Republican News · Thursday 21 December 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Stevens inquiry in crisis

BY LAURA FRIEL

Let's get one thing straight. The British don't need an inquiry into British Army collusion with loyalist death squads. They set up groups like the FRU. They tasked groups like the FRU and they monitored their progress.

FRU members weren't British Army renegades operating to their own agenda. They operated outside the law but never outside of the military and political hierarchy that created them and sanctioned their actions.

The so-called ``secret books'' are not secret to the British state and those who run it. The documents were never `lost' or `hidden' from the British military establishment and their political masters only to be recently `rediscovered' by the Stevens team. Discovery doesn't lie at the heart of the Stevens investigation, merely disclosure.

Regardless of the integrity of the individuals involved, the Stevens inquiry is part of the British state's attempt to manage the disclosure of information regarding their covert activities in Ireland (of which collusion is one aspect).

Restricting the remit of the investigation, the use of the Official Secrets Act, the imposition of Public Interest Immunity Certificates and even where necessary the intimidation of witnesses, are all state mechanisms to this end.

It's against this backdrop that this week's crisis in the Stevens inquiry must be judged. ``Stevens Inquiry Dead'' ran the banner headline of the Sunday People. ``Key witness refuses to give evidence'' read the front page. The ``huge inquiry'' had ``sensationally collapsed'' we were told.

``Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens' ten-year probe could end up bringing no soldiers to court after the star witness in the case suddenly pulled out,'' reported Greg Harkin.

The former FRU member known only as ``Martin Ingram'' had ``left in disgust after charges against a former colleague who was said to have threatened him were dropped.'' It all ``spells disaster for the 100m probe''.

According to the Sunday Times, the Stevens' investigation had only been hampered by Ingram's refusal to cooperate ``because he claims his life has been put at risk''. The FRU man, Liam Clarke told us, ``is supposed to be in hiding, but recently had his name and whereabouts e mailed to a number of newspapers.

``Phil Smith, another former FRU soldier who wrote about his career in the army under the pseudonym Rob Lewes, has admitted sending the e mails.'' In a threatening phone call, Ingram claims he was told he should ``make sure Smithy's charges were dropped'' But the caller had no need to worry, as Clarke pointed out, the Crown Prosecution Service has declined to prosecute Smith for intimidating a witness.

As for Ingram, he's emerging as the `hero' of this little story. This is a man who made a career out of anti-Irish espionage, the summary execution of Irish republicans, the terrorising of the families of republicans and the arbitrary murder of Six-County nationalists when it suited the British state's agenda.

The FRU, technically disbanded but now operating under a different name, are one of the most decorated units in the British Army, the state's cutting edge against opposition to British rule in Ireland.

``I feel like a rape victim,'' the ``intimidated'' former FRU member tells Liam Clarke, ``because I have been forced to retract. I deserve a degree of protection from the state and cannot put my family in danger.''

In a further twist to the tale, we are told that ``the soldier who has withdrawn cooperation was to have given a statement this week, outlining the role of `Steak Knife'. In a threatening telephone call, Ingram claims he was warned ``don't mention anything to do with Steak Knife''.

The claim that there is a high ranking FRU informer within the IRA code named `Steak Knife', fostered by Ingram, has recently become a recurring theme in the media. The allegation, which comes at a time when the destabilisation of the peace process remains high on the British securocrats' Christmas wish list, is now being used as a rationale for the British government's denial of real public scrutiny of their ``dirty war''.

It's all very convenient. Just as the Stevens' inquiry faces collapse, alternatives are ruled out. ``The British government is resisting demands for a public inquiry into the military's undercover intelligence gathering Force Research Unit,'' writes Henry McDonald, ``fearing that loyalists could reveal the identity of `Steak Knife', the army's most important agent inside the IRA.

``The Observer has learned that members of the UDA's unit in Belfast's Highfield believe they know who `Steak Knife' is and are prepared to name him if they are made scapegoats for the FRU's involvement in loyalist killings during the Eighties and Nineties,'' runs the front page article.

Apparently, a ``senior loyalist commander'' has told the Observer that the ``feeling among the UDA is that if their men are sent down for killings that took place before the Good Friday Agreement, if the {British} government is willing to sacrifice them, then they will tell all about their relationship with the FRU. And that includes the whole `Steak Knife' episode.''

But such a scenario is ruled out as quickly as it is ruled in. ``It is understood the {British} government is concerned that a public probe into the FRU and RUC Special Branch's relationship with the UDA in north and west Belfast will lead to the outing of key informants.''

d that's that. Or in the words of a former FRU member, ``it was a long game of chess, but we were the only ones who saw the entire board.''


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