British military intelligence withheld documentary footage from 1972 of the late Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness engaging in IRA activity, according to an investigation by the BBC Spotlight team.
A long-hidden American documentary by the late film-maker J Bowyer Bell appeared to show Martin McGuinness involved in the preparation of an IRA attack.
The executive producer of the documentary film ‘The Secret Army’ told the BBC that after raw footage was viewed by officials in London, British military intelligence stepped in to make sure the movie was not screened.
Leon Gildin told the BBC investigative journalist Darragh MacIntyre that MI5 or MI6 saw every frame of the ‘Secret Army’ documentary. It was never aired, despite a US network being keen to show it.
The scenes featuring Mr McGuinness could have resulted in him serving a decades-long prison sentence, but the critical video disappeared and was never used against him.
A friend of Bell, who died in 2003, told McIntyre that the historian and CIA “terrorism expert” believed the British government took control of the film for their own strategic purposes.
Spotlight reporter Darragh MacIntyre suggested that the late Sinn Féin leader, who passed away in 2017, may have been protected from arrest and imprisonment for a reason he did not identify. “You have to wonder why”, he said.
The documentary allegations follow recent claims about Mr McGuinness by informer Willie Carlin, who worked as an MI5 and British army agent inside Sinn Féin for more than a decade before his cover was blown in 1985. He has said that he had seen Mr McGuinness leaving an MI5 safe house in 1980, the same house where he himself met his handler.
Mr McGuinness is publicly known to have engaged in direct talks with the British on behalf of the IRA since 1991 using an MI6 agent, Michael Oatley, as a contact.
Sinn Féin has always denied lingering allegations that McGuinness operated as an agent or source known variously as ‘J118’, ‘Broccoli’ or ‘Fisherman’. In particular, it has denied that his relationship with British military intelligence extended beyond the needs of peace process negotiations. It has not yet commented on the new BBC documentary or Carlin’s allegations.
In another development, the Spotlight documentary said that a large archive of British documents relating to the conflict had been hidden from legacy investigations and the courts.
BBC Spotlight said that they traced material in the vaults of MI5 and other secret agencies which was not available to hundreds of investigations into incidents that happened during the conflict.
They interviewed John Stevens, the former London police chief who previously investigated collusion between loyalists and the Crown Forces. He agreed there was “a large cache of intelligence and documentation” which “no-one ever told us about”.
One of the most high-profile murders which Mr Stevens investigated was the 1989 killing of defence lawyer Pat Finucane. “That may well take this story further. And if it does, it needs to be exposed,” Mr Stevens said.
The documentary series broadcast a secret recording made last year of an English police officer working for ‘Operation Kenova’, an investigation into the IRA double-agent known as ‘Steak Knife’ who has been linked to dozens of killings of republicans in collusion with the Crown Forces.
In it, the unidentified police officer said that previously unknown documents were “very telling”. He said MI5 had retained material “they probably should have got rid of” to prevent them becoming available to legacy inquests and investigations.
British officials have refused to confirm or deny any of the allegations made by the documentary series, which concluded on Thursday.