COLLUSION: Army gun used in 12 murder bids: Downing Street concerns over leaks to Paisley / MPs misled over collusion

Steven McCaffery, Irish News, 03.05.2006 

 

Stolen army gun linked to second killing

The story of Thomas Curry

Weapon's record of terror

Politicians kept in the dark

Weapon's theft recorded in every county

Files confirm suspicions

 

BRITISH prime ministers were aware of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries, soldiers and RUC officers - and believed security forces were "handing information to" Ian Paisley.

Evidence of this is contained in dramatic documents that include minutes of a Whitehall meeting where Margaret Thatcher was briefed on how security forces in Northern Ireland were "heavily infiltrated".

In the second day of a series of special reports, the Irish News reveals further files prepared by the British government and military intelligence on collusion.

The documents revealed today show how:

- an army sub-machine gun was used in a sectarian murder and 11 attempted murders, with the intelligence document even listing the victims' names
- civil servants answering MPs' questions on collusion concealed its existence
- a military dossier lists a string of incidents across Northern Ireland where arms were passed to loyalists with the collusion of soldiers

The dramatic new evidence comes after the Irish News yesterday revealed the existence of official files showing the British government was aware of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalists from as early as 1973.

The document estimated that 5-15 per cent of Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers were linked to loyalist groups, adding that "the best source of weapons, and only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR".

Letters accompanying that document indicated that it was due to be forwarded to Downing Street.

Today that link to the heart of government is reinforced by minutes of a meeting in September 1975 when the prime minister of the time, Harold Wilson, and his secretary of state, Merlyn Rees, briefed Margaret Thatcher as leader of the opposition.

A crucial section of the minutes, marked 'confidential', reads: "The secretary of state said that he was more worried by the current sectarian murders than by the bombings in Belfast.

"Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very close to the UVF, and who were prepared to hand over information, for example, to Mr Paisley.

"The army's judgment was that the UDR were heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants, and that in a crisis situation they could not be relied upon to be loyal."

The document making reference to DUP leader Ian Paisley is followed by a discussion on how British MPs were receiving letters from constituents calling for a pull-out from Northern Ireland.

The minutes show how Mrs Thatcher feared this would lead to further bloodshed, making a withdrawal from the north impossible.

The minutes add: "The prime minister agreed and said that any impression that the government were taking the line that the Irish could cut their own throats would immediately give the appearance that we had given in to the IRA."

Today's coverage also includes an in-depth report on the military intelligence document, which was never made public, but which records how an army sub-machine gun - stolen with the help of soldiers - was used in a murder and 11 attempted murders.

The document names those who were shot with the weapon and today we tell the story of the murder victim - Thomas Curry, a sea captain from Lancashire who docked in Belfast and was killed when loyalists machine-gunned a pub.

In a further development, we report how the army sub-machine gun may also have been used in a second murder not included in the document, where loyalists shot dead a 16-year-old Catholic.

 


STOLEN ARMY GUN LINKED TO SECOND KILLING

Shocking documents show that as early as 1973 the British government knew security force collusion with loyalists was resulting in murder. In the second day of a series of special reports, we recount the murderous history of an army gun - as recorded by British military intelligence

THE single page of typed sentences looks like a common or garden shopping list, but its contents are chilling.

"February 3rd, kidnapping...."
"February 20th, attempted murder...."
"May 9th, attempted murder...."
Number '6' on the list of loyalist paramilitary attacks reads: "31/5/73 - The murder of Thomas Curry, and the attempted murder of others in Muldoon's bar, Tomb St. Fired cases found at the scene."

The page is entitled 'Annex E' and is attached to a document detailing 'Subversion in the UDR' - both were written in August 1973 by British military intelligence and have never before been seen in public.

The main 'Subversion' document, carried in yesterday's Irish News, contained a series of shocking revelations, including that:

- five to 15 per cent of UDR members were linked to loyalist groups
- the "only significant source of modern weapons for Protestant extremist groups has been the UDR"
- the first loyalty of many soldiers was to "Ulster" rather than "Her Majesty's Government"
- removing undesirables from the UDR could "result in a very small regiment indeed".

The documents offer an unprecedented insight into the scale of security-force collusion and accompanying letters indicate that the information was to be passed to "No 10 Downing Street".

In an extraordinary development, the documentation, therefore, forms a paper trail that stretches from the heart of the British government to the scene of murder and attempted murder in Belfast.

The trail begins on page seven of the main document, where intelligence officers recount how, in October 1972, UDR and territorial army troops at the King's Park camp in Lurgan "were 'overpowered' by a number of armed men" - the report's author using inverted commas to signal his scepticism.

The document asks:

- how the gang successfully av-oided a series of patrols arriving and leaving the camp
- why the base's weapons had been gathered in one central location
- why guard orders were "contravened" to ensure "there was only one man on the gate".

"The possibility of collusion is therefore highly probable," the report says, adding later: "It is difficult to resist the conclusion that members of the UDR were party to these incidents."

The loyalist gang left with 85 semi-automatic rifles and 21 sub-machine guns. According to the document: "It is apparent that the raiders found rather more weapons in the arm-oury than they had bargained for and within hours 63 SLRs and eight SMGs had been recovered close to an abandoned Land Rover."

A total of 22 SLRs [self-loading, or semi-automatic, rifles] and 13 SMGs [sub-machine guns] were not recovered - until July 1973.

The main document explains: "One of the Sterling SMGs stolen from the Lurgan centre was recovered in the Shankill on 21 July 1973 in the possession of three men, two of whom were known members of the Shankill UFF/UVF group: they had just robbed a bar.

"Research at the Data Reference Centre has subsequently indicated that this weapon has been used in at least 12 terrorist outrages, including the murder of a Catholic, and seven other attempted murders (details are at Annex E)."

Today The Irish News reproduces Annex E.

It bears the heading: "A list of terrorist outrages in which one of the sub-machine guns stolen in the Lurgan UDR/TAVR [territorial army] Centre arms raid on 23 October 1972, has subsequently been used."

It states: "The examination of test [shell] cases fired from the SMG recovered from three men, two of whom were known UFF/UVF, following an armed robbery and attemp-ted murder at 192 Shankill Rd on 21 July 1973, has revealed that the same weapon has been used in the following incidents....."

It then lists 11 loyalist attacks, including references to a murder, a kidnapping, two unidentified shooting incidents and seven attempted murders.

All of the shootings took place in the Belfast area and in most cases the victims of the attacks are named.

Significantly, while the annex identifies seven attempted murders, three of the shootings targeted separate groups of Catholic youths and a detachment of security forces.

When the information is matched with news reports from the time, it becomes clear that the shootings could have ended in multiple deaths.

The third incident on Annex E is listed as: "20/3/73 - The attempted murder of three youths who were fired at from a passing car on Brookvale Avenue."

The reference to the incident carries little detail, but the Irish News report from the time suggests an atrocity was narrowly avoided.

"Twelve boys in the 14-15 years old age group, playing together in Brookvale Avenue, off Antrim Road, had narrow escapes when a masked gunman stepped from a Ford Cortina which pulled in close to them and opened fire," reads the report in The Irish News.

"The boys scattered in terror. The gunfire, from an automatic weapon, missed."

The paper quotes an eyewitness as saying: "It was a miracle there were not half a dozen bodies left behind."

The fact that the Brookvale murder bid was carried out using a British military weapon and that security forces believed it was stolen with the help of soldiers, was never made public.

In a further point, which may yet prove significant, it is reported that the gunmen sped off in a 'Ford Cortina'.

The Irish News records that on the same night loyalist gunmen - also armed with a sub-machine gun and driving what was described as a 'white Ford Cortina' - killed one Catholic youth and injured another.

The tragedy is not mentioned in the annex but the circumstances of the death raise further questions of the security forces.

The report in The Irish News of the time reads: "A 16-year-old Catholic youth was shot dead and a schoolboy companion critically wounded from a passing car at the corner of Merrion street and Grosvenor Road, Belfast, late last night.

"The dead boy was Bernard McErlean of Durham Street. He was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital, only 200 yards away, but he was dead on arrival.

"The wounded boy... was hit by six bullets from a sub-machine gun in the chest, arms and buttocks.

"Soon after the shooting lower Falls residents accused the British army of 'facilitating Protestant ex-tremist gangs'.

"Eyewitnesses said the boys were shot from a white Ford Cortina car which passed, did a U-turn, and re-passed the corner of Merrion Street when the gunmen opened fire.

"Local residents said that only minutes before the boys were shot an army saracen burst through a barricade at the corner of Merrion Street, scattering barrels and other articles 'in all directions', before 'disappearing into the darkness'."

The Irish News quotes one woman as saying: "People came running out when they heard the crash and a crowd gathered at the corner of Merrion street.

"Then the Ford Cortina came up Grosvenor Road, turned, and the gunmen opened fire.

"Young McErlean was killed in-stantly. It looked like a well timed operation - first the barricade was swept aside, bringing a crowd into the street, then the murder car swept by. The people around here can't be blamed for thinking that the British army had a hand to the murder."

The death of Bernard McErlean does not feature in the Annex and it may be unrelated to the British army sub-machine gun in question.

But the attacks happened on the same night, both involved a sub-machine gun and on each occasion the gunmen used a Ford Cortina.

If, however, the same weapon was used, then Thomas Curry was not the only person killed by the gun taken in the "self-service" raid in Lurgan.

And the significance of the attack may yet go further. The youth who was shot and injured alongside Bernard McErlean was 15-year-old Kieran Nugent.

Nugent, of Merrion Street, survived and went on to become a well-known republican and a key member of the prison 'blanket protest'.

Imprisoned in 1976, he refused to wear inmates' clothing: "The only way I will wear a prison uniform is if they nail it to my back."

Although he died six years ago, his words kick-started years of republican prison protests, culminating in the hunger strikes and he is commemorated in a mural on the Falls Road.

The main 'Subversion' document details how large quantities of UDR semi-automatic rifles, pistols and machine guns were stolen by "well briefed gangs, without a shot being fired in anger or any significant attempt made to resist".

The document also reveals that: "Since the beginning of the current campaign the best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups has been the UDR."

'Annex E' has given us the story of just one of those weapons.

 


THE STORY OF THOMAS CURRY

THOMAS Curry, a civilian sea captain from Lancashire, was gunned down by hooded men after going ashore in Belfast to post a letter.

Capt Curry was well known at Belfast's commercial docks and he stopped for a drink in a nearby bar before returning to his vessel, the Orwell Fisher.

The UDA/UFF launched an attack on the pub. A witness remembered seeing hooded men "with a sub-machine gun, spraying the customers in Muldoon's Bar with bullets, while a home-made pipe bomb was thrown in".

Nine customers and staff were injured, including two off-duty solders in civilian clothes who were drinking at the bar.

The Irish News reported at the time that the attack on May 31 1973 was one of three "bomb and bullet attacks on Catholic-owned public houses" that day.

"Belfast's night of bloodshed began at 8:30pm when a gunman sprayed the inside of Muldoon's bar with bursts of sub-machine gunfire," reads the report in The Irish News.

"One man standing at the bar close to the door was in the direct line of fire and was hit at least twice in the throat. He died almost immediately."

Capt Curry was from Preston in Lancashire and had been married for only six months when he was killed.

Members of Belfast's seafaring community attended a dockside service as his coffin was carried aboard his vessel for its journey home.

Annex E records that in the weeks after Thomas Curry's murder, the same army sub-machine gun was used in four attempted murders - including when shots were fired from a passing car injuring four Catholic teenagers on Belfast's Antrim Road in June 1973.

The main 'Subversion' document, to which Annex E is attached, records that: "There can be little doubt that subversion in the UDR has added significantly to the weapons and ammunition stocks of Protestant extremist groups."

It adds: "Neither the British army, nor the minority community has yet experienced the full force of these weapons, for many are in store." Looking to the future, it strikes a warning note: "It is a statement of the obvious that circumstances may well arise in which all the weapons stolen from the UDR may well be used, perhaps against the British army. They would form a most significant part of the armoury of the Protestant extremists."

 


WEAPON'S RECORD OF TERROR
TEXT OF ANNEX E

Annex E: A List of Terrorist Outrages In Which One of the Sub-Machine Guns Stolen in the Lurgan UDR/TAVR Centre Arms Raid on 23 October 1972 Has Subsequently Been Used.

The examination (by the DRC) of test cases fired from the SMG (sub-machine gun) recovered from three men, two of whom were known UFF/UVF, following an armed robbery and attempted murder at 192 Shankill Rd on 21 July 1973, has revealed that the same weapon has been used in the following incidents.

1. 3/2/73 - Find of fired case in car CIJ 7010 at junction Crumlin Rd/Century St.
2. 3/2/73 - Kidnapping of R W Stewart. Fired cases found in car 5848 WZ. Ballygomartin Rd.
3. 20/3/73 - The attempted murder of three youths, who were fired at from a passing car, on Brookvale Avenue.
4. 9/5/73 - The attempted murder of Mrs E Armstrong, Tobergill St. Fired cases found at scene in car AJA 7339.
5. 14/5/73 - The attempted murder of Francis McCourt, Church Rd, Whiteabbey. Fired cases found at scene.
6. 31/5/73 - The murder of Thomas Curry, and the attempted murder of others in Muldoon's Bar, Tomb St. Fired cases found at scene.
7. 9/6/73 - Find of fired cases at Carnan St (0450 hours). No report of shooting incident.
8. 9/6/73 - Attempted murder of Frank Haddock in Pacific Avenue/Atlantic Avenue. Fired cases found at scene.
9. 10/6/73 - Attempted murder of Messrs, Thompson, Cochrane, McGowan, and O'Neill, on the Antrim Rd, who were fired at from a passing car. Fired cases were handed to police.
10. 11/6/73 - Attempted murder of members of the Security Forces, Shankill Rd.
11. 9/6/73 - Attempted murder of J J Hawthorne, on Shankill Rd.

 


POLITICIANS KEPT IN THE DARK

The British parliamentary system places great store in its respect for the House of Commons - but the files being revealed by The Irish News show how MPs who asked questions about UDR activity, were told half-truths…

NATIONALIST communities who believed security forces were conspiring with loyalists demanded that their elected politicians raise the alarm.

But now two sets of documents reveal - for the first time - how questions on paramilitary crime inspired 'sterile' political answers.

Frank McManus was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 1970, having successfully stood as a nationalist 'unity' candidate.

In August 1972 he asked a parliamentary question of the minister for defence, and a written record has emerged.

The document records that Mr McManus asked: "How many guns have been reported stolen from members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the last six months; and how many have been recovered following investigations."

The written answer to his parliamentary question, reads: "Since 1 February 1972 49 weapons of different kinds have been reported lost by, or stolen from, the UDR. Five of these weapons have been recovered to date."

However, a second page was filed along with the answer.

It is marked "Confidential - Background note", and lists three points:

- firstly, it lists the weapons as including 14 pistols, but also 31 semi-automatic rifles and four sub-machine guns
- secondly, it reveals weapons were stolen from UDR members' homes, but also from "UDR armouries or guard rooms"
- the crucial third point reads: "In a number of cases collusion is suspected."

This additional information was never made public, until today.

Mr McManus, who still works as a solicitor in Fermanagh, said he asked his question against a background of concerns over the UDR.

Surprised to hear of the file's existence, he said it was clear that important information had been kept from him.

"Everyone knew that there was collusion and of course the government was always at pains to cover up," he said yesterday.

"A number of very close friends of mine were killed and it was common knowledge that it was men in uniform who did it."

He added: "Technically the answer I received is, in some respects, correct but the real point is that they were concealing the essential parts. They wanted to conceal it."

Bernadette Devlin MP raised her concerns over the UDR on the floor of the House of Commons in a July 1972 debate with then secretary of state William Whitelaw.

He told the House: "The honourable lady makes a very serious accusation about the connection of the Ulster Defence Regiment with the Ulster Defence Association.

"If she has specific evidence she owes it to me to send it to me in writing... in fairness to everybody concerned."

She sent Mr Whitelaw a list of allegations of UDR violence.

"Should you require a 'blow-by-blow' account of intimidation in the areas concerned, I suggest you contact the RUC in Cookstown, Magherafelt, Coagh and Moneymore, where the files are currently gathering dust," she wrote.

A reply from the secretary of state's office arrived in October, 1972, reading: "The thefts of eight UDR weapons in Co Tyrone are being investigated. In none of these cases has any proof been found of collusion between members of the UDR and paramilitary organisations. The appropriate action would of course be taken if such collusion was proved."

But the new files contain the letters sent between the officials who drafted the reply.

One considers allegations that UDR soldiers shot at the home of a Catholic man: "Police enquiries have failed to implicate members of the UDR, although they were suspected..."

Another writes: "Nine self-loading rifles are missing from the UDR in County Tyrone. In none of these cases has collusion been proven between the UDR and paramilitary organisations, although in some cases there are suspicions of such collusion (perhaps in association with intimidation) and investigations are in hand. East Tyrone is an area where we believe that certain UDR members may be sympathetic towards the UDA."

Crucially, the civil servant advises a colleague: "I suggest that the reply to Miss Devlin should not quote specific figures but should say: 'Certain thefts of UDR weapons in the Tyrone area are being investigated. In none of these cases is there any proof of collusion between members of the UDR and paramilitary organisations. The military authorities would of course take severe action if such collusion were proven'."

As in the case of Frank McManus MP before her, Bernadette Devlin, Westminster representative for Mid Ulster, raised concerns, but heard nothing of the official suspicions of collusion.

 


WEAPONS THEFTS RECORDED IN EVERY COUNTY

THE 'half-truths' presented to politicians are all the more shocking when set against yet another document listing how army guns were passed to loyalists.
The document entitled 'Subversion in the UDR', detailed in yesterday's Irish News, revealed how loyalists launched major weapons raids on army bases in 1972/73 with the help of soldiers.

But in addition to this document, a separate file shows how military officials recorded the loss of small amounts of weapons at locations in every county in Northern Ireland.

The losses usually involve single weapons - one officer calculating them on the back of a page, as pictured.

A total of 64 weapons - mainly semi-automatic rifles - were recorded as stolen from UDR members. The author fills out a 'comment' box for each case and in 23 cases collusion was suspected.

The comments written for these cases include remarks such as:

- "UDA Portadown believed responsible. Possible collusion with unknown member of unit."
- "Three armed masked men took two UDR soldiers' weapons whilst sitting in their car outside their home. One soldier's son is known to be member of the UDA."
- "Car stopped by armed men. Weapon taken. One of the men seemed to know soldier. Possible collusion, but maybe coercion as children were in the car at the time."

In the majority of cases the weapons went to loyalists - but two thefts are blamed on republicans. In one of these, the IRA brutally murdered UDR member Tommy Fletcher who was taken from his Fermanagh farmhouse in front of his wife and shot 14 times in a nearby field.

 


FILES CONFIRM SUSPICIONS

THE significance of the files made public in the last 48 hours is that they have delivered confirmation of what was once dismissed as a 'collusion conspiracy theory'.

They represent a substantial addition to the debate on how the Troubles developed and why violence lasted so long.

For the first time they give a dramatic insight into the scale of collusion and, crucially, how much the British government knew about it.

The 'Subversion in the UDR' document was written in August 1973 by military intelligence and Ministry of Defence officials, with one civil servant expressing fears over the questions that "are bound to follow once it has reached No 10".

They were obviously concerned that the then prime minister would be shaken by their report that 5 to 15 per cent of UDR troops were linked to loyalists and that the regiment was the "best single source" of weapons for loyalist paramilitaries.

So what questions did Downing Street ask?

We know that the shocking reports of subversion reached the prime minister's desk.

This is confirmed by a further document, stamped 'confidential', which records a meeting in September 1975 - two years after the subversion document was written.

The document is a summary of a meeting where the prime minister at the time, Harold Wilson, and his secretary of state for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees, brief the leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher, on political and security matters.

The five-page document shows that the politicians held a meeting in the House of Commons where Mrs Thatcher was brought up to date on events in Northern Ireland.

It is clear the discussion was frank and wide-ranging. They discuss the IRA, the performance of the courts and the overcrowding of prisons.

However, a key section on the security situation confirms that Downing Street was aware of the UDR subversion and reveals additional concerns over the RUC.

"The Secretary of State said that he was more worried by the current sectarian murders than by the bombings in Belfast," reads the document.

"Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very close to the UVF and who were prepared to hand over information, for example, to Mr Paisley.

"The army's judgement was that the UDR were heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants and that in a crisis situation they could not be relied on to be loyal."

The record of the discussion sheds no further light on these revelations. None of the politicians are recorded as raising concerns or expressing surprise at the comments.

Two years after the subversion document was written, therefore, the UDR remained "heavily infiltrated" and Downing Street was linking elements within the RUC to the loyalist UVF.

With this in mind an extraordinary RTE documentary filmed in 1977 gives a revealing insight into the UDR at the latter stages of the decade.

The programme interviews a number of senior officers, including an unnamed company major.

There is no suggestion that the officer was involved in any wrongdoing whatsoever but his comments echo those of his colleagues on the programme, offering a valuable insight into UDR thinking.

The TV reporter and soldier discuss the UDR's role.

Interviewer: "Who do you see as the enemy in your area?"

Officer: "Well the Provisional IRA is the only enemy we have."

Interviewer: "Are you suspicious of the Catholic community in your area?"

Officer: "Well a certain amount of them you have to be suspicious, because a lot of them are involved in the deaths of members of this company."

Interviewer: "Well could you give me an idea of how many Catholics in your area that you are suspicious of?"

Officer: "Well that's a very difficult question to say, well roughly speaking say 50 per cent."

A nationalist resident tells the programme: "Obviously there are very good and very decent men in the UDR but the record has been poor.

"The great difficulty I see with the UDR is it in fact brings one section of the community into the security forces and keeps the other out."

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Stalker and Sampson inquiries examined allegations of wrong-doing in the RUC, while three investigations by John, now Lord, Stevens probed allegations of security force collusion with loyalists.

The British government never allowed the inquiry teams to publish their findings.

Now these files unearthed from the government's own records have confirmed that as early as 1973 it was aware of large-scale collusion.

We know that politicians who asked questions were misled.

Crucially, there is no evidence of any substantial effort by government to combat collusion.

These files amount to a few dozen pages, but they have confirmed allegations that were evaded throughout the Troubles.

They leave us with one important unanswered question: What is in the files we have yet to see?

 

[Were you or a member of your family affected by incidents outlined in these documents? If you wish to discuss this information you can contact The Irish News on 028 9033 7544]

Part 1/ 02.05.2006
Part 3/ 12.05.2006
Part 4/ 15.05.2006

 


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