 1980's, following recommendations by Maurice Oldfield, former head of MI6 and Intelligence co-ordinator in the Six counties, the UDR was given its own comprehensive intelligence department.
By the mid 1980's over 120 members of the UDR were convicted of a range of offences including supplying information to loyalist death squads. Collusion within the UDR became so blatant that the British government was forced to implement the Steven's inquiry in October 1987. During the course of that inquiry it was estimated that the personal details of over 2,000 nationalists had passed into the hands of loyalist killers. The vast majority of these documents had gone `missing' from UDR bases.
In the early 1990s public disgrace forced the British government to rename the UDR. It is now known as the Royal Irish Regiment.
FAIR hypocrisy exposed
The hypocrisy of the anti-Agreement relatives group FAIR has been exposed by members Willie Frazer and Brian McConnell's revelations.
Members of FAIR picketed and heckled relatives of the nine people killed by the British SAS in Loughgall as they arrived for a meeting with NIO Minister for victims Adam Ingram last month. The group, closely associated with the DUP, who recently demanded an end to early prisoner releases has in the past campaigned for the release of prisoners accused of killing Republicans.
Accusing the group of hypocrisy, the Derry based human rights group the Pat Finucane Centre said that FAIR was attempting to create a hierarchy of good and bad victims. Martin Finucane, speaking for the centre said FAIR were implying that there were innocent and guilty relatives. ``It must be made clear that all relatives are by definition innocent, whether those of RUC officers, British soldiers, members of the IRA, UVF or UDA,'' said Finucane. It was recently revealed that relatives of Jerry McCabe, a member of the Garda shot dead during a post office robbery in County Limerick in 1996, are considering joining the anti agreement group FAIR.