BBC Panorama – The Spy in the IRA – Review

Collusion_is_not_an_illusion

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.

Loyalist Murder Weapon Found at IWM

VZ58 assault gun found at the Imperial War Museum (BBC)

VZ58 assault gun found at the Imperial War Museum (BBC)

A potentially important piece of evidence of British participation in loyalist paramilitary terrorism in Northern Ireland has been discovered in a display case in the Imperial War Museum London.

A BBC panorama show has revealed that a VZ58 automatic assault gun, until recently held on display by the Museum, has been identified by investigators as a weapon used in the loyalist paramilitary attack on a bookmakers in south Belfast. On 5th February 1992, two gunmen entered Sean Graham Bookmakers’ on Lower Ormeau Road and gunned down five civilians, including a fifteen year old who died from his injuries in hospital.

The unsolved killings have long been suspected as a case of collusion by state forces, including the Royal Ulster Constabularly (RUC) and British Army military intelligence, with the paramilitary force that claimed the killing, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), also known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Investigations by Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Stevens Inquiry III  had discovered that, in 1989, RUC Special Branch had received a 5mm Browning handgun from an agent who operated in the UDA, only to return it to the group, supposedly in a deactivated state. However, the gun was then used in two further attacks which killed six people, including the five innocent civilians in Sean Graham Bookmakers’ on Lower Ormeau Road.

The other murder weapon, the VZ58 Czech-made assault gun was allegedly destroyed by the RUC. However, Darragh McIntyre in his BBC Panorama show reveals that the gun has been on display in the Imperial War Museum in London. Officers from Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman have reportedly taken possession of the weapon for tests.

The gun could directly connect British intelligence to the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ killings, as well as the murders of two Catholic men in 1988 to which the gun is linked. British military intelligence are known to have hired a UDA operative, Brian Nelson, to travel to South Africa in 1985 to meet an arms dealer. Two years later, in December 1987, a shipment of weapons, including a large quantity of VZ58s, arrived at Belfast.

British sources say that the shipment slipped through the radar of their surveillance. Whilst some of the weapons were recovered by the RUC, the rearmament intensified loyalist attacks. According to The Guardian, in the six years before the shipment, loyalists had killed around 70 people. In the subsequent six years around 230 were killed.

The VZ58 assault gun found at IWM is also linked to the 1988 murders of Seamus Morris and Peter Dolan by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), as well as the attempted murder of Gerard Burns in March of that year. The UDA were in possession of the weapon when their members carried out the Bookmakers killings before the RUC supposedly destroyed it.

As in a number of other cases, it is suspected that not only was at least one of the murder weapons procured with direct British assistance but that a British agent was amongst the murderers. One of prime suspects in the Bookmakers killings was never arrested or publicly identified, despite being known to intelligence.

In 2012, relatives of the six victims of the 1994 loyalist attack in Loughinisland, County Down, brought legal action against the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI) over collusion in the deaths. A VZ58 assault gun was used in the shootings and part of the families’ claim focuses on British involvement in arming the killers.

This year, families of more than 100 victims have brought a challenge to the chief constable of the PSNI in the courts. The High Court heard from a HET senior investigating officer that a draft report into collusion during the 1970s between state forces and loyalist paramilitary groups had been shelved without explanation.

The discovery of the gun at IWM could support such cases, as well as justify the re-opening of the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ killings case. The position of the victims’ families has also been strengthened by the legal victory last year that forced the handing over of intelligence files on informers by the PSNI to the Police Ombudsman.

Amnesty International have called for an independent investigation into a “policy where the police, army and MI5 worked with illegal paramilitary groups, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of people.”