Britain’s Gulags.

Chapter twenty-five of The Authority of the Boot-Maker by Mal Content.

Rather than generalise, let’s focus on the behaviour of the British state, whose advocates have, without apparent irony described it as the originator of parliamentary democracy and the bringer of civilisation to many lands.

(C.W. racism, torture, sexual violence)

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, European holdings in Africa increased from ten to over ninety percent. Such rapid imperialist expansion, ‘the scramble for Africa’ was one of the dynamics that led to the First World War. The 1885 Berlin conference reached agreement between the jostling states of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain that they could make economic use of any territory over which they had ‘effective occupation’ by custom, treaty or military force. The present-day map of Africa, all straight lines and right angles, that has wrought so much sorrow, is the legacy of this carve-up. Germany subsequently swapped Uganda for the little island of Heligoland in the North Sea. Effective occupation was supposed to include a responsibility to maintain a civil administration and keep order, but practically amounted to a licence to pillage. Colonial governments were set up to serve the settler minority, differences between indigenous peoples were exploited and disputes exacerbated by elevating those who were prepared to collaborate with the regime, whilst unproductive areas were left ungoverned.

The newly formed Imperial British East Africa Company leased a big stretch of coast from the Sultan of Zanzibar, its royal charter granted it rights of plunder and immunity from prosecution to British subjects in the execution thereof. It had bitten off more than it could chew however, so to protect its interests and missionaries in Uganda, and rather than bail out the I.B.E.A.C. financially, the state took over the entire territory as the East Africa Protectorate which gave the Crown allodial title to the land.

In 1896 they started building a railway from Mombasa across what is now Kenya to Lake Victoria using mainly Indian labourers and troops, pitting these against the locals. The intial cautious welcome to European traders evaporated as the latter turned to cattle rustling and other misbehaviour. Maasai herders, who used the land lightly but were not renowned for suffering fools gladly, killed five hundred railway workers at Kedong in retaliation for the rape of two women.

It would be wrong to regard these areas as unclaimed or undisputed, though an epidemic of rinderpest (cattle-pox) imported from India in meat and draught beasts during the 1887 Italian invasion of Abyssinia, had depleted the human population by up to a third. The rails passed through the territory of the Nandi, who having defeated an Arab incursion fifty years earlier, had kept their land to themselves ever since, using tactics they developed for countering ranks of muzzle loaders with the traditional shield and spear. The British conducted a large military operation against them in 1895 and another in 1900; Nandi resistance was only ended in 1905 with an act of abject treachery by a British officer Richard Meinertzhagen. He offered to meet the Orkoiyot* Koitalel Arap Samoei to negotiate a truce, and it was agreed that he would bring five companions. Meinertzhagen stationed seventy-five troops out of sight and shot Koitalel with a pistol whilst shaking hands, whereupon his men massacred twenty-three Nandi with machine gun fire, comprising the entire military leadership.

* Spiritual leader and military commander, the Nandi civil administration was directly democratic and kept separate. Koitalel’s son Barsirian Arap Manyei was Orkoiyot from 1919-1922 and spent forty-two years in a British prison, only to be released on independance.

Meinertzhagen had a long career as an officer – during which he presided over several massacres – a spy and a con-artist, worked for the Zionists in Palestine, murdered a servant and his second wife. He also made a name for himself as a ‘naturalist’ which in those days amounted to shooting things and stuffing them, though most of his specimens were stolen from museums (some of his ‘new species’ were faked) and his writings plagiarised. We would probably describe him as a psychopathic personality, but such characters flourished in the colonial service.

The railway was completed in 1901 and British settlers began arriving in 1903, following its path inland, with a big surge after the First World War. Colonial capital conducted primitive accumulation on the familiar model. Self-sufficient Kikuyu farmers were expropriated from their land and forced into wage labour in exactly the same manner as their European counterparts had been a century earlier.*

* “Through a series of expropriations, the colony’s government seized about 7,000,000 acres (28,000 km2; 11,000 sq mi) of land, some of it in the especially fertile hilly regions of Central and Rift Valley Provinces, areas later known as the White Highlands due to the exclusively European-owned farmland there.”

– Tabitha Kanogo:
Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau 1905-63

“[In 1923] the maximum amount that could be considered to have been spent on services provided exclusively for the benefit of the native population was slightly over one-quarter of the taxes paid by them”

“If we left that district to-morrow the only permanent evidence of our occupation would be the buildings we have erected for the use of our tax-collecting staff.”

– William Ormsby-Gore et al:
Report of the East Africa Commission 1925

The Crown Ordinance Acts of 1902 and 1915 were explictly racist, providing different terms for occupation of land by persons of European, Asian or African heritage. White farmers were granted leasehold in perpetuity of up to six hundred and forty acres, everyone else was required to renew annually and limited to five acres. Where a lease enclosed an African settlement, this was excluded so long as it remained occupied, but if abandoned for any reason – such as disease or coercion – it reverted to the Crown and became available for lease. Thus the incoming Europeans achieved a monopoly on the means of production, the African peasantry was proletarianised, and the Asian settlers cast in the role of a petty bourgeois, merchant class.

Indigenous resistance built over decades, after World War Two the Kenya Land Freedom Army (K.L.F.A.) popularly called Mau Mau launched a ferocious armed insurrection against foreign rule. In suppressing that revolt, the British state abandoned any pretence of civilised conduct or the rules of war, and it would be half a century before a few survivors were given recourse to law. It suited the state to present the conflict as a civil war between Africans. Many Kikuyu workers had become dependent for their livelihood on the colonial administration and its settlers, and so were deemed ‘loyalists’, along with the Maasai people, who historically occupied bare grazing land unsuitable for cultivation and seldom came into conflict with the regime. The colonial government declared a state of emergency in October 1952 and in 1954 embarked on a programme of mass internment of Kikuyu citizens.

“Cut to essentials it amounted to the rounding up of the entire African population of Nairobi – slightly over 100,000 – followed by the sorting out of the 70,000 Kikuyu. These men would then have to be screened to see which ones were known to be bad so that those identified could be segregated and despatched to specially prepared detention camps: their families would also have to be collected and sent back to their relations in the Native Reserve. As the Government expected to detain in the region of 10,000 Kikuyu this part of the job alone would be a huge undertaking”

– Major Frank Kitson: ‘Gangs and Counter Gangs’ 1960.

The author was sent to Kenya in July 1953 to assist the police Special Branch in gathering intelligence, just prior to the start of the ‘screening’ project, which was later extended across the territory. ‘Gangs and Counter Gangs’ relates the development of counter-insurgency strategy and tactics during the period he describes as “the two best years of my army service”*. It’s primarily autobiographical and in the style of the adventure yarns of its day, violence can be graphic but bodily functions and reproductive anatomy are referred to so obliquely you wonder what he’s going on about.

* (ibid)

Kitson established a network of informers and turncoats, leading to the formation of “pseudo-gangs” from loyalist Africans and captured guerrillas posing as Mau Mau, sent among them to fish for information or lead them into ambush. Screening made use of hooded informers to identify suspects among the general population. The gangs also carried out assassinations and took prisoners, who they guarded and interrogated. Insurgents caught in action faced a bleak future, once Kitson’s men had finished with them they were invariably convicted of terrorism and hanged, so the less politically-motivated* could be induced to switch sides. As Kitson himself points out, the pseudo-gangs could not afford to let go of anyone who might identify them to their former comrades.

* The rebels made a rod for their own back by trying to forcibly recruit everybody, regardless of affiliation.

When I first picked up the book* my interest was purely in the ‘false flag’ tactics associated with Kitson, – knowing that he developed them further in Malaya, Cyprus and Ireland – that are now a staple of political policing. I didn’t want to be bothered with his psychology, but the first-person narrative draws you under his skin and he did end up as head of the army, so here goes:

* No, I didn’t pay for it – just as well, it had some pages missing.

Here’s a bloke from a military family who joins the army by default, “… there was no alternative short of breaking a father-to-son tradition which has lasted for over two hundred years”*, for the start of the cold war and the arse end of the period when killing dark-skinned people at little risk to yourself was seen in those circles as an honest occupation. Kitson’s received racism pervades the story, and gives an insight into how that ideology is constructed and transmitted under imperialism. I don’t care to labour it but one phrase stuck out: “Luckily Africans don’t feel very strongly about losing their friends”*. He claims the insurgents were ambivalent about their own lives as well, when applied to Europeans this is called ‘courage’.

* (ibid)

Although he speaks neither Kikuyu nor Swahili, Kitson attempts a brief analysis of the origin and motivation of the uprising, in the entitled, condescending tone of the British officer class. He puts the ‘land question’ down to the expansion of the Kikuyu population, thanks to the British shielding the natives from disease and tribal warfare, and resents the existence of Western-educated Africans with aspirations to be other than peasants, labourers or mercenaries. He characterises his opponents as fearful and superstitious, though he doesn’t come across as especially brave himself and keeps a Bible by his bed.

“From the beginning of the century the government had encouraged British people to settle in those parts of the country which were not at the time inhabited by African tribes, and most of the land so occupied had been totally uninhabited. Unfortunately the British had also settled in one tiny area which had previously been occupied by the Kikuyu but which was vacant at the time because the Africans had abandoned it after a serious smallpox and rinderpest epidemic. Although the Kikuyu had received disproportionately large compensation in other ways, they still nursed a grievance over this matter. By the start of the Emergency there were about 40,000 Europeans in Kenya, some of whom were living on farms near the Kikuyu lands.”


A prime example of political ‘spin’*, the British state had opportunistically taken advantage of the pestilence introduced by the Italian one, designated any land without houses or ploughed fields on it as ‘uninhabited’ and half a century later, forty thousand European immigrants operated an effective political hegemony over six and a half million Africans. At no time in Britain’s sixty-eight year tenure did any African representatives participate in the legislature – and the ungrateful blighters “nursed a grievance” over it!

* In his later writings Kitson stresses the importance of what he calls ‘psychological operations’ to counter-insurgency. It’s essential for the government to control the narrative, countering rebel propaganda with its own; what is significant is that he sees this as part of the army’s role.

Kitson makes a couple of points early on. He flatly denies any wrong-doing by his own side and laments having to abide by the letter of the law, any excesses are blamed on over-enthusiastic African personnel who “didn’t understand about British justice”*. The rumours of abuse which were already circulating at the time must have been fabricated by those pesky “Western-educated Africans”*, or as his former boss puts it in the foreword:

* (ibid)

“It was only in the prohibited area, i.e. the forest, where the Security Forces could operate in an unrestricted manner. […] In spite of the disadvantages I insisted we must play the rules and I was most loyally supported by the Security Forces. Unfortunately this did not prevent a number of people who should have known better from lending their support to a smear campaign against the Security Forces.”

– General George Erskine: (op.cit)

There’s another sentence opened with “Unfortunately …” the pre-emptive apologism and expressions of wounded pride have a whiff of desperation about them. In view of the scale of atrocities revealed subsequently, it would be inconceivable for anyone to occupy Kitson’s position without being thoroughly complicit. The other point that struck me is the degree of operational autonomy he claims:

“John Holmes was quite open about the fact that no one knew what the job would entail. It would depend on what we made of it. One last point: if we could not be of any use could we please not be a nuisance?”


This adds to the ‘ripping yarns’ feel of the tale but isn’t credible either, the commander in chief, George Erskine, had been fighting the empire’s rearguard action all his life, is it likely he would have plucked a bunch of young officers out of Germany, dumped them in the field and given them no instructions? As the British establishment closed ranks, could it be that Kitson’s meteoric rise was partly because he knew where the bodies were buried and needed to be locked into the conspiracy of silence? Kitson takes much of the credit for defeating Mau Mau and Erskine is happy to let him*. Was he also groomed as a potential fall-guy for the Kikuyu holocaust over which Erskine presided?

* The pseudo-gangs took out some prominent individuals, but it was the destruction of the organisation that prevented them being replaced, that was clearly down to the mass internment, forced displacement and the waging of total war on a lightly armed civil insurrection.

Kitson was the perfect choice as his ethics are pure system-justification. His slavish dedication to the status quo would have made him an excellent Bolshevik. The following passage relating to the (very rare) killing of two white youths gives him away:

“Naturally the terrorists attacked to get hold of the weapon which, not realizing it was an airgun, they thought to be valuable. Having done this they dared not let the boys go in case they gave information to the police. The gang leader finished up by asking me whether our troops in the forest would have let two armed terrorists go even if they had been young. I had seen too many bodies of Mau Mau aged fifteen or so to pursue the argument any further. I had already decided in my own mind that it was rebellion which was wrong. It is no use trying to be critical of the individual incidents which civil war brings in its wake. What is foul murder from one point of view may be an unavoidable unpleasantness from another and even a triumph from a third.”


My italics.

The book is written some years after the events described, while he’s in Malaya. He either has a remarkable memory for detail* or just makes it up. Tales of white policemen and settlers capering about the bush in blackface makeup, hob-nobbing with Mau Mau defy credulity, as does the readiness of prisoners to betray the cause for which they took up arms, without the slightest physical coercion.

* In his evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry he couldn’t recall where he was, who he met or what may have been said, but was pretty sure no-one had read any of his books.

By now he’s on a rapid career path and needs to account for a couple of years in which he did himself a lot of good, but that are tainted by allegations of war crimes, So he puts together a highly fictionalised whitewash with a bit of history and geography thrown in, pads it out with amusing anecdotes and guff about wildlife and fly-fishing.

Research by Professor Caroline Elkins, author of ‘Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya’. 2005* indicated that systematic repression in the colony was in fact directed from London, and that records removed from Kenya prior to independence were unaccounted for. In fact the documents were ‘migrated’ to the U.K. in 1963; the Kenyan government had asked for them back in 1967 but was declined. In 1994 they were moved to Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire, a secure government communications research facility.

* Published in the U.S. as ‘Imperial Reckoning’.

The papers reveal that Eric Griffith-Jones, the Attorney General of the colony, described its regime as “distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia”. In June 1957, in a memo to the governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, he gave detailed instructions for beating suspects, warning: “If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.” By then the K.L.F.A. had been militarily defeated, though the entire Kikuyu population remained in detention or locked down under martial law.

One and a half million Kenyans had been interned in concentration camps or corralled at gunpoint into fortified ‘prison villages’*, where they were subject to forced labour and deliberate starvation. Torture by electrocution, flogging, rape, castration and other mutilations were standard practice, and the insertion of objects including live animals into orifices is a recurring theme of the reports. In addition to 1,090 prisoners who were formally executed by hanging, thousands more were shot, butchered, clubbed or burned to death. Most of these atrocities were collective punishment in response to insurgent activity, being inflicted on entire communities including children. Many Kikuyu escaped the farms and reservations to live freely in the forest regions – the common land in effect. But these areas were prohibited to Africans so all were presumed to be terrorists and could be summarily executed. The government conducted indiscriminate bombing and strafing raids, or used artillery to flush them to waiting guns after the fashion of a hunting party.

* Alluding to this, Kitson insists it’s for their own safety.

At independence a deal was struck with the new administration that Mau Mau remained illegal, preventing any veterans of the war from coming forward. That proscription was not lifted until 2003, and four elderly Kenyans were selected to file a test case from six thousand survivors who submitted depositions reporting abuse.

In 2006 lawyers representing the four submitted a disclosure request to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and were told all relevant documentation was in the public domain. During the course of litigation, David Anderson, professor of politics at Oxford, made a statement to the effect that the archive removed in 1963 was still missing. Eventually a tenacious F.C.O. employee, Edward Inglett located the fifteen hundred files, whose existence had been repeatedly denied, in three hundred boxes taking up a hundred linear feet.

“The domestic records of colonial administrations did not form part of British public (i.e. official) records and they were kept by the individual states created at independence. It was however the general practice for the colonial Administration to transfer to the United Kingdom, in accordance with Colonial Office instructions, shortly before independence, selected documents held by the Governor which were not appropriate to hand on to the successor Government.”

– Hansard 5 Apr 2011: Column WS145

The foreign Secretary was compelled to acknowledge possession of “around 8,800 files from 37 former British Administrations”* that under the Public Records Acts, ought to have been released after thirty years. When these were received at the National Archives at Kew, the total was closer to twenty thousand, but there was more to come. There are fifteen miles of shelving at Hanslope Park. To date, the F.C.O. has admitted it holds 1.2 million files dating back to 1662, and that one such item alone may contain 2.9 million documents.

* (ibid.)

Probably the most incriminating records never made it back to blighty but were disposed of at source. In 1961 secretary of state Iain Macleod decreed that material left for incoming governments should not include anything that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government, … members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers”, might compromise intelligence sources, or “be used unethically by ministers in the successor government” * (the bounders!)

* Circular now in National Archives

Macleod’s instructions were to separate papers called ‘Legacy files’ to be left behind, from the embarrassing ‘watch files’ stamped with a red ‘W’. Back in Kenya, a “thorough purge”, was overseen by Kitson’s Special Branch colleagues.

“3. It is a corollary of this segregation that “WATCH” material can only be seen by “authorised” officers. An “authorised” officer is defined in the draft (para.9) as a servant of the Kenya Government who is a British subject of European descent and who has been security cleared to see classified documents.”


My italics: Watch material was destroyed or migrated to the U.K.:

“… emphasis is placed upon destruction” … “The waste should be reduced to ash and the ashes broken up” … “It is permissible, as an alternative to destruction by fire, for documents to be packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast.”


Conspicuously absent files were replaced by fakes:

“The legacy files must leave no reference to watch material. Indeed, the very existence of the watch series, though it may be guessed at, should never be revealed.”


The K.L.F.A. certainly committed war crimes, mostly against loyalist Kikuyu, but as the state’s policy was to sow confusion and division among the enemy with its ‘pseudo-gangs’, it’s hard to apportion blame for any specific incident. Countless Africans lost their lives, thirty thousand actual or presumed guerrillas were killed in action*, estimates of civilian casualties vary from tens to hundreds of thousands, of whom thirty-two were of European heritage, and twenty-six Asian.

* Nigel West: ‘Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence’ 2014

“But one commitment will inevitably remain which is the obligation for maintaining law and order within the United Kingdom. Recent events in Northern Ireland serve as a timely reminder that this can not be taken for granted and in the historical context it may be of interest to recall that when the regular army was first raised in the seventeenth century, ‘Suppression of the Irish’ was coupled with ‘Defence of the Protestant Religion’ as one of the two main reasons for its existence. In practice the fact that the army is so heavily engaged in Ireland now makes it unlikely that it will be involved in exactly this task between 1975 and 1980 because it is reasonable to hope that the present emergency will be resolved within five years.

– Frank Kitson: ‘Low Intensity Operations.
Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping’ 1971.

My italics.

That’s a defining mission statement for twentieth century politics. The spoils of four hundred years’ worth of primitive accumulation will be retained by hook or by crook, any aspirations to redress from expropriated peoples must be defeated – and be quick about it. The context of this book is of course the cold war, during which the two Leninist blocs were presented as an existential threat to Western civilisation, whose values Kitson expresses so eloquently. After all, the nuclear holocaust had been only narrowly averted (by the U.S.S.R.) less than a decade earlier. It takes for granted that subversion and insurrection in capitalist countries will be inspired, facilitated or at least exploited by external powers. Once Bolshevism had run itself into the ground, and its empires assimilated into capitalism, that mission reigned unchallenged.

All British governing parties have chosen to portray their military occupation in the North-East* of Ireland as a policing operation, using troops to keep the peace and stabilise the social and economic life of the region. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact the most lethal incidents of the ‘Irish troubles’ were all facilitated or perpetrated by representatives of the British state.

* The Northernmost point on the island, Malin Head, is in the Republic. The border is long, winding, and pretty arbitrary, becoming more significant with each cycle of conflict. The British state’s reaction to the 1916 Easter rising had been to create two territories with separate parliaments, one of which achieved full independence in 1948. By then, most republicans were of Catholic heritage, but by no means all. The six electoral counties were selected for having a voting majority of pro-union Protestants, leaving out three counties of the historic province of Ulster: Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. Within the six counties are two electoral boroughs, Belfast and Derry, which had slight Catholic majorities.

The struggle had three poles: Irish Republican separatists of left and right, Britain as colonial power, wishing to retain its territorial possession, and loyalist paramilitary organisations whose primary motivation was hatred of the Roman Catholic religion and its adherents.

Collusion between the last two was entirely to be expected, as they shared a common goal, and the loyalists, through their churches and Orange Lodges, were deeply embedded in the civic administration of the province, its home-grown Ulster Regiment and Constabulary. They maintained control of local government, even in majority nationalist areas, through a combination of gerrymandering, ballot-rigging and selective employment practices. It would be normal for representatives of the state: elected officials, military and law enforcement professionals, to come into contact with paramilitaries or their proxies drinking in the same clubs, and through their business activities. Thus there was a natural conduit for intelligence gathered by paramilitaries to be fed to the state, and vice versa.

The group of loyalist paramilitaries that began to meet at Glenanne farm in 1971 included serving members of both the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Ulster Constabulary*, from which weapons and ammunition were diverted and stashed at the farm. The farmer James Mitchell was an R.U.C reserve Constable. The ‘Glenanne gang’ was responsible for a number of atrocities against civilians of Catholic heritage, their agenda being specifically to foil any attempts at a truce that might result in a political settlement, and they were in regular contact with British intelligence.

* British army and police personnel, nominally under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State, initially the Home Office, but arguably the armed wing of the Orange Lodges.

The book Lethal Allies, based on research by the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten identifies twenty-four members of state forces involved in over a hundred killings*. The book gives official sources for the facts which remain unchallenged.

* “Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland” by Anne Cadwallader 2013 Mercier Press. Appendix A. pp 374-376

In 1969 a civil rights movement developed to campaign for universal adult suffrage and an end to discrimination against Catholics. It was met by extreme violence from the dominant community, and significantly loyalist special constables* of the R.U.C. who, on the night of 4th – 5th of January invaded the Bogside district of Derry and ran amok. This event led to the establishment of ‘Free Derry’ a nationalist enclave patrolled by volunteers from which police and loyalists were excluded.

* ‘B-Specials’

Óglaigh na h Éireann – the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) which refused to accept the partion of Ireland and declined to participate in the political institutions had de-militarised a few years earlier and was beginning to lean towards political representation. Its elders disdained ethnic conflict in favour of abstract class struggle and had no real answer to the loyalist onslaught. At the end of 1969 it underwent a tactical and ideological split into a Marxist-Leninist Official (OIRA) wing, and a cross-class nationalist Provisional wing (PIRA) with a corresponding split in Sinn Féin. PIRA was more wedded to armed struggle but both groups waged it during this period whilst feuding between the two claimed a number of lives. An offshoot of the OIRA, the Irish National Liberation Army opposed to its 1972 ceasefire feuded with both wings, leading to further assassinations, then itself split giving birth to the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation, which tried to annihilate its parent before being militarily defeated by over a hundred members of the PIRA. We could put all that down to the tendency of vanguardist groups to attract sociopathic personalities with large fragile egos, but the role of the state is a topic for further exploration.

Lethal hostilities got underway in the summer of 1970 with a curfew and the deployment of three thousand troops in violent house-to-house searches in the Lower Falls district of Belfast. Fire was exchanged and there are reports of looting and extortion; four civilians died. In July a soldier shot dead a Catholic teenager in north Belfast.

On 27th June rioting broke out across Belfast following a parade by the Orange Order, and a gun battle started in the Ardoyne area.

“Three loyalists were shot dead and fifteen wounded. There were three or four nationalists wounded. No one was killed. [After the shooting] every door in Ardoyne was opened. The IRA had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt what they said they were going to do, they had done. The date – 27th of June 1970 – is more significant for that than anything else. As a result, the whole broad spectrum of the nationalist people actually supported what the IRA was doing. Everybody, man, woman and child came out and supported us in any way possible. I never saw support like it in my life. It was unbelievable. ”

– Martin Meehan, quoted in:
“Provos, The IRA & Sinn Féin” by Peter Taylor.

Enter Frank now Brigadier Kitson, who had just completed the seminal ‘Low Intensity Operations’, his counter-insurgency manual. Kitson was given charge of the 39th Airportable (Infantry) brigade in Belfast, plus its reserve force 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, based at Palace Barracks, Holywood, just outside the city, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, who like Kitson had been in Malaya and Aden. The state’s actions over the following year were going to seriously endanger its ‘propaganda narrative’ and give a massive boost to the insurgents. It converted the simple demand for equal rights for Catholics into a full-scale war of independence, forcing the state into bed with the loyalist paramilitaries.

The strategy of the British state was to play down the political aspect of the conflict and exacerbate the religious and cultural divisions between the communities. The army created an ‘Information Policy Unit’ at its headquarters in Lisburn for psychological operations and propaganda. From the onset of its war with the I.R.A. the state used military personnel acting undercover as agents provocateurs to intensify sectarian violence. This cast the paramilitary groups in the role of defending each community against the other, shifting the battle away from a straightforward independence struggle towards a conflict between two cultures.

On the 9th of August 1971 the government introduced internment without trial* and banned marches and processions, making the position of ‘constitutional’ nationalists untenable. Ten people – four soldiers, four civilians and two Republicans – had been killed in the four months leading up to internment. One hundred and twenty-eight perished in the next four, of whom sixty-nine were civilians, and fifty-nine combatants: thirteen Republicans and forty-six British army, R.U.C., U.D.R. and Loyalist paramilitary). House searches in the nationalist enclaves were vigorously resisted and most of the violence stemmed from these.

* Especially onerous to Republicans as it had been used against them by the pro-treaty Free State during the Irish Civil War.

Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, had decreed a (secret) “Arrest Policy for Protestants”* which laid out criteria for Interim Custody Orders (Internment without Trial) that meant no loyalists would be interned until 1973 by which time they had killed well over a hundred people.

* There was one internee of Protestant heritage: the anarchist writer John McGuffin was interned in August 1971, though he was of course an atheist.

Commencing on the morning of 27th November 1971 a major insurgency broke out with numerous explosions and shooting incidents, causing the state to swamp all major urban areas with troops. This was followed on the 3rd December by the escape from Crumlin jail of three republican prisoners, and a cordon of roadblocks was placed around North Belfast.

“In a massive clamp-down operation, hundreds of troops today saturated Belfast’s city centre… in an effort to prevent a repetition of last Saturday’s IRA terror campaign… More than 4000 men in nine regiments are stationed in and around Belfast, and today each regiment was told to keep a lookout for trouble in its own area… All this was in addition to the massive search which has been mounted for the three IRA jail breakers. Road blocks on all roads leading into and out of the city are being manned round the clock.”

– Belfast Telegraph 4th December 1971

At 20:40 on 4th December a fifty pound gelignite bomb destroyed the Tramore Bar in North Belfast, known locally as McGurk’s bar after the family that had run it for decades. Fifteen civilians were killed including two children.

Somehow, a loyalist group had passed through all the army and police checks, planted the bomb and escaped. The authorities didn’t bother to recover the car they abandoned a few hundred yards away*. As was later revealed by the one convicted bomber, Robert James Campbell of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the initial target had been the Gem bar, frequented by OIRA. The intention being to spark a feud with PIRA, since it would be inconceivable the device had come from outside the area. They had hung around the Gem for an hour, but it was well guarded. In the end they decided any ‘Catholic bar’ would do. After the explosion their getaway driver passed by without picking them up and fled,** so they walked with impunity past the troops and police that swarmed the area, to their second pickup location, then were driven through the roadblocks back to the Shankill Road where they ended the evening drinking in the Orange Lodge.

* Although a handwritten police fingerprint ledger has the entry: “2 [from] car used in explosion gt george st” Fragment shown in: ‘McGurk’s Bar Bombing Post-Script’ by Ciarán MacAirt. Published by Paper Trail, available on-line.

** No U.V.F. member was ever disciplined for this, so the driver either belonged to, or had the protection of, the military or police.

The 2nd Battalion of Royal Regiment of Fusiliers headquartered at Glenravel, close to McGurk’s bar, had a covert “ambush OP” (ambush observation post) in York Street which intersected the target area and escape route of the bombers. The “LOG SHEET 2 RRF” for 4th December 1971 shows: “1645 From C [Company] Accidental discharge in the York St ambush OP. 1 x 9mm no cas – [redacted]”. The Gem bar was under surveillance as an important meeting place for OIRA; it had been raided and searched two days earlier*, with six suspects taken to Girdwood Barracks for questioning.

* Entry in: “LOG SHEET HQ 39 AIRPTBL BDE Date 3 DEC 71 Serial 26 [time] 0210 From 2 RRF”.

It has been consistently denied by the police and military that any army unit was in the area the night of the explosion. Log sheets for 2 RRF and HQ 39 AIRPTBL BDE dated 3rd December contain entries “From MRF” relating to the search for the fugitives. According to the 2 RRF log they withdrew at 22:00. It was customary when conducting covert operations to issue a ‘temporary operational out of bounds order’ to exclude other personnel.


1. Permanent out of bounds areas are in Section 51. Areas are put temporarily out of bounds for several reasons, the most important being:-

a. Sus IED.
b. Covert Ops.

2. It is therefore important that all ranks are aware of their existence and loc, and that clashes between friendly forces and covert tps are avoided.”

– British Army Out of Bounds Order. PART II SECTION 18.

On the day of the bombing Kitson outlined his mission:

“Operations In Belfast since 9 August have been carried out on the basis of so weakening the IRA that a future political initiative can be launched under favourable circumstances.
… As you know we are taking steps to do this in terms of building up and developing the MRF* and improving the capability of Special Branch by setting up cells in each Division manned by MIO/FINCOs** and by building up Special Branch’s records with Int Corps Sections.”

– Frank Kitson: ‘Future Developments in Belfast:
By Commander 39 Airportable Brigade’ 4th December 1971.
Photograph of item in National archives, found at

* Military Reaction Force
** Military Intelligence officers, Field Intelligence Non Commissioned Officers.

The report is attached to a ‘PERSONAL AND SECRET’ letter from Howard Smith, Office of the United Kingdom Representative in Northern Ireland, Holywood, Co. Down to Philip Woodfield CBE, at the Home Office. The structure he refers to is set out in ‘Low Intensity Operations’.

The Information Policy Unit went into action straight away with the story that the explosion was an accidental detonation of a republican device. Families of victims, none of whom had paramilitary connections, have spent fifty years trying to establish exactly how and why that happened. After lengthy legal wrangles, Freedom of Information requests by Ciarán MacAirt, grandson of two of the casualties, revealed twenty heavily redacted contemporary military logs. See

The army’s Ammunition Technical Officer who attended minutes after the explosion believed the bomb had been planted outside the pub. The R.U.C. duty officers’ report, written shortly afterwards, claimed it had exploded inside:

“At 8.45 p.m. on Saturday 4th December, 1971 an explosion occurred at McGurk’s licenced premises, 83 Great George’s Street. The charge estimated at 50 lbs. completely demolished the two-storey building. Just before the explosion a man entered the licenced premises and left down (sic) a suitcase, presumably to be picked up by a known member of the Provisional I.R.A. The bomb was intended for use on other premises. Before the ‘pick-up’ was made the bomb exploded, 15 persons were killed and thirteen injured, 12 of whom were taken to hospital:-”

– Chief Superintendent Liggett, Inspectors Weatherall, Mills, Atkins: Duty Officers’ Report for 24 hours ending 8 a.m. on Sunday 5th December, 1971.

This fantasy was written after the Ammunition Technical Officer’s visit. At 1 a.m. Kitson recorded it in his log:

“RUC have a line that the bomb in the pub was a bomb designed to be used elsewhere, left in the pub to be picked up by Provisional IRA. Bomb went off and was a mistake. RUC press office have a line on it – NI should deal with them. Action HQNI Info’d”

LOG SHEET HQ 39 AIRPTBL BDE date 5 DEC 71 Serial 12 [time] 0100 From Bde Cmd [Brigade Commander Kitson]

At 8 a.m. the following morning, as the duty officers were filing their report, Lieutenant General Harry Tuzo, General Officer Commanding and Director of Operations, Northern Ireland, received the following confidential briefing, only uncovered by victims’ families in 2009:

“Explosion. At 2045hrs 2 RRF reported that an explosion had occurred at McGURKS BAR, 81-83 NORTH QUEEN ST. A bomb believed to have been planted outside the pub was estimated by the ATO to be between 30/50 lbs of HE. The building was structurally demolished and surrounding buildings badly damaged. There were fatalities and thirteen injuries. The following are named dead, when possible to identify.”


The same report appears in Kitson’s log that morning:

“As far as can be assessed from the damage and crater caused by the expl at Gt Georges St / Nth Queens St the bomb was placed in the ground floor entrance on the corner of the building that faces the junction. Guess size to be 40 – 50 lbs.”

– “LOG SHEET HQ 39 AIRPTBL BDE date 5 DEC 71 serial 58 [time] 1105 From ATO”

And five minutes later it was relayed to Headquarters, Northern Ireland, marked Not for public release:

“ATO is convinced bomb was placed in the entrance way on ground floor. The area is cratered and clearly was the seat of the explosion. Size of bomb likely to be 40-50 lbs Action NOT FOR PR”

– “LOG SHEET HQ NI date 5 DEC 71 Serial 24 From 39 Bde [time] 1110”

Instead it was the R.U.C. press office version that was passed to Times journalist John Chartres, who was a territorial army Colonel and close associate of Hugh Mooney, information adviser to General Tuzo. Chartres wrote a lurid piece for that paper on the 5th December, which was repeated on B.B.C. radio.

On the 6th December Faulkner rushed to London to meet with the British Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling. Faulkner could not allow the massacre to be blamed on loyalists, as this would undermine the policy of interning Catholics only, dictated by his party and the R.U.C. His administration’s assertion that loyalists were “no serious threat” would look ridiculous. Taking into account the enormous rise in violence since internment was introduced the minister would have to conclude it had been a disastrous mistake.

Suspicion was placed on the victims, their character was besmirched, and the British state’s two senior representatives in Ireland, Faulkner and Tuzo, were in on it. Technically, Tuzo was Kitson’s boss, the R.U.C. worked for Faulkner, and they were all responsible to Maudling, but who was calling the shots?

A Head Quarters Northern Ireland Intelligence Summary (HQNI INTSUM) dated 9th December 1971 stated: “Forensic and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) reports tend to indicate that the explosion was caused accidentally inside the public house by premature detonation amongst a group which contained an identified IRA victim”. HQNI INTSUMs were prepared in Lisburn Headquarters by a team under the Director of Intelligence. Evidence from the Bloody Sunday Inquiry reveals this was an MI5 operative holding the equivalent military rank of Major General. The daily business of this department was briefing R.U.C. Special Branch and feeding propaganda to the media, and the army, up the chain to Whitehall. MI5 were prepared to deceive their bosses so they could wage the war in Ireland to their own ends.

“Forensic scientists” were frequently referred to in reports. The Guardian on 24th December erroneously claimed they had finished their investigation and: “They claim to have established that five men were standing round the bomb when it went off inside the crowded bar in North Queen Street. All five were blown to pieces. The scientists have been able to identify one of them as a senior IRA man who was an expert on explosives and was on the government’s wanted list. Of all the conflicting theories about the explosion, the security men are now convinced that the bar was a transfer point in the IRA chain between the makers and the planters of the bomb. Something went wrong and the bomb exploded.”

In fact Dr. Robert Alan Hall, the forensic scientist in charge of the case did not report until 11th February 1972. He concluded that the findings, including the pathology reports, did not support the theory that a group of men were standing near the bomb. No debris from, or parts of an explosive device were found on any of the victims’ clothing. In fact those nearest to the site of the blast had splinter injuries which indicated that furniture, probably a door, was in between them and the bomb when it exploded. Dr. Hall concluded that the explosion “had occurred at or about the entrance door from the porch leading off Great Georges Street”. The British government were still peddling Chief Superintendent Liggett’s fabrications to the Irish Parliament and European Commision in 1976.

On 6th December the R.U.C. took a witness statement from 8-year-old Joseph McClory who had been on an evening paper round. He said that a black car with four men in it and “a wee Union Jack stuck in the back window” had stopped outside the pub in Great George’s Street. One occupant placed a package in the porch and ran back to the car, which drove off at speed. Joseph shouted to a man who was about to enter: “Mister, don’t go into that bar, there’s a bomb there”. Two other witnesses confirmed seeing the car, one of which was recorded in an army log:

“A person came up to an NCO with info re explosion was by pub for half an hour, saw large dark car with white patch on left front side, noticed before explosion. Thinks bomb placed in off licence entrance. Informant reckoned bomb was intended for Hanagans* (sic) Bar which is on the corner of North Queen St. [Redacted] thinks maybe Brennans Bar junc North Queen St/Frederick St) Informant would not give name and left.”

– “LOG SHEET 2 RRF Date 5 DEC 71 [time] 1020 From 959”

* The Gem Bar was known locally as Hannigan’s.

The log for the night of the explosion has a missing sheet. On the next one it’s possible to read the carbon imprint of “Serial 52 [time] 2056 From 49 Black car with headlights on went into city centre with 3 [overwritten]”.

In his secret briefing to London Kitson had proposed two alternatives: Integrating and de-militarising the two communities, orienting local politics more on a conventional “left-right” axis than ethnic or religion, with a view to early disengagement and re-unification; or alternatively segregation, with separate police forces and devolved administration, as in Cyprus. Both solutions depended on OIRA and PIRA being quickly defeated militarily and isolated from the Catholic population, which would continue to be heavily spied upon, it would also need the Civil Rights movement to tone down its demands.

This shows extraordinary naivety, his comment that “both wings of the IRA were also clumsy and indeed much too big for the purpose for which they were designed to fulfill (sic)” betrays his lack of understanding about where insurrections come from, and anti-oppression politics in general – he had learned nothing. In fact within a year the peace-keeping expert had so aggravated the Catholic community that the government kicked him sideways to run the Infantry School on the mainland.

“6. I have been asked whether I provided input into the formulation of military policy for Northern Ireland as a whole while I was commanding 39 Brigade. Formulating policy was the function of the GOC as Director of Operations and a member of the Joint Security Committee. The GOC exercised command of military forces through the CLF, the three brigade commanders being his subordinates. Obviously in advising the GOC the CLF would take into account the situation in each of the brigade areas which the CLF would assess in the light of information provided by the relevant brigade commanders. The GOC himself did not hold meetings with the three brigade commanders at which policy for the whole of Northern Ireland was discussed. I was never asked for my views on security policy outside my own brigade area. I knew nothing about the political decisions which governed security policy and very little about the situation elsewhere in the Province.”

– General Sir Frank Edward Kitson:
Submission to Savile Inquiry 18th February 2000

Logs for 39 Brigade initially refer to Kitson’s counter-gang as “Bomb Squad” he appointed Captain Arthur Watchus of 1 PARA at Palace Barracks, Holywood, to run the outfit. Actual bomb disposal reports are credited to “ATO”, indicating that this designation was a cover. These references end in the summer of 1971. Watchus appears towards the end of the year reporting for “MRF”, the first known reference to these initials is in a Brigade log dated 22nd October. In June 1972 he hands over to Captain later Brigadier James “Hamish” Alistair McGregor, who with Kitson had been attached to police Special Branch in Aden.

British soldiers, acting with all the resources at the state’s disposal, appeared to be loyalists striking with impunity in nationalist territory, mainly against civilians who were either unconnected with the politics, or on the periphery. This worked to isolate the Republican movement from the population at large by undermining their confidence in its ability to protect them. Lastly, tit-for-tat violence transformed the organisations themselves into singularly unattractive gangster networks, thereby vindicating the state’s narrative.

“The Law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in this case it becomes little more than propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. For this to happen efficiently, the activities of the legal service have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible …”

– Kitson: ‘Low Intensity Operations’.

On 22nd June 1972 shortly after midday, McGregor and Royal Military Police Sergeant Clive Graham Williams opened fire with a Thompson sub-machine gun on a bus terminus on Glen Road, outside St. Oliver Plunkett’s Primary School. Four men were shot and seriously wounded, including one that had been indoors in bed. The two men were arrested, McGregor charged with possession of the Thompson and ammunition, which he claimed “belongs to the police at Castlereagh and was issued by the Special Branch”* and Williams with attempted murder. The army claimed they were returning fire, but no evidence was ever produced to this effect. Williams was acquitted and charges against McGregor dropped.

* Urwin, (op. cit.)

The Military Reaction Force received no special training, being drawn from different regiments of the army, and their operations were shambolic. Sometimes the ‘terrorists’ were spotted conversing with uniformed soldiers immediately after a shooting and escorted from the scene. There were near-misses and cases of mistaken identity. On occasions plain-clothes soldiers would come under fire from their colleagues or get arrested by the R.U.C. forcing the army to come up with cock-and-bull explanations of their behaviour. They are highly reminiscent of the motley crew of burnt-cork racists Kitson celebrates in his first book. It could be that personnel were selected especially for their fecklessness and amorality, and that their amateurish style was a deliberate attempt to replicate the work of terrorists.

To complete Kitson’s pseudo-gang:

“Ten proven IRA activists, including one who was a recently demobilised soldier of the Royal Irish Rangers, were arrested and given the choice between long terms of imprisonment or undercover work for the British Army. They opted to join the British. Commanded by a Parachute Regiment captain they were known as the Special Detachment of the MRF (or more colloquially as “Freds”). Their guard were ten volunteers for plainclothes duty from the British Army. The “Freds” lived in one half of a semi-detached married quarters in the heavily-guarded Holywood [palace] Barracks, while their British guard occupied the other half”.

– Roger Faligot: ‘Britain’s Military Strategy in Ireland’ 1983.

The Freds were used for screening in republican districts, being driven around in armoured cars to point out suspects. The Four Square laundry dropped its collected linen off at the Lisburn H.Q. for forensic testing before having it cleaned by a genuine laundry. The Gemini massage parlour was a brothel that created opportunities for blackmail, as did the Kincora boys’ home, which prostituted orphans to establishment paedophiles from both islands. At that time even consensual homosexuality was banned in Northern Ireland.

“There is of course an element of truth in the idea that an effective domestic intelligence system could be used to jeopardize the freedom of the individual if it fell into the wrong hands, but the danger posed by subversion unchecked by good intelligence is far greater. The right answer in a free country is to have an efficient intelligence organization in the hands of people who are responsible to, and supervised by, the elected government”

– Kitson: (op. cit).

After six months in the palace barracks Séamus Wright “an IRA informer used by the MRF”* returned hoping to re-join PIRA as a double-agent, he fingered another Fred, Kevin McKee, who revealed the undercover operation at the laundry and massage parlour. Eventually in October 1972 the PIRA Belfast Brigade attacked both sites killing six operatives and subsequently shot the two Freds.

* National Archives DEFE 24/969.
Information Policy brief with accompanying letter to Lt. Co. F.M.K. Tuck, MoD (MO4), Whitehall, London from Col. G.W. Hutton for GOC, HQ, Northern Ireland, 16th May 1973.

At the end of 1971 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association decided to organise public demonstrations against internment, in defiance of the ban. At Christmas a march from the Falls Rd to Long Kesh prison was foiled by army barricades and ended in a peaceful sit-down protest that included two members of the Westminster parliament. On 2nd January 1972 several marches in West Belfast were hindered by the state forces but regrouped around the barriers and converged on their rally point. The ban was defeated and a huge demonstration was planned for Derry on the 30th.

This was the background to the events of Bloody Sunday, 30th January 1972 when the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights marchers and passers-by in the Bogside, killing thirteen civilians. A hasty public inquiry was held at the time, during which soldiers claimed to have come under fire from the Rossville flats and other locations. The character of the victims was again besmirched. This remained the official and media line for nearly forty years, before the truth was prised out of the military by the Savile Inquiry. Savile failed to criticise any of the senior figures however, taking their justifications at face value and putting the blame on the soldiers themselves.

“… we do not criticise General Ford for deciding to deploy soldiers to arrest rioters, though in our view his decision to use 1 PARA as the arrest force is open to criticism, on the ground that 1 PARA was a force with a reputation for using excessive physical violence …”

– Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Volume I (B.S.I. V1): HMSO

Some young men had been brainwashed to kill without compunction and to regard civilians with contempt – especially Irish ones. Under Kitson in Belfast they had killed several already and developed a culture of impunity.

In quoting from the British state’s second inquiry into the massacre, I’ve removed references to maps and diagrams; you can find the street map easily enough on line.

Robert Ford was commander of land forces – number two in the occupation hierarchy but seems to have made most of the decisions. At the request of Prime Minister (N.I.) Brian Faulkner, he was dispatched by his boss Harry Tuzo to meet with the Strand traders association, loyalist petty bourgeois whose premises bordered on the Bogside. On the 7th January he duly arrived in Derry, conferred with assorted senior military and police then met the traders accompanied by the assistant chief constable. The traders wanted “as a minimum”* the five thousand residents of Rossville flats evicted, plus curfews and “shooting on sight”*.

* (ibid.)

“General Ford, in his evidence to this Inquiry, was unable to recall this visit to Londonderry. However, we had available a memorandum which General Ford produced following his visit. The memorandum was addressed to the GOC and was headed “Personal and Confidential”. It was written on or about 10th January 1972. In it, General Ford reported to General Tuzo the impression that he had gained of the security situation in Londonderry.”


Robert Ferris had been Secretary of the Strand Road Traders’ Association in 1972, and suffered amnesia as profound as Ford’s and Kitson’s. He couldn’t remember making these demands and Ford couldn’t remember meeting him but notes in Ford’s handwriting came to light referring to the conversation with the words, “Said this was impossible”*.

* (ibid.)

The establishment of Free Derry, prompted by the B-Specials’ 1969 atrocity, provided an operational base for republican paramilitaries and teenage rioters. A community under siege, perhaps like Barcelona in the 1920s in which everyone was on the same side. The army was unwilling to enter the Creggan district, according to Ford, with fewer than four or five companies of troops*. As confirmed by Martin McGuinness, Adjutant of the Derry Brigade in 1972, the tactic was to extend the no-go area into the shopping district and stretch the state’s resources. Ford’s memo offers a lurid description of snipers, bombers and ‘Derry Young Hooligans’ operating in concert backed and protected by the vast majority of the population”*. He proposes:

* (ibid.)

“I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ring leaders amongst the DYH, after clear warnings have been issued. I believe we would be justified in using 7.62mm but in view of the devastating effects of this weapon and the danger of rounds killing more than the person aimed at, I believe we must consider issuing rifles adapted to fire HV .22 inch ammunition to sufficient members of the unit dealing with this problem, to enable ring leaders to be engaged with this less lethal ammunition. Thirty of these weapons have already been sent to 8 Infantry Brigade this weekend for zeroing and familiarization training.”


My italics: The idea of shooting to maim but not kill sounds pretty far-fetched in view of how well they subsequently performed with the highly accurate service rifle.

The army’s rules of engagement were laid out on the Yellow Card issued to each soldier, entitled “Instructions by the Director of Operations for Opening Fire in Northern Ireland”, its fourth revision was published in November 1971. The instructions were to use minimum force, to always “first try to handle the situation by means other than opening fire”. Weapons were to be carried loaded in the magazine, but with the breach closed on an empty chamber. Live fire was to be preceded by a verbal warning. A round could be chambered only after the first warning, (or on instructions of the commanding officer, with the safety catch on). Only aimed shots were permitted, and no more than necessary to accomplish the task in hand. Paragraph 13 said that a soldier could open fire without warning:

“… either when hostile firing is taking place in your area and a warning is impractical, or when any delay could lead to death or serious injury to people whom it is your duty to protect or to yourself, and then only

(a) against a person using a firearm against members of the security forces or people whom it is your duty to protect,


(b) against a person carrying a firearm if you have reason to think he is about to use it for offensive purposes.”

– Army Code No. 70771

The Yellow Card defined grenades, nail and other bombs as ‘firearms’. Notwithstanding all that, Faulkner announced in Stormont in May 1971 that “any soldier seeing any person with a weapon or seeing any person acting suspiciously may fire either to warn or may fire with effect, depending on the circumstances and without waiting for orders from anyone ”.*

* Minutes of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee, 26th May 1971, widely quoted.

The Civil Rights movement got another boost with the opening of a new Internment Camp at Magilligan Strand. On 22nd January 1972 fifteen hundred protesters marched down a private lane and along the beach. They weren’t on the road so the ban didn’t apply. At low tide they were able to pass the barbed wire fence, at which point they were charged by members of the Parachute Regiment with batons and rubber bullets.

There is television footage of soldiers wielding rifles as clubs, kicking civilians on the ground and firing the baton guns into demonstrators’ chests at close range. In the fracas, officers of other regiments, and their own N.C.O.s can be seen beating paratroopers with riot sticks to get them to desist. It was a propaganda failure for the regime, the army on the one hand being seen to use extreme violence against unarmed men and women, on the other, completely failing to stop them reaching their objective. The deployment of ‘Kitson’s private army’ as the paratroopers became known, in what was supposed to be the simple enforcement of a public ordinance contradicted the state’s narrative and put all the republican communities on a war footing. Several other marches were foiled by the army over that weekend, ending in exchanges of stones for CS and baton rounds.

January the 30th in Derry was set to be the return match. The problem for the army was that twelve thousand republicans were going to march out of Creggan and around the Bogside, get at least as far as William Street before they could be stopped, and be seen to have done so by the invited television channels, who would broadcast around the world. Another march would start at Shantallow with the intention of joining the main one at Guildhall.

The state’s priority was to placate the loyalist organisations, for whom marching was central to their culture. These had threatened a much bigger march in Belfast the following Saturday. The Joint Security Committee met at Stormont on 27th January 1972, the minutes record:

“It is planned to stifle the Shantallow March at source but it would be pointless to attempt the same tactics in the Creggan area. The basic plan here will be to block all routes into William Street and stop the March there. The operation might well develop into rioting and even a shooting war.”

– (B.S.I. V1)

In the minutes of a meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff on 24th January, Tuzo reported:

“15 IRA gunmen have been seen to fall in Londonderry since 1 Jan 72. The interesting thing is that there is always an instant reaction to our patrolling but none to the casualties we inflict by our own sniper fire.”


Interesting: in fact none of these casualties ever appeared in the Republican movement’s commemorations of their fallen. Evidently a culture of wishful thinking had developed within the army that whenever they fired a shot, it hit a terrorist.

The march organisers sought and received assurances from both OIRA and PIRA that no firearms would be carried on the march. Following representations from nationalist politicians and clergy, PIRA collected up such firearms and explosives as they held in Derry and stashed them in locations known only to the quartermaster and Adjutant. They retained four armed patrol vehicles in Bogside and Creggan, volunteers were forbidden to carry arms on the march, which some attended as stewards.

The army’s operation order required each battalion to deploy a still photographer on the containment line to record events – ten in all. Cine film would be shot from a helicopter, and the police were also ordered to take still and moving images throughout. The intention was to provide evidence for prosecution and the arrest operation would be of particular interest. The film stock would be collected up, developed and sent to headquarters for 18:00 hours that day. None of these images were provided to either inquiry and no-one knows what happened to them. Savile declined to draw any conclusions from this. Maybe they’re at Hanslope Park.

Thousands of marchers left the Creggan estate and made their way around the nationalist part of the city, heading for a rally at Guildhall Square. The army had erected barriers on William Street to prevent them reaching their advertised destination, and anticipating this would lead to rioting, brought Kitson’s paratroopers from Belfast to arrest the ‘ringleaders’. At the last moment, the organisers decided that when the march reached the junction of William Street and Rossville Street*, it would divert down Rossville Street and have the speeches at Free Derry Corner instead. It would thus remain entirely within Republican territory.

* A popular rioting location known locally as “Aggro Corner”.

When the rioting commenced, Wilford radioed Brigade Headquarters requesting permission to carry out his arrest operation.

“At about the same time as Colonel Wilford sent this message, two soldiers of Machine Gun Platoon fired between them five shots from the derelict building on William Street, … Their target was Damien Donaghey (aged 15), who was on the other side of William Street and who was wounded in the thigh. Unknown to the soldiers John Johnston (aged 55), who was a little distance behind Damien Donaghey, was also hit and injured by fragments from this gunfire”


A member of the Official I.R.A. then fired a shot at soldiers which missed and hit a drainpipe. Wilford was given the go-ahead to pass army barrier number 14 to apprehend rioters in William Street, but not to “conduct a running battle down Rossville Street”*.


“Colonel Wilford did not comply with Brigadier’s order. He deployed one company through Barrier 14 as he was authorised to do, but in addition and without authority he deployed Support Company in vehicles through Barrier 12 in Little James Street. … the vehicles travelled along Rossville Street and into the Bogside, where the soldiers disembarked.”


Marchers entering the Bogside were in effect withdrawing from the conflict or simply going home. People don’t tend to riot on their own territory. The inquiry gives Wilford the benefit of the doubt, but it’s possible he was trying to make a point to MacLellan, they didn’t have no-go areas in Belfast.

“Many civilians were in the area of the Eden Place waste ground and the car park of the Rossville Flats when the vehicles of Support Company drove into the Bogside. On seeing the Army vehicles these people started to run away. Shortly before it stopped in the car park of the Rossville Flats the vehicle under the command of Sergeant O struck two people, Alana Burke and Thomas Harkin. This was not done deliberately.

Shortly after arriving at the entrance to the alleyway, Lieutenant N fired two rounds from his rifle over the heads of people who were in the alleyway or in Chamberlain Street at the end of the alleyway and soon afterwards fired a third round in the same direction. These people had come from the area around Barrier 14 in William Street. Some of them had been attempting to rescue a man who had been arrested by one of the soldiers with Lieutenant N and some were throwing stones and similar missiles at the soldiers.”


The rifles in use by the British army in 1971 were not the modern low-powered assault rifles but chambered for 7.62 NATO (.308 Winchester), a cartridge commonly used in precision competition to 1000 yards* – at which range it’s only just subsonic and capable of carrying a lot further. You hear a sonic boom as the bullet passes you, ahead of the report from the muzzle; in a built up area like the Bogside you get echoes and ricochets as well. Once they started firing it would have sounded like a war zone. In contemporary footage of the incident one soldier can be seen discharging his rifle without aiming or even bringing it to his shoulder.

* In fact a sport version of this round is the standard chambering for the International ‘Target Rifle’ discipline.

“Soon after Lieutenant N had fired his shots up the alleyway, soldiers of Mortar Platoon opened fire with their rifles in the area of the car park of the Rossville Flats. In that car park Jackie Duddy (aged 17) was shot and mortally wounded, while Margaret Deery (aged 38), Michael Bridge (aged 25) and Michael Bradley (aged 22) were wounded, all by Army rifle fire. In addition Pius McCarron (aged about 30) and Patrick McDaid (aged 24) suffered injuries from flying debris caused by Army rifle fire. Patrick Brolly (aged 40) was in one of the Rossville Flats and was probably injured by or as the result of Army rifle fire.

A short time after disembarking, and while events were unfolding in the car park of the Rossville Flats, soldiers of Anti-Tank Platoon reached the low walls of a ramp at the southern end of a block of flats named Kells Walk, on the western side of Rossville Street. Soldiers at that ramp then opened fire with their rifles. One of these shots hit and mortally wounded Michael Kelly (aged 17) who was some 80 yards further south behind a rubble barricade that had been erected by civilians across Rossville Street before Bloody Sunday.

Soon after civilians had carried Michael Kelly away from the rubble barricade, soldiers in Rossville Street fired at and mortally wounded five more people at or in the vicinity of that barricade. They were Hugh Gilmour (aged 17), William Nash (aged 19), John Young (aged 17), Michael McDaid (aged 20) and Kevin McElhinney (aged 17). In addition Alexander Nash (aged 52) was hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to the rubble barricade to tend his son William Nash.

In Glenfada Park North were a number of civilians, many fleeing and seeking refuge from the soldiers.

Within a few seconds after arriving, the four soldiers who had gone into Glenfada Park North between them shot and mortally wounded William McKinney (aged 26) and Jim Wray (aged 22); and shot and injured Joe Friel (aged 20), Michael Quinn (aged 17), Joe Mahon (aged 16) and Patrick O’Donnell (aged 41). Jim Wray was shot twice, the second time probably as he lay mortally wounded on the ground.”


My italics: Bogside residents stated this many times over the years.

“A civilian, Daniel Gillespie (aged 32), may also have been slightly injured by or as the result of Army rifle fire in Glenfada Park North, but this is far from certain.

One of these soldiers then went from Glenfada Park North to Abbey Park … In Abbey Park this soldier shot and mortally wounded Gerard McKinney (aged 35). His shot passed through this casualty and also mortally wounded Gerald Donaghey (aged 17).

Soon after the shootings in Rossville Street, Glenfada Park North and Abbey Park, some of the soldiers who had been in Glenfada Park North went to its south-east corner … From this position and again over a very short period of time there was Army gunfire across Rossville Street. This gunfire hit Bernard McGuigan (aged 41) and Patrick Doherty (aged 32), instantly killing the former and mortally wounding the latter. In addition Patrick Campbell (aged 53) and Daniel McGowan (aged 37) were wounded. …

Although there was later firing by soldiers in Rossville Street, the people shot on the front (southern) side of the Rossville Flats were the last civilians to be shot by the soldiers who had gone into the Bogside.

Only some ten minutes elapsed between the time soldiers moved in vehicles into the Bogside and the time the last of the civilians was shot.

[…] What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. …”


It’s a sobering thought that had the Republicans retained their weapons and actually engaged the Parachute Regiment in the densely-populated Bogside, it would have left a bloodbath with hundreds of civilian casualties.

On 3rd September 1972 an hour-long gun battle between uniformed and plain clothes soldiers took place in the New Lodge district of Belfast. Two men were killed, Royal Marine Robert Cutting, and a man in civilian clothes who witnesses claimed spoke with a Belfast accent. The latter’s body was taken away in a Saracen; no civilian in the area was missed that day, and the army reported only the death of Mr Cutting and the wounding of another uniformed Englishman.

The Military Reaction Force having been a public relations disaster, the response of government was to re-group. The new pseudo-gang would be more efficient, and three times the size, the S.A.S. would be responsible for training, but its involvement, like every other aspect, would be a secret. It was re-named the Special Reconnaisance Unit, but that was a secret too. Subsequently it became Force Research Unit, then 14th Intelligence Company, latterly Special Reconnaisance Regiment. Such murk surrounds the group it’s hard to be sure precisely what terminology the army were using at any given time. Never mind, the tactics remained the same, with soldiers in plain clothes shooting civilians and occasionally falling foul of the local police.

When media interest forced the Ministry of Defence to comment, they – and the media – stuck to the line that the M.R.F. had been a short-lived, experimental outfit with a high degree of operational autonomy that had got out of hand owing to a few ‘loose cannons’, and the project had been abandoned. A familiar story:

a) “we didn’t do it”
b) “we don’t do it any more”
c) “we didn’t know about it”
d) “we’re investigating it”
e) “we’ve sacked the person/s responsible”
f) “it couldn’t happen now”
g) “etc …”

However, a briefing to Harold Wilson prior to his meeting with the Taoiseasch dated Friday 5th April 1974 now de-classified confirms the opposite:

“Plain clothes teams, initially joint RUC/Army patrols, have operated in Northern Ireland since the IRA bombing campaign in Easter 1971*. Later in 1971 the teams were reformed and expanded as Military Reaction Forces (MRFs) without RUC participation. In 1972 the operations of the MRF were brought under more centralised control and a higher standard of training achieved by establishing a Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) of 130 all ranks under the direct command of HQNI.

2. The term “Special Reconnaissance Unit” and the details of its organisation and mode of operations have been kept secret. The SRU operates in Northern Ireland at present under the cover name “Northern Ireland Training and Advisory Teams (Northern Ireland)” – NITAT (NI) – ostensibly the equivalent of genuine NITAT teams in UK Land Forces and British Army on the Rhine (BAOR).

3. The prime task of the SRU is to conduct covert surveillance of terrorists as a preliminary to an arrest carried out by security forces in uniform. The SRU may also be used to contact and handle agents or informers and for the surveillance and protection of persons or property under terrorist threat. The SRU works to a great extent on Special Branch information and the Special Branch have a high regard for it.

4. Men who have served with the SAS are serving in the SRU but no SAS units are operating in Northern Ireland. One officer and 30 soldiers serving with the SRU since early January are due to resume service with 22 SAS by 7 April. Their presence with the SRU went undetected until the Robert Fisk article in “The Times” on 19th March.”

– National Archives PREM16/154
‘Defensive Brief D. Meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach 5 April 1974
Army Plain Clothes Patrols in Northern Ireland’.

* The ‘Bomb Squad’.

My italics: The Special Reconnaisance Unit was initially created and operated under close supervision of the British government’s Secretary of State for Defence, lord Carrington, who was especially keen to involve the S.A.S. but agreed that every attempt would be made to conceal this.

The British army’s Special Air Service, created during World War two originally as a propaganda weapon to strike fear into Italian troops in the African desert, had become a victim of its own success. It was devised as an airborne assault force, practiced in escape and evasion, to be deployed behind enemy lines against high-value military or political targets – in a declared war. The subject of romantic fiction, some written by its former members, and constant media hyperbole, it acquired a ‘cloak and dagger’ reputation in the popular imagination.

Such tactics would appear utterly inappropriate to policing and peace-keeping operations where the stated aim was to apprehend terrorists and prosecute them as civilian miscreants. Nevertheless the experience of forward reconnaissance gained in warfare proved highly applicable to counter-insurgency, so the British state was unable to resist using the S.A.S. in Ireland, but desperate to keep this from the public. In 1976, perhaps because its involvement had become impossible to conceal, politicians took advantage of a spike in sectarian violence to deploy it officially in Armagh, for the usual propaganda effect.

The term ‘special forces’ is in itself a fantastic propaganda device. Governments reserve the right to refuse to comment on their deployment “to protect their identities”, and to keep their numerical strength and operational tactics secret, so can always retrospectively justify any lies. A government need only hint at their use, perhaps by briefing the press that they are on standby, to reassure its supporters that a situation is being taken seriously, and if it’s serious enough to send in the strong-arm team, maybe a few breaches of the rules are to be expected.

Nowadays the designation is entirely arbitrary and can be applied to any unit before or after an operation that doesn’t bear close inspection, and if their identities are protected, we’ll never know precisely who was and who wasn’t, at least until their book comes out. Neither confirm nor deny, no patriot would expect to be told the truth.

All S.A.S. soldiers were volunteers from other regiments, and the army’s policy was to return them to their original unit before posting to the S.R.U. There were several detachments with uninteresting-sounding names such as Four Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers, based at Castledillon, County Armagh and 216 Signals Unit based at Ballykelly. Another unit, of twelve soldiers, was based in Dublin.

“Detailed information on this unit, which is not now deployed in the Province, is no longer available. The role of a Royal Engineer field survey is to provide or process aerial photographs, ground surveys and mapping for the Army as required. The strength of such a unit at that time varied between about 30 and 40, depending upon its specific task, and usually included two officers.”

– Roger Freeman, secretary of state for defence.
HANSARD Written Answers (Commons) DEFENCE
Royal Engineers Survey Troop, Castledillon
HC Deb 28 March 1988 vol 130 cc361-2W

“It [the government] must also promote its own cause and undermine that of the enemy by disseminating its view of the situation, and this involves a carefully planned and co-ordinated campaign of what for want of a better word must regrettably be called psychological operations. Finally in some circumstances it may be necessary for the government to try and organize the population along lines similar to those employed by the enemy.”

– Kitson: (op. cit.)

That was by no means a new idea; during the Swing insurrection, contemporary with the genesis of a ‘civil’ police force*, and prior to its widespread establishment, loyalist workers were recruited as special constables and put among the aggrieved population, supervised by army officers.

* The origins and continuity of purpose of which I shall explore in a later chapter.

“He [the Duke of Richmond] enrolled a constabulary force of shopkeepers, yeomen and “respectable” labourers, organised them in sections and districts under local commanders, and sent them out as mobile units to occupy villages, whether already rebellious or likely to become so. The “Sussex plan” was quickly adopted by Lord Gordon Lennox at Chichester, and it became a model for other counties to follow”

– Eric Hobsbawm and George Rudé: ‘Captain Swing’ 1969.

Since loyalist organisations presented no threat to the status quo they were used as proxy assassins, funded and protected, provided with intelligence and logistics and the criminal justice system manipulated to their advantage. This was an echo of Italy during the insurrections of 1920-21 and Catalunya’s ‘pistolerismo’ era.

Within weeks of Wilson’s visit, on 17th April 1974, The Glenanne gang detonated three bombs at Dublin and another at Monahan in the Irish Republic killing thirty-three civilians and an unborn child. This was the single largest loss of life during the conflict. The escalation of violence on the loyalist side was a desperate attempt to undermine the Labour government’s attempts to negotiate a ceasefire. Allegations of collusion follow the theory that MI5 wanted both to discredit the Loyalist leadership, and at the same time encourage the Irish government to take firmer action against republicans. Meanwhile MI6 were in talks with PIRA, still following Kitson’s 1971 plan “that a future political initiative can be launched under favourable circumstances”.

This took place on the third day of the Ulster Workers’ Council strike which ended the power-sharing executive. Working Class loyalists, who enjoyed a privileged position in the shipyards and infrastructure were controlled by a de-facto government of paramilitaries and political demagogues that issued passes and permits for specific activities, while shutting down industry and commerce. The state capitulated, its counter-insurgency strategy having blown up in its face, as it had entirely lost control of its loyalist allies, many of whom favoured a unilateral declaration of independence, while the PIRA shifted its terrorism to the mainland, further undermining its narrative.*

* Imagine the wave of sympathy for Irish republicanism had the assassination attempt on thatcher succeeded.

At the end of 1974 an uneasy truce was concluded between the Wilson government and PIRA to allow for talks. Compensation was offered to the Bloody Sunday relatives and in return PIRA announced a “Christmas cease-fire”. When this expired on 16th January 1975 evidence of war-weariness in the nationalist community led the leadership to cut a deal. Attacks on state assets and personnel would cease, the army would desist from house searches, and crucially, incident centres in nationalist area staffed by Sinn Féin members would liaise with the Norther Ireland office to defuse trouble and prevent breaches of the truce*. On the one hand this gave British intelligence breathing space to infiltrate the republican paramilitaries, whilst the latter established control of ‘policing’ in their enclaves. Both ideas had been broached by Kitson in his 1971 briefing. The truce weakened the hand of the Southern “abstentionist” tendency in favour of Northern aspiring politicians such as Gerry Adams. When Adams became Adjutant General in 1978 he established Sinn Féin’s Civil Administration as his power base.

* Loyalists acting on their own remained fair game however, OIRA and INLA did not consider themselves bound by it, and the Provisional Army Council found it difficult to enforce.

Loyalists were not happy with these developments and nor were the senior commanders of the British army who wanted a definitive military victory under their belt. Sectarian violence increased sharply during the ceasefire, especially against Catholics in the border region.

Collusion between Four Field Survey Troop and the Glenanne gang is now well documented but never mentioned by politicians keen to distinguish between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ combatants in the Irish theatre. Between 1972 and 1977 they were responsible for over a hundred and twenty killings, including the Miami Showband murders, the Dundalk bombing of December 1975, and the Castleblayney bombing of March 1976.

Former British soldier and MI6 operative Captain Fred Holroyd gave the following evidence to the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings: “the bombings were part of a pattern of collusion between elements of the security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries.”*

* Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, [Barron report] December 2003, p. 179

Typically, efforts were made by R.U.C. and Gardaí* sources to undermine Holroyd’s credibility – as was noted by Judge Barron in his report. He was declared ‘unfit for duty’ and involuntarily spent a month in a mental hospital, from which he received a clean bill of health.

* Their investigation was widely criticised on both sides of the border.

“There is good evidence the Dublin bombings in May last year were a reprisal for the Irish government’s role in bringing about the Executive. According to one of Craig’s people [Craig Smellie, MI6], some of those involved, the Youngs, the Jacksons, Mulholland, Hanna, Kerr and McConnell were working closely with SB and Int at that time. Craig’s people believe the sectarian assassinations were designed to destroy Rees’ attempts to negotiate a ceasefire, and the targets were identified for both sides by Int/SB. They also believe some very senior RUC officers were involved with this group. In short, it would appear that loyalist paramilitaries and Int/SB members have formed some sort of pseudo-gangs in an attempt to fight a war of attrition by getting paramilitaries on both sides to kill each other and, at the same time, prevent any future political initiative such as Sunningdale.”

– Letter from Colin Wallace, Senior Information Officer
of the Army Information Service at Lisburn,
to Tony Stoughton, Chief Information Officer
dated 14th August 1975. Submitted to Barron Enquiry.

Great mystery surrounds the role of Grenadier Guards Captain Robert Nairac, who was abducted and killed by PIRA in May 1977. He is variously described (by the British military) as: “a member of Four Field Survey Troop”*; “a member of the permanent cadre of SAS Det. [Detachment] NI acting as an SAS LO [Liaison officer]”**; “a liaison officer between RUC Special Branch and the Army, primarily SAS but not a member of SAS”***.

* Fred Holroyd, MI6: letter to The Guardian.**
Major A.P.A. Jones: DEFE24/1670, Initial report on the disappearance of Captain Robert Nairac, Grenadier Guards, 16th May 1977. National Archives.
*** J. Dromgoole, Assistant Under Secretary, General Staff: DEFE13/1403, Abduction of Captain Nairac, 16th May 1977. National Archives.

On the 31st July 1975, five members of the Dublin-based Miami Showband* were flagged down by uniformed soldiers at what they presumed to be a routine British army checkpoint. It had in fact been set up by the Ulster Volunteer Force Mid-Ulster Brigade (The Glenanne gang), although its personnel were serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. One of them carried a Luger pistol, a weapon that had never been issued to the British army. They were preceded by the equipment van driven by road manager Brian Maguire, who noted a blue Triumph 2000 pulling out from a lay-by and following the second van.

* The band was of varied heritage from both sides of the border and had no involvement in sectarian politics. The Irish show bands were all-round entertainers, playing a variety of music to diverse audiences. They were popular in poor Catholic communities and especially unpopular with loyalist paramilitaries, because of the ethnic mixing they engendered.

Initially polite, the soldiers asked the occupants to leave the van so it could be searched. They placed a bomb under the front seat, set to explode on or about the border so that like the McGurk’s bar incident, the band would be presumed to have been carrying explosives for some strand of the republican movement. A car drew up and another man got out in a different uniform and beret, speaking with an English accent, he appeared to take charge. This development prompted their Protestant trumpeter Brian McCoy, to reassure his friends that the “British army” would deal fairly with them.

Shoddy soldering caused the bomb to explode, killing U.D.R./U.V.F. members Harris Boyle and Wesley Somerville, the remaining terrorists opened fire on the band members, of whom three died. The Luger pistol turned up in an arms cache of another Ulster policeman Edward Sinclair, it had a home-made silencer which bore the fingerprints of former U.D.R. member Robin Jackson who had recently taken over the U.V.F. mid-Ulster Brigade after assassinating its founder, Billy Hanna. Jackson was charged with possession of the silencer and aquitted.

Holroyd had often worked with Four Field Survey Troop, which he understood to be part of the Special Air Service, controlled by MI5, and believed that senior members of those organisations had an interest in discrediting the Wilson Government. Colin Wallace referred to this operation as “Clockwork Orange”. In 1990, the Government admitted that Ministers had “inadvertently misled” Parliament over Wallace’s role and confirmed that he had been involved in disinformation activities on behalf of the security forces and that he had been authorised to supply, on occasions, classified information to journalists. Junior Defence Minister, Archie Hamilton, also confirmed the existence of a project called “Clockwork Orange” but denied that there was any evidence that it involved briefings against elected Irish or British politicians.

As related by British M.P. Ken Livingstone in his maiden speech to the House of Commons, Nairac reported to Holroyd on an operation with the Glenanne gang into the Republic to assassinate PIRA member John Francis Green. Ballistic evidence showed Green had been shot with Sinclair’s Luger.

“It begins to emerge that Captain Robert Nairac is quite likely the person who organised the killing of the three Miami showband musicians. The evidence for that allegation is forensic and members of the UVF are prepared to say that they were members of the UVF gang who actually undertook the murder of the Miami showband musicians. The evidence is quite clear. The same gun that was used by Captain Nairac on his cross-border trip to assassinate John Francis Green was used in the Miami showband massacre.”

– Ken Livingstone M.P. Hansard Parliamentary Debates,
vol 118, 7 July 1987.

Intelligence leading to Green’s killing had been provided by John Weir, a Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Patrol Group Sergeant. In 1999 he signed an affidavit for Sean McPhilemy, who was being sued for libel; it was published in the Barron Report.

“3. I recall that in 1970 or 1971, while I was serving as a young constable, aged 20, in Strandtown there was an arms amnesty in which members of the public handed in substantial quantities of guns and ammunition of different types. Many of these guns were then given out by RUC officers to local members of a Loyalist paramilitary organization, the Ulster Defence Association, with the knowledge of the senior officers in my station. On one occasion I was ordered by Inspector Don Milligan to remove a number of rifles which had been handed in under the amnesty, and place them in the boot of his car. I do not know where he took them but it was common knowledge among my colleagues that such weapons were being given to Loyalists whom my colleagues supported.”

– John Weir: Affadavit, 3rd January 1999“

Recruited by police colleagues to Glenanne in 1976 he was well aware what they were up to:

“[R.U.C. officers] McClure and Armstrong had explained to me in detail the past activities of their group, so that I would have a proper understanding of the character of the organization I was joining.”


Weir identified Jackson and Hanna as perpetrators of the Dublin bombing. Stewart Young, of Portadown U.V.F. had told Weir he led the team that planted the Monaghan car bomb that killed another seven people 90 minutes later. Hanna put Young in charge of the operation, while he went to Dublin. Weir stated that U.D.R. intelligence officer Captain John Irwin had supplied the explosives, and the bombs had been constructed and stored at Mitchell’s farm.

“Although those two bombings were amongst the worst atrocities of the Irish Troubles, those responsible for them were never even questioned by the RUC, even though both the RUC and Army Intelligence knew within days of the bombings the identities of the culprits. Indeed, since Irwin belonged to Army Intelligence it is possible that both Army Intelligence and the RUC were aware of the impending bomb attacks before they took place.”


Weir named other colleagues as perpetrators of several actions between 1974 and 1976 for which no one was ever charged. A bomb and gun attack on two pubs in Crossmaglen, carried out by Laurence McClure and Robert McConnell, with the getaway car provided by James Mitchell and his housekeeper Lily Shields. A local man, Thomas McNamee, died from his injuries a year later. The murder of two Gaelic football supporters at Tullyvallen, by McClure, McConnell and others. A gun and bomb attack on Donnelly’s bar in Silverbridge, in which Mr. Donnelly’s 14 year old son was shot dead; Weir named officers Young, McCoo, Silcock, McConnell, the car provided by McClure and Shields. The same night Jackson planted a bomb in Dundalk, killing two men. After another meeting at Mitchell’s farmhouse, Young, McCoo and Armstrong bombed a Catholic pub in Keady, South Armagh, killing a man and a woman.

Weir had been told Nairac was present when Green was shot.

“The men who did that shooting were Robert McConnell, Robin Jackson, and I would be almost certain, Harris Boyle who was killed in the Miami attack. What I am absolutely certain of is that Robert McConnell, Robert McConnell knew that area really, really well. Robin Jackson was with him. I was later told that Nairac was with them. I was told by…a UVF man, he was very close to Jackson and operated with him. Jackson told [him] that Nairac was with them.”

– [John Weir: Quoted in] The Barron Report 2003, p. 206.

On 4th January 1976 in County Armagh, three brothers of the Reavey family were shot by the Glenanne gang; they had no involvement with the conflict. Constable William McCaughey admitted taking part, and Weir named three other policemen: McConnell, McClure, Johnny Mitchell and one of McClure’s brothers, a civilian. The same night Jackson, accompanied by a British soldier and another man* shot four members of the O’Dowd family who belonged to the Social Democratic and Labour Party, one survived.

* Weir: (op.cit)

The retaliation of South Armagh’s Republicans was equally senseless and fascistic. Eleven textile workers travelling home in a minibus from Glenanne to Bessbrook were shot dead the following day. The victims were selected solely for their Protestant heritage, the only Catholic was released. Four were members of the Orange Order, Kenneth Worton was a former soldier of the Ulster Defence Regiment while Joseph Lemmon had been an Ulster Special Constabulary officer. Again, one of the gunmen spoke with a clear English accent – was this Nairac? One of the first police officers on the scene was William McCaughey. The army’s propaganda unit laid suspicion on the Reavey family, who suffered much harassment as a result, the accusation later being taken up by the preposterous Ian Paisley M.P. in the British parliament.

The Kingsmill massacre gave the Wilson government its excuse to drop the pretence and officially deploy the Special Air Service. It declared County Armagh a “Special Emergency Area” and swamped it with extra troops and police including the rapid-response “Spearhead Battalion”. Although already involved in terrorism, the attitude of Weir, McCaughey and their ilk hardened towards their Catholic neighbours.

The bomb and firearm attack on The Rock Bar in County Armagh was mounted exclusively by serving policemen, in a police car, at least one of whom was on duty. McCaughey was charged with eighteen attempted murders but only convicted for shooting and injuring Michael McGrath, miraculously the sole casualty. The same weapons were used in sixteen murders including the Reavey brothers, Denis Mullen, Peter and Jane McKearney, Trevor Brecknell, Patsy and Michael Donnelly, Fred McLoughlin and Patsy McNeice. None of the six fatal attacks in which these occurred were investigated as a result of this evidence. Charges of attempted murder against five other police officers were also dropped. McGrath was never called as a witness and only heard of the trial after it had ended.

Weir supplied arms to Glenanne from a group called Down Orange Welfare which manufactured knock-off Sterling sub-machine guns. It was almost entirely composed of serving or ex-soldiers and policemen led by retired Lt. Colonel Edward Brush. Weir’s boss, Chief Inspector (later Chief Superintendent) Harry Breen was also a member.

PIRA denied responsibility for Kingsmill, however ballistics linked some of the firearms to the South Armagh Brigade; ironically one was later used to kill Harry Breen. At the preliminary hearing of a new inquest in 2014, sole survivor Alan Black who had been shot eighteen times, claimed South Armagh PIRA harboured double agents working for the British state. On 25th June 1976 British paratroopers opened fire on four of them on the Newry-Newtownhamilton Road. Three were captured along with a couple of firearms that had been used in the Kingsmill shootings, another escaped after being shot in the leg, arm and chest and was taken across the border. A Royal Military Police document dated 19th August reveals that both the R.U.C. and British army knew he was being treated at Louth hospital but failed to contact Gardaí to have him arrested.

Esther McConville, whose son John was one of the dead, subsequently worked in the kitchen at Bessbrook army barracks. Belfast Coroner’s Court heard that a few years after the event an officer told her they were ordered not to patrol on the day of the killings. However, a senior officer with the 1st Battalion Ulster Scots, referred to as MOD 2 (who had to sit behind a screen) said “I can categorically say this is not the case.” […] “I am not aware of any areas out of bounds.” We know this isn’t true, in view of the ‘temporary operational out of bounds order’ in force at the time of the McGurk’s bar bombing.

Alibis have been offered for Nairac regarding all sightings and soundings of the ‘mysterious Englishman’ nevertheless he was at the centre of this web of intrigue. One of Weir’s informers, the haulier Packy Reel, also worked for Nairac. Weir claims that Nairac used Reel’s house to move explosives across the border for the I.R.A. Raised a Catholic, Nairac was driven around South Armagh pubs by a future British M.P. Patrick Mercer, posing as a mechanic and OIRA member called Danny McErlaine, “pretending to be” drunk and singing republican songs. It’s likely this posturing as a ‘cartoon Irishman’ that got him killed. In 1977 Nairac was abducted from The Three Steps in County Armagh, beaten and interrogated but refused to reveal his identity. Nairac’s last words according to Terry McCormick, one of his abductors who impersonated a priest in the hope of eliciting a confession, were: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned”.

“A Republican informant, the late Packy Reel, from Dorsey, South Armagh told me he had been aware the role Nairac had played in infiltrating both Republican and Loyalist terrorist groups, the IRA and the UVF. He told me that Nairac had supplied explosives to the IRA and I knew from my Loyalist contacts in Portadown that Nairac was involved with Robin Jackson. Reel told me that Nairac had informed him and, therefore, the IRA that police and security forces were responsible for the attack on Donnelly’s Bar and that he (Nairac) had given Reel the names of those responsible. Reel also told me that the IRA, after learning this information had killed UDR soldier Robert McConnell. Reel explained that the IRA had, for a time, believed Nairac to be sympathetic to their cause, which was the reason he had been allowed to participate in IRA meetings; but that Nairac’s cover had been blown when he was recognised at the Army shooting of IRA activist Peter Cleary in South Armagh.”


Nairac “was briefed at SAS HQ, Bessbrook at 2135 hours and departed at 2158 hours.”*

* Major A.P.A. Jones, (op.cit)

He got a posthumous George Cross but the Special Air Service disowned him:

“Had he been an SAS member, he would not have been allowed to operate in the way he did. Before his death, we had been very concerned at the lack of checks on his activities. No one seemed to know who his boss was, and he appeared to have been allowed to get out of control, deciding himself what tasks he would do.”

– Ken Connor: ‘Ghost Force the Secret History of the SAS’.
Cassell Military 1998.

Another loose cannon then – where do they find them all?

Connor ought to know; he served in the Special Air Service from 1963 to 1986, he discloses that he was one of a three-man assessment team sent to evaluate the Military Reaction Force in the aftermath of the Four Square Laundry shootings*. The result was Special Reconnaisance Unit / Force Research Unit / 14th Intelligence Company / Four Field Survey Troop, or what-have-you.

* (ibid)

Having declined Jackson and McCaughey’s proposal to kill a Catholic RUC Sergeant, Weir agreed to participate in an operation against an unknown target. His role was to pick up McCaughey from his house to bring a ‘clean’ pistol he had stolen from Lurgan police station. He then drove McCaughey, Jackson and Robert Kerr to and from the scene. McCaughey and Weir were eventually convicted of the murder of William Strathearn, a Catholic pharmacist, erroneously believed to be a member of PIRA. Weir claimed Strathearn was shot on his doorstep by Jackson and Kerr, while they waited in the car*. Both Weir and Holroyd believed that Jackson was a Special Branch agent controlled by Nairac, which made him “untouchable”. Neither he nor Kerr were ever interviewed regarding Strathearn.

* The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, by Sean McPhilemy. Roberts Rinehart, 1998, p. 308.

Weir and McCaughey are both on record that the Glenanne gang discussed an attack on the St Lawrence O’Toole primary school in Belleeks to kill thirty or so ‘Catholic’ children and their teacher. The plan was vetoed by the U.V.F. Brigade Staff* in Belfast, who suspected that the U.D.R. Colonel that suggested the attack had been put up to it by MI5 who were trying to provoke an all-out civil war. In fact the cessation of sectarian violence in the region seems to have been the result of a local truce between loyalist and republican elements not working for the state.

* Their equivalent of the Army Council.

Weir maintains he had the tacit approval of his seniors, naming Chief Inspectors Harry Breen and Brian Fitzsimmons and Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Rodgers. However none of these people ever got their own hands dirty and having been posted hither and thither for his own safety, he began to feel he had bitten off more than he could chew. An informant told him that McConnel had been set up for assassination by Nairac, and that he might be next. He therefore turned down a suspicious request to plant weapons on a suspect and to perform a cross-border attack.

“34. During my time in Newtownhamilton I became increasingly aware that there was an internal struggle within the security forces over the best way to fight the IRA and that there was fierce rivalry between Army Intelligence and RUC Special Branch. I did my best to sidestep this rivalry but I found myself pulled in different directions by both sides. For example, I recall one occasion when I returned to my office in Newtownhamilton to find two Englishmen, who introduced themselves as belonging to the Special Air Services (SAS) waiting for me. They indicated that they knew about my past and admired my skills in fighting the IRA but the main purpose of their visit was to warn me not to trust RUC Special Branch. In contrast, I remember receiving similar advice from RUC Special Branch about the danger of getting too involved with Army Intelligence. I recall that I was approached by a Major Robertson of the Royal Green Jackets and asked to use my connections with Loyalist paramilitaries to have an IRA family, the Murphys, murdered. After discussing the matter with RUC Special Branch officers Begley and Hamilton I choose to not get involved. I decided at this point in my career that I would no longer participate in any Loyalist activity directed against either the IRA or the general Catholic population, even if I was encouraged to do so by one or other faction within the security forces.”


In February 1980 a Catholic civilian, Brendan McLaughlin was shot dead with a Sterling sub-machine gun that had been used against the Miami Showband, Gertie and Jim Devlin, and the O’Dowd family. This was the only murder attributed to the Glenanne Gang after the death of Nairac.

Two Freds run by the S.R.U., Vincent Heatherington and Myles McGrogan, were remanded to Crumlin Road prison charged with the murder of policemen. On arrival at A-wing they were interviewed by the PIRA commander Brendan Hughes, who quickly established they were not members and had no involvement with the shootings. Heatherington at first claimed they had been fitted up and had requested to be accepted to A-wing because they feared loyalist reprisals. He subsequently ‘confessed’ that he had been sent by British intelligence to poison Hughes and two others and offered to name his co-conspirators. Heatherington identified a number of republicans and others as British agents – who almost certainly weren’t. He even fingered a U.D.A. member as such knowing the story would find its way across the prison. All these people were subsequently shot, as were Heatherington and McGrogan.

For more than ten years, the PIRAs internal security department, set up to root out spooks and informers, was itself run by an agent of the British Force Research Unit, successor to the S.R.U. During this period Freddie Scappaticci, who they referred to as agent 6126 or ‘Stakeknife’ was able to kill republicans and non-combatants with impunity, and also ran Sinn Féin’s Civil Administration on behalf of Gerry Adams, dispensing summary punishments to troublesome Belfast residents. He had joined PIRA after being interned during Kitson’s time, and switched sides to escape prosecution for tax fraud.

During Scap’s brutal interrogation of the British spy Sandy Lynch, Sinn Féin’s publicity director Danny Morrison, widely believed to be a member of PIRA Army Council, was lured into a police trap. He was convicted with others of false imprisonment and conspiracy to murder Lynch. Thirteen years later, when journalist Greg Harkin outed Scappaticci, his conviction was overturned on appeal, together with charges faced by his fellow defendants. Morrison claimed the convictions collapsed because of the role of security forces in his arrest. The prosecution petitioned against an open judgment explaining the reasons for the court’s decision, based on files it did not want disclosed.

By the time it beame obvious to everyone that Scap was a double agent, the leading lights of Sinn Féin were engaged in the political settlement, being wined and dined by the likes of Bill Clinton having supposedly fought the British state to an honourable draw. He simply called their bluff, by pointing out that unmasking him would make them look stupid, and escaped with his life. Arguably one of the factors that brought them to the table was the realisation that their war of independence had turned into a proxy war between different wings of the British Secret Service. In December 2005, Sinn Féin stalwart and former volunteer Denis Donaldson confessed to having worked for MI5 and Special Branch since the early 1980s.

The story would not be complete without mention of the August 1998 Omagh bomb that killed twenty-nine people, one of whom was pregnant with twins. Ex-PIRA quartermaster Michael McKevitt and a few associates had split to form the Real I.R.A. (RIRA) in opposition to the Belfast Good Friday agreement, signed four months earlier. Their attempt to frustrate this deal backfired spectacularly to the extent of getting Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley into the same church together. Unsurprisingly there are allegations of collusion; the atrocity did the British state no harm whatsoever. The ‘dissident Republicans’ had hit their own constituency, most of the dead being of Catholic heritage, including eleven children, three of whom were from Donegal, and two Spanish students who had been staying there. RIRA were forced into ceasefire by threats from their erstwhile comrades.

RIRA, like its parent, was heavily infiltrated by British Military Intelligence. Former Irish Ranger Peter Keeley, known as Kevin Fulton was recruited by Force Research Unit and sent to join PIRA as a Fred. Keeley was involved in a number of killings in the 1980s but escaped prosecution; his ex-wife sued both Scappaticci and the Chief Constable for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment after being held for four days at Castlereagh detention centre in 1994 then handed over to ‘Stakeknife’.

Keeley passed intelligence to the R.U.C. in the 1990s, and in July/August 1998 prior to the Omagh bombing, had several meetings with a senior RIRA member, possibly Patrick Blair, in Dundalk who told him: “There’s something big on”. On each occasion the man was covered in fertiliser dust*, “he had definitely been making a bomb” Keeley informed his R.U.C. handler and understood that his report was put into the computer system. Several anonymous phone calls to Omagh police station in the preceding weeks warned of a likely attack.

* Fertiliser bombs require passing the material through a coffee grinder, or similar, to break it up.

American police informer David Rupert raised funds for PIRA in the U.S.A. In 1994, he came to the attention of the Irish Gardaí, who contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation with a view to recruiting him as a spy. From February 1997, Rupert was formally employed by the F.B.I. on a salary of $2,500 per month plus expenses, handled by agent Patrick Buckley. Rupert also became a paid informant of MI5; his evidence was used in the trial of Michael McKevitt. Buckley introduced Rupert to Detective Chief Superintendent Dermot Jennings of the Gardaí Crime and Security Branch, who worked with both MI5 and R.U.C. Special Branch. On 11th August 1998 David Rupert sent an e-mail to MI5 to the effect that RIRA was planning a car bomb attack in either Derry or Omagh.*


The red Vauxhaull Cavalier that carried the bomb was stolen to order by a Gardaí informer, Paddy Dixon, who reported to Detective Sergeant John White that a major bomb run into the North was imminent. On the day of the explosion, the car with the bomb was bugged and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q.) was monitoring the mobile phone conversations of the bombers as they crossed the border. John White understood that Dermot Jennings had decided “I think we will let this one go through” (across the border) rather than blow the cover of the informants.*

The only conviction in relation to this incident was Colm Murphy who was later retried and acquitted when it was found that Detectives Liam Donnelly and John Fahy had falsified records and committed perjury.

* (ibid.)

Mainstream republicanism followed the familiar course from mass movement to revolutionary vanguard to parliamentary participation. Sinn Féin became just another neoliberal bourgeois party. Martin McGuinness progressed from street hooligan to statesman, trading wisecracks with the odious Ian Paisley. The two of them clearly couldn’t believe their luck, sitting in government having spent their lives fucking it up for everyone else. Leading Republican figures such as Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, former PIRA Chief of Staff, amassed vast personal fortunes from smuggling, tax fraud, diesel and money laundering, while OIRA Adjutant-General and K.G.B. confidante Seán Garland imported counterfeit hundred-dollar bills from North Korea. In 2014 the Belfast Telegraph reported that RIRA had entered the Forbes richest terrorists’ list at number nine with an annual income of thirty-two million pounds Sterling.

Some loyalist paramilitaries have expressed bitterness at having killed faithful comrades on false intelligence emanating from the Information Policy Unit. There are also accusations that members of the Gardaí colluded with republican gangs.* I have to say I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

* Peter Keeley / Kevin Fulton gave evidence in this regard to the Smithwick tribunal into the shooting of Harry Breen.

How to balance the testimony of self-confessed gangsters with that of state agents who are paid to lie? What is beyond dispute is that the bosses on all sides were playing a silly game in which Irish civilians, and their own personnel, were the pawns.