Kevin McNamara's speech on Stevens Enquiry in the House of Commons on Monday 12 May, 2003
I am grateful to you for granting my request for this urgent debate. I believe that the findings of Sir John Stevens -- even in the form of an interim overview -- represent the most damning indictment of the security services and by implication Government practice I can recall.
That being said, I am surprised and disturbed that it should require a backbencher -- and not even a Right Honourable Member -- to bring such a matter before the House. In light of the grave nature of the findings, I would have expected the Secretary of State to make a statement.
Nominally, this is the third enquiry conducted by Sir John Stevens into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Taken together with Stevens I and Stevens II, this is already the largest criminal investigation ever undertaken in the United Kingdom.
I pay tribute to John Stevens for his courage and persistence in pursuing this Enquiry. It has been a fourteen year battle against formidable odds.
Even more so, I pay tribute to the family of Pat Finucane, to the families of all the victims of collusion whose grief has been compounded by the cover up and lies they have come to expect. The tenacity of investigative journalists and the hard work of human rights NGOs have played a large part, but it has been the families of the victims that have refused to forget and kept the search for truth as an ongoing issue.
Stevens’ stark message is that successive British governments have sanctioned murder. They have employed agents and given them a license to kill. Agents have acted above the law and acted with impunity.
While the interim overview and recommendations presently before us stop short of the full publication the families of the victims are pressing for, Stevens proposes this course to allow criminal investigations and prosecutions to proceed while putting into the public domain the gravity of his findings and the obstruction he has encountered. I urge full publication as soon as possible.
I hope the Government will announce it accepts the interim report in its entirety and respond favourably to its immediate recommendations. Many of Stevens’proposals on bringing accountability to the intelligence gathering process echo the thoughts of Her Majesty's Inspector.
Stevens’findings on the murder of Patrick Finucane are quite clear. I do not believe it is in the public interest for an independent Inquiry to be further delayed. There is a need to restore confidence. I urge the Minister to bring forward the Government's agreement in principle commitment for a full inquiry under the 1921 act to be conducted by an international jurist of repute.
Stevens reports that he has uncovered enough evidence to lead him to believe that the murders of Pat Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert could have been prevented. He also believes that the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers.
He concludes that there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them. Collusion, he says, "ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder."
"The failure to keep records or the existence of contradictory accounts can often be perceived as evidence of concealment or malpractice. It limits the opportunity to rebut serious allegations. The absence of accountability allows the acts or omissions of individuals to go undetected. The withholding of information impedes the prevention of crime and the arrest of suspects. The unlawful involvement of agents in murder implies that the security forces sanction killings."
Stevens’three Enquiries found all these elements of collusion to be present. "The co-ordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor. Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes. Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected. Crucial information was withheld from Senior Investigating Officers. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved."
Through the duration of his three enquiries, Stevens has operated from the premise that those involved in policing and security duties in Northern Ireland work to and are subject to the law. Where he has uncovered unlawful activities, he has attempted to assemble the evidence necessary to identify those responsible and bring about their successful prosecution.
At the centre of Stevens’investigation and allegations of dirty tricks and unlawful activities carried out by the British Army are the members and officers of the Force Research Unit -- FRU, previously known as the Forward Reconnaissance Unit, and before that 14th Intelligence Company. The unit is now known as the Joint Services Group and according to Brigadier Arundell David Leahy, its methods of operation have not changed to any significant extent.
On Brian Nelson, who doubled as the head of intelligence for the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, Stevens says the following: "Through the investigative efforts of my Enquiry team I was able to identify and arrest the Army agent Brian Nelson in January 1990. When he was interviewed I discovered that he had been in possession of an 'intelligence dump'. This had been seized by his FRU handlers when my first Enquiry had begun, in September 1989. This crucial evidence had been concealed from my Enquiry team."
He continues: "There was a clear breach of security before the planned arrest of Nelson and other senior loyalists. Information was leaked to the loyalist paramilitaries and the press. This resulted in the operation being aborted. Nelson was advised by his FRU handlers to leave home the night before. A new date was set for the operation on account of the leak. The night before the new operation, my Incident room was destroyed by fire. This incident, in my opinion, has never been adequately investigated and I believe it was a deliberate act of arson."
"During my first Enquiry I asked to examine particular documents but received written statements that they did not exist. My latest Enquiry team has now recovered all these documents. The dates recorded on them show they all existed at the time of my first request."
Following three recent major disclosures by the Army and the Ministry of Defence, Stevens is now investigating whether the concealment of documents and information was sanctioned and if so at what level.
The Saville Inquiry has heard evidence of discussion papers prepared by senior personnel in the security forces arguing for the adoption of tactics based on illegal use of lethal force through arbitrary killings and extra-judicial assassination. Orchestration of a flawed Inquiry under Lord Justice Widgery and consequent failure to prosecute those responsible for the Bloody Sunday outrage sent a disturbing message to the security forces.
Her Majesty's Government permitted the impression to remain -- that while illegal actions were damaging for propaganda purposes, their commission was protected by informal system of impunity.
If it is tacitly ëunderstood’that intelligence agencies may operate outside the rule of law, or such behaviour given an informal ëlegitimacy’through the failure to set lawful parameters, it is not structurally possible to hold the agencies, their employees and agents accountable without the intervention of an outside independent body.
It now seems evident that the intelligence agencies have been engaged in ërunning agents’inside both loyalist and republican paramilitary groups, promoting, planning and participating in terrorist activities in order to achieve internally defined goals. Agencies have protected individuals both from other paramilitaries and from investigation and prosecution by the police.
Police investigations have been prevented or undermined, side-tracked and sabotaged.
Combatants and non-combatants alike have become victims to these practices and the failure to stop them. Police officers have lost their lives while their honest efforts have been thwarted.
For successive Governments, the tactical assessment of the options for the military offensive against terrorism was flawed by compromised intelligence and undermined by its reliance upon unlawful activities of agencies.
I remain to be convinced that dirty tricks saved lives. Undoubtedly, undercover British agents prevented some loss of life; but too often the lack of political control meant agents averting their eyes from terrorist crime and ending up acting as judge, jury and executioner.
On 15 January 1990, I raised in the House the shooting dead of Peter Thompson, Eddie Hale and John Joseph McNeill in Whiterock, Belfast. The three men were shot by British soldiers from 14th Intelligence Company during an attempted armed robbery. Their families believe the three were specifically targeted by the security forces because they mistakenly stole a car belonging to military intelligence. Joseph McNeill who was unarmed, was shot in the head from less than two feet as he sat behind the wheel of the get-a-way car. Each of the three was shot repeatedly. The DPP delayed a decision on whether to prosecute members of the covert unit for two years. Thirteen years later, the families of the victims still await justice.
I believe that intelligence agencies played a significant role in shaping the political geography of Northern Ireland and prevented the emergence of a political alternative for many years.
While great strides have been made in addressing shortcomings of the RUC by a process of police reform and the adoption of a model of accountable policing that would have been unthinkable a decade ago; the intelligence agencies have so far been immune from change.
When Brian Nelson was first brought to court in June 1990, he faced thirty-four charges, including two counts of murder. It was admitted that he was an agent for military intelligence. At the time speculation was rife that Nelson was threatening to expose the involvement of the Army in a large number of offences including murder.
When the trial began, two years later, counsel for the Attorney General, Brian Kerr QC, argued that after "a rigorous examination of the interests of justice", fifteen charges were to be dropped, including the two murder charges. Nelson then pleaded guilty to the remaining charges that included five counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Following pleas for leniency from the head of the FRU, Brigadier Gordon Kerr, and from the then Secretary of State for Defence, Tom King, Nelson was sentenced to just ten years imprisonment. He was freed in 1996 and died this year.
I was not happy that the Attorney General in this instance took control of the prosecution and dubious about the reasons for his decisions. These reasons, of course, remain undisclosed.
I do not believe that impunity for serious offences committed by agents of the state can be in the public interest.
Following the Stalker investigation into allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland, chief constable Colin Sampson recommended that police officers should be prosecuted for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and for fabricating cover stories.
The journalist Peter Taylor reports that Sampson also recommended that MI5 officers should face the same charge for destroying a copy of the missing audio-tape recording the hay shed shooting dead of 17-year-old Michael Tighe who mistakenly walked into an ambush set by security forces.
In this case, the DPP concluded that there was sufficient evidence to warrant the prosecutions Sampson recommended. On this occasion, it was the then Attorney General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, who halted proceedings. He informed the House of Commons in January 1988 that there would be no prosecutions, "in the public interest". At the time, MPs thought the issue revolved solely around RUC officers. We had no idea it involved MI5 and the destruction of evidence.
I believe that the activities of intelligence agencies must be governed by the rule of law and held politically accountable.
Shortcomings and breakdowns in the system of accountability inevitably lead to political misjudgement and errors.
Through interviews with a number of individuals who claim to have been undercover agents, I have discovered there is a particularly blurred line between who is and who is not an agent, who is a covert human intelligence source and who is simply assisting the security services. When individuals feel they have been expected to put their lives at risk, they want to know their information will be acted upon. When they have made personal and financial sacrifices, they expect protection and security. Without effective regulation, these people feel let down, do not know where they stand and have no legal means of redress. The insights I have gained have been passed to what I consider were the appropriate channels. I have no means of knowing whether my advice was acted upon or not.
Discovery of the truth behind controversial killings is part of the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland where the grief of victims has been compounded by an appearance that unlawful acts have been condoned by those in authority.
he interests of justice require that those who sanctioned such activities be identified and brought to justice. They must be removed from office and punished. The process of cleansing is also essential for the integrity of the intelligence agencies themselves.
The passage of time and ënormalisation’of the security situation alters the balance to be struck in determining the public interest. The fear that the identity of agents might become known and prejudice the effectiveness of ongoing intelligence gathering operations must be significantly diminished in todayís climate.
The fear that cross examination of police officers and security service agents would compromise intelligence gathering methods must now be set against the need to establish whether these methods have included unlawful actions.
If evidence exists for prosecution, I believe it must be in the public interest to proceed.
Following an indication by Sir John Stevens that he wished to interview an FRU agent known as ìStakeknifeî, new and even more serious allegations concerning the activities of the security services have come into the public domain.
I do not want to distract attention from the findings of Stevens that have been thoroughly investigated and are based upon verifiable evidence.
I am aware of the controversial nature of Stakeknife allegations and the extra-ordinary lengths to which the Ministry of Defence has gone in issuing gagging orders to prevent journalists from reporting them. I am aware that republicans regard the whole affair as yet another example of counter-intelligence propaganda.
In light of the public naming of Freddie Scappaticci as Agent Stakeknife, I urge the Government to end uncertainty around his position and to ensure that no impediments are placed in the way of his questioning by the Stevens Enquiry.
It is alleged that Stakeknife was a low ranking IRA volunteer, who was recruited to FRU in 1978. As a double agent he was tasked with advancing himself in the paramilitary group and became head of the IRA internal security unit -- the ìnutting squadî. For this service, it is said, he was paid the salary of a cabinet minister - £80,000 a year; monies were deposited into a bank account basaed in Gilbraltar.
As head of the 'Nutting Squad', agent Stakeknife would have been in charge of vetting all recruits to the IRA and seeking out British moles. If true, he would have been as involved in kidnap, interrogation, torture and punishment. He would have taken part in anything up to forty murders of suspected informers. He would be guilty of colluding in the murder of IRA volunteers, police officers, soldiers and civilians.
It is reported that Gregory Burns, John Dignan and Aiden Starrs were also FRU agents. Burns’girlfriend Margaret Perry discovered his double role and the three agents conspired to kill her. It is alleged that Stakeknife then killed the three agents. All with approval.
In a case already considered by the European Court of Human Rights, three IRA volunteers, Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann, and Sean Savage were killed in 1988 by the SAS on the rock of Gibraltar. If, as is now alleged, Agent Stakeknife supplied the information that led to the ambush, his handlers could also have chosen to have prevented the IRA action. Instead they permitted a summary execution.
He is alleged to have been involved in the murder of Joseph Fenton in February 1989. Fenton was a Belfast estate agent who supplied safe houses for the IRA but acted the good citizen by passing information to the police. Stakeknife had him killed.
Around the same time, the Irish police recruited a confidential informant in the IRA who passed valuable information to the Garda Siochanna. If allegations concerning Stakeknife are correct, he was directly implicated in the murder of Tom Oliver, whose body was found in 1991.
When the going got hot and loyalist paramilitaries began to target Stakeknife, it is alleged the FRU moved to protect him by setting up another Belfast man, Francisco Notorantonio. They planted false documents and persuaded the UDA that he and not the man identified as Stakeknife was a leading figure in the IRA.
If true, these allegations go to the heart of British involvement in unlawful actions in pursuit of its objectives in Northern Ireland.
If true, responsibility goes right to the top and the Government must be held accountable
Files with information from Stakeknife would have been passed from the FRU to the Joint Irish Section -- MI5 - and right up to the Cabinet and three Prime Ministers -- Thatcher, Major and Blair. It is the job of MI5 to monitor RUC Special Branch and Military Intelligence and report independently of them direct to Whitehall and Government.
In the course of publishing his preliminary conclusions Sir John Stevens indicated he wants to question Agent Stakeknife and also Brigadier Gordon Kerr -- a former head of the FRU currently British military attachÈ in Beijing. To date, not a single person has been removed from their post or suspended as a result of this Enquiry.
How far up did obstruction go? The journalist John Ware has reported that the former RUC chief constable Sir Hugh Annesley instructed the then General Officer Commanding HM Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, Lt General Sir John Waters not to provide Stevens with army intelligence. It has also been reported that members of Stevens Enquiry team threatened Waters with arrest if he did not hand over files in his possession.
The cost of the Saville Inquiry is frequently invoked as an argument against public inquiries. I think the cost is outrageous. But I am VERY clear about where responsibility lies. Not with the families who are seeking the truth - but with those that covered up the truth in the first place; those that have attempted to pervert the course of justice by destruction of evidence; those who have fought a guerrilla campaign of evasion from the outset.
Most of the answers are contained in the Governmentís own files. An internal trawl and the political will could have saved £millions.
The minister replies to this debate on behalf of the NIO because the chief constable commissioned his report. But responsibility does not stop in the Northern Ireland Office. The Ministry of Defence must answer questions about the Force Research Unit, its predecessor and successor units. I repeat my earlier charge: It is the responsibility of MI5 to monitor RUC Special Branch and Military Intelligence and report independently of them direct to Whitehall and Government. Prime Ministers and senior officials were either in the picture or deliberately excluded from it.
I believe the public has been kept in the dark for too long. I believe the Government has colluded in unlawful activities of its agents.
I believe those that are guilty must be called to account -- however high up. Where there is sufficient evidence, they must be prosecuted and punished.
It is clear that existing mechanisms for oversight and scrutiny of the intelligence services have failed. A committee that is appointed by the Prime Minister, meets in secret and has its reports vetted in advance of publication cannot provide the accountability we are entitled to demand.
When the Government itself stands in the dock, what is the appropriate remedy? The charges made by Sir John Stevens are the most serious to be faced by any Government in Britain. They go to the very heart of our democracy. Our commitment to human rights, to the rule of law and to justice in Northern Ireland will count for nothing if we cannot address these matters openly and honestly.
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Copyright © 2003 Kevin McNamara