November 01, 2000Impunity Accountability and Access to Justice
1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 British Irish Rights Watch is an independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) that monitors the human rights dimension of the conflict and the peace process in Northern Ireland. Our services are available to anyone whose human rights have been affected by the conflict, regardless of religious, political or community affiliations, and we take no position on the eventual constitutional outcome of the peace process. 1.2 This report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions concerns the Force Research Unit, a unit within British army intelligence that assisted loyalists to target United Kingdom and Irish citizens for murder during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Much of the information concerning the activities of this unit has only recently come to light. 1.3 In 1990 we began to research the murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane, gunned down at his home by the Ulster Freedom Fighters on 12th February 1989. Patrick Finucane had been repeatedly threatened before his death, which followed very shortly after a government minister, Douglas Hogg MP, had made remarks in Parliament linking certain solicitors with the IRA. There was immediate speculation that there had been official collusion in this shocking murder. By 1990, press reports were beginning to emerge that government agent Brian Nelson, arrested in January 1990, had been involved. 1.4 Allegations of collusion were being investigated by a team of British police officers led by John Stevens, at that time Assistant Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary. His investigation, which began in September 1989, led to the arrest and trial of Brian Nelson. After the broadcasting of a BBC TV Panorama programme which alleged that Nelson had been involved in a number of murders for which he had not stood trial, including that of Patrick Finucane, and that he had purchased South African weapons on behalf of loyalists in Northern Ireland, Stevens was asked to carry out a further investigation. Neither of his reports has been published, although a summary of his first report is available. 1.5 Gradually over the years more information has come to light, thanks in no small measure to the investigative journalism of Panorama’s John Ware and Geoffrey Seed and to the interest taken in the Finucane case by international NGOs such as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. British Irish rights watch has made annual reports to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers chronicling these developments and the related problem of attempts to intimidate defence lawyers in Northern Ireland. In 1997 the distinguished Malaysian lawyer Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy visited the United Kingdom to investigate our allegations. He delivered his report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April 1998. 1.6 The Special Rapporteur’s report is extremely critical of RUC practices and emergency laws. He concluded that “… the RUC has engaged in activities which constitute intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” with lawyers. He found that intimidation and harassment of defence lawyers in Northern Ireland was “consistent and systematic”. He has called for an independent judicial inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane, saying,
“So long as this murder is unresolved, many of the community will continue to lack confidence in the ability of the Government to dispense justice in a fair and equitable manner.”
When the Special Rapporteur presented his report to the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations in Geneva on 1st April 1998, he said concerning the murder of Patrick Finucane:
“… I am convinced that there are compelling reasons for an independent judicial inquiry… The doubt which needs to be cleared, is whether there was security forces collusion in the murder. That seems to be the outstanding issue and only a judicial inquiry could resolve this.”
The Special Rapporteur concluded his address to the Commission with these words:
“I am quite conscious of the fact that the ongoing peace talks in Northern Ireland are at a crucial stage. It is within this context that I concluded and made these recommendations in my report with the conviction that respect for the rule of law and human rights with greater confidence in public institutions showing transparency and accountability will enhance the prospects for a lasting peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
1.7 The United Kingdom government’s response to the report was intensely disappointing. They denied that the murder of Patrick Finucane raised any “matter of urgent public importance” sufficient to justify a public inquiry, and declined to open such an inquiry unless new evidence comes to light, saying that there had already been an inquiry into the murder. There is, though, a world of difference between a police investigation – the only type of inquiry there has been to date - and a public inquiry, which has a much wider scope, would enable the participation of all interested parties, and would publish its findings. Since the UK government is in possession of all the evidence relating to the murder, has been refusing to make it public, and has an obvious interest in suppressing the truth, its response was cynical and self-serving. 1.8 British Irish rights watch continued to research the Finucane murder and allegations of collusion in Northern Ireland, in the hope of uncovering sufficient new evidence to persuade the UK government to hold a public inquiry. Our research has involved the scrutiny of every document we have been able to find that is in the public domain, including trial transcripts, inquest depositions, books, reports, articles, television documentaries and news coverage, Hansard, and so on. We have also had access to a large volume of documentation, amounting to some 10,000 pages, that is not currently in the public domain. These documents include copies of what appear to be army intelligence reports known as Contact Forms and MISRs, a journal written by Brian Nelson, statements made to the police, reports sent to the DPP, and other material. Wherever possible in this report we have sourced these documents openly. However, some of the material we have examined cannot be disclosed by us without infringing confidentiality. The documents we have seen appear to us to be authentic. 1.9 On the tenth anniversary of Patrick Finucane’s murder, British Irish rights watch delivered a confidential report, Deadly Intelligence, to the British and Irish governments and to the United Nations. Some 64 pages long, it detailed all that was known about his murder and about the operations of the Force Research Unit. It was extremely detailed and named many names, and for that reason we decided not to publish the report for fear of putting lives at risk. We sent our report in confidence to only three recipients: the British and Irish governments and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. We believed this to be a responsible course of action, and we further believed that the British government would be able to tell from our report whether the documents we have seen are genuine. If they are, then only a public inquiry can allay the concerns that they raise. 1.10 We had long suspected that the murder of Patrick Finucane was the product not of an isolated act of collusion, but of a systematic strategy. This report describes that strategy. In a nutshell, it appears that, through its secret Force Research Unit (FRU), a branch of army intelligence, the state sought out loyalist Brian Nelson and infiltrated him into the Ulster Defence Association, which carried out its campaign of murder under the flag of convenience of the Ulster Freedom Fighters. FRU helped Nelson to enhance the loyalists’ intelligence on people it was targeting for murder, and that intelligence rapidly spread throughout other loyalist paramilitary groups. 1.11 According to the material we have studied, the bizarre rationale behind FRU’s strategy appears to have been to ensure that loyalist murder gangs focussed on the “right” targets, i.e. active republicans, rather than innocent Catholics, and, by making sure that FRU handlers knew who was being targeted, to save lives by warning targets and protecting them. Apart from the fact that this meant that government-paid agents had inevitably to engage in illegal activity, the theory behind the strategy was incapable of being delivered in practice. FRU’s intervention did not save lives, it cost the lives of many people, all of whom, whatever their allegiances or activities may have been, were murdered. If the documents we have seen are authentic, FRU’s actions amounted to state murder by proxy. In this report we examine six of those deaths: those of Terence McDaid, Gerard Slane, Francisco Notorantonio, Patrick Hamill, John McMichael and Patrick Finucane, only one of whom was involved in terrorism. These cases demonstrate very clearly the consequences of the illegal and ill-conceived strategy that appears to have been behind FRU and its activities. However, we fear that these deaths represent the tip of a much larger iceberg. We consider that all the deaths and other crimes in which FRU was allegedly involved, directly and indirectly, merit proper scrutiny by a public inquiry. 1.12 In the case of Patrick Finucane, we also draw attention to the role allegedly played in his death by members of the RUC, who incited his murder in a number of ways. Douglas Hogg’s remarks in Parliament seem to have been inspired by an RUC report. It also appears that, quite independently of any information that Nelson may have passed on about the attack, RUC Special Branch had detailed advance knowledge of the plot. There is also some evidence to suggest that they suppressed a confession made in 1991 and protected one of the murderers from prosecution. 1.13 FRU’s activities did not stop at enhancing loyalists’ intelligence about potential murder victims. They also allowed Brian Nelson to be centrally involved in loyalists’ acquisition of illegal weapons from South Africa, an operation of which MI5 also had knowledge. The combination of the widespread dissemination of enhanced intelligence throughout the loyalist factions and the arrival of the arms from South Africa enabled the loyalists to double their capacity for lethal force, long after Nelson had been tried and imprisoned. 1.14 In the rest of this report, we set out the information that underlies all these serious allegations. Since it repeats the confidential information contained in Deadly Intelligence, we do not intend to publish this report in its present form. We believe that this report makes an unanswerable case for a public inquiry into the matters we raise. The material we have researched strongly suggests that agents of the state have been involved, directly and indirectly, in the murder of its citizens, in contravention of domestic law and all international human rights standards. That such alleged activities took place in the context of a bitter sectarian conflict can be no excuse. Governments are expected to operate to higher standards than those adopted by paramilitaries. If they fail to do so, then democracy itself is at risk. 2. THE FORCE RESEARCH UNIT 2.1 On 8th April 1998 Kevin McNamara MP received a reply to the following written Parliamentary Question: “To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many officers and soldiers were attached to the Force Research Unit; (2) what was the annual cost of (a) the Force Research Unit and (b) its replacement in each year of their operation.” Minister of State Dr Reid replied:
“I am withholding this information under exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.”
Thus the government indirectly acknowledged the existence of the Force Research Unit. 2.2 The intelligence services in Northern Ireland – army intelligence, the RUC Special Branch, and MI5 – have been heavily dependent upon recruiting informers among the paramilitary organisations, both republican and loyalist. Loyalists regarded themselves in many ways as being on the same side as the security forces and the intelligence services, and collusion was widespread. Many leading loyalists were also prime intelligence sources for the security forces. In this sense, they were double agents. However, the duality of their role made them difficult to control from the point of view of the intelligence services, who also sought to infiltrate their own locally-recruited agents into the paramilitary organisations. 2.3 The Force Research Unit (Northern Ireland) (FRU), formed in 1982, was a unit within the British army Intelligence Corps. Membership was open to E2 or “extra-regimentally employed” personnel. The FRU was unique to Northern Ireland. “The secret role of the FRU is to obtain intelligence from secretly penetrating terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland by recruiting and running agents and informers.” 2.4 FRU was under the command of an Intelligence Corps lieutenant colonel. At the time with which this report is mainly concerned, the commanding officer was Lt Col James Gordon Kerr. His staff included an Operations Officer (major), an Intelligence Officer (captain), an MI5 advisor, an RSM (regimental sergeant major) and support personnel (clerks, transport etc). In other words, it had much the same structure as many army units. The FRU had five detachments and a headquarters in seven locations: North Det, at Ebrington Barracks, Derry South Det , at Bessbrook Mill East Det, based at Holywood Barracks West Det at St Angelo near Enniskillen An out office of West Det at Aughnacloy Central Det, at Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn FRU headquarters, also at Thiepval. Each detachment was commanded by a lieutenant or captain, who was assisted by a Field Source Controller, who had 8 or 10 handlers (whose ranks varied from sergeant to WO2), a clerk and a collator. FRU was tasked through G2 (intelligence and security) at army headquarters in Lisburn (HQNI). FRU employed some 50 handlers and ran some 100 agents and informers. It therefore represented a significant commitment in terms of cost and personnel by the army and, presumably, the government. 2.5 Telephone calls from agents were recorded by handlers on Telephone Contact Forms (TCFs). Personal meetings were tape-recorded and then noted on a Contact Form (CF), after which the tape was erased. The CF comprised the following sections: CF1 - details of handlers, meeting places, routes to and from contact point, and other administrative details CF2 - diary of agent’s events and activities since the last meeting plus details of any intelligence of use to the security forces. This section included the following headings: BACKGROUND – the reason for the meeting FINANCE – details of payments to agents and associated financial matters WELFARE – matters relating to the agent’s personal welfare SECURITY – the agent’s personal security and that of the meeting MOTIVATION – the agent’s motivation for providing the information CASE DEVELOPMENT – how FRU intended to develop the agent or particular aspects of his role ACCESS – the agent’s access to sources TASKING – tasks set for the agent by FRU CF3 - details of debriefing of agent by handler, i.e. advice, instructions etc. Contact Forms were secret. One copy of each form was made and sent to FRU HQ in Lisburn. 2.6 A Military Intelligence Source Report (MISR – pronounced miser) was compiled from the CFs and TCFs. MISRs were passed to the RUC Special Branch (SB) Source Unit (SU). They contained information requiring police action. Prior to May 1988, MISRs were typed. After that they were computerised. 2.7 High grade intelligence was not included on MISRs, but was put on a secret MISR supplement. These were distributed to a limited group of addressees on a strict “need to know” basis. The SBSU was included in this group, but MISRs were very watered down and contained much less information than CFs. 2.8 Much of the information that has come to light about the way that FRU operated has done so because of the arrest and trial of one of its agents, Brian Nelson, who was infiltrated by FRU into the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, where he became the senior intelligence officer. We understand that Nelson was for a time FRU’s only agent among the loyalists, although other branches of the security services had many such informers. FRU’s other agents, however, appear to have been deployed amongst the republican paramilitary groups. 2.9 However, since we delivered Deadly Intelligence to the government in February 1999, considerable information has come to light as a result of books by and about FRU and of former FRU operatives giving information to journalists. 2.10 On 7th March 1999, three weeks after we delivered our report, the BBC2 television series Loyalists, by respected journalist Peter Taylor, broadcast an interview with Bobby Philpott, a UFF member released from prison in October 1999 under the early release scheme established under the Good Friday peace agreement. Philpott was a close associate of Brian Nelson. The broadcast included the following exchange:
Taylor: How were you able to target republicans in the way that you did?
Philpott: Security forces’ information.
Taylor: Which branches of the security forces?
Philpott: All branches: RUC, army, UDR.
Taylor: The police assisted you in the targeting and killing of republicans?
Philpott: In targeting.
Taylor then asked Philpott how he received this information.
Philpott: I was getting documents daily. I was getting so many documents I didn’t know where to put them.
Taylor: What sort of documents?
Philpott: Intelligence reports, photos, what colour socks republicans was wearing… what sort of cars they drive, where they lived… their safe houses.
Taylor: Could the UFF have done what it did without that degree of help from the security forces?
2.11 In 1999 Hodder & Stoughton published a book, Fishers of Men, by a former member of the Force Research Unit, under the pseudonym Bob Lewis. His real name is Philip Campbell Smith. In the foreword, he describes FRU’s role as follows:
“The objective of the unit was to target, recruit and run human sources from all divisions of the community, with priority given to the running of agents within the terrorist organisations themselves. The FRU’s role is probably the most sensitive of all the covert operations undertaken within Northern Ireland. It is the only military unit that exploits pre-emptive intelligence gathered directly from its informants to combat terrorist activity.”
In a note at the beginning of the book, the author says that his book was vetted by the Ministry of Defence prior to publication. 2.12 In a series of articles published in the Sunday Times, a former member of FRU calling himself Martin Ingram has made a number of revelations about what he calls “the dirty war”. He claims that FRU started the fire that nearly wrecked Sir John Stevens' first investigation into collusion and the activities of Brian Nelson. The fire took place on 10th January 1990, the same day that Brian Nelson temporarily fled to Britain in order to escape arrest by Stevens. It did extensive damage to Stevens' office and would have ruined his investigation had he not taken the precaution of keeping copies of key documents elsewhere. When members of Stevens' team discovered the blaze, they found that the fire alarms were not working and the telephone lines were dead. It seems unlikely that FRU could have started the fire and sabotaged the fire alarms and telephones without some internal assistance from the RUC, whose reservists guarded the building, which was the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Police Authority at Seapark, Carrickfergus. Martin Ingram claims that FRU “wanted a little bit of time to construct an alternative cover story” to explain its relationship with Nelson. It is believed that Nelson had fled as the result of a tip-off from FRU, who in turn had been tipped off about his impending arrest by an RUC officer. Commenting on these revelations in its editorial on 21st November 1999, the Sunday Times said:
“The public interest requires that the full truth is known before it is lost in a welter of cover-ups.”
2.13 On 25th November 1999, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon obtained an injunction in the High Court in London banning the Sunday Times from publishing any more allegations by Martin Ingram. The Secretary of State argued that Ingram owed "a duty of confidence/secrecy to the crown". Initially the court order barred the newspaper from even reporting that it had been silenced, and from repeating the allegations it had already published, but the following day Mr Justice Sullivan relaxed these conditions. The hearings were held in camera. On 28th November the Sunday Times called for a public inquiry. At the beginning of July 2000, Detective Inspector Learner, who is heading a Metropolitan Police investigation into whether the person they suspect is Martin Ingram is in breach of the Official Secrets Act, informed Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke that he wanted to interview him, and that if he did not attend voluntarily, he would be arrested. Liam Clarke opted to attend voluntarily, and was interviewed under police caution in the presence of his solicitor on 20th July 2000 at Musgrave Street RUC station in Belfast. Liam Clarke handed DI Learner a prepared statement, as follows:
“I am a journalist employed by Times Newspapers Limited. I am the author of the articles published in the Sunday Times dated 8 August and 21 November 1999 about which you have enquired. Based on my extensive experience as a reporter in Northern Ireland dealing with the troubles and on my contacts with police, army, government, civil service and political personnel I am satisfied that the material which was published under my name was not damaging within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act. In so far as my information came from one or more sources I am under the usual journalistic duty of confidence to those sources and therefore cannot discuss them. I believe that as a journalist I had a duty to disclose criminal or quasi criminal activity which may have caused injury or death to members of the security forces, persons assisting them or civilians.”
He did not add to this statement during the interview. He has been told that a file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will decide whether or not he should be prosecuted. The Minstry of Defence has also attempted to silence allegation about FRU published by the Sunday People. 2.14 The Metropolitan Police's Special Branch has now opened an investigation into the Sunday Times' allegations concerning the fire in Stevens' office. However, they are not looking into the question of whether FRU started the fire. Instead, they are investigating whether Martin Ingram has breached the Official Secrets Act by telling his story to the newspaper. On 17th December 1999 Martin Ingram was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers in Wales at the request of the Ministry of Defence. He was taken to Charing Cross police station in London and questioned about possible offences under the Official Secrets Act. He was released without charge on police bail on 18th December. We understand that he was not interviewed at the time of his arrest by the Stevens team, nor was he questioned by Special Branch about the fire in Stevens' office. The authorities seem very anxious indeed to cover up this story, which we have reason to believe is true. No charges were preferred against him, despite his having been on bail for almost a year. On 27th November 2000 Special Branch decided not to press charges against him. 2.15 Another person who has been on the receiving end of official attempts to silence him is journalist Nicholas Davies. His book, Ten-Thirty-Three: The Inside Story of Britain's Secret Killing Machine was published in November 1999. He too was made the subject of a High Court injunction in February 1998, and his notes and computer were confiscated. He claims he was put under intense pressure to identify his three informants, whom he describes as being from "the higher echelons of the British intelligence establishment", but he refused to do so. He was finally allowed to publish his book after removing some 10% of its contents, although he says that none of the excisions concerned FRU. It is to be presumed that, after such careful vetting, what remains in the book is accepted by the government as being true. In our view, his book is not always accurate when it comes to details. For example, our information is that Brian Nelson's FRU agent number was 6137, not 1033 as Davies claims. However, generally speaking the picture that he paints of FRU, its methods, and the role played by Brian Nelson largely confirms what we said in Deadly Intelligence. This is significant because his account, so far as we can ascertain, came from completely different sources from our account. 2.16 The picture that Nicholas Davies gives concerning FRU differs from our account in two important respects. First, he describes, more strongly than we were able to, a systematic policy and method of operation on the part of FRU which led them to instigate many murders. This description does not conflict with our allegations, but, if accurate, it substantiates them considerably. Davies gives details of at least nine murders in which he alleges that FRU played a proactive role, including the murders of Terence McDaid (although it was his brother Declan they targeted), Gerard Slane, and Francisco Notorantonio. Secondly, he alleges that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher took a very close interest in FRU's activities. He claims that this interest stemmed from her near escape at the time of the Brighton bombing in October 1984. He says that she demanded weekly reports from the Joint Irish Section, an MI5 committee that co-ordinated intelligence and security in Northern Ireland, and points out that MI5 had a liaison officer who worked from the same office as FRU's ops (operations) officer. He also says that some FRU CFs (Contact Forms, Davies calls them Contact Reports) were passed to the Joint Intelligence Committee, chaired by Margaret Thatcher, “usually on request”. 2.17 Davies also describes the use of “restriction orders” that ensured that other branches of the security forces kept out of an area where another branch was operating. He alleges that FRU often used these to assist loyalists to get to and from a murder scene without encountering security force patrols. 2.18 When it comes to the murder of Patrick Finucane, however, our account differs from his in many respects. It is obvious to us that his sources were not speaking from first-hand knowledge of this murder. 2.19 On 4th November 1999, the RUC raided Stoneyford Orange Hall in County Antrim. They found up to 300 files containing photographs, addresses, telephone numbers and other personal details of alleged republicans from South Armagh and Belfast. By 7th November alarming details were emerging about this find. According to one Sunday newspaper:
“The information contained in the handwritten documents discovered at Stoneyford Orange Hall in Co Antrim last weekend is more recent than was first thought. Some of the details were copied from army files compiled as recently as 1997, three years after the IRA declared its first cessation. There were also copies of 70 photographs of republican suspects taken between 1988 and 1993.”
The paper quoted a security source as saying,
“All the indications are that it was the work of elements within the regular British Army, probably intelligence. It represents a very serious breach of security.”
Another paper also claimed that the original documents came from army intelligence and reported:
“A senior RUC officer said the material they are looking for includes information on the murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, the personal details of republican suspects, and statements carrying threats against the lives of journalists working in Northern Ireland.”
By December the same newspaper claimed:
"Secret military intelligence files on almost 400 republican suspects that fell into the hands of dissidents came from the British Army's central headquarters in Northern Ireland. The files - which included names, addresses, car registrations, photographs and maps of the homes belonging to republicans - were downloaded from a computer inside Thiepval barracks, the army's HQ in Ulster. The Observer has learnt that the investigation into the leak to the Orange Volunteers centres on civilian workers at the base who are related to known dissidents. Last night the Army refused to discuss the origin of the files…"
If it is true that elements within British army intelligence have continued to leak security files to dissident loyalists since the ceasefires, the case for a public inquiry into the matters raised by our earlier report and by these recent discoveries is irrefutable. 2.20 On 31st May 2000 BBC television journalist Peter Taylor broadcast, as part of his documentary series Brits, an interview with a former FRU agent whom he called “Geoff”, as follows. TAYLOR: Informants remained the life blood of intelligence, and the Army as well as Special Branch recruits and runs them. Their handlers belong to the Force Research Unit, the FRU. It's so secret it doesn't officially exist. Its motto 'fishers of men' says it all. As much as anything, its fishers need nerve. GEOFF: You physically walk up to them.. TAYLOR: And say? GEOFF: And say "I want a word with you", or "hello" use his name and say something like "I'm from British Intelligence, I want 20 seconds of your time. Don't panic, don't run away" and hope that he stands still. If he doesn't, physically hold him. It wouldn't be the first time I was left with a duffle coat in my hands from one of them just taking off. TAYLOR: Geoff joined the FRU in the mid 80s and handled both IRA and Loyalist agents. One of the agents he ran became notorious, a former British soldier from Belfast called Brian Nelson. By the early 70s Nelson had left the army and joined the Loyalist paramilitaries of the UDA. In 1983 he offered his services to the FRU but disillusioned left after a year and went to live in Germany. In 1986 the FRU brought him back against the specific advice of MI5. Geoff became Brian Nelson's handler. GEOFF: We had set him up in that job. We had went to Germany, recruited him, promised him a house, had paid the deposit on a house. Brought him and his family back into this dangerous job. He arrived with a left-hand drive vehicle which was totally unsuitable. He was given the deposit for another car and set up in a taxi firm. TAYLOR: Were you involved in that rehabilitation here? GEOFF: Yes. TAYLOR: Astonishingly Nelson rapidly rose to become the UDA's intelligence chief. In theory his job was to alert his handlers about the UDA's latest target. They, in turn, would inform the Tasking and Co-ordinating Group, the TCG. The TCG operates from this office and consists of representatives from the agencies of British Intelligence. They decide what action should be taken to thwart terrorist operations and thus save life. But it didn't always work out like that. Nelson didn't tell his handlers everything, and even when he did, their superiors didn't always act. Nelson gave the killers cards containing personal details of dozens of Republican suspects. He'd compiled them with the help of his handlers. Geoff now admits that his secret army unit actually aided and abetted in murder. On occasions would you have give him the kind of information he was looking for? GEOFF: No, but I would say to him perhaps you don't have that wrong now. TAYLOR: But if you confirmed the vehicle registration, and if the person who owns that car is targeted by the UDA, UFF, and killed, then you're complicit in the killing of that person aren't you because you've confirmed the registration number. That's the real difficulty. GEOFF: Well it's a fine line you walk. TAYLOR: But the secret unit didn't stop Nelson crossing that line. He's believed to have been involved in over a dozen killings. In the end he pleaded guilty to five charges of conspiracy to murder. Three of those targeted survived. One was killed by mistake, and one was attacked in the middle of the night. His name was Gerard Slane. Nelson had supplied his photograph and file card to the killers. TERESA SLANE: There was four gunmen and they just took him down on the stairs, just gunned him down. Blood was all over the walls. TAYLOR: In the end things got too hot for both Nelson and the FRU. He was exposed as a British agent. The judge sentenced him to 10 years for his part in planning murders. At his trial, the FRU's commanding officer paid tribute to Nelson's work. Geoff was of the same view. GEOFF: He saved, in my estimation, dozens of lives. He was essential to what... I'll use the word the war effort, and gave us an insight into the loyalist organisations that we never ever had in the past, and I believe don't now. He was a jewel in the crown. TAYLOR: But to Republicans, Brian Nelson was living proof of collusion, the instrument used by British Intelligence to wipe out its enemies. The fact that Nelson usually tipped off his handlers cut no ice. Brian Nelson had warned his handler 11 days before your husband was killed, and what is more, the day before your husband was killed, that he was being targeted. TERESA SLANE: And yet the RUC never came to my door to tell me because my husband might have been here today if not for the RUC. TAYLOR: We don't know that the warning ever got to the RUC, but we do know, astonishingly from Geoff's own lips, that the FRU helped Nelson plan murder. Brian Nelson went to gaol because he was involved in conspiracies to murder. GEOFF: Yes, at our behest. TAYLOR: He was encouraged to be involved in those conspiracies. GEOFF: Yes he was. TAYLOR: By you and your colleagues. GEOFF: Yes he was. TAYLOR: By the FRU. GEOFF: Yes. TAYLOR: By British Intelligence. GEOFF: Yes. TAYLOR: Served their purpose. GEOFF: Yes. TAYLOR: And he went to gaol. GEOFF: Yes. I am ashamed of it. He wasn't protected as was promised to him. Brian believed not that he was bullet proof but that he had protection from us and that what he was doing he was doing at our request and therefore he had immunity - and he didn't.” 3. NELSON’S HISTORY PRIOR TO 1987 3.1 Brian Nelson joined the Black Watch Regiment of the British army in October 1965. According to his sisters, he was first recruited by army intelligence while serving with the Black Watch. Officially, he went absent without leave in the late 1960s and was medically discharged in 1970, but he may have remained in the army until 1974. 3.2 In 1972 Nelson joined the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The UDA was the largest loyalist paramilitary organisation, and was legal when Nelson joined. It was formed in 1971. Murders attributed to the illegal Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) were in fact organised and carried out by the UDA. 3.3 On 18.2.1974, Nelson was convicted on two counts of carrying a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence, possession of a firearm and ammunition with intent, two counts of intimidation, and assault. These charges arose out of the kidnapping in March 1973 of Gerald Higgins, a Catholic. Mr Higgins was abducted and taken to a UDA club in Wilton Street, off the Shankill Road, where he was subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture. He died prematurely not long after this ordeal. Nelson and two other UDA members were sentenced to seven years. 3.4 Nelson was released from prison in 1977, and again became involved with the UDA. At his trial the Crown claimed that he had “offered his services to military intelligence” in 1983. According to Crown Counsel, Brian Kerr QC (now a High Court judge): “From 1983 onward, while he was in Northern Ireland, he was in regular communication with military contacts known as handlers. And in the course of such contacts he provided information to his handlers of his activities and the activities of others within the UDA.” However, according to Nelson himself, army intelligence asked him to become re-involved with the UDA, and Lt Col Kerr confirmed that this was the case at Nelson’s trial. 3.5 In 1985, Nelson was appointed as the UDA’s Intelligence Officer in its West Belfast Brigade. At that time, the UDA’s intelligence was virtually non-existent. Nelson says that 100 index cards on republican suspects “mysteriously” appeared at the Shankill Road office one morning “ostensibly” for his use, and he spent some time trying to update them. In April 1985 John McMichael, then the officer commanding the South Belfast Brigade of the UDA, started to revamp the UDA’s intelligence. A computer was installed at the UDA’s Gawn Street HQ and information was entered on it and cross-checked. Nelson then received instructions from Gawn Street on how to organise his own intelligence, including purchasing his own computer. At first, West Belfast’s computer was housed at the UDA’s Shankill Road offices, but Nelson persuaded Tommy “Tucker” Lyttle, West Belfast’s commander, to let him take it home. After that he was able to share information with military intelligence. 3.6 On 25.10.1985, Nelson left Northern Ireland and went to live in Neutrabling near Regensburg in Bavaria, Germany, where he had served with the Black Watch. 4. SOUTH AFRICA 4.1 In 1985 Dick Wright, formerly from Portadown and by then an agent of Armscor living in South Africa, visited Belfast. He met a senior leader of the loyalist UDA and offered to supply the loyalists with weapons worth at least a quarter of a million pounds. However, he indicated that missile parts or plans would constitute an acceptable alternative exchange. 4.2 In response to this offer, UDA leader Andy Tyrie sent Brian Nelson to South Africa to investigate further. Within the UDA, Nelson’s involvement was under the supervision of John McMichael. Nelson was to travel to South Africa to find out what was on offer, what it would cost and what transportation arrangements needed to be made. Nelson told his handlers about the project. His handler “Mick” told him that permission for him to be involved had gone “all the way to Maggie [Thatcher]”. Nelson believed this to be an exaggeration.  However, it was reported that Nelson’s trip was authorised by the Ministry of Defence and by an un-named UK government minister. 4.3 Nelson spent two weeks in South Africa in June 1985, where he met Charles Simpson, a member of the South African Defence Forces (SADF) who was also believed to be an MI5 agent. Simpson, like Wright, was originally from Northern Ireland, where he had loyalist connections and had been a member of the loyalist organisation Tara. Simpson took Nelson to a gunsmiths in a shopping arcade in central Durban, where he met a Mr Millar. What was on offer was an initial purchase of small arms to the value of £100,000. The consignment would include:
During the second week of his stay, Simpson told Nelson that someone in the South African Bureau of Information wanted to know if Nelson could get hold of a Blowpipe from Shorts munitions company based in Belfast . The South Africans were prepared to supply weapons in return for information about or parts of missiles being developed by Shorts so that they could copy them for their own use and for sale in their extensive arms trade. However it was to be paid for, a deal was struck to supply the weapons. 4.4 According to Nelson, the night before he left, Simpson gave him some money for Simpson’s wife in Belfast and various other items. Nelson’s handler “Mick” met him at Heathrow, having cleared Nelson through customs and passport control. Someone from MI5 took Nelson’s suitcase away for two hours to examine the things given to him by Simpson. Nelson also gave Mick the detailed diary he had kept while in South Africa, in contravention of FRU rules. Mick accompanied Nelson back to Belfast. In 1987 Nelson’s handler “Ronnie” told him that it had been decided to let the first consignment of weapons enter Northern Ireland untouched in order to protect Nelson’s cover.  4.5 About a month after Nelson returned to Belfast, he asked Tucker Lyttle what was happening about the weapons. Lyttle said other UDA brigades were reluctant to come up with their share of the money. West Belfast UDA could go it alone but it would clean them out financially.  4.6 A CF dated 18.7.1985 says:
“6137 [Nelson] is one of only four known people who are aware of the proposed UDA arms deal with South Africa. As the original organiser of the arms deal and because of his successful trip to South Africa, during which he impressed his UDA superiors, he will most likely be involved in the completion of the arms deal.” 4.7 However, journalist Chris Moore, in his book The Kincora Scandal, paints a different picture. He says that the South Africans were unsure about Nelson from the outset. They had him checked out by another Tara member now living in South Africa (whom he identifies only by the pseudonym Billy and whom he says was recruited to Tara at the same time as Charles Simpson) and kept Nelson under constant surveillance while he was in South Africa and on his return trip to London. They realised that he was a double agent also acting for British intelligence, and broke off the arms deal. However, another deal was done later with Ulster Resistance, resulting in the shipment referred to below. A report in the Irish News suggests that such a deal may have been done by Roy Metcalfe, a member of Ulster Resistance who was murdered in 1989, as was fellow member Thomas Gibson.
4.8 In June 1987 a bank robbery took place in Portadown, which netted £325,000 and which was organised by the UDA, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Resistance. 4.9 Final arrangements for a shipment of weapons were completed in December 1987. The arms were dispatched in crates marked as containing ceramic tiles at the end of December 1987 by Joseph Fawzi, a Lebanese intermediary employed by an American arms dealer, Douglas Bernhardt, who was working for the South Africans. Dick Wright had previously worked for Bernhardt’s London gun dealership, Field Arms. 4.10 The shipment is thought to have consisted of:
4.11 The shipment was reported to have cost the loyalists £150,000, which was lodged in a Swiss Bank. 4.12 It was landed in Northern Ireland in late December 1987 or early January 1988. Many of the weapons were of Czech manufacture, and had been captured from the PLO by the Israelis, who then sold them to Armscor. The shipment was shared out between the three loyalist groups who had organised the Portadown robbery: the UDA, the UVF, and Ulster Resistance. The UDA lost almost its entire portion when cars driven by David Payne and two others were stopped by the police outside Portadown shortly after the share-out in January 1988 and the boots of two of the cars were found to be full of weapons. 61 Kalashnikov rifles, Browning pistols, fragmentation grenades and assorted ammunition were recovered. The UVF lost about half its share about a month later when police raided an arms dump in North Belfast. 4.13 The involvement of MI5 agent Charlie Simpson and FRU’s approval of Nelson’s trip to South Africa amounts to unofficial sanctions-busting on the part of UK government agencies. 4.14 Relatives for Justice, an NGO that represents the relatives of those killed by the security forces in Northern Ireland, has documented many deaths that occurred in Northern Ireland between 1990 and 1994 in their report, Collusion 1990 -1994. In the three years from 1985 to 1987, loyalists were responsible for 34 out of the total of 213 conflict-related deaths (16%). From 1988, when the arms shipment arrived in Northern Ireland, to 1994, they were responsible for 224 out of 595 deaths (38%). In other words, their capacity for killing more than doubled. We believe that many of these deaths may have been caused by weapons from this shipment. 4.15 Two other incidents concerning South African operatives suggest that other shipments may also have been made to loyalists by the apartheid regime. 4.16 In April 1989, three members of the loyalist group Ulster Resistance - Noel Little, Samuel Quinn and James King - were arrested in Paris together with arms dealer Douglas Bernhardt and South African embassy official Daniel Storm. The three loyalists were in possession of parts of a dummy Blowpipe missile stolen from Newtownards Barracks, where Quinn served in the Territorial Army. It is believed that they were negotiating another arms shipment to replace the arms lost when the first shipment was intercepted. 4.17 Daniel Storm claimed diplomatic immunity and was deported to South Africa. Bernhardt and the three loyalists were each fined and received suspended sentences. Subsequently a number of South African diplomats and other embassy staff were expelled from France and from the UK because of alleged collaboration with loyalists. 4.18 In April 1992, Pamela Du Randt, a captain in the South African Intelligence Service and Leon Flores, a former policeman also employed by the South African Intelligence Service, met three loyalists in London. The meeting was arranged by South African Defence Force/MI5 agent Charles Simpson. According to newspaper reports, an internal SADF inquiry found that two of the three loyalists were members of the RUC. It would appear that the RUC was involved in carrying out surveillance on Dirk Coetzee, a South African former policeman turned whistleblower then living in London. Flores is said to have paid Simpson £2,000 for services rendered by the RUC. Following the London meeting, Flores and Du Randt travelled to Hillsborough in Northern Ireland, where further payment in the form of Semtex explosives, weapons, night vision equipment and electronic eavesdropping devices was discussed in return for the continued surveillance of Coetzee. The two South Africans were arrested as they were boarding their return flight to South Africa from London and held by British police for five days before being deported. Upon their return, Flores was de-briefed by SAIS and a tape-recording of this de-briefing was made. 5. NELSON’S RETURN FROM GERMANY AND HIS ROLE 1987 - 1990 5.1 On 14.9.1986 John Bingham was shot dead by the IRA at his home in Ballysillan, Belfast. Bingham was a leading member of the UVF and allegedly had also been working for FRU. 5.2 At about the same time, army intelligence was coming under pressure from the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, to come up with better intelligence, following a series of embarrassing press stories and thefts of weapons from army barracks. The loss of Bingham, a key source, was keenly felt. 5.3 FRU informed MI5 that they wanted to re-recruit Nelson, and representatives of both agencies met him at Heathrow airport. MI5 were strongly opposed to re-recruiting Nelson; they considered that Special Branch already had sufficient agents infiltrated among the loyalists. However, FRU’s interests managed to over-rule those of MI5. Special Branch were also against the plan. The fact that FRU won the argument places a question mark over the policy of police primacy in Northern Ireland, and suggests that FRU had political backing, presumably from Tom King. 5.4 The officer commanding the FRU from December 1986 until March 1989 or 1990, who according to documents we have seen was Lt Colonel James Gordon Kerr, referred to at Nelson’s trial as Colonel J, told the court:
“…In January 1987 we were reviewing our current agent coverage of the Loyalist paramilitaries and we identified a gap in our coverage of the Loyalist paramilitaries and we examined the case of Brian Nelson and decided that we would try and re-recruit him… I first had to consult with the security service [MI5], but having done that and gained permission to go ahead with the recruitment, or the re-recruitment, we then initiated the procedures and brought him back from Germany and continued with the case from then on… We discussed the matter with him and explained to him our aims, our aims being that we wished to infiltrate him into the Loyalist paramilitaries in order to gain inside knowledge of their workings and in order to prevent or at the very least limit their murderous activities…”
Thus Nelson came back to Northern Ireland at the FRU’s behest, for the specific purpose of infiltrating him into the loyalist paramilitaries. 5.5 BBC journalist John Ware has published an article alleging that the CFs examined by John Stevens during his first inquiry into collusion prove that Brian Nelson was infiltrated into the Ulster Defence Association by army intelligence specifically for the purpose of helping the UDA to target IRA suspects, thus implicating the army in loyalist assassinations. The CFs record Brian Nelson’s weekly meetings with his army handlers. A CF dated 3rd May 1988 reads:
“6137 [Nelson’s code number] wants the UDA only to attack legitimate targets and not innocent Catholics. Since 6137 took up his position as intelligence officer, the targeting has developed and is now more professional.”
Interviewed by Vincent McFadden, John Stevens’ deputy, Lt Col Kerr confirmed that he had recruited Nelson to
“persuade the UDA to centralise their targeting through Nelson and to concentrate on known PIRA activities.”
Another CF, dated 6th February 1989, less than a week before Patrick Finucane was murdered, reads:
“6137 initiates most of the targeting. Of late 6137 has been more organised and he is currently running an operation against selected republican targets.”
5.6 John Ware says that Stevens found a “wealth” of detailed intelligence in the files he examined, but only summaries were passed to RUC Special Branch, whose role should have included warning potential victims. Ware alleges that these summaries had been “deliberately diluted”. He also says that the failure to keep the RUC fully informed contravened a directive issued by the army’s Commander Land Forces in 1986. We understand that the Stevens team was unable to substantiate Lt Col Kerr’s claim that Nelson’s work had saved numerous lives. 5.7 Nelson’s method of assisting the UDA to target its victims included compiling “personality”, or “P” cards, which recorded the target’s address, associates, identification details and a photograph. When a target was selected for assassination the P card was passed by Nelson to the murder squad. The P cards were stored in a suitcase in a safe house under the control of his army handlers. 5.8 The information collected by Nelson was widely disseminated within the UDA. In September 1987 Nelson used his P cards to give the UDA’s ruling Inner Council a briefing on republican targets. The briefing took place at the Mayo Street Social Club, which was UDA controlled. He used around 100 P cards and a leaked security force photomontage of suspected republicans for the briefing. The following attended the briefing: Andy Tyrie, chair of the UDA; John McMichael, the commander of the UDA’s South Belfast brigade; Billy Elliott, East Belfast; Tucker Lyttle, West Belfast; and Davy Payne, North Belfast. The Inner Council asked Nelson to brief brigade intelligence officers also. This meeting took place two weeks later and he passed each intelligence officer a set of photocopies of the P cards. Present were: Joe English, South East Antrim; Tom Reid, North Belfast; Sammy McCormick, East Belfast; Tosh Lyttle, West Belfast. Nelson’s FRU handler “Martin” knew about the briefing and about Nelson’s passing on of the P cards to brigade intelligence officers. A CF dated October 1987 suggests that FRU had intended to provide an escort for Nelson while he was taking his P cards to and from the briefing, although it is not known whether this actually happened. At Nelson’s trial, Crown Counsel Brian Kerr QC told the court that counts 27 and 28 of the indictment referred to Nelson’s passing copies of his P card system to five UDA members on 26.10.1987. A CF of that date names the recipients as Winkie Dodds, James Spence, Matt Kincaid, Alex Bunting and Alan Snoddy. 5.9 There is also evidence that Nelson was passing material to contacts in the UVF. A CF dated 2.5.1985 states that Nelson had passed information to UVF man Lawrence Clifford. Another CF dated March 1988 says that Nelson had again passed 20 photographs of targets to Clifford. On 8.8.1989 Nelson gave a large number of photographs of alleged republicans to another UVF man, Jackie Anderson. He also gave Anderson photographs of two men on 2.10.1988.5.10 Nelson’s information also found its way to another loyalist paramilitary group, the Red Hand Commandos, via Tucker Lyttle’s son Tosh
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