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Northern Ireland
Inside Castlereagh: Files stolen from Special Branch HQ

On 14 June the Guardian published a front-page story on a report being prepared by Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, on policing and undercover units in Northern Ireland. The newspaper says that the Stevens report finds that the relationship between Special Branch officers, British army intelligence officers (especially in the Force Research Unit, FRU, now renamed Joint Support Group, JSG) and loyalist paramilitaries was so unprincipled and unaccountable that it borders on "institutionalised collusion". This allowed officers to "create a climate in which Catholics could be murdered with near impunity" (Guardian, 14.6.02). A detective in the Stevens' investigation team comments that the agencies are so obsessed with gathering intelligence that:

"There's no attempt to keep law and order. That is the story of what is going on in Northern Ireland at the moment, not what happened more than ten years ago."

A month ago, in mid-May, Statewatch bulletin carried a special analysis detailing the state of policing in Northern Ireland, the role of the Special Branch and of British army intelligence agencies like the FRU, now JSG.

Statewatch bulletin, vol 12 no 2
Inside Castlereagh: Files stolen from Special Branch HQ

Shortly after 10.00 pm on 17 March, three people entered Special Branch headquarters, overpowered the only police officer on duty in "Room 220" and left some 20-30 minutes later with a number of files and documents, and possibly computerised information. The incident happened at the notorious Castlereagh police complex which is not only home of the 800-strong Special Branch and the interrogation centre (closed in December 1999), but also housed the British Army’s Joint Support Group (JSG), formerly called the Force Research Unit (FRU). It has long been assumed that Castlereagh was one of the most secure police stations on these islands.

This is not the first time there has been a raid on offices belonging to the security services and in apparently secure compounds. In January 1990 the office used by the inquiry team investigating alleged collusion between the security forces, including FRU, Special Branch and loyalist paramilitaries, under Sir John Stevens, was burnt down. The office was within a police base at Carrickfergus, Co Antrim and contained documents and statements linked to the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane. Unlike the current incident, the Carrickfergus fire received no publicity at the time, even though it was reported in 1998 that Stevens thought the RUC investigation of the fire was "a travesty and a disgrace" (Sunday Telegraph 29 March 1998). It was strongly suspected that the fire was arson perpetrated by a CME (covert method of entry) unit of FRU (Sunday Times, 21.11.99).

The Castlereagh raid was a huge embarrassment for Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who retired in March, himself a former head of Special Branch, and comes on top of sharp public criticism from Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman, of both Special Branch and Flanagan for their handling of the investigation of the "Real IRA" bombing of Omagh in August 1998 which killed 29 people and injured 200.

Room 220 is the main reception point for incoming calls from Special Branch informers. It is known as such because "220" was the telephone extension of the reception point where duty officers verify callers' code names and route information to their Special Branch handlers. It is believed that Room 220 had been relocated to temporary accommodation shortly before the raid. The intruders were able to bluff their way into the complex and to penetrate highly sensitive and secure areas of the complex. Clearly they knew where the new room was and had sufficient knowledge of Castlereagh security systems to move about the complex and escape with relative ease. Apparently there are no video tapes of the incident from the numerous surveillance cameras which cover the complex.

Official sources have released very little information about the raid although unofficial briefings to journalists have provided a multitude of contradictory scenarios, all of which have effectively taken the focus off Special Branch, the Intelligence Services and associated special units such as JSG. PSNI's two press releases to date (mid-April) amounted to less than 250 words in total. It has acknowledged that the duty officer was assaulted and incapacitated and that "some documentation is missing". Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, the head of criminal investigation for the Belfast metropolitan area, is leading the criminal investigation into the raid. PSNI has also set up "a high level team" to assess "the possible impact" of the missing information. It may be that this team was responsible for initiating a series of aggressive police raids and the arrests of nine people on 31 March and 4 April.

Three days after the break-in, Northern Ireland Secretary of State John Reid announced in the House of Commons a "review to proceed in parallel with the criminal investigation" to be conducted by Sir John Chilcot with the assistance of Colin Smith. In his statement, Reid repeatedly referred to the incident as "a breach of national security" and in the brief debate which followed, claimed that it was "hugely important for the peace process that we get to the bottom of what went on". (Hansard 20 March col. 309) Reid acknowledged that there was prima facie evidence that the intruders had "inside knowledge". Trimble linked the raid directly to "the very significant demoralisation among present and particularly former members of the police" and asked for reassurances that "the capacity of the police with regard to special branch is increased".

Sir John Chilcot and Sir Colin Smith

The choice of Chilcot and Smith is significant. Chilcot, a graduate from Cambridge, was, until his retirement in 1997, a ’career’ civil servant. In the early 1980s he worked as an adviser to William Whitelaw. In February 1987 he became Deputy Under Secretary of State in charge of the Home Office Police Department succeeding Mr Partridge. He took over the Department only a matter of months into the so-called Stalker/Taylor affair. Stalker was suspended from duty in May 1986 and removed from heading up the Northern Ireland inquiry into the deaths of six men at the hands of the RUC’s HMSUs (see Statewatch vol 5 no 3). The principal allegation against him was that during the 1970s and 1980s he “associated with Kevin Taylor and known criminals in a manner likely to bring discredit upon the Greater Manchester Police”.

Taylor had been extensively investigated by the police during the previous eighteen months. Many informed observers considered that there was a high-level conspiracy to get rid of Stalker but the official line has always been that there was a coincidence of two parallel sets of events in Northern Ireland and Manchester. There has never been any public inquiry to establish the truth of these two versions of events.

In September 1986 Taylor began a series of legal actions in an attempt to find out why he was being investigated. Through one of his companies, Taylor brought a summons against James Anderton, the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester police, and a number of his officers on the charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Anderton and his fellow officers sought to have the summonses quashed. The hearing, in front of Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Nolan, took place in the same month as Chilcot was appointed to the Police Department. They found in favour of the police.

In July 1987 Taylor took another action this time seeking a judicial review of a Judge’s decision in relation to the granting of Access Orders to his bank accounts. This injunction also failed. In September 1987 Taylor was arrested on a conspiracy charge to defraud one of his banks. A successful conviction would show that there was ample evidence to remove Stalker, while his friend was being investigated. Taylor went for trial in October 1989. To the considerable embarrassment of the authorities, the case against him collapsed after the police admitted committing perjury and losing important documents.

Stalker was highly critical of the role of the Special Branch in Northern Ireland and described it as "a force-within-a-force". Patten, some thirteen years later, also described it in exactly the same way. Thus notwithstanding Stalker’s interim report and Sampson’s final report, neither of which were ever published, little appeared to have changed in the RUC.

During the time Chilcot was in the Police Department, the Sunday Times (22 October, 2000) alleges that he was asked by Michael Palmer, a senior partner in a London law firm, to intervene in a police inquiry into a series of frauds involving one of his clients and from which the police suspected Palmer had benefited. The article alleges that Chilcot took the ’most unusual’ step of raising the matter with Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary. The inquiry was subsequently dropped. However, it was reopened four years later and resulted in the conviction of Palmer, who had been best man at Chilcot’s wedding.

In October 1990 Chilcot was appointed Permanent Under-Secretary of State to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and was heavily involved in the Major government's secret talks with the IRA in the early 1990s. His time at the NIO coincided with the widespread allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist groups. In 1993 he travelled to San Francisco to appear as the first witness for the British Government in its attempt to extradite the Maze escaper Jimmy Smyth (Statewatch vol 3 no 5). He was asked sixteen times by Karen Snell, Smyth’s lawyer, about the contents of the Stalker/Sampson reports into whether the security forces were guilty of shooting to kill suspects. But he refused to answer.

In 1997 Mo Mowlan asked him to investigate a number of leaks over the Drumcree issue which were then highly damaging to the Secretary of State. Once again his report was never made public.

He retired from the NIO in the same year and now works part-time for the Cabinet Office as a "staff counsellor" for the Security and Intelligence Services. But he appears to be a key resource to draw upon when some aspect of the secret service needs investigating. In 2000 Jack Straw appointed him to carry out a review of existing arrangements of Special Operations 14 (SO14) - the Department responsible for overseeing the 189 royal body guards, costing some £30 million a year. It was later reported in the Daily Telegraph that Sir David Spedding, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, has been asked to implement his report. Chilcot is also on a number of important bodies including the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Public Records, the Institute of Contemporary British History, and the Police Foundation.

Sir Colin Smith was Chief Constable of Thames Valley police before joining Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in 1991. Appointments to the HMIC are made by the Crown on the recommendation of the Secretary of State. There is no open public competition for the posts. Traditionally, all appointments were drawn from the senior ranks of the police, but since 1993 there have been some non-police officers appointed. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, on his retirement, was the most recent appointment to be made to the HMIC, notwithstanding the Police Ombudsman's criticisms of his judgement as "flawed". The Chief Inspector of the HMIC is the most powerful official in British policing after the Head of the Police Department in the Home Office. The role of the HMIC is to examine and improve the efficiency of the police service. It also has a responsibility for making sure that any recommendations made following an inquiry, such as the Stalker/Sampson inquiry, would be fully implemented. Each of Her Majesty’s Inspectors is responsible for a number of police forces. Since his appointment in 1991 Smith has had responsibility for the RUC for at least seven years.

Chilcot and Smith's terms of reference are to establish a) how unauthorised access was gained to Castlereagh, b) the extent of any damage caused to national security, c) the adequacy of action subsequently taken to mitigate any such damage and to prevent unauthorised access there and in similar buildings elsewhere, and d) any wider lessons to be learnt. The Chilcot/Smith review will report directly to Reid who is already cautioning that "it is not easy to get answers in Northern Ireland" and that "no one can guarantee anything in Northern Ireland". The prospects of the report being published are remote. The government has yet to acknowledge the existence of FRU or similar units and Reid himself when at the Defence Ministry refused to answer parliamentary questions on FRU. The last parliamentary question on FRU (13 December 1999) drew the response that the "Force intelligence Unit" (!) provides "analytical and security advice to assist the RUC in defeating terrorism".


At 7.00 am on 30 March armed members of the PSNI forcibly entered the building in which the Pat Finucane Centre is based (the Pat Finucane Centre runs a major website on Northern Ireland policing controversies and can be found at The purpose allegedly was to search the offices of Tar Abhaile, on the floor above the PFC. A private flat on the ground floor was also entered. PFC, when they arrived at work at 9.00 am, were denied access to their office. They contacted two members of the management committee who were also denied access to the building on the grounds that they were “likely to interfere with the search”. Later that day it emerged that the offices of Cúnamh, a victims support group which has helped numerous families of those killed or wounded on Bloody Sunday, were also raided and personal and confidential information relating to the families were taken. Other raids were carried out in Belfast leading to the arrest of four men and one woman. One of those arrested was a civilian worker from a loyalist estate in East Belfast. A West Belfast Sinn Féin MLA member immediately condemned the arrests and raids as “ridiculous” and “highly” provocative. There were more arrests on 4 April and PSNI have threatened further raids.

Eight of the nine people detained were subsequently released. One man from the New Lodge area of Belfast was subsequently charged with possessing documents containing information which could be useful to terrorists planning or carry out an act of violence, contrary to the Terrorism Act 2000. For a couple of weeks, no details were given about the documents and police sources briefed that they were not linked to the Castlereagh break-in. This changed when unofficial police briefings said that the documents contained an "IRA hitlist" of Tory politicians (even though one such politician subsequently spent a day wandering around Crossmaglen in order to prove that there were "no no-go areas in the UK".) Following the arrests, a story began to circulate that an American man who previously worked in Castlereagh as a chef had republican connections. He had moved from the US to Belfast several years ago. Initially, he worked in a Belfast restaurant and then was employed as a chef in Antrim Road Police station before moving to the Castlereagh police complex. He returned to the US sometime before the raid and PSNI detectives have travelled to the United States to interview him. According to the Irish Times (10 April 2002) "senior police sources are now following one line of inquiry only and that is one of IRA involvement". Police reportedly told Trimble that the IRA was responsible within 24 hours of the break-in (Irish Times, 10.4.02).

Police demoralisation?

The Castlereagh burglary and subsequent police raids come at a time when great attention is being paid to police reform. On 5 April, the first batch of 44 PSNI trainees, including 13 women, recruited under the 50/50 Protestant/Catholic requirements of the Police Act, graduated from their initial training. On the same day, the new police uniforms and badge were introduced. In the government's eyes, much of the credibility of the re-branding of the RUC rests on attracting Catholics into the PSNI so that the conservative target of the Patten Report can be met. Patten presented a detailed model of RUC downsizing and new recruitment, designed to achieve a 30% Catholic PSNI by 2011.

A private consortium of companies including Deloitte & Touche, Pearn Kandola, AV Browne and BMI Health Services, operating under the name of Consensia, began advertising for new police recruits in February 2001. It has spent over £540,000 on advertising and claims to have received 20,000 requests for application forms, 40% of which have been returned as applications. The selection process takes about five months. Applicants are first of all screened for age and nationality requirements before going through a series of selection tests, including medical, physical competence and firearms handling tests. Those who get through all these tests join a pool of "qualified candidates" and it is from this pool that the 50/50 recruitment takes place. Initially, much publicity was given to the level of interest from Catholics, but the crucial issue is how many Catholics make it to the qualified candidate pool. This is what determines whether the Patten targets can be met or not. In the first recruitment round, 550 applicants made it to the pool (less than 7% of applicants) of whom 154 (or 28%) were described as Catholics. 33% of the total were women. These 154 "Catholics" were joined by 154 Protestants to become trainee police officers. The total of 308 for the first round is in fact 17% below the Patten model of 370 new recruits each year. Of the 47 who began training in November, one was transferred due to injury and two were expelled on disciplinary grounds. This suggests a trainee drop-out rate of 6 per cent.

The second round of recruitment attracted 4,700 applicants, but 1,200 of these were repeats from the first round. 14% of the applications were from people living outside of Northern Ireland, more than three-quarters of whom are said to be "Catholics". This suggests that up to 40% of the "Catholics" who make it to the qualified candidate pool are from outside of Northern Ireland. Although Consensia collects post code information from candidates, it has not revealed what proportion of the qualified candidate pool are Catholics from Northern Ireland or indeed if the recruitment exercise is succeeding in getting significant and proportionate numbers from republican communities into the pool.

Recruitment is one side of the coin. Downsizing is the other. In the past few months, there have been increasing claims that police numbers are falling to "dangerously" low levels. This tends to be associated with the police role in North Belfast where on-street conflict has been a daily feature since loyalists began barring school children and their parents from walking to Holy Cross primary school in September 2001. £26m has been added to the police budget since last August, ostensibly to police North Belfast. Reports of the violence typically begin with the numbers of police officers injured - the Police Federation says that over 800 officers have been injured in the last six months. Certainly, rates of absenteeism through injury and/or sickness have risen substantially in the period since the 1994 ceasefires and there is some anecdotal evidence from the insurance industry and elsewhere that many claims are exaggerated, if not bogus. This is linked in some officers' eyes to the police reform process and the loss of the primary objective of counter-terrorism. For instance, one officer has claimed that:

"The morale in this organisation is lower now than it was during the worst days of the Troubles, absolutely rock bottom. Then everyone was completely dedicated in trying to create circumstances in which it was more difficult for terrorists. You had a goal, you had something to work towards. I was slightly injured myself in a bomb attack some years back and I didn't take a day's sick then. The next day I was back at work because I was still able to walk and talk and I didn't want to put any further pressure on my colleagues. That's all changed now. If someone threw a stone at me now I'd take six months on the sick." (Ulster Gazette, 8 November 2001)

Police sickness rates have reached very high levels in Northern Ireland. In 1992, the average days absence through sickness per year per officer was 14 days (almost three working weeks). This rose to 22 days in 2000 and the current figure is 24 (the figure in Britain is around 12). A "sickness management policy" was introduced for the first time in December 2000 which included a provision barring people from promotion if their sickness level exceeded 14 days per year (the legitimacy of which was recently upheld in a judicial review case, then overturned by the Appeal Court). The management target is to bring the figure down from 24 to 16 days.

On the day the RUC changed its name to PSNI there were 7,173 regular police officers and 2,279 in the full-time reserve - a total of 9,452. These were supplemented by 1,032 part-time reservists. The uniformed officers were supported by a total of 3,465 other staff. As of 6 March, the number of regular PSNI officers had fallen to 7,091 (not including full- and part-time reservists) compared to the Patten target for 2002 of 7,215, but this will be supplemented before the end of the year by the 308 new recruits. Patten projected 2,106 leavers in year one of police reform (the year 2001): the actual number of leavers was 1,069 regulars and 129 full-time reservists. The police continue to be supported by 14,500 troops (2,000 less than in 1998).

While the idea of a numbers crisis is, therefore, less than convincing, there is evidently some division within the police service between traditionalists and modernisers. The former, with considerable political support in Ireland and Britain, seek to maximise the public order and counter terrorist roles. For example, it was revealed in January that the police continued until very recently to purchase vast quantities of plastic bullets. 22 of these were used operationally in the year 2000 while 76,320 were purchased (46,000 in 2001) (Hansard 9 Jan 2002, WA col. 878). At an estimated cost of £6.80 per bullet, this means that the RUC spent over £2.5m on plastic bullets from 1995 to 2001. Regarding counter-terrorism, it is not surprising to find that changes to Special Branch have been minimal. The second report from the Oversight Commissioner (appointed to monitor progress on the implementation of Patten) stated that no systematic plan for the reduction of Special Branch was available, the amalgamation of support units had not begun and that "documentary evidence of administrative progress on issues involving Special Branch was not available as of 1 October, 2001". About 80 out 850 Special Branch officers are thought to have retired. The latest complaint comes from a group of officers at inspector level who say that Special Branch are taking advantage of the unusual number of vacancies at superintendent level to move their people into senior positions (Irish News 20 March 2002).


Institutional and political tensions over police reform may provide part of the background for the Castlereagh break-in, but they do not provide an immediate explanation. From all the speculation so far, two main scenarios emerge. The first is that the IRA were responsible, although it has denied involvement. The initial police position was that Castlereagh was an "inside job": Flanagan himself said he would be "most surprised" if "paramilitaries or civilians" were responsible for the break-in (Independent 25 March 2002). However it was not long after Flanagan retired that police sources then decided that the IRA were the prime suspects.

The Castlereagh documents had been taken to Derry and then across the border, so the story ran. There is no question that the IRA would have an interest in the identities of informers and their handlers, particularly since security sources have, in recent years, played up the role of a "double agent" within the IRA known as "steaknife" (or stakeknife - spellings vary). It would also relish any disruption of Special Branch. There have been reports of up to 250 Special Branch officers being told to move house and of general panic among informers. On the other hand, the house and office raids, which might in some people's minds lend credibility to the idea of IRA responsibility, seem to have been "show raids". Some reports have pointed out that computer disks were arbitrarily selected, that children's clothes and videos were seized and that the questioning of those detained lacked purpose and seriousness. Unusually, some of the seized property was returned within days. The disinterested nature of the questioning points towards the raids having other purposes, including the planting or removing of listening devices. A Sunday Times article (14 April, 2002) claimed the removal of covert bugs was the motive behind the raids.

The police have pushed the idea that some of those detained had links with the American employed as a chef at the Castlereagh complex, and it is possible that this man was in a position to pass on Castlereagh canteen gossip to republicans. On the other hand, one detainee complained to the Irish News that he was arrested because the police had access to the American's mobile phone records which showed the American had his number. This was because he worked as a voluntary counsellor with an organisation which the American had approached for help. His only contact was over the phone - he never met the man. This account does suggest that police are prepared to carry out raids solely on the basis of telephone billing records. But none of this explains how a chef would have access to, and knowledge of, core Special Branch intelligence facilities within the Castlereagh complex. A further police briefing claimed to the BBC that they were "interested in a number of mobile phones that were being used in west Belfast in the period leading up to the break-in and on the night of the robbery itself", phones which had since gone quiet. Calls to a number of public telephone boxes in west Belfast were also reported top be part of the investigation, suggesting widespread use of telephone taps and connection data monitoring.

The second scenario is that the Castlereagh break-in was designed to remove and conceal documents in order to protect intelligence interests. This would be entirely consistent with past patterns and practice. If FRU could, as has been suggested, set fire to the Stevens Inquiry office once, it could certainly thwart the inquiry again. "Stevens 3" is poised to report, notwithstanding continuing delays caused by "on-going criminal investigations" into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane and the recent murder of a key loyalist involved in the affair, William Stobie. When Stevens was appointed Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1999, Hugh Orde was put in charge of the day-to-day running of the Stevens inquiry. Orde is deputy assistant commissioner in the London Metropolitan Police and was one of the detectives who investigated the Stephen Lawrence murder. He has applied for the post of PSNI Chief Constable.

Orde is reportedly waiting to interview Brigadier Gordon Kerr, currently the British military attaché in Beijing. Kerr was head of FRU at the time of the Finucane murder which involved British Army agent Brian Nelson. Stevens' first collusion inquiry netted Nelson and Kerr gave evidence at Nelson's trial in camera as "Colonel J". Kerr's evidence was that Nelson's ten year service as an agent had saved many lives.

There is little doubt that British intelligence has been fighting hard to prevent an independent public inquiry into Finucane's murder. An example of this appeared in the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune recently when the newspaper published extracts of an affidavit to the London High Court sworn by Brigadier Arundell David Leakey, Director of Military Operations in the MoD (from 1997) and in overall charge of all military operations in Northern Ireland including covert intelligence gathering and the work of Joint Support Group (formerly known as the Force Research Unit) (Sunday Tribune 14 April, 2002). The affidavit was presented as part of a court hearing held in camera in February 1998 to consider an application by MoD for an injunction to prevent the publication of Nicolas Davies' book "Ten-Thirty-Three: the inside story of Britain's secret killing machine in Northern Ireland" (Mainstream Publishing 1999). The book, whose title comes from Brian Nelson's code number, confirms collusion between British Army intelligence units and loyalist paramilitaries at the highest level, including two attempts to assassinate Alex Maskey (Sinn Fein MLA and leader of the SF local councillors in Belfast). It also confirms what many observers strongly suspected was an official policy of withdrawing police and army patrols from areas prior to the entry of loyalist murder squads, using "restriction orders" (see for example Amnesty International's Report on Political Killings in Northern Ireland).

In the High Court challenge the MoD succeeded in getting control of the manuscript and Davies' computer, deleting around 10,000 words before allowing the heavily censored version to be published.

The Sunday Tribune story was written by Ed Moloney and Lin Solomon. Moloney is the journalist to whom UDA activist William Stobie gave details of loyalist collaboration with Special Branch and military intelligence at the time of Finucane's murder. Stobie was arrested soon after the murder but charges were dropped. He told his story to Moloney as a safeguard against further arrest. Moloney was instructed to keep the testimony secret unless Stobie found himself in court again over Finucane, which he did last year as a result of further investigations by the Stevens inquiry. Moloney released the testimony and the RUC responded by pursuing Moloney through the courts for his original notes. They were not successful on this occasion. A key witness for the new Stobie trial withdrew evidence on grounds of ill-health and the trial collapsed. Shortly after his release and call for an independent inquiry, Stobie himself was murdered (12 December 2001). Although claimed by the "Red Hand Defenders" it is widely assumed that ulterior motives of Special Branch and British intelligence are not far in the background. Shortly after Stobie's murder another senior loyalist, Ken Barrett, disappeared and is now thought to be under the protective custody of the Stevens team. Barrett is alleged to have confessed to shooting Finucane, a confession which was taped by two CID officers in 1991 but he was never charged because Special Branch intervened and subsequently "lost" the tape.

Leakey's affidavit provides direct evidence of how military intelligence views any possible inquiry into the work of Brian Nelson and the murder of Pat Finucane. It is based on a doctrine of total secrecy: "the effectiveness of the unit would be seriously damaged if the confidence of serving personnel and current agents in the complete secrecy which surrounds their operations were in any way impaired". The affidavit goes on: "the fact that Nelson pleaded guilty prevented the disclosure of large quantities of highly sensitive information in the course of the trial" [since many charges were dropped and no cross examination of witnesses occurred]. The Davies book, based on the experience of one of Nelson's former handlers, threatened to reveal what was prevented from coming out by Nelson's guilty plea. Leakey states:

"the disclosure of such information would be extremely damaging to national security and to the public interest as well as to the security of Nelson and his family. it could seriously damage the confidence which agents or potential agents have or would have in the ability of the Army and the Government to protect their identity and thus their safety" (Sunday Tribune 14 April, 2002, p12).

Another example of planning for cover-ups concerned the civil action threatened by the families of victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of 1974 around which allegations of collusion are currently under investigation by Justice Henry Barron on behalf of the Irish government. A letter from the Treasury Solicitor dated 24 September 1999 showed that the British government considered a defence of "sovereign immunity" (Sunday Tribune 21 April 2002).

If one possibility is that the break-in was is some way concerned with damaging Stevens 3 and preventing an independent inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder, another is that the raid was designed to remove very specific evidence concerning an informer or contact records. An intriguing report in the Sunday Tribune (24 March 2002) by Sunday Herald journalist Neil Mackay suggested the Castlereagh raid was about removing evidence of agent "Stakeknife's" existence. The immediate threat comes from disaffected agents and informers (some linked to the "mole" group) who have been seeking better treatment from the government. One of these, "Kevin Fulton" an agent planted inside the Real IRA, has threatened to name Stakeknife (an IRA member turned informer). Fulton has irritated his former handlers by alleging in the Sunday People that information supplied by himself could have prevented the Omagh bombing. It was these reports which led to O'Loan's embarrassing investigation. So a further possibility is that the break-in was designed to remove material relating to the Omagh bombing, notably concerning an alleged second informer (in addition to Fulton) who may have been part of the bomb team.

The weekend of the Castlereagh raid, rumours flew through the intelligence community that Fulton's true identity was to be revealed in the Sunday Tribune, which had told distributors that it was doubling the normal print run (because of a paedophile story, in fact). Fulton was not "outed" but the raid went ahead as a precautionary measure in any event. Mackay further alleges that Stevens has been "sniffing around" Stakeknife, to the annoyance of military intelligence.

When Stevens reports, the political case for a full-blown independent judicial inquiry into collusion between security forces and loyalists, involving targeted murders, may become irresistible. The latest attempts to stall such an inquiry - the appointment of a judge (not yet named) to look into whether or not an inquiry is merited (!), and the insulting offer of £10,000 to Geraldine Finucane (Pat Finucane's widow) - have not impressed the UN's Human Rights Committee, lawyers within Britain, Ireland and the US, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. Whatever the outcome of the Castlereagh break-in, the pressure is on Special Branch and the intelligence services.

During April and following the Castlereagh break-in, the number of unattributed, unsubstantiated stories claiming that the IRA had broken the cease fire, was re-arming (with Russian guns) and was engaged in training "narco-terrorists" in Colombia and even helping Palestinians to make crude pipe bombs, reached fever pitch. Coinciding with congressional hearings on the IRA and Colombia, commentators began to report that "leaking and spinning" from anti-Agreement, anti-police reform Special Branch and intelligence sources was getting out of hand and worrying the government. It had accelerated since Flanagan's departure and, as the Guardian and ndependent speculated, appeared increasingly to be aimed at damaging Sinn Fein's election efforts in the May general election in the Irish Republic. This pattern of leak and spin has many historical precedents.

From a broader perspective, the break-in provides another incident which appears to suggest that the Special Branch and sections of the security services operate outside of the law. Notwithstanding numerous internal police inquiries - Stalker, Sampson, Stevens 1, Stevens 2, Stevens 3 - and one major external enquiry by the Ombudsman, the secret services appear to have been able to thwart all these and continue to operate as a fifth column with their own agenda within British and Irish politics. The establishment of an internal police inquiry into the raid, whose report, like all the other reports, will never be made public, will not increase the public’s confidence in the police service. Similarly, the Chilcot/Smith inquiry will do little to enhance public accountability. Both men are far too closely associated with these services over many years and, if there is evidence that intelligence personnel have acted beyond the law, this is unlikely to be made public. The Labour government will no doubt continue to make sure that state secrets are never revealed. The intriguing question is why?

"Exposed: security force links to loyalist killer gangs", Guardian, 14.6.02
Collusion at the heart of Finucane killing, Guardian, 14.6.02
Shadowy unit's infiltration role, Guardian, 14.6.02 (note: the FRU is now the Joint Support Group, JSG)

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