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14 June 2001 Edition

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MoD blocks Stevens probe

BY LAURA FRIEL

The British Ministry of Defence has intervened to stop the Stevens team from questioning the female FRU operative at the centre of the Finucane and other controversial killings. The operative, formerly known as Captain `M' or `Mags', was recently identified as Captain Margaret Walshaw by a US-based website.

Walshaw was a leading member of the FRU directly under the command of Brigadier Gordon Kerr, identified during the trial of British agent Brian Nelson as `Colonel `J' and head of the FRU. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, `Mags', then a sergeant, and another FRU member known only as ``Geoff'', were the primary handlers of Brian Nelson.

As the UDA's chief source of intelligence, Nelson, a former member of the British Black Watch regiment recruited by the FRU, provided a vital link between loyalist death squads and British military intelligence. Through Nelson, the FRU reorganised loyalist intelligence on potential targets and manipulated the selection of victims for assassination.

Reported in a Scottish newspaper, an FRU source described the unit's collusion with loyalist killers as `a perfect military plan'. ``Captain M facilitated the UDA's targeting by producing maps, photos, details of routes to the scene of the assassinations and information of targets' movements.''

And, as in the killing of Francisco Notarantonio, `Mags' provided falsified documents to encourage the UDA into targeting the Catholic pensioner as a smokescreen to suit the agenda of the FRU. Another incident which has been linked to `Mags' has been the killing of three petty criminals outside a Falls Road bookmakers in 1990.

A fourth member of the gang who escaped the ambush described how his unarmed colleagues had been clinically executed and claimed that they had been targeted because of the gang's connection to a stolen holdall containing British military documents and weapons belonging to the FRU.

`Mags' has also been implicated in the killing of UVF gunman Brian Robinson. It has been claimed that despite prior knowledge of a sectarian attack in which 43-year-old Catholic Patrick McKenna was killed, the FRU allowed the killing to take place before ordering an undercover unit to open fire on the loyalist gunman as he fled.

After Brian Nelson's exposure, his female handler was promoted to the rank of captain, awarded a British Empire Medal and relocated in England, where she is currently training other British soldiers in covert operations.

As a ruthless spymaster and enthusiastic assassin, `Mags' has been linked to some of the most controversial killings in the North but, as her subsequent promotion and military decoration suggests, she was never a renegade soldier. Like other FRU operatives, it is most probable that she acted with the knowledge and approval of her military and political masters.

Clearly, `Mags' operated outside the law but not necessarily outside the chain of command. Beyond her immediate superior officer, Gordon Kerr, exactly at whose command remains undisclosed - a position the MoD appears desperate to maintain.

Yet despite the MoD and British government's best attempts to obscure the truth, they appear increasingly helpless against the swelling tide of international opinion pressing for independent public inquiries into controversial killings in the North of Ireland.

A recent editorial by the influential New York Times exposing British collusion with loyalist death squads and dismissing the Stevens' probe as going nowhere has been enthusiastically embraced by the paper's readership and other influential groupings.

Focusing on the killings of defence lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, the NY Times' editorial concluded: ``To do justice in these cases and address serious questions of possible government involvement, Britain should open an independent judicial inquiry along the lines of the current investigation into the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.

``Stevens has already led two probes that went nowhere and many suspects were deliberately blocked. He lacks the power to look into potential relevant government files and subpoena politicians, steps that could help determine whether government policies contributed to the deaths.''

The best path to justice, the editorial argued, ``is an open public inquiry''. A subsequent flurry of activity by the British ambassador in Washington, Christopher Meyer, has done nothing to deflect further criticism. Instead, calls for public scrutiny of the collusion controversy have already impacted on the wider policing and system of justice debate.

``It is unsolved cases such as these,'' said the influential National Committee on American Foreign Policy, ``that leaves a major segment of the population in Northern Ireland extremely distrustful of the entire policing and justice system.''

Finucane's widow, Geraldine, and his former law partner, Peter Madden, are scheduled to address a New York gathering organised by the National Committee within the next few days.

Meanwhile, a former senior Garda officer and a member of Seanad √Čireann, both of whom it has been alleged were in the pay of Britain's MI5, have been identified by the Dublin authorities but are unlikely to face legal action.

The investigation was sparked when a former FRU operative, probably `Martin Ingram', contacted the Gardai. The Manchester born former undercover British soldier married a woman from Kerry and was visiting relatives near Tralee.

The former FRU operative had been recently arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act by the British authorities who feared he was about to reveal details of Britain's covert war in Ireland. The man had been travelling to Ireland with his family when he was arrested near Holyhead in Wales.

The former FRU member was granted bail but feared that his life would be put at risk if his identity became exposed. The threat later materialised when a former FRU colleague Phil Smith labelled him a traitor and circulated his personal details via emails signed Friends of the FRU.

Interviewed at Kerry Garda Station, the former FRU member revealed that the senior Garda officer who spied for the British was codenamed Eamon. As a member of the FRU, the operative had been one of the collators inputting information from Eamon into a computer codenamed Crucible.

The information arrived as handwritten contact report forms and showed the time and place of meetings between the Garda officer and his handlers. The meetings often took place at Dublin Airport and the Garda spy was paid for the information he supplied.

An Irish Senator who also passed information to Britain's MI5 was also named during the interview. He provided secret intelligence on political intentions in Dublin and personal information on Oireachtas members.

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