Republican News · Thursday 25 February 1999

[An Phoblacht]

UDR men acted as covert British death squad

by Laura Friel

Ulster Defence Regiment members were recruited by British Army special forces to assist in covert assassinations and bombings in the 1970's it has been revealed. In interviews with the British Sunday Times John Weir, a former RUC Sergeant, detailed how he and other RUC members colluded with loyalist death squads. Weir also claimed that a number of UDR members had been recruited by British special forces for covert operations.

John Weir, a serving RUC officer of ten years standing at the time, was convicted in 1980 of the murder of William Strathearn, a Catholic pharmacist shot dead in Ahoghill, County Antrim. The killing was claimed by the UVF.

According to Weir an informer working for the RUC had revealed to him that British undercover soldier Robert Nairac was a frequent visitor to his home. Weir claims that Nairac had named those responsible for a series of loyalist attacks at the time including the names of members of the UDR who were `helping' British army special forces.

In a curious twist, Weir's allegations have been confirmed by relatives of two UDR members who were later killed by the IRA. A group based in Armagh and including prominent members of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), an anti-Agreement victims' group closely associated with Ian Paisley's DUP, are to ask Amnesty International to investigate the circumstances of their relatives' deaths. These were members of the UDR, recruited into covert death squads by British special forces, and later killed by the IRA. The families believe that Robert Nairac, in a bungled attempt to infiltrate the IRA, passed the names of those responsible for a series of gun and bomb attacks on nationalists and republicans at the time.

Captain Robert Nairac was attached to the British army's 14 Intelligence Unit, working closely with the SAS. The unit had a cover name of 14 Field Survey and the British House of Commons was told in 1987 that all records of the unit had been destroyed. The unit's commander was Julian `Tony' Ball who died in Oman in 1981. The second-in-command was Robert Nairac. Nairac was abducted outside a bar in County Armagh in 1977 and is presumed dead. Nairac, whose role in Britain's `dirty war' may never be fully exposed, is implicated in some of the most dastardly acts of the period including the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of May 1974, the assasination of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green in Monaghan in January 1975, and the Miami Showband massacre in July 1975.

Willie Frazer, a spokesperson for FAIR, whose father Robert was a UDR soldier killed by the IRA in August 1975, claims his father had ``worked closely with 14 Intelligence.'' Frazer claims:''It was those who were helping the SAS and special forces who were selected for killing by the IRA. Other members of the UDR weren't assassinated. The IRA drove past the homes of other UDR members to get him [Robert Frazer]. The IRA picked a group of people who had been in something together. It was not just any member of the security forces.''

Frazer's comments not only acknowledge the quality of IRA Intelligence at the time, they also confirm what republicans and nationalists have known for a long time- official British forces have been actively engaged in the operation of sectarian death squads, either with the collusion of loyalists or under loyalist flags of convenience.

Allegations that UDR members were involved in covert assassinations and bombings under the command of British special forces has been reiterated by another relative, Brian McConnell, a nephew of UDR member Robert McConnell. According to FAIR member Brian McConnell, his uncle `liaised' between British special forces and loyalist killers in the UVF and whose `information' would have led to the deaths of IRA members. Robert McConnell, a member of the UDR was killed by the IRA in April 1976.

In a documentary by Yorkshire Television screened in 1993, ``Hidden Hand-the Forgotten Massacre'' Robert McConnell was named as one of the prime suspects in the Dublin Monaghan bombings. The programme named three other leading members of the gang, Billy Hanna and Harris Boyle both UVF leaders in Portadown and a loyalist assassin known as the Jackal

The four prime suspects had one thing in common, they were all former or serving members of the UDR. Harris Boyle was one of two loyalists killed a year later by their own bomb as they were planting the device on the Miami Showband's minibus. Robert McConnell has also been linked to the killing of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green.

A source, described by the Sunday Times as `` a man acting as a loyalist assassin at the time and who has since served a life sentence'', said that in the early 1970's a section of the British army had wanted to use loyalist paramilitaries as ``a kind of unofficial SAS'' but it had failed. He described UDR member Robert McConnell as ``part of that abandoned strategy.''

A second source, described as a UDR Officer at the time, claims that in 1974 Nairac's 14 Intelligence unit began recruiting members of the UDR. ``There were interviews. There was talk of Operation Big Sleep, a mission to take out the IRA. When the interviews were all over we were told it had been called off.'' The UDR source said some UDR members and civilians did continue to work with the SAS and other covert groups within the British army. According to a friend Robert McConnell was one. ``They [British soldiers] used to call at Robert's house for him after he had finished his normal duties and he often crossed the border with them, `` he said.

Contents Page for this Issue
Reply to: Republican News