Book Review: Duplicity And Deception by Alan Simpson.
First published in Fortnight Magazine
Before he was ‘forced into early retirement due to ill-health’ in 1993 Alan Simpson had reached the rank of Superintendent in the RUC. In this memoir he sets himself the onerous task of defending not only the RUC but the role of CID within it, the section of the force he moved to in 1972. In his own words, the aim of Duplicity And Deception ‘is to throw some light onto the professionalism and fairness within the CID’ as well as ‘trying to claw back some credibility for the RUC’. Chutzpah or well meaning, the reader may decide.
His writing strategy is to flag up the deficiencies of Special Branch who he feels operated a cult of secrecy, treated their CID colleagues with disdain and generally behaved as a law onto themselves. Branch deception was brazenly exercised in the 1989 assassination of Pat Finucane, where, Simpson claimed, ‘they and FRU appeared to collude in the murder ... they and the FRU knew a great deal about the crime but failed to communicate any of it to me.’ If the British government announce in the New Year an inquiry into the hotly contested circumstances of the solicitor’s death, Simpson can put his money where his mouth is and communicate all he knows to it.
There are three main pillars used to stanchion the overall narrative in Duplicity And Deception; the killing of Pat Finucane; the kidnapping and eventual recovery of the body of Thomas Neidemeyer; and the life and crimes of UDA boss Jim Craig. Yet, the reader may wonder how much of its contents were actually put together from police files as distinct from contemporaneous tabloid journalism. Simpson has Brian Keenan as IRA Chief of Staff as far back as 1973, claiming to have ‘been well aware’ of the fact. But the fact that he was obviously not well aware of was that the IRA top spot was one that Keenan never held. CID would be expected to know this.
Keenan is the person blamed by Simpson for the kidnapping and subsequent disappearing of Neidermayer, a West German industrialist. The policy of disappearing people had been devised the year before by a Belfast IRA leader who, unlike Keenan, would go on to become chief of staff. Neidermayer was unfortunate because he had not crossed the IRA in any way but was considered a bargaining chip in the organisation’s drive to force the British to release the Price sisters, Marian and Dolours, then on hunger strike in a British prison.
Keenan now deceased, who once gazed at Alan Simpson in Brixton prison with ‘venomous eyes’, was also alleged in the book to be the driving force behind the sectarian massacre of 10 Protestant workmen in January 1976.
The hunt for Neidermayer’s body takes up a sizeable chunk of this narrative. Yet it seems too much of a coincidence, not commented on by the author, that the discovery of the body should coincide with the release of one of the Price sisters. The second was released the following year. If it was a quid pro quo between the British and the IRA, Simpson does not portray it as such.
There was something of the voyeuristic when I read through the interrogation of men who I would later spend time in prison with, sent down for their involvement in the kidnapping and killing of West Germany’s honorary consul to the North. Their description, if accurate, of Neidermayer’s death and subsequent burial in a secret grave where he lay undiscovered for a further seven years, is a chilling account which ranks alongside the narratives of similar actions that have emerged from Chile and Argentina.
Why the IRA ever resorted to the war crime of disappearing people - a propaganda nightmare - is still the subject of debate and a measure of angst amongst some of those who made up its ranks. Most see it as being a vindictive tactic designed more to cover failures on the part of some leading figures than as a measure of the organisation’s success. It was a dirty war but as Camus reminds us ‘even in destruction there is a right way and a wrong way – and there are limits.’
Simpson concedes it was impossible for the war to be fought cleanly. But he does nothing to show the role of CID in the dirty war he refers to. Yet in October the Guardian reported that
a number of former RUC interrogators, men who worked at Castlereagh during the 70s, 80s and 90s, have recently told the Guardian that the beatings, the sleep deprivation and the other tortures were systematic, and were, at times, sanctioned at a very high level within the force.
All of this was carried out by the CID, led by Bill Mooney who died in 1995 and who is referred to glowingly in this book.
Without saying it directly Simpson implies that the IRA was penetrated to the hilt and that ‘many of their high ranking terrorists … were actually Special Branch agents.’ He appears to be the first bearer of former senior rank in the RUC to state that the prominent IRA figure, Brendan Davison, afforded full military honours at his funeral in 1988, was ‘a long standing Special Branch informant.’
While just about everybody that can read will find little objectionable in Simpson’s depiction of Jimmy Craig as an incorrigible thug it was the UDA gangster’s meetings with Provisional IRA leaders in Belfast under RUC surveillance that will raise most hackles. ‘They were meeting like a group of insurance brokers and were taking out policies not to target each other for assassination at their high level.’
While the grass roots combatants slogged it out with sledge hammers and Kalashnikovs the leaders could put their feet up.
Collusion how are you?
Duplicity And Deception by Alan Simpson. Brandon: IBSN 978-0-86322-416-4