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24 May 2001 Edition

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British officer suspect in Dublin/Monaghan bombings


From the outset, British collusion in the 1974 Dublin/Monaghan bombings and in the subsequent cover up has been suspected. Now, a retired civil servant who witnessed a British Army officer acting suspiciously in Dublin city centre on the day of the bombings, has come forward.

A British Army officer was questioned by Gardaí shortly after three bombs exploded in Dublin and a fourth in Monaghan in 1974. Thirty three people were killed and hundreds maimed in what Don Mullan of the relatives campaign group, Justice for the Forgotten, has called the ``biggest unsolved murder case in the history of the Irish state''.

From the outset, British collusion in the bombing and the subsequent cover up has been suspected. Now a witness, a civil servant, stationed just a few minutes walk away from where the bombs were planted, has described how he alerted the Gardaí to a suspicious British registered van parked outside the Post and Telegraphs office in the North Strand.

On 17 May 1974, at 1pm, Roger Keane was working at Aldborough House when he noticed a British registered white van parked near the entrance of the building. Keane alerted the Gardaí but they failed to respond to his initial call reporting a suspicious vehicle.

At 5pm, Keane made a second 999 call but by the time a patrol car arrived at 5.25pm, just minutes before the synchronised bombs exploded, the van had been driven towards Dublin Port by a ``tall army type of man''.

In an interview during a documentary screened by TV3, the witness described how he had seen the man approach the vehicle from the direction of Amiens Street. He was smartly dressed in a suit and carrying a Switzers bag and a copy of the Evening Herald.

After the bombs exploded, Keane had to insist that Gardaí accompany him to Dublin Port in a bid to trace the suspicious van. At 6.30pm two Gardaí from Howth station drove Keane to the port, where they found the van parked amongst juggernauts ready to board the ferry.

The witness said that the suit the man had been wearing was thrown over the front passenger seat of the van. In the back of the van the Gardaí discovered a suitcase and several empty cardboard egg boxes. In the suitcase was the uniform of a British Army officer. According to an American military bomb expert, egg cartons would provide a safe way to transport detonators or any unstable explosives or devices.

Keane was able to identify the van's driver when he returned to his vehicle. Questioned about the uniform, the man claimed to be a captain in the British Territorial Army. Two detectives later arrived to interview the British officer.

Roger Keane, a retired deputy chief superintendent for the Post and Telegraph service, where he worked for 45 years, did not know the fate of the suspect he helped to detain. It is not know if forensic examination of the egg boxes was carried out or whether the British soldier was detained long enough to check out his alibi. TV3 invited the Garda Commissioner to respond to questions arising out of Keane's statement but he refused.

Focusing on the subsequent cover up, TV3 highlighted the ``disappearance'' of the debris collected for forensic examination after the bombings. Inexplicably, the Gardaí sent the debris out of the jurisdiction of the 26-County state for forensic examination in a British laboratory in Belfast.

The debris material was handed over to a British military officer who was later suspected of planning the bombings. According to both Irish and British sources, the scene of the crime forensic material was given to RUC Special Branch officers, who handed the material to a British military intelligence officer. The debris subsequently went ``missing'' for 11 days before arriving at the Belfast laboratory.

The British officer had close links with loyalist gunmen organised into what the British called ``counter gangs''. The captain was a member of a covert intelligence unit based at RUC Special Branch headquarters in Belfast. He had a technical background and regularly travelled covertly south of the border.

The forensic debris was first sent to a secret intelligence facility at Sprucefield near Lisburn and into the control of the British officer believed to be the mastermind behind the bombings. The material was later delivered to a civilian forensic laboratory at Newtownbreda near Belfast and into the control of Dr. Robert Hall. It is not known what percentage of the debris material was handed over.

In a report at the time, Dr Hall, the head of the forensic lab, complained about the 11-day delay in receiving the material and the detrimental impact of the delay on the analysis of the debris.

According to secret documents obtained by the programme makers, recording British Cabinet and joint security meetings in late 1971, three years before the bombings the British were experimenting with additives to explosive materials that would provide a kind of chemical fingerprint after an explosion.

A meeting held in Downing Street on November 4 1971 attended by the then British PM Edward Heath, the British Army's chief of staff, General Michael Carver and an unnamed intelligence coordinator, was told of the experiment.

``In an effort to identify sources, experiments were being made with a view to incorporating into both detonators and explosive material some components that could be positively recognised after an explosion,'' said the document.

This revelation makes it all the more likely that three years later, in 1974, the British were well able to identity the source of explosives used in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings from the debris. They did not. The failure to identify the source of the explosives used and evidence to suggest that the debris was deliberately tampered with, leaves only one question. What did the British need to hide?

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1