British intelligence has offered a six figure sum and a home abroad to a South Armagh man if he would work with them to help imprison a republican from the area.
Last week Martin Winters went to the media to publicise his case and call for an end to the pressure he has endured from British agencies.
They have been attempting to set up an operation, employing considerable resources, to “put away” a friend of his in the same manner they recruited Chicago-based FBI-MI5 agent Dave Rupert to provide information and testimony against former ‘Real IRA’ leader Michael McKevitt.
He has endured attempts to recruit him by MI5, the PSNI Special Branch (formerly RUC Special Branch) and even the FBI over a five-year period.
Mr Winters, who is not a member of any republican group, said his relationship with the target and his family is based solely on the friendship of growing up in the same area.
He recounts how the latest offer came after last month’s attacks by dissident republicans in Antrim and Armagh.
The following day, he was driving from Newry to a Belfast garage to have his car serviced. One of his three grown-up sons was in the passenger seat.
He was stopped by an unmarked police car outside Banbridge, County Down.
“They said I’d committed a motoring offence. I said I hadn’t. Then, a marked police car appeared. I was asked to get out of my vehicle and into the marked car to view my traffic offence on a camera.”
There was no camera. One of the Special Branch men, who had twice attempted to recruit him, appeared and made another offer. But another PSNI man was agitated. “He says to the Special Branch boy talking to me, ‘You’re wasting your time with him. He’ll never work for you. Just take him and [the target] and blow them away.’”
The Special Branch officer then apologised to him. “He said, ‘Ignore my colleague. He’s emotional because he was a good mate of Constable Carroll’s.’” Then, a black man in his late 30s with an English accent, sitting in the back of the car, introduced himself as an MI5 officer.
“He says, ‘Martin we’ll give you a six-figure sum, we’ll buy you a house in America or anywhere you want in the world. We’ll set you up for life. We’ll give you #5,000 even if you meet us for one hour. Just listen to what we have to say and, at the end, you can walk off with the money and do nothing if you want’.”
Mr Winters was held in the marked car for 15 minutes. “The Special Branch boy then put a brown envelope into the top pocket of my leather jacket. He says ‘Here’s a few pounds to have a drink and think things over.’” Winters later opened the envelope which contained #1,000 and a mobile telephone number for ‘Mark’.
The police and MI5 officers were courteous in their contact with Winters, he claims, except for one veiled threat from a Special Branch officer. “He said, ‘if you don’t cooperate, your sons could be set up’.”
He still has the brown envelope and the money, which he says he’s giving to Newry hospice.
The second attempt to recruit him as a spy was in November 2006 in New York’s JFK airport. “Going through customs, my luggage was searched in great detail. Then, a policeman persisted in ‘showing’ me the way out of the airport. He took me to a small office instead. Inside, were two well-dressed boys in shirts and ties with American accents. They introduced themselves as FBI and told me to sit down.
“‘You and [his friend] are up to your necks in the Real IRA,’ they said. ‘We don’t like terrorism since 11 September. We could throw you in jail for 15 years. But that won’t happen if you cooperate. There are other people who want to talk to you.’”
Winters says the two Special Branch officers, who had previously approached him in Newry, then entered the room. They were men in their 30s and 40s.
“They said, ‘Have you thought about our offer? Do you want to see the Troubles coming back and bodies on the street, Martin? We’ve families, you’ve a family. It’s not you we’re interested in, it’s [the target]. If you work for us and help put him away for good we’ll look after you. You’ll want for nothing.’”
A woman in her late 20s then entered the room and was introduced as MI5. She repeated the offer.
“I said, ‘I know nothing. I’ve never been involved in anything,’ and they all started laughing. I asked if I was under arrest and needed a solicitor. They said I wasn’t. I tried to reach for my passport, which was on the table, but one FBI boy put his hand on it.
“‘Just stay a few minutes,’ he said. ‘You’ve had a seven-hour flight. You’ve been held by customs and by us for three hours. You must have jet lag. Get a good rest tonight and meet us tomorrow at 12pm. If you don’t, we’ll make your three-week stay hell.’”
Mr Winters still has a piece of paper with the address where he was allegedly asked to go: a restaurant in Lakewood, New Jersey. A contact telephone number is also included.
He neither turned up nor telephoned. He was followed throughout the trip “into bars, restaurants, shops - everywhere” by men he believes were FBI. There was no attempt to detain him on his journey home.
However, in May 2007, US immigration at Dublin airport prevented him boarding a flight to New York. He says no reason was given.
Last August he was driving his car when he heard a rattle. “I got under the car, thinking the exhaust was loose but it was fine. Then, I noticed something with wires coming out of it hidden under the bumper. There were two pieces of equipment which are clearly listening and tracking devices.”
One of the devices is capable of transmitting the vehicle’s GPS location, while another apparently has the capacity to use a microphone to convey conversations within the vehicle over a mobile phone network.
Mr Winters has logged details of the Crown forces’ approaches with his lawyer.
“I’ll go to court to get them to leave me and my family alone.
“I want them to stop offering me money and to stop bugging my car.
“I don’t want to work for them, and I never will,” he said.
His solicitor, Kevin Winters (no relation) said the approaches had affected his client’s mental health.
“We will take the necessary court proceedings for an injunction to stop any repetition of these approaches,” he said.
“The facts in this case may point to a potential breach of his Article 8 rights under the Human Rights Act -- the right to privacy.”
DERRY MAN FEARS PSNI
Meanwhile, a Derry republican is also currently enduring a campaign of state harassment, with his car being stopped and searched by the PSNI police three times within a 24 hour period.
The man, a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), who did not wish to be named, has said that the PSNI watch his movements “constantly” and he fears he is being set up for assassination.
“I am getting stopped and searched almost everywhere I go. Between Saturday night and Sunday night I was pulled over and searched three times on Argyle Street, Strand Road and Westway. I have three children and each time the police stopped me they took the car seats out of my family car as they searched,” he said.
The man said he has been searched 16 times since the beginning of the year and produced documents he was given by the officers carrying out the searches.
“This has been going on for months. They have stopped and searched me 16 times since January. It is constant. It has got so bad that my solicitor has advised me to keep a log book of every time I’m stopped,” he said.
He also said he fears for his personal safety.
“The police are driving past my house all the time and one of my neighbours told me he saw policemen get out of the car and go up and look through the front window. They have also been seen taking photographs outside my house. I feel that there is something else coming and I fear for my safety. They could be setting me up to be targeted,” he said.
A spokesperson for the 32CSM said; “Once again we see that the RUC/PSNI have not changed and are still a colonial police force whose principal aim is harassing people throughout Derry and the rest of the Six Counties,” he said.