BBC Panorama – The Spy in the IRA – Review


The Spy in the IRA, a BBC Panorama production, examines the role of Freddie Scappaticci as a British Military Intelligence informant operating at the heart of the IRA’s informant assassination team. Code-named “Stakeknife” by the Military Intelligence, his direct role in at least 18 murders is currently subject to a police investigation. The British state’s role in these murders is implicitly under scrutiny, for Scappaticci was their “golden egg” in the IRA.

Ian Hurst, a former British Military Intelligence employee, who features in the documentary, leaked the role of “Stakeknife” and, then, the identity of Freddie Scappaticci. It is thanks to Hurst that this aspect of likely British state collusion in IRA murders has reached the public, though Scappaticci is now protected from media contact by a court order.

The former Head of Special Branch in Northern Ireland, Ray White, presented in the documentary, acknowledges that his team had to, on “rare” occasions, play God. That is, to sit and watch torture and murder of an individual going ahead in order to preserve their informants in the IRA – and to save other lives.

Yet, how many lives were saved by this policy used by both Special Branch and Military Intelligence and how many sacrificed remains unknown. The IRA assassinations of Mike Kearney, Vincent Robinson and Joseph Fenton are directly addressed by the documentary. Kearney, a 20 year old alleged to have disclosed the location of an IRA explosives dump to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was shot in the head. Vincent Robinson’s body was brutally beaten and dumped. Joseph Fenton, who was paid by Special Branch to provide bugged properties to the IRA, was allegedly interrogated directly by Freddie Scappattici and, eventually, shot in the back and the head.

The documentary claims that Scappattici’s Army handlers were informed of the IRA’s internal security unit or “Nutting Squad’s” planned interrogations and murders and, yet, in the main, did nothing to protect men who were also in the pay of the British intelligence services. In the case of Sandy Lynch, highlighted in the documentary, an intervention was made and he was rescued from the IRA.

“This is the story of how far the intelligence services compromised their peace-time values in an effort to beat the IRA – a story, some have been determined, should never see the light of day,” is how reporter, John Ware, introduces the documentary.

Yet, the story is incomplete. When John Stevens, now Lord Stevens, was first brought in to conduct a police investigation into the undercover war, he was told that Military Intelligence had no agents in the IRA. He also found that related documents had been destroyed as part of normal procedure.

Moreover, Military Intelligence was working for MI5 and, the role of that agency remains unknown. “I think Scappattici has the potential to pull the roof down – on all sorts of people, whether at the top of the Republican leadership or whether in the intelligence community and beyond. And, I’ll be amazed if we get to that point,” Barney Rowan, a former BBC correspondent says.

An ongoing police investigation, known as Operation Kenova, lead by Chief Constable John Boutcher from Bedfordshire Police, is examining the role of Stakeknife and the surrounding circumstances. Many of the sources in the documentary are anonymous. It is likely that more people like Ian Hurst will be needed to come out with evidence for justice to be done.

British state collusion in paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland involved paying and, even, arming informants and culpability for murders and cover ups continues to be argued.


Book Review: Dadland by Keggie Carew

Two very different dramas are brought together in Dadland. One is the story of a daughter losing the charismatic and contrarian father she knew to dementia. The other is that of a young man parachuted behind the lines in Nazi-occupied France to organise the resistance and, having escaped the Germany army, sent to Burma to lead guerrilla attacks against the Japanese. The combination of family drama, war-time exploits of the SOE and Keggie Carew’s meticulous historical research makes this biography of her father a compelling read.

The figure at the heart of Dadland is the author’s father, Tom Carew, born in Dublin in 1919. The reader is introduced to Tom as an elderly man losing his identity through dementia and his daughter’s efforts to hang on to him. The death of his domineering third wife had renewed the relationship between father and daughter – only for Tom to start to lose his memory. Tom struggles to recognise his family, let alone his past as an agent of the Special Executive Operative (SOE) deployed during WW2 in Operation Jedburgh and, later, in Burma.

Keggie Carew was moved by her father’s dementia to tell the story of his dramatic experiences as a young man during WW2. At 24-years-old, Tom Carew was parachuted into France in an operation involving co-operation between the British, US, French and Belgians to undertake the perilous task of working with the resistance in espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance operations. He would later escape from the Germany army through a sewer. Subsequently, he was deployed in Burma, where he orchestrated ambushes against the Japanese army, earning himself the nickname, “Lawrence of Burma.”

“Dad’s response to pretty much everything was usually different to everyone else’s response. Rules were there, not just to be broken, but to pit yourself against, to outwit. It was an intellectual exercise for him.”

Keggie Carew interweaves flashbacks of her life with her father with his immensely dangerous guerrilla warfare work with the SOE. One moment, in the book, he is parachuted into France under cover of night, unsure if his reception is the Gestapo ready to execute him. The next moment, we are told of a time when Tom urinated in a bar sink having been unable to find a toilet.

The meticulousness of the author in her observations of Tom Carew the father, husband and secret agent bring both the character and the history to life. The reader gets a sense of his humour, insouciance, brilliance, flaws and the effects of his struggles with dementia. That same care for detail by the author makes the history told of the SOE operations vivid and insightful. The book is a wonderful tribute, drama and history rolled into one.

Further information

Author Book Signing – Keggie Carew will be signing copies of her book, Dadland, at the Imperial War Museum London on Saturday 12th November 2016.

Guardian review of Dadland by Keggie Carew:

Video interview with Keggie Carew:

Interview with Keggie Carew – Gloss Magazine


Short film Review: Balcony – Winner of Iris Prize 2016


Genevieve Dunne (left) and Charlotte Beaumont (right) star in Balcony (Toby Fell-Holden/Film Doo)

Balcony, the Iris Prize Winner of the Cardiff-based international LGBTQ short film festival, is a confounding 17-minute drama set in an estate of high rise flats and features two girls in a hostile environment. Tina is a lonely teenager who finds herself drawn to Dana, from Afghanistan, who lives with her father and does not mix with the rest of the kids.

“The problem about being surrounded by bad things is you get the urge to destroy anything good,” Tina shares with the viewer after we see her take a photo with Dana.

The film is seen through Tina’s eyes and imagination. The viewer’s assumptions about Dana, who wears a headscarf and Tina, the tough teenager, are questioned. “People seem like they care but really, there’s way more to it than that,” Tina says, as we learn more about her abusive home life.

Toby Holden-Fell’s film questions stereotypes about immigrants and the choice of Dana as an Afghani opens up wider issues of Britain’s relationship with Afghanistan. “You’d think people’d want the truth when, really, they just want to hear whatever’ll make them feel better,” Tina says at the dramatic end.

Iris Prize jury chair Cheryl Dunye commented, “We felt that the director crafted a powerful film where not a single moment of its 17 minutes was wasted. The lead performance by Charlotte Beaumont was particularly outstanding as she took us on an internal transformation that left us speechless.”

Other winners on the night included Real Boy, a documentary by Shaleece Haas, which picked up the Best Feature Award, and Sign, selected by members of Pride Cymru’s Youth Council for the Iris Youth Prize Award.

Further information

Balcony is currently available to view with a TV licence on BBC IPlayer:

Montage of the films that competed for the £30,000 10th Iris Prize, 2016 –

Film Doo interview with director, Toby Fell-Holden:

Are Tyrants Good for Britain?

See Update 1 below

If a logical argument produces outrageous results, the premises of the argument must be questioned. On face value, it seems logical for the British government to promote and sanction the sale of weapons and surveillance equipment to known human rights abusers. British arms manufacturers profit to the tune of millions of pounds and these companies return the favour to the British people by paying taxes and employing people. Naturally, this logic involves dismissing repressed populations as subhuman.

There is theory and then there are facts. The major arms and surveillance supplier, BAE Systems, has been consistently cutting British jobs for cheaper climes – over 9,000 in the last few years. Moreover, BAE Systems actually deprives the public of tax revenue in two major ways. The government pays the company subsidies – £4bn from public funds in 2009-10, equivalent to a £64 donation from every person in the UK. Secondly, like many corporations, BAE Systems has legal involvement in New Jersey to minimise tax payments on its billion pound revenues.

It is not, therefore, clear that the arms trade benefits public funds. However, defenders insist that the employment the sector provides in Britain, though a small percentage overall, is important nonetheless.

But selling known mass torturers, imprisoners and murderers military equipment whilst claiming to be a democratic force is outrageous. As the cross-party Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) stated in a recent critical report: “The government would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time.”

The British government insists that it does not sanction the sale of military equipment “where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression.”

This begs the question as to what a tyrannical regime, such as Saudi Arabia, will do with the sniper rifles, assault rifles, hand grenades, water cannons, military jets and vehicles it buys from Britain. Human Rights Watch describes Saudi Arabia as having “responded with unflinching repression to demands by citizens for greater democracy in the wake of the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements.” Demonstrations are currently banned and dissenters are being detained without charge and tortured.

The British government says that states like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are slowly reforming human rights abuse for the better. Such claims exaggerate what are generally minor or, simply, cosmetic changes. Human Rights Watch reports that between 2007 and 2008, Saudi Arabia gave its judiciary some independence, gave women some improved rights, though they remain legally equivalent to minors and finally brought thousands of languishing detainees to trial in a new terrorist court. Yet, Human Rights describe these changes as “largely symbolic.”

Meanwhile, that same new terrorist court is being used to convict peaceful dissenters – merely talking to the BBC about the need for democracy, Human Rights Watch reports, was enough for one individual, Khalid al-Juhani, to be charged with “distorting the kingdom’s reputation.” Detainees continue to be tortured.

Bahrain is also undergoing reform, our government says, seeking to justify its close relationship with the dictatorship. The Guardian’s Louisa Loveluck describes Bahrain’s reforms as “hollow” as the state recently confirmed the convictions of 20 prominent dissidents. Saudi Arabia came to Bahrain’s aid in crushing the uprising of 2011.

Whilst the British government condemns the Syrian regime for its brutality against its people, they continue to approve the sale of weapons and spy equipment to an array of despots, including the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen. Fallen dictators, such as Muammar Gaddafi (Libya) and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt) were regular buyers of British weapons. They were also regular torturers and abusers of their people.

The outrageousness of profiting from oppression is made all the clearer by the Syria conflict. To the fury of our government, Bashir al-Assad warned that any foreign intervening force into the country would face chemical weapons. The world condemned this. And, yet, in 2002 a British newspaper reported that Britain was secretly selling chemical agents to a number of countries, including Syria.

By immorally selling weapons and spy technology to tyrants, the British government is inciting the hatred of swathes of repressed victim populations. This hatred is being exploited by fundamentalist terror groups to recruit members to their cause. This belies the claim that supporting “stable” tyrannies like Saudi Arabia keeps us safe. 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudi Arabian.

The logic of arming tyrants comes down to profit, markets and strategic resources. Britain’s biggest weapons clients are Arabian and North African regimes. This, of course, is where the world’s greatest source of energy is – what the US State Department once described as “a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the great material prizes in world history”. It is, apparently, in the interests of the British government to strengthen client dictatorships in order to continue to have control over this energy source.

But, the commercial logic of selling arms to torturers treats human suffering, death, war – and even terrorist attacks – as costs of the transaction. It makes some sense and it is outrageous. The premise of the logic must be wrong.

Update 1

An important point that I missed in this article is the simple fact that Britain itself is a human rights abuser, as exemplified grotesquely by the invasion and occupation of Iraq contrary to the international legal requirements of valid self-defence or UN security council resolution. It is, therefore, little surprise that Britain should enable human rights abuse by other states that subordinate their behaviour to British (and US) interests.

Britain should first stop committing direct human rights abuse itself – and stop enabling others to do so.