A Force Outside a Force

Guest Writer Sean Matthews with his thoughts on the nature of policing in the wake of the De Silva report.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. Sun Tzu

The publishing of the De Silva’s report into the murder of Pat Finucane may have exposed a bit of dirt from under the carpet of the British state’s secret war in Ireland but the scars and flames of the past have not gone away - they continue to shape policing in the 21st century. As Geraldine Finucane articulated: ’The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others.’

While the report and David Cameron’s statement in parliament may have attempted to blame ‘rogue elements’ as being responsible for his murder, the wife of Pat Finucane, Geraldine, argued:

This report is a sham. This report is a whitewash. This report is a confidence trick dressed up as independent scrutiny and given invisible clothes of reliability. Most of all, most hurtful and insulting of all, this report is not the truth.


At every turn, it is clear that this report has done exactly what was required: to give the benefit of the doubt to the state, its cabinet and ministers, to the Army, to the intelligence services, to itself. At every turn, dead witnesses have been blamed and defunct agencies found wanting. Serving personnel and active state departments appear to have been excused.(1)

What  has also been missing from the media discussion is the fact that MI5 rather than the Police Service of Northern Ireland maintains control of informants and agents – the very people who were not only promoted within paramilitary organisations by being allowed to maim and murder but who in the Finucane case were encouraged to kill. Not only is the main presence of MI5 headquarters outside of London in Hollywood, Co Down but they have also taken over primary responsibility for ‘’counter-terrorism operations’’ in the North today.

In a recent report entitled ‘Policing you don’t see’’ published by the human rights watchdog Committee for the Administration of Justice(CAJ) it was found that since primacy in ‘national security’ policing was given to MI5 five years ago, there is a growing “accountability gap” over a large part of policing. It reports that the UK level oversight of MI5 is plainly inadequate and that the local mechanisms that hold the PSNI to account are evaded by the Security Service. It argues that this situation falls woefully short of international standards and has the capacity to undermine confidence in policing as a whole.

Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ added:

Unfortunately, the secret Security Service – implicated in past abuses – has not been so reformed and has been put in charge of a highly important area of mainstream policing. MI5 has primacy in covert ‘national security’ policing and gives ‘strategic direction’ to the PSNI in this area.

The Patten report recommended the downsizing, deinstitutionalisation and integration of Special Branch within the PSNI and the oversight of the PSNI by an independent board rather than a government minister. However, since the St Andrews Agreement perhaps the most sensitive area of policing is being run by a parallel police force – ‘a force outside a force’ – answerable to ‘ direct  rule’ Ministers and subject to separate and ineffective oversight arrangements.

If the Chief Constable’s assertion at the time of St Andrews that MI5 would focus only on dissident republicans remains true, the practical impact of this is that two different covert policing regimes, in terms of operational techniques, standards and oversight, are now in place for republicans and loyalists.
Our research shows that the UK level oversight of MI5 is ineffective. Limited additional accountably measures were promised in the St Andrews Agreement but some of the most significant commitments, to publish policy frameworks, have not been honoured. Related policy documents which have been released to CAJ under Freedom of Information rather than being safeguards actually appear designed to limit accountability. This includes an NIO held document which contains a list of types of information the Chief Constable should not tell the Policing Board, even in confidential sessions. The documents we have discovered show an obsession with keeping anything with the label ‘national security’ secret from our devolved institutions and a total indifference to accountability.

Whilst the Prime Minister after St Andrews gave assurances that PSNI officers working with MI5 would be ‘solely accountable’ to the Chief Constable and Policing Board, this is contradicted by these documents which stipulate that PSNI officers, up to and including the Chief Constable, working on national security matters are not accountable to the Policing Board but rather to the NIO.’’(2)

The reality of this report and others into state sponsored terrorism indicates that collusion in Northern Ireland took many forms, from the security services turning a blind eye to loyalist activities to actively encouraging and directing them. A military intelligence file  from 1973 estimated that between five and 15 per cent of soldiers in the Ulster Defence Regiment – a local infantry regiment of the British Army – were linked to loyalist paramilitaries, and that the ‘best single source of weapons, and only significant source of modern weapons for Protestant groups, has been the UDR’. In short, a section of the British Army was arming loyalist paramilitaries.

Furthermore, the British government knew that more than 200 weapons had passed from the UDR to loyalist paramilitaries, and that these were being used to murder Catholic civilians. Therefore the latest findings that '85% of the UDA's "intelligence" originated from sources within the security forces' will come as little surprise to human rights campaigners or those fighting for truth and justice.  

On the other side of the coin - all be it with an entirely different focus and strategy - the level of infiltration by security services into republican organisations to disrupt, absorb and destroy is also yet to be exposed. In July this year the Smithwick tribunal investigating alleged Garda collusion in the IRA murder of two senior RUC officers was told that one in four IRA members, including some in the highest echelons, were informers. Indeed a full independent enquiry is being pushed by some of the families and victims of the horrific 1998 Omagh Bombing into claims that elements of the security services had prior knowledge of the bombing and failed to disclose the information to protect a high valued informant and agent provocateur. 

The De Silva Report reveals the levels of violence, intimidation and cover-up that our ruling class will go to restore its authority such as the Hillsborough disaster.  We don’t need to look to the Cointelpro programme in the US, to military occupations and colonial relationships in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa and elsewhere to recognise that similar policies took place here as the intelligence war continues. (3)

Earlier this year a Belfast ‘supergrass’ trial cleared a dozen loyalists as the Judge branded the evidence from two UVF informers who were responsible for countless of murders as ‘liars’. The trial lasted for 72 days and saw 12 of the 13 men acquitted of all charges after one of the longest trials in Northern Ireland's legal history costing over 11 million. One of the accused was North Belfast loyalist parliamilitary leader Mark Haddock who is connected with over 20 murders while acting as an informer for RUC/PSNI Special Branch.  In October 2005, the Irish Labour TD Pat Rabbitte, using Dáil privilege, named Haddock as an RUC Special Branch agent and as responsible for the murders of Sharon McKenna in 1993, Catholic builders Gary Convie and Eamon Fox in 1994, the alleged informer Thomas Sheppard in 1996.(4)

In terms of ongoing intelligence war in September 2006 it was confirmed that Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie approved the PSNI policy of using children as informants including in exceptional circumstances to inform on their own family.

In the meantime we must make sure the dirt isn’t left under the carpet because what is lost here is lost for working class communities from Belfast to Liverpool and beyond. The ruling class will be finally made accountable for their crimes when they are consigned to the dustbin of history with lasting justice and freedom for all. As Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th century Russian anarchist quite evidently pointed out:

There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: “for reasons of state.

1)Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/british-agents-facilitated-the-murder-of-belfast-solicitor-pat-finucane-16249921.html#ixzz2F1JjYl95
2) http://www.caj.org.uk/contents/1141
4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Haddock


  1. Sean:

    That's an excellent piece, if you look through most of my posts you will see I have emphasised MI5 being the master of British Agents, not just in NOI but throughout the world, common name for them is "The Suits".
    It is they (MI5) who have the say in anyone being given bail or being locked up without trial (Interned) on there own so called secret evidence ,"Made up by themselves"
    The British PM David Cameron stated to Mrs Finucane, If I were to give you a full Public Enquiry there are people in these rooms who would not allow it, meaning The secret Service (MI5/MI6). I don't think we will ever get the truth because there files on secrecy are locked up forever, the rule will be, This document can't be released due to International security. and thats the jist of it in a nutshell.

  2. Sean

    A massively important post. Thanks.

    Yesterday Stephen Murney had a condition of his bail that he could not live in his home town of Newry or be resident with his family at home. Stephen could not accept this and could not avail of the bail. His legal team again pointed out there is not one shred of evidence against their client.

    This is the stuff of Franco or Pinochet

  3. A great post Sean and how right Mikhail Bahunin was. that term "for reasons of state and national security "are and have been a blanket cover for state criminality since the inception of this state,and it doesnt look like the state and its agencies have any intention of losing its grip or allowing any proper form of accountability into their activities, it is in many ways getting more Machiavellian,the Finucane family like so many others I,m sorry to say havent got a snowballs chance in hell of ever getting to the real truth over their loved ones murders by state agents,and the Irish government are as complicit in covering up the truth as the brits are. I note the announcement today that thirty police officers will be involved in the investigation into whether the "pleb " statement that Andrew Mitchell allegedly made was fabricated,thats the same number of police officers that have been consigned to investigate the Bloody Sunday murders.says it all about british justice really..

  4. This is a good piece. And what is happening to Stephen Murney is downright vindictive

  5. Stephen Murney,Marian Price.Martin Corey,Gerry Mc Geough the list of people suffering from this vindictiveness is beginning to get longer,and I,m sure it will be added to in the new year.is this what quisling $inn £ein meant when they said a new beginning ?.

  6. Yeah great article alright. It briefly touched on the Omagh bombing which I've always viewed as the work of agent provocateur's. I'm from Omagh so I understand it's a touchy subject for many who just aren't ready to hear the truth in regards to what the intelligence community was really up to in this country. The stories I've heard are a damning indictment of the role of the British state here. At the time of Micky McKevitt's trial it came out that the FBI/MI5 agent/informer Dave Rupert first heard of the plan to bomb Omagh a full four months before the bomb and passed this on to his handlers. We know this because, unlike in a British court where sensitive information can be withheld from the public on the basis of "national security", the e-mails Rupert send to his superiors were presented to the defence for cross-examination and the admission of the four month warning was contained within these and is now a matter of public record. It's also been admitted that MI5 received information two weeks in advance that a major attack was planned on Omagh. According to MI5 it was dismissed as a rogue Special Branch call but this is hardly believable saying they already new the town was in the cross-hairs of the IRA from whar Rupert had told them previously. And then in the days before the bomb we have the notorious FRU agent "Kevin Fulton" telling his handlers that a massive bomb was being prepared for Omagh on the 15th of August '98. According to this man he not only told them the where and the when of the planned attack but he gave the location of the hayshed in Louth were the device was being prepared. By Special Branch's own admission they were able to track the car on its journey to Omagh so why didn't they stop it. why they allowed the bus load of children in from Buncrana is something that's never been answered given all they knew in advance. The final piece of intelligence was received on the day of the bomb when desk Sergeant Phillip Marshall received the third and final warning which pinpointed the device as being 300 yards down the town from the courthouse - right where it was planted. This information if it had been passed on would have saved all the lives lost that day but it wasn't passed on - Marshall admitted this at the inquest hearings saying he turned off his computer and told no-one. He was never asked why as this isn't the role of an inquest, it's only to establish facts not motives. What the hell really went on in Omagh that day. The secret state if you ask me were determined to kill as m,any as possible to discredit what was left of the IRA. And they succeeded. This is the biggest untold story of the dirty war as far as I'm concerned but somehow I don't think the families will ever get that public inquiry either, like the Finucane's - there's just way too much to hide

  7. Sean,

    What the hell really went on in Omagh that day. The secret state if you ask me were determined to kill as m,any as possible to discredit what was left of the IRA. And they succeeded.

    Thats about the height of it. It's not I don't want to believe I don't believe the reason behind the Omagh bombing was to kill 31 innocent people (or anyone).

    I reckon it was to show Gerry Adams and the PRM that they haven't gone away you know .

    Did the spooks have prior knowledge? I'd be very surprised if they didn't. Using the shoot to kill/Stalker episode they [ the spooks] knew where republicans would be and what cars they'd be driving and where able to shoot them dead. Gibraltar is another case in question (directly linked to the death of Pat Finucane) and they had info well in advance.

    I sit back and read reports on what the HET are doing in trying to give families closure. Fair enough, thats a nobel thing. But wouldn't it be easier and quicker for the HET to clear up the murky story of collusion by simply asking former work collegues to come in for questioning about what they know about the shoot to kill policy. They'd probably get more 'brownie' points if they cleaned up their own back yard first. And probably have access to files and reports too.

    I seen a video the other day on the shoot to kill policy and Ronnie Flannagan is on record saying "collusion was down to a few rouge RUC officers" Kinda different from the De Silva report where he claimed it was widespread..

    I suspose some of you have read this

    A former British soldier who belonged to an undercover unit in Northern Ireland has claimed he and his colleagues resorted to ‘murder and mayhem’ during a secret campaign against the IRA.
    Simon Cursey was a member of a 30-man team which would ‘shoot first and ask questions later’. They shot at least 20 terrorist suspects and breached the British Army’s rules of war.

    There is no way that could have happened without a very big nod from above..Will Simon be charged with murder? I don't think so. Will he be locked up for two yrs under the terms of the GFA? Again my answer is no.

    Here's a collusion type question. Why are the files relating to the Guilford/ Brimingham Bombings locked away for 75 yrs??? Who are they trying to protect?

    Or when the truth and reconcilliation process (if it happens) be allowed access. I'm sure the British public would like answers to who covered up what too.