The prison diary of Brian Nelson, the chief intelligence officer of the unionist paramilitary UDA, show that the British Army and the RUC police trained, armed and directed the UDA's death squads during its campaign of sectarian murder in the North.
A transcript of Nelson's prison diary has revealed details of an extensive training regime, with armed UDA men carrying out training missions in the Mourne Mountains under the protection of British Army intelligence.
Nelson, an agent of the British Army's Force Research Unit (FRU), oversaw scores of murder attempts on nationalists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Among them was the shooting dead of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane in front of his family in February 1989.
Nelson compiled intelligence files on hundreds of nationalists. More than 80 of the people on his files were attacked by loyalist death squads, and 29 died.
Nelson died last year in mysterious circumstances, reportedly a brain haemorrhage.
According to his prison journal, his British army handlers assured him that the paramilitaries would not encounter ``friendly forces'' -- including the RUC police -- while on exercises.
``I had always been concerned ... that some day we would be engaged in such activities and find ourselves up against covert SAS action,'' Nelson wrote.
``We finished the debrief after my having been reassured that there would be no friendly forces in the area in which we were going to be ... It wouldn't be the first time the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing.
``Before such escapades, I always ensured that my handlers were informed as to the actual areas that we would be training in.''
Nelson's journal reveals that, during his career as a British agent, the UDA was helped by the North's security forces at every stage of its development. Its training was supervised by Nelson, assisted by military intelligence.
During this period, Nelson also travelled to South Africa to obtain a huge arms supply for the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance.
The deal with South African agents was known to Nelson's handlers and is thought to have been cleared by at least one unnamed British government minister.
Cory confirmed the involvement of the British Army in the arms deal and the FRU's payment of Nelson's expenses on his first trip to South Africa in 1985.
Its intelligence gathering and targeting was managed and supervised by Nelson's military handlers. Cory noted a statement by Nelson's handler in February 1989 that ``Nelson initiates most of the targeting''.
At least three British agents are known to have been involved in the murder of Pat Finucane. Nelson, at the behest of his handlers, provided the intelligence.
The British government's reaffirmation of its decision to reject calls for an immediate public inquiry into Finucane's murder has fuelled questions about its intentions. A full examination of Nelson's role within the UDA could lift the lid on Britain's dirtiest secrets in the North.
KERR'S EVIDENCE `MISLEADING'
Meanwhile, the former head of the FRU, Brigadier Gordon Kerr, is under fresh pressure after Judge Cory cast doubt on the evidence he gave at a trial where Brian Nelson was accused of murder.
Despite his admitted involvement in eight murders and nearly 40 other attempted murders, Nelson was only charged with five counts of conspiracy to murder.
When Nelson stood trial in 1992, Kerr claimed in court his agent had saved 217 lives.
Following Brig Kerr's evidence Nelson was sentenced to 10 years in prison, serving just five years before he was released from prison and given a new identity by the British army.
However, retired Canadian judge Peter Cory found that Nelson's activities within the UDA had in fact led to only one life being saved.
On that occasion in May 1988 a decision had only been taken to stop the attack on a Catholic taxi driver because Nelson was the driver of the car to be used in the murder.
``The evidence given by the Commanding Officer (CO) Fru, at Nelson's trial could only be described as misleading,'' he said.