Many scenes in this film have been reconstructed based on real events


In the early summer of 1987, a van  loaded up with personal possessions arrived at Belfast docks.


At the wheel, was a native of Belfast Brian Nelson..

" 6137..."

Nelson was bringing his family home from abroad. But this was no ordinary homecoming.


Brian Nelson had once been a soldier.

Now he was coming back to work for the British army again - only this time as an undercover agent for Military Intelligence.

Carole Creighton 

Brian Nelson's sister

"He was a very good agent.... pretty non descript. He was small, you wouldn't notice him in the street and so from that point of view, very good cover...so he ended up with a nickname like the secret squirrel."

The unit based in Belfast that Nelson was going to work for was the most secret in the British Army - the innocuously named "Force Research Unit"

But there was nothing innocuous about their plans for their new agent 6137.

These top secret records on agent 6137 were never were meant to see the light of day.

But tonight they will. And what they reveal about how the British State used him is explosive.

A brutal killing was to provide their new agent with what Military Intelligence described as the "perfect opportunity."

Michelle Power

"It was just a normal Sunday. Everybody got ready for mass.

Michelle Power

Aged 8 when her father was killed

"...I felt all this glass coming in all over my face and the loudness of a bang...and I turned round to the right and looked at my dad and there was just blood everywhere, it was all over his whole face, body and all over me... and I was just getting glimpses of him because of the glass and I was calling his name and I was saying 'Daddy, daddy'"..

The men who killed Michael Power were members of a Loyalist murder gang. They'd convinced themselves he was in the IRA.

But there was the only one organisation he belonged to - the Catholic church.

Michelle Power

"My father died for his faith. He died solely because he was a Catholic. And just because of the hatred that exists in this country."

The "perfect opportunity" for the army's new agent was not to catch the murder gang who killed Michael Power.

It was, according to the secret army records, an 'opportunity' to join the gang - to help make their targeting "more professional."

Brian Nelson was to ensure the "proper targeting of Provisional IRA members....prior to any shooting..."

Every week, Nelson would secretly meet soldiers from the Force Research Unit who in the jargon of the spy world were his "handlers".

They told agent 6137 they wanted him to take control of the Loyalist murder gangs' targeting.

According to the army records, Nelson was to get these gangs to:

".. concentrate on specific targeting of legitimate Republican terrorist targets."

To help Nelson identify these targets, his handlers set him up as a mini cab driver.

This gave him cover to enter hard line republican areas where most of the targets lived.

Nelson relished this cloak and dagger world, as he wrote in a private journal:

Brian Nelson's Journal

OOV: " I was bitten by a bug...hooked is probably a more appropriate word.... One becomes enmeshed in a web of intrigue, conspiracies, confidences, dangers and the power of being aware of things that others around you aren't....the power of this phenomenon acts like a drug...."

Nelson recorded the addresses, cars, and movements of those to be shot by Loyalist murder gangs of the Ulster Defence Association, the UDA.

Carole Creighton

Brian Nelson's sister

Panorama 1992

A. "He would only work on supposedly legitimate IRA targets.

Q: What is a 'legitimate' IRA target?

A: Well, one that the UDA will have proof has been involved in attacks, in bombings, in murders...."

The army wanted Nelson to work hand in glove with killers like this man Ken Barrett.

We made contact with Barrett a year ago - and to our surprise, he eventually agreed to meet us.

We've had twelve meetings with him, which we've recorded secretly.

Like Nelson, Barrett wanted to hit only "Republican targets"  Which is why  Nelson passed their details to him.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"Now, if you were operating with us, and you knew the score then, that when we asked you for something, you knew what was coming next, you're not fucking stupid....Brian had been involved a brave while himself....He knew what the score was.. I mean if we asked him details on a Republican, he knew it wasn't to send him fucking postcards ... like I mean, they're not passing us documentation to sit in the house and read it.  They're not passing us documentation because they know what's going to result afterwards.  Know what I mean?"

I certainly got to know what Barrett meant.

Later, I asked him how many men he'd killed. He held up both hands showing ten fingers.

Johnston Brown

Detective Sergeant

Royal Ulster Constabulary 1981 - 2000

"Barrett.... was known to be a well placed, high ranking member of the UDA in North Belfast ....  a dangerous,  dangerous individual, certainly the most frightening individual that ever ..to me as a detective officer.... You look into these men's eyes, certainly as an interviewer for 30 years talking to them across a table, they.. there is a peculiarity, like a common denominator, and yes, I had no doubt he was a killer."

So murky was this relationship between murder gangs and the army that it's been the subject of three police investigations over thirteen years -  all headed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

Often the undercover war in Ireland  had to get dirty.

But never this dirty, his final report will say.

Sir John Stevens

Commissioner, Metropolitan Police

Q: Was what was done in the name of the state defensible?

A: I think if you look at the work we did - and this has been the most extensive criminal enquiry in history - the work we did in discovering the activities of the so called double agent Nelson was involved in, of course that was inexcusable."

Tonight, for the first time, some of the detectives who've worked under Sir John Stevens speak publicly about the most sensitive police investigation in modern times.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994


Q: "So let me have a clear answer to this: did.. the Stephens enquiry come to the conclusion that military intelligence was colluding with their agent ... to ensure that the Loyalists shot the 'right' people?

A: Yes, that was the conclusion we came to.....there was certainly an agreement between his handlers and Nelson that the targeting should concentrate on what they described as the 'right' people."

Alex Maskey

September 1986

"The introduction of internment in 1971 which began a new phase of the struggle in Ireland....."

One of the 'right' people was Alex Maskey.

He is a member of Sinn Fein, political wing of the provisional IRA.

Fourteen years ago, Maskey was their leader on Berlfast City Council

On the afternoon of 17 July 1988,   Nelson spotted  Maskey's car outside a Belfast restaurant.

Maskey had gone there to have Sunday lunch.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

A: "Nelson... went around North Belfast trying to recruit an  assassination team and then when one unit was unable to assist he went on till he found another one.

Q: Was that role as an agent provocateur?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Do you believe that Brian Nelson wanted Alex Maskey murdered on that day?

A: Yes."

The first assassination team Nelson approached couldn't get to their weapons in time.

So he raised a second team  - one of whom was the gunman Ken Barrett.

Barrett went into the restaurant - but he was  too late. Maskey had just left.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

OOV - "I mean I actually went into that place and stood and had a glass of beer like...

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

Q: And he wasn't there?

A: And he wasn't there.  And yet with all after I'd left it, a couple of hours later, I was standing in Highfield Rangers having a drink,  Brian comes in and says he's seen them there....."

The secret Military Intelligence records show that at 17.55 that evening Nelson telephoned his handler, Sgt Margaret Walshaw

This is the transcript of their conversation in which Nelson refers to a "Mr Heckler" by which he means the gun that had been brought to kill Maskey:

".. he just missed death by about twenty seconds. I was involved up to my neck with a Mr Heckler .... I'm mad, we only missed him by 20 seconds. ...it's because it took so long to set it up...."

Sgt. Walshaw then asked Nelson what was going to happen next:

"If he's there next Sunday, he's going down." 

The secret army unit for whom Nelson worked existed supposedly to save lives.

They were under orders to pass the police life saving intelligence as soon as possible.

But no warning about the planned assassination of Maskey the following Sunday was passed to the police.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q: "Why do you think it is that they didn't warn the police?

A: The conclusion must be that they did not want the police to be at the scene..

Q: Do you think the army were prepared therefore to allow events take their course?

A: In the absence of any other explanation coming from the army that is the view I would take, yes."

Because Maskey didn't return to the restaurant the following Sunday, he survived. Today, he's just been elected Sinn Fein's first Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Those who colluded in the attempt to kill him did, however, have one complaint about their agent: his "cowboy attitude to targeting."

Their concern, however, was less about Nelson having set up the assassination - than about him getting caught:

"....6137 has been warned....we cannot help him if he is caught by the RUC....."

The army had always intended their agent to take more of a back seat.

They wanted him to stick to supplying just the names and addresses of the targets.

But there was a problem.

When Nelson joined the Loyalist murder gangs, their intelligence came from files, many of which were out of date.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

Suitcase clicks open..

"He used to bring fucking that, you know, hit the button up: 'There you are Ken, you know... Just packed, you know...

"Here's me: 'Fuck..' we were throwing them down, and we were going through other ones, people were dead on them. I don't mean dead through terrorist activity, I mean fucking dead through natural causes..."

Nelson's problem was that he didn't know which files were accurate, and which were out of date.

His army handlers Came up with a solution to this problem.

In October 1987, Nelson gathered up all the old targeting files he'd inherited from the Loyalists when he joined.

Many had been leaked down the years from sympathizers in the security forces.

They included police and army intelligence on IRA suspects, photographs and maps.

There were so many files - well over 1000 - that they filled a binliner and a cardboard box.

One night Nelson drove these files to a pre-arranged meeting point.

There he met his British army handlers.

They loaded the entire Loyalist targeting system into the boot of their car and drove it to their army depot.

Back at base, all the up to date files were selected and re-organised.

The out of date stuff was destroyed.

Everything was copied - which  meant crucially that the Army now had a record of who might be shot.

A few days later Nelson's handlers returned only the files of IRA terrorists who were still active.

From these up-to-date files, Nelson wrote down each target's name, address and any other personal details on blue index cards.

Attached to each card was a photograph.

One card for each target.

Carole Creighton

Brian Nelson's sister

Panorama 1992

A: I knew they were intelligence matters of some description. That they contained personal details about, I suppose, IRA suspects.

Q: Did Brian seem concerned that you had seen these cards?

A: Yes, he was...I had seen them I think because, I think, he wasn't really thinking and he had let me see them, and then he very quickly realised that I shouldn't really be seeing these things...so they were put away very, very quickly and the matter glossed over as it were."

The secret army records show that once the targeting information had been "gathered and checked by 6137", it would be passed on for..."..action."

The main emphasis of targeting would now be on "accuracy."

Within a year Military Intelligence were reporting that thanks to their agent, the targeting by Loyalist murder gangs was "more professional":

This was only just beginning to happen ".... with 6137 in his current position..."

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Maura McDaid

Wife of Terry McDaid

" I got the children ready for bed and put them into their bunk beds..

Maura McDaid

"I said a quick prayer with them and told them to hurry up and go to sleep because they had school in the morning.."

The army agent Brian Nelson had found the Loyalist murder gangs a new IRA target.

Or so he thought.

Tracey McDaid

Aged 8 when her father was killed

"Mummy said: 'Good night' give us a kiss and a hug. And she left the room and went back downstairs."

Maura McDaid

"We'd just sat down to watch 'News At Ten..

News at Ten

10 May 1988

"A Soviet spy satellite probably nuclear powered. Has fallen to earth..."

Maura McDaid

".. and just as I sat down there was a loud, horrendous thundering noise..

Maura McDaid

"As soon as they came into the room, they started shooting...

Maura McDaid

"....You just feel you're in the middle of a nightmare, and that you're going to wake up any second. This cannot be happening."

Maura McDaid

"...I lifted the vacuum cleaner, and caught one on his arm, and he brought the gun up and he put it more or less just between me eyes. And Terry screamed to me. He just screamed. It was just pain. "

Maura McDaid

"With that, they shot him twice in the chest, Terry slumped to the ground and the two gunmen ran out the door."

Terry McDaid, aged 29, and a father of two young girls, had been mortally wounded.

Tracey McDaid

"I got out  of the bed and went down the stairs and I turned into the living room and I seen my daddy lying on the floor and he was facing me, facing out to the door. But his eyes were closed."

At home that night Brian Nelson tuned into the police frequency on his scanner.

What he heard sent him into a panic.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

OOV... "I think basically he panicked, because he phoned his handlers on a number of occasions that night.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q: "But what was his concern?

A: I think his concern was that they'd shot the wrong man.

Q: As a result of his targeting?

A: Yes."

Nelson had sent the gunmen to the wrong address.

Once again, his army handler that night was Sgt Walshaw.

Normally Nelson's calls were automatically taped and transcribed.

This was basic rule of agent handling.

Nelson made four calls that night.

But when the Stevens enquiry came to investigate, there were no transcripts of any of the conversations.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q. Why do you think they were missing?

A. I can't speculate but from my experience I would say that it's highly suspicious.

Q. Suspicious of what?

A. That there was something in those telephone calls that they wanted to hide"

Sgt Walshaw did nothing to allay those suspicions when she was interviewed by Det Sgt Benwell under caution.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

OOV: When you asked why on such an important occasion there was no transcript of any of the four calls.. what did she say?

A: She made no reply, which of course was her right because she was under caution.

Q: But this was another questioned she declined to answer.

A: Yes."

There is one explanation for Sgt  Walshaw's silence.

Nelson recorded it in the private journal he wrote.

Detective Sgt. Benwell questioned Nelson about his explanantion.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

"...I put it to him that he had been told the address by his handler and his words were something along the lines of 'You're almost there, not quite, but I'm not going to say anymore about it'....there is certainly a suggestion that he was given that address by his handlers."

Sgt Walshaw declined to answer any of Panorama's questions. But at the end of the police interview, she did categorically deny ever giving any information to Brian Nelson.

What she can't deny is that Military Intelligence tried to justify the murder of Terry McDaid to their agent.

According to their secret files, Nelson wanted the murder gangs

"...only to attack legitimate targets [pause] .. not innocent Catholics."

Which was why Nelson was upset - and why his army handlers met him the day after the attack.

They told him their records showed Terry McDaid had been traced as having connections with the "Provisional IRA."..

Nelson's handlers noted that on hearing this, his spirits lifted.

"Once 6137 had discovered that Terence was traced as Provisional IRA he was quite content.." 

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q: What do you think of the reference in the files to Terry McDaid having some link with the IRA when plainly he didn't?

A: I suspect that was a story put together to appease Nelson.

Q: In what way appease him?

A: Well that he would feel better if he thought that there was a connection between the deceased and the provisional IRA."

Maura McDaid

"When I heard that it was just a total shock. Why add more pain to what they'd already done? Why try to destroy Terry's memory by insulting him?"

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

OOV - Q: Did Terrence McDaid have any links or connections to the Provisional IRA?

A: As far as we were concerned he had none at all."

"Since 6137 took up his position ... the targeting ...is now more professional."

" Why my son.."

Maura McDaid

OOV..."We need the truth and Terry deserves the justice....

Maura McDaid

"They have all the answers and they know what happened that night and I also know the truth but I want them to tell and admit why they let an innocent man die."

Terry McDaid was not the only innocent victim of collusion.

By our count, at least 80 people listed on Nelson's targeting files were attacked.

29 were shot dead.

We do not suggest Nelson had a role in all these attacks.

What is clear is that only a tiny minority of the victims were involved in terrorism.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

...." when something has gone as badly wrong as happened in the case of Terence McDaid where an innocent man has been murdered, I would have thought they would have sat back and thought about what they were doing, or what they were doing wrong...But that never seemed to occur."

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q: "Because there were quite a number of disasters like Terence McDaid afterwards, weren't there?

A: Yes there were."

Where it had gone wrong was that the army had lost control over who was being targeted.

Nelson had been handing out his targeting files to any Loyalist murder gang who asked for them.

The secret army records show he copied his files at least thirty six times.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

"Well I think it's a dreadful situation.... He's passing it to other groups of killers who are completely outside even his control, and his handlers are just following on and letting him do it.  It's a recipe for absolute disaster."

Sometimes Nelson's handlers encouraged this disaster.

The murder gang to which he belonged was the UDA.

Having failed to assassinate the Sinn Fein councillor Alex Maskey, Nelson urged a rival gang, the UVF to kill Maskey and one other rget:

"6137 feels that if the UDA are not going to act then it is better that the UVF do it, than no-one. "

Nelson gave the details of both targets to the UVF.

In return, the UVF gave Nelson explosives. His handlers approved, noting that if this trade was

"...successful, it will enhance 6137's standing, particularly if the UVF" did attack the "Targets"

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

A: "We used to have a saying in New Scotland Yard that the basic rule of agent handling was that you ran the agent, not the agent ran you, and there was clear evidence in this case that Nelson was the leading light, that he was running the show.."

By copying his targeting files to murder gangs all over Northern Ireland, Nelson had bequeathed a deadly legacy.

The officer ultimately responsible for this was Colonel Gordon Kerr.

He had recruited Nelson; he was commanding officer of the unit that ran him.

He never hid his contempt for the Stevens enquiry.

"There is a further suggestion that Nelson proliferated intelligence documents within the UDA and as a result has put lives at risk on a long term basis. This rather political allegation seems to me more designed to justify the actions of the Stevens Enquiry..."

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

A: "It's absolutely nonsense. It was a fact. That this explosive targeting material had been proliferated.. It had been passed on to other equally murderous organisations and nobody had any control over it. "

The Colonel believed that his secret world should be off limits to everyone - even to the forces of law and order.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

A: "...he felt that what he was doing was right, and anybody who questioned this was wrong, and I think he resented it.

Q: Did he have a clear grasp, do you think, of the rule of law?

A: No I don't think he did."

It wasn't just the army who were colluding with murder gangs.

The police were helping them too.

According to the secret army records "RUC Sources" provided a "considerable number" targeting files.  Fifty came from an officer in the RUC's Special Branch." 

In fact, the police inspired a murder that has become perhaps the most controversial of the troubles.

Patrick Finucane was a high profile lawyer.

Once again the army agent Brian Nelson helped targeted him.

But it was the police who selected him as a target in the first place.

Michael Finucane

Aged 17 when his father was killed

OOV: He was a young lawyer ....and as any person in the legal business will tell you, his best years were in front of him...the work he was doing was high profile due to the nature of the work and the controversy that surrounded many of the issues."

One of Pat Finucane's most controversial clients was this man Patrick McGeown.

He'd been charged with a crime that caused revulsion around the world.

An IRA funeral cortege was disrupted by a car that had lost its way.

Inside were two army corporals.

Believing they were under attack, the mourners blocked their escape.

The soldiers were dragged into a sports ground.

An army helicopter filmed them being stripped, beaten and thrown over a wall.

They were bundled into a black taxi and driven away to be shot.

Their last moments were on this piece of waste ground.

The prosecution claimed that Patrick McGeown had helped organise their murders.

But Pat Finucane got the charges dropped early in the proceedings.

Patrick Finucane

Archive - 17 November 1988

Q: So you thought it was a fair outcome. Why do you?

A: I thought we had merit in our submissions to the court.

Q: What sort of merit?

A: In that the case was not sufficient to put him on trial." 

As client and solicitor left the courthouse, they were photographed.

It was this photograph that was later to seal Pat Finucane's fate.

Many of his clients ended up here at the Belfast police interrogation centre.

Many were active in the IRA.

But some detectives made no distinction between Pat Finucane the solicitor and his clients.

One of his clients was the IRA's commander in Belfast.

Voice of Brian Gillen

Recorded 1999

"...They told that me my solicitor  was a Provo .... 'He's just the same as you, we'll have him  taken out.' ....And in general just running him down. But at the same time trying to associate him with something he wasn't associated with.

Q: What, the IRA?

A: Yeah."

Labelling Pat Finucane as an IRA man to IRA prisoners was one thing.

Doing that to Loyalists was quite another.

By late 1988 some police officers were going even further.

The gunman Ken Barrett - who we secretly recorded - says that younger Loyalists were being released from police interrogation having been urged to "Take Out" Pat Finucane.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"...young fellows, you know.... They'd have come out and said to us, they said about Finucane, they say this and they say that, and they must have said it because kids wouldn't come out and say, 'they said about Finucane',  because why would they mention Finucane?  You understand what I mean?  Finucane wouldn't have been a name in their head.

Q: Would Finucane have been a target if this hadn't.... (mobile rings)

Barrett's mobile interrupted what was to be a shocking allegation...

"...Alright, bye..."

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"...Would Finucane have been a target if... this feedback hadn't reached you?

A: See to be honest, Finucane would have been alive today if the peelers hadn't interfered.

Q: Say that again?

A: Finucane would have been alive today if the peelers hadn't interfered

Q: If the peelers hadn't interfered, yes.  Do you reckon?  You don't think you'd have got round to it anyway?

A: No.  Solicitors were kind of way taboo, you know what I mean?  Like we used a lot of Roman Catholic solicitors ourselves.  They were kind of like taboo at the time like.  You didn't touch like.  Do you understand me, because they came in and seen us and all like.

Q: They were off limits.

A: They were off limits more or less.

Q: And they acted for you like any other lawyer.

A: They acted for us like anybody else.  You understand me?

Q: Sure."

But for Barrett, Pat Finucane as a target, did not stay off limits for very long.

One night, says Barrett, a Loyalist Godfather who organized killings, introduced him to a police officer.

They met in a car. The officer seems to have impressed Barrett.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

OOV - "Well, he was a bit of a cool fucking customer. ...very, very, very sure of himself you know. He could do more or less anything. This guy could do almost anything."

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

Q: When you met him first time what did he actually say to you about Finucane?

A: Just that Pat was one of their men, you know, he was an IRA man like, he was dealing with finances and stuff for them, and he was a bad boy and if he was out like, they would have a lot of trouble replacing him..."

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

 OOV - "He  says:  'He'll have to go.  He'll have to go'.  He said 'He's a thorn in everybody's side.  He'll have to go'....He was determined on pursuing that like. That's the one he wanted. They didn't want any fucking about. They didn't want to wait months. They wanted it done. "

The police officer appears to have sized up Barrett correctly.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"He says, 'You're more, well how do you put it? He says you're more the psychopath ...'. He says: 'You're more one for business here aren't you?'  I says: 'What do you mean - 'business?'  He says: 'No, you want Provies buried.'  I says: 'Aye, of course I do.'  He says: 'I understand where I stand.'  I says: 'Yes, every time.'  I says: 'You do the business for us.  If in the near future we can help you at any stage, that'll be done.'  He says: 'Yes, as long as we're on the same wavelength.'" 

A few months earlier, Military Intelligence had noted in their secret records that one of three Belfast lawyers whom they regarded as "...sympathetic to the Provisional IRA" was Pat Finucane.

Michael Finucane 

OOV - "I feel that it's an insult, an egregious insult. It was easy for them to believe ...."

Michael Finucane

"....that he was a member of  the IRA. I think their limited mentalities did not stretch to differentiating between the role of the lawyer and the offence suspected of the client. The line between the two was not apparent to them."

The killing of Pat Finucane was now being actively planned.

Ken Barrett had been tasked to kill him.

But he didn't know what his target looked like.

Once again, the army agent Brian Nelson was able to assist.

Six days before the murder, Barrett  met Nelson on Belfast's Shankill Road.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

OOV - "It would have been a day during the week, like. We walked down and he was actually in the car, he was in a Mazda.... I was expecting Brian Nelson to come back with say an ID card you know saying: 'there you go Finucane's photo, date of birth whatever.....'"

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"I says: 'Have you got the message?' and he says: 'Aye' . . he brought it out. It was in like a wee plastic bag..'"

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"He was involved on a case at that time. He was outside court, or something, with a provie, and you seen them fucking jubilant.."

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"I just says 'Right, that's dead on...'"

Barrett could now positively identify the man he was going to shoot.

What he didn't know was where he lived.

Once again, the Belfast mini cab driver - also known as agent 6137 - was ready to oblige.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"Brian knew what we were fucking doing. Brian took me up to the fucking place, you know what I mean. Brian showed me it the once and that's all I had to see ... Just the once and then I came back up and round and past it again...you go, say: 'one, two, three, fourth door down, that'll do us, swing on there'..."

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"No problem..."

The murder was planned for a Sunday night in February 1989.

Late that afternoon the murder gang assembled in a Loyalist club.

They needed to be certain that the solicitor was at home.

According to Barrett, the Police officer to whom he'd been introduced had said there was one sure way of knowing this.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

A: "..Alls I needed to know was that he was in the house. If the car wasn't there, he wasn't there. He never went anywhere without the car. That was one thing that we knew. He never went anywhere without the motor.

Q: Right.

A: Do you understand what I mean?

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"... 'Don't go in if the car's not there, because you'll only get the one crack...

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

"...'If you'se fuck it up you'll never get the crack at him again..' do you know what I mean?"


As the clock ticked towards seven, a phone call was made and weapons brought for Barrett and a second gunman.

The murder gang's vehicle was a hijacked taxi.

At the wheel - a young driver.

The were keyed up to go.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

OOV  - "Men get nervous when they're hanging about and get a wee bit edgy whereas if we get the all clear and go then, it's there and that's it..."

Earlier that evening, close to Pat Finucane's home, the security forces had been searching lock-up garages for weapons.

The murder gang needed confirmation that the roads to and from the target were clear.

According to Barrett, this came from the police officer who had urged him to shoot Finucane.

A telephone message was passed to the murder gang.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

Q: The road block had been taken down

A: Uh, uh

Q:.... and that's what this guy was telling you - the road block had gone? 

A: 'All clear'. That meant: 'There's n, say, of presence in the area' if you know what I mean........'Go ahead, everything's clear' right?'.... Unless you know where the police are at that particular time, at that stage of the game...I mean it's a brave drive...three and a half, four mile there....

OOV - ...The decision was taken and that was it. There was none of this fucking about, driving round her and driving round there. The decision was taken. Bang. Let's go.

That's how quickly it happens.

As the murder gang sped towards their target Pat Finucane, his wife and three children were gathered round the dinner table as a family.

Michael Finucane

"...I remember sitting at the dinner table...there was a bang from the hallway, not a bang that sounded like a gunshot, it sounded like a kick or a.. a force being applied to.. in this case a door, our front door..."

Michael Finucane

"....My father jumped up from the top end of the table and my mother behind him, he looked out of the kitchen door and down the hallway and saw what was coming towards him..."

Michael Finucane

"...he closed..... he slammed the door shut, held it shut by the handle while my mother ran behind him and hit the personal attack button ...."

Michael Finucane

"..The next thing I remember is being on the floor, against the wall in the corner, holding my younger brother and sister and shots going off very loud and it seemed like forever..."

Michael Finucane

"At that point my memory blanks but the thing I remember most is the noise... It's a place I don't care to visit very often, but I know it's there, and sometimes.. sometimes I go back and visit, but not often, I try not to dwell on it."

Alan Simpson

Detective Superintendent

Royal Ulster Constabulary

1987 - 1993

"...he had a fork in one of his hands...so whoever had killed him had arrived like a tornado and had ruthlessly.. very, very ruthlessly killed him...

Q: This was an angry attack?

A: This was a most vicious and angry attack, and I've seen people shot in the face before and it had always struck me as being a particularly venomous thing to shoot someone in the face.... So much hate attached to that.."

A press statement from the murder gang claimed responsibility for the

"execution of Pat Finucane the  IRA officer, not the solicitor."

It was written by the army agent Brian Nelson. But the prime movers had been renegade police officers.

Ken Barrett

Secret filming

OOV - "As I told you before, the peelers wanted him whacked, we whacked him and that's the end of the story as far as I'm concerned."

But it is not the end of the story so far as the English police now investigating this murder are concerned.

Each week Brian Nelson met his  handlers from the army's secret the Force Research Unit, or FRU.

Nelson has told the Stevens enquiry that he kept them informed of everything he knew about the murder of Patrick Finucane:

"I would like to state that all information concerning the Finucane affair was passed on the Military Intelligence through my handlers....at no point did I ever conceal or withhold any information that I was part to from them.".

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q: "When you came to examine the FRU files what struck you about the Finucane case?

A: The lack of any information or intelligence that was in there. It was almost as if it was a non-event."

According to the Commanding Officer of the Force Research Unit, Colonel  Kerr, there was nothing in the files because they knew nothing about Finucane being targeted.

The Colonel has said that Nelson thought the intended target had been Pat Finucane's client - the IRA man Patrick McGeown.

But that cannot be true.

Remember the photograph that Nelson handed over to the killer of Pat Finucane?

Nelson had 36 individual photographs of McGeown - whereas this was his only photograph of Finucane.

I understand the Stevens Enquiry has concluded that Nelson must have been told the intended target was Finucane - otherwise he would have handed over one of his many better photographs of McGeown.

Colonel Kerr's unit must have known that too.

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q.        Did the FRU know exactly what documents and what photographs Nelson had in his intelligence dump?  Did they have an inventory?

A. Yes, I would say they did because the normal position was that whenever they had a meeting with their agent, they would take all the documents he had with him and photocopy them, so therefore they should have had a full record of everything that he had.

Q: Including photographs?


Q.        So do you find Colonel Kerr's insistence that neither the FRU nor Nelson knew that Patrick Finucane was going to be shot, or was being even targeted, do you find that credible?

A. No.

Michael Finucane

"I don't believe the claim ...by Nelson's commanding officer... that they were unaware of certain things,  or that they were kept in the dark by their agent. They trained him, they infiltrated him, supported him....they did it over a long period of time, a number of years, and I am not prepared to accept their story that they only knew the half of it."

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q:  You think the army have got something to hide on the Finucane murder do you?

A: Yes I think there are some unanswered questions there yes.

Q: Principally what?

A: What exactly their role was? What Nelson's role was? Why this hasn't been reported as fully so much else Nelson did? Those sort of things.

Q: So you think the FRU are not telling the truth about Finucane?

A: Yes.

Q: That's a pretty serious charge?

(Benwell shruggs)

Michael Finucane 

OOV - It's had a huge effect on all our lives .....

SYNC - So many people I think have been asked to swallow so much pain and have done so, my family included, but if we are prepared to do that, then we ought not to be expected to put up with lies and deceit as well."

Eventually the army agent Brian Nelson pushed his luck just too far.

The murder of Loughlin Maginn was when everything began to unravel.

Jenny Maginn

Aged 10 when her father was killed

"I remember hearing a load banging noise, a very echoing sort of a..."

Jenny Maginn

"I came remember my daddy screaming, you know...."

Jenny Maginn

"I got out of bed, and daddy just come up the top of the stairs, and he fell on the landing..."

Jenny Maginn

".. I could see the wounds on his body, you know, the blood, there was blood splattered just everywhere. He started to fall asleep and a neighbour said go and get a pillow for his head. And I was telling him not to go to sleep. And then he did just die there."

Once again Nelson had gathered intelligence on this target - which he'd received from a promising new source.

Nelson had given a video camera to soldiers to film intelligence bulletins posted inside their barracks.

One named Loughlin Maginn as a suspected IRA intelligence officer.

As the secret army records noted, Nelson urged a swift attack against the targets on the video.

"...if no attacks" resulted, he said, the soldiers "would not supply details of targets any more."

To justify the murder, the Loyalists said Maginn was in the IRA.

The family denied this.

So, in their attempt to prove they now only shot republican terrorists, the Loyalists took the extra ordinary step of pinning up some of Nelson's targeting files all over Belfast..

Carole Creighton

Brian Nelson's sister

Panorama 1992

"The documents. The leaking of them....There were too many being leaked too often and questions were going to be asked. It was obvious that you just can't paper Belfast with security documents and get away with it. So he was very worried about his cover at that stage."

By flaunting Nelson's targeting files, the Loyalists had triggered a political explosion.

The Irish government demanded an inquiry.

The British Government agreed.

The army smelt trouble.

A team of detectives from England was dispatched to Belfast led by the then deputy Chief Constable of Cambridge, John Stevens.

The army went into a panic.

One of their darkest secrets was at risk of being exposed.

So their agent was given a crash course in

"... in-depth resistance to interrogation.." - just in case he was arrested.

John Stevens at airport

Archive - 16 September 1989

Q: "How impartial will the

investigation be?

A: It will be totally impartial, I can assure you of that."

The army feared Nelson and his targeting files might be discovered.

So they seized them from the flat where he'd hidden them.

Nelson was also promised that if he was arrested, his

"...... handler would attempt to notify him."

John Stevens at airport

Archive - 16 September 1989

"I've got a fair bit to do now so I'm asking you to excuse me and allow me to go and continue with my investigations."

Finally, Nelson was told to deny all knowledge of the unit he worked for:

"...6137 was instructed never to mention his work for this office."

The murky world of Military Intelligence was one thing

The British army's public face was quite another.

At their Northern Ireland headquarters, it was as if the army couldn't do enough to help John Stevens.

No sooner had he stepped off the plane, than they volunteered a briefing.

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989-1991

OOV -  I asked just kind of out of the blue if they themselves ran informants. ....

SYNC - And they denied this, they said categorically that they were there in support of the RUC and that the RUC had the role of intelligence gathering.

Q: The British Army denied categorically running agents to you?

A: Categorically denied running agents, yes."

Laurence Sherwood

Detective Chief Superintendent

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1993

Q. Did you believe them?

A. Well, it was early days.  I didn't want to call anybody a liar at that stage but it was difficult to believe that they weren't, and I think as subsequent events showed, that they were."

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1991

Q: It wasn't true was it?

A: No.

Q: In fact it was a complete lie?

A: Yes."

Nicholas Benwell

Detective Sergeant

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1994

Q: "Was that the first of several deceptions by the army?

A: It's certainly the first and there were others later, yes.

The extent of the army's deception would soon become apparent.

Stevens examined documents that the police in Belfast had seized from Loyalist murder gangs.

Many shared a distinctive common feature: spidery writing and details set out in a precise military style.

A fingerprint finally identified the author - though not, of course, his secret role.

Carole Creighton

Brian Nelson's sister

Panorama 1992

A: "He felt they were getting close to him, he started to worry a great deal, very much that they were getting close to him. And he would shake, literally shake.  I mean if I get nervous, I shake. And Brian's the same, you now, you are just sort of highly strung.....He was very much under stress.

Stevens now had the evidence to arrest Brian Nelson and several other Loyalists.

The operation was planned for dawn on 11 January 1990.

The Stevens enquiry offices were in  one of the most secure buildings in Northern Ireland.

By chance, at 10 pm on the eve of the arrests, some detectives returned to their office.

Laurence Sherwood

Detective Chief Superintendent

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1993

"We had a very strong regime of ensuring everything was locked up. There were armed guards on the premises 24 hours a day and the position of the offices within the centre of this large office block have themselves provided a fair amount of security, at least to a passing burglar. "

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1991

OOV; We returned to Seapark and immediately noticed the signs of a fire."....

There were  a number of fire alarm points in the building and I went to one and I smashed it with the heal of my shoe and nothing happened.."

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1991

SYNC: I ran down to another one and smashed that and again nothing happened .

The wall alarms weren't the only alarms that didn't work.

In the Stevens offices, a heat sensitive intruder alarm system had been installed.

That didn't work either.

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1991

OOV - So I went down to there was a guard house where there was an officer stationed.

Q: An RUC officer?

A: An RUC officer?

OOV - My first word s to him was to call for the fire brigade and he replied that the phones were down.

SYNC - I then told him to get on his radio to call for help and his reaction was one of almost disinterest of: "Well what do you expect me to do about it?"

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1991

OOV- I went to the first floor where found a phone and was able to dial out and dial for the fire brigade."

SOF:  "Fire at Seapark Carrickfergus... Fire at Seapark Carrickfergus."

Laurence Sherwood

Detective Chief Superintendent

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1993

Q: What had actually been destroyed?

A: A huge amount of our paperwork original statements, original documents, ... from witnesses, from individuals, people we'd interviewed and...  some of those ...we couldn't recover, because obviously they related to individuals who had maybe written a statement under caution or produced an original exhibit."

The RUC suggested that the destruction of the Stevens office had been caused by one of their female officers carelessly discarding a cigarette in a waste paper bin.

No-one in the Stevens enquiry has ever bought that.

Sarah Bynum

Detective Constable

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1991

Q: Do you think it was arson?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: Is that just a suspicion or a conviction?

A: I strongly believe that it was deliberately set, yes..."

Sir John Stevens

Commissioner, Metropolitan Police

Q: Can I ask you about the fire? Do you think the fire could have been caused - the fire that destroyed your enquiry headquarters - could that, as the police said at the time, the RUC, been caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette?

A: No, it wasn't caused by a discarded cigarette, absolutely not. What happened was, er round about second or third day of that enquiry, we were given some notification that something might well happen; we didn't know exactly what might happen and that's the reason we had another duplicate office in Cambridgeshire headquarters where we had statements which made sure that when the fire took place in the headquarters that we had at Seapark, we could continue with the enquiry. So no, it was not caused by a cigarette.

Q: Are you saying you had a warning that there might be a fire, or something like that?

A: A very vague warning that something like this might happen, yes..."

As he surveyed the smouldering embers of his headquarters John Stevens resolved that the arrest of Nelson and others would go ahead.

On schedule.

As planned.

Laurence Sherwood

Detective Chief Superintendent

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1993

A: Because of the fire we'd had a pretty late night and were up very early to carry out a whole series of raids and hopefully arrests..."

Laurence Sherwood

Detective Chief Superintendent

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1993

"The vehicles went out with all the arrest teams..... And as the morning went on, various people were arrested ...."

Laurence Sherwood

Detective Chief Superintendent

Stevens Enquiry 1989 - 1993

Q: But not Brian Nelson.

A: But not Brian Nelson.

Q: Had he been tipped off?

A: Well it looks now, with the benefit of hindsight that that must have happened."

The army had kept their promise to alert him.

Hours before the fire Nelson had fled to England.

"Source is in such a tight corner at present his handers recorded.

But not for long, they hoped.

A demoralized Stevens team would soon be packing their bags.

Carole Creighton

Brian Nelson's sister

Panorama 1992

"He phoned the army apparently and they told him to come back. They would have documents for him to come back and carry on - business as usual.

Q: The Army were going to hand him back the documents?

A: Mmm.

Q: He told you that?

A: Mmm....he had been in touch with his army handlers and they had said to come back. That they would meet him, I think something like 7 O' clock. And at 6 o'clock the Stevens team turned up, and that was that."

For Brian Nelson, the 'dirty'  undercover war was over.

But for the intelligence services, the cover up had only just begun.

Panorama Title plus credits

In Part Two of this special investigation, we travel half way round the world to track down the Colonel who ran Nelson's unit..

And the police on the police: how the special branch covered up the truth about murder.

" A murderer tells me that my colleagues are going to rid themselves of me because I was treading on too many toes.."

That's Panorama, the concluding part of "A Licence To Murder" , this Sunday, after the Ten O' Clock News.