British cover up continues
BY LAURA FRIEL
The British government has been reported to the United Nations over gagging orders imposed on newspapers exposing British collusion with loyalist death squads. Petitioning the UN on the day the Human Rights Act came into force in Britain and the Six Counties, the British Irish Rights Watch organisation presented a petition to the UN representative on freedom of expression.
The British government is desperately trying to prevent more details of its dirty war in the North of Ireland becoming exposed in the media. Last week, the Sunday People, the latest in an unprecedented line of newspapers and journalists currently facing censorship and prosecution, failed in its court challenge to one of a series of gagging orders recently imposed on the paper.
A female FRU operative set up the killing of Catholic pensioner Francisco Notorantonio in order to protect another agent. This handler, known as `Mags', ordered the withdrawal of the regular British army and RUC from the area on the night of the killing. She is still a serving member of the British army
London's High Court slapped an injunction on the Sunday newspaper at the behest of British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon after details of a covert unit of the British army's involvement in the killing of a Catholic pensioner were published.
Francisco Notorantonio, a 66-year-old retired West Belfast taxi driver, was killed on 9 October 1987 when masked gunmen smashed their way into his Ballymurphy home and shot him as he lay in bed. The gunman who carried out the killing was wearing a blue boiler suit. One of the men involved in the killing was wearing British army boots and a colour coded British army map was found in the house after the shooting.
Secret British Intelligence files from the British army's headquarters in Lisburn were recently seized by the Steven's team following a tip off from a former FRU agent turned whistle blower. The documents are believed to include so called ``secret books'', which detail the actions of one of the most covert units in the British army, the Force Research Unit (FRU).
The files suggest that Francisco Notorantonio was deliberately set up by the FRU to protect an informer. According to media reports, the UDA had inadvertently targeted an FRU informer within the IRA. To deflect attention away from their agent, the FRU produced false information which identified Notorantonio as a ``top provo''.
The media have identified a female FRU operative, now aged 38, as the handler who set up the killing of a Catholic pensioner in order to protect her agent. It was the handler, known as `Mags', who ordered the withdrawal of the regular British army and RUC from the area on the night of the killing. She is still a serving member of the British army and according to the media holds the rank of captain.
At the time, the dead man's family suspected British collusion in the attack. His wife Edith said that at first she had ``thought it was an army raid.'' Prior to the attack the family's home had been raided during which the front door was damaged, subsequently allowing the gunmen easy entry.
Describing Notorantonio as a good friend of his father's, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, commenting shortly after the shooting, said he found it ``very strange indeed that this area was crawling with Crown forces'' the day before the killing. ``They swamped the place and the local Sinn Féin Councillor was stopped twice. Yet today there was no one around and armed men were able to come in and out of the area.''
Allegations of Crown force collusion in the killing of nationalists and republicans have been surfacing since the assassination of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. British Chief Constable John Stevens was sent to investigate after the UDA boasted they had access to leaked British military intelligence files which provided details of their intended targets.
The first Stevens inquiry almost fell foul of the FRU when operatives trained in covert entry broke into the inquiry's headquarters and destroyed documents in a fire which gutted the offices. Stevens was later called in after Brian Nelson, who had played a key role in rearming, reorganising and providing intelligence on targets for assassination, was exposed as an FRU agent.
Eighteen months ago, the Stevens team returned to the North to investigate allegations of Crown force collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane. The team arrested a former UDA quartermaster, William Stobie, who admitted he supplied and disposed of the weapons used in the Finucane killing. Charged with murder, Stobie claimed to be an agent for RUC Special Branch. His claim was acknowledged as true during a bail hearing.
Last month, the investigation received an unexpected boost after a former FRU agent came forward to be interviewed. Information from the former operative led directly to the seizure of secret documents detailing the actions of the FRU and their relationship with the RUC and other British army units.
The precise relationship between the FRU's actions and their political masters in the British government is yet to be exposed. However what is clear is the enthusiasm with which the British government is currently pursuing newspapers, journalists and other writers about Britain's dirty war in Ireland. Earlier this year, the British government's pursuit of prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act of a number of journalist attracted criticism from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.
The latest newspaper to fall foul of the British government's determination to suppress the truth about Crown force collusion, the `Sunday People', has been gagged three times in as many weeks after publishing articles revealing how members of the British army were involved in sectarian killings in the North.
British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon initially sought substantial damages as part of the British government's case against the `People' but the claim was subsequently dropped just moments before a court challenge of the injunction stopping further revelations being published.
British Irish Rights Watch has now presented a petition to the United Nations calling on the UN representative on freedom of expression, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, to raise the issue in his next report to the UN Commission on Human Rights. The UN special rapporteur has already expressed his own concerns about the British government's current suppression of information and prosecution of journalists.
Jane Winters of British Irish Rights Watch slammed the British government's attempts to curtail press freedom. ``They would be better advised in addressing the issues that journalists are trying to raise and perhaps putting some of their energies into respecting the right of the family of Francisco Notorantonio to finally know the truth of what happened to him,'' said Winters.
Loyalists used as `operational arm' of British army
BY LAURA FRIEL
With news that the Stevens inquiry team may be about to arrest British agent and UDA quartermaster Brian Nelson, further embarrassing information detailing how British intelligence officers viewed loyalist killers gangs as `an operational arm' of the British army is emerging.
UDA killer and former Force Research Unit (FRU) agent, Brian Nelson, faces arrest and questioning by the Stevens team about dozens of deaths in the North of Ireland, it has been revealed. The British agent, who served half of a ten-year sentence after being convicted of five charges of conspiracy to murder in 1992, is currently living outside Britain under a new identity.
Detectives from the Stevens team are set to ask the British Ministry of Defence to hand over details of Nelson's new identity and location. On the eve of his trial in 1992, Nelson struck a deal after the DPP dropped the most serious charges against him. The FRU agent pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a deal which protected both his handlers and their political masters in the British government.
Intelligence records suggest that collusion became ``institutionalised'' within the British army
But the killing of Belfast human rights solicitor Pat Finucane has haunted the British government ever since. In the face of overwhelming international support for an independent public inquiry into the killing, the British government ordered a further probe by John Stevens, now one of Britain's top policemen.
Apart from the arrest of William Stobie, an RUC Special Branch informer, the Stevens team appeared to be making little headway, faced with the tight-lipped secrecy that surrounds the covert activities of one of Britain's most secret army units, the FRU.
However in recent months, the cooperation of a former member of the FRU, who approached the Stevens team after a series of media revelations, appears to have added impetus to the investigation. After a tip off, the Stevens team were able to seize secret documents which detailed the activities of the FRU, as well as just who knew what about what.
The documents enabled the team to identify 30 former members of the FRU, two of whom they have already arrested and questioned. The documents revealed details of the killing of Francisco Notorantonio, ordered by the FRU to protect one of their agents. Brian Nelson is believed to have passed information, including personal details, about Notorantonio to his loyalist killers.
But most significantly, the Stevens team is believed to have uncovered evidence that some British military intelligence officers regarded loyalist death squads as ``an operational arm'' to help them with their war against the IRA. Intelligence records suggest that collusion became ``institutionalised'' within the British army.
One British army officer and former member of the FRU, who is at the centre of the allegations, was moved out of the Six Counties as soon as the Stevens inquiry began. Known as Captain M, she was involved in handling Nelson and is to be questioned about her role in the Notarantonio killing.
According to the media, Captain M is currently working as an instructor at British military intelligence headquarters in Bedfordshire and is expected to be questioned along with Brian Nelson in the next few weeks.