[back] Northern Ireland
The Sunday Herald
By Neil Mackay Home Affairs Editor
Photograph Caption: Smith, left, allegedly harassed a key witness to the Stevens inquiry to protect Kerr, right
THE timing seemed designed to make a mockery of justice. On Tuesday, the Scotland Yard inquiry into collusion between loyalist terrorists in Ulster and British military intelligence officers lost its key witness - destroying hopes of getting the soldiers who conspired in the deaths of innocent Catholics into court.
Yet as Scotland Yard's commissioner, Sir John Stevens, watched his investigation collapse, the Sunday Herald was being briefed on how the Force Research Unit (FRU), the covert army outfit which colluded with loyalist terrorists, also knowingly allowed soldiers, RUC officers and civilians to die at the hands of IRA bombers in order to protect republican double agents.
Brigadier Gordon Kerr, a career soldier from Aberdeen who commanded the FRU between 1987 and 1991, lies at the heart of the collapse of the inquiry. The Stevens team plans to arrest senior FRU members for passing information to loyalist agents which led to the death of at least 14 civilians Kerr, now the British military attache to Beijing, was, according to FRU sources, fully aware that his officers were passing information designed to assist assassinations. To protect Kerr, one former FRU officer, Phil Smith, allegedly sent threatening e-mails concerning another ex-FRU officer who goes by the cover-name Martin Ingram. Ingram is hated for giving statements about illegal FRU operations to Stevens detectives.
Smith allegedly sent e-mails revealing Ingram's real name and location. Revealing the identity of an undercover military intelligence officer is illegal under the Official Secrets Act.
The Sunday Herald was recently threatened with a gagging order by the Ministry of Defence as the government suspected we planned to reveal the identity of a female FRU officer - known as Captain M - who was passing information on targets to her loyalist agent, Brian Nelson, the UDA's intelligence officer. Nelson, who was jailed and now lives in hiding, used the information to set up the 1989 assassination of Catholic solicitor, Pat Finucane, who represented republicans.
Last week, charges of intimidating witnesses were dropped against Smith. Ingram was stunned by the decision, seeing it as Britain declaring open season on him. Ingram unwillingly withdrew statements given to Stevens and refused to co-operate further. A source close to the Stevens inquiry said: ''Without Ingram, there is no way detectives can get near the officers at the top of the FRU who were allowing collusion to happen.''
Although a number of loyalists have been arrested recently as part of the Stevens inquiry, they were described as ''worthless'' in comparison to arrests of FRU officers by security sources.
Ingram will return to co-operating with Stevens if Smith is re-charged. As the British government came to terms with the fact that its 10-year police investigation which cost at least #100 million was now worthless, FRU sources revealed even more shocking details about the actions of the covert unit.
Sources claim the unit, in order to keep its IRA double agents active and stop suspicion falling on them, allowed Provos to plant bombs which the army could have prevented. Those bombs led to fatalities. ''If every operation that an IRA agent was involved in was intercepted, they'd be fingered as an informer and executed.
''We did try to limit the success of 'sanctioned' operations by sending undercover soldiers to IRA arms dumps to inject the explosives that were going to be used with chemicals that substantially reduced the capacity to kill.
''The Provos would plant the bomb and it would be allowed to go off even though we knew its location and timing. Sometimes, the bomb had been chemically deactivated sufficiently and no lives were lost, but at other times we hadn't put in enough chemicals and people died. Either way the Provos thought the operation had gone off successfully and our agent wasn't fingered.''
FRU sources said around seven police and army personnel died as a result of military intelligence allowing IRA bombs to be placed during Kerr's time in command of the FRU. They estimate that three civilians also died this way, with casualties in the hundreds.
At least 30 army, police and civilians died in total as a result of similar actions carried out by all arms of the intelligence community - this included MI5 and RUC special branch as well as the FRU. The FRU also manipulated the IRA into killing a significant number its own men. ''To protect Provos working for us, we would teach the agent to pass off any suspicion on him onto another IRA man.
''The agent would tamper with explosives or guns owned by another Provo. That would cause operations the target was part of to go wrong and he'd be suspected of informing and executed. We got rid of a good few top IRA men that way.''
Many IRA agents were recruited when they were young. FRU handlers guided their careers so that they later became high-ranking Provos. ''We gave them information and schooled them so they appeared to be the best - that way they shot up the ladder and our boys got to the top.''
Most IRA agents were lured to the FRU with substantial sums of cash. Good operators earned up to £60,000. The FRU had a huge number of informers in republican ranks, with up to 40 Provos in their pay.