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The Sunday Herald (Scotland)
By Neil Mackay
Photograph Caption: This is the Force Reaction Unit, the British Army's elite counter-intelligence squad, pictured in 1988. It waged a 'dirty war' in Ulster in the late 1980s. Front, third from left, is Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the Scottish officer who led the covert unit, and who is now to be questioned by the Stevens inquiry
INVESTIGATION The Sunday Herald today names for the first time the Scottish military intelligence officer who controlled an ultra-secret covert army unit in Northern Ireland that colluded with loyalist terror gangs to murder at least 14 Catholics.
Brigadier Gordon Kerr ran the counter-intelligence Force Research Unit (FRU) in Northern Ireland between 1987 and 1991. He is to be questioned by Sir John Stevens, the Scotland Yard commissioner, over allegations that his unit aided and abetted loyalist killers as part of a state-sanctioned murder campaign.
Photographs and intelligence reports on republican targets were deliberately passed by the FRU to members of the outlawed Ulster Defence Association, which then passed the information to its gunmen to carry out sectarian and political executions. One of the FRU's key agents was Brian Nelson, the UDA's chief intelligence officer.
Two of Nelson's FRU handlers were Scottish soldiers, and one of his RUC handlers was also Scottish. Before he was recruited as an army agent, Nelson had been a private in the Black Watch regiment. He was later jailed but now lives in hiding in Germany.
Kerr, who comes from the Aberdeen area, served with the Gordon Highlanders before moving to Northern Ireland.
One FRU source, who spoke to the Sunday Herald under guarantee of anonymity, said: ''We were able to take out leading Provos with the help of the UDA. It was a great military move.''
Kerr, who is currently the military attache to the British embassy in Beijing, will be interrogated by members of the Stevens' inquiry team within the next three months, as will at least two other high-ranking FRU members. The Sunday Herald understands that Stevens plans to arrest a number of FRU officers shortly.
The principal killing that Stevens is investigating is the 1989 murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane, whose clients included many leading nationalists. He was gunned down by loyalists in front of his wife and children at his Belfast home.
A former FRU member who served under Kerr, Philip Campbell Smith, was arrested by detectives from the Stevens team early last week for threatening witnesses. Smith, a 41-year-old security consultant from Northamptonshire allegedly intimidated a former military intelligence agent, who uses the cover name Martin Ingram.
Ingram has voluntarily co-operated with the Stevens inquiry by giving a detailed statement about the covert activities of the FRU in Ulster. Smith allegedly threatened Ingram by sending e-mails revealing his address. This could have led to republicans trying to kill Ingram.
Smith is the author of a Ministry of Defence-approved book, The Fishers of Men. It was written under the pseudonym Rob Lewis and details the FRU role in Northern Ireland. The Sunday Herald's FRU source described Smith's book as being ''riddled with disinformation and lies''.
The Ministry of Defence said it had ''full confidence in the suitability and capability'' of Kerr to continue working as the British military attache in Beijing. The MoD said it had no intention of launching an inquiry into Kerr and his role as FRU commander following information that the Stevens inquiry wanted to interrogate him.
At the time of the Finucane murder, the Tory government was under pressure from its back benches to take a strong hand with the IRA. It was often said that the army should ''eliminate'' known paramilitaries, given the extent of high-level intelligence on IRA volunteers.
The role of Kerr and the FRU in the dirty war is not a story that the British government nor establishment want to be revealed. The government has already gagged the Sunday People newspaper for trying to publish a story similar to today's investigation in the Sunday Herald. Probing the activities of the FRU has also led to the Sunday Times and Ireland's Sunday Tribune being hounded under the Official Secrets Act.