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PETER TAYLOR: In the shadows of the British state, the Brits prepare to take the war to the IRA. The ground was laid by 14 Intelligence Company - The DET - the army's most secret surveillance unit. The new offensive gave rise to allegations that the Brits had a policy of shoot to kill, fuelled by a series of bloody confrontations. In one incident the DET were monitoring IRA weapons in a field. When it was known the IRA was coming, the DET and the SAS made ready.
FEMALE: Myself and my partner drove out to members of the SAS and we dropped them off near to where their weapons were hidden. There wasn't a gung-ho attitude. The SAS were there primarily to arrest them and recover the weapons.
TAYLOR: Such operations were meticulously planned. Only when the intelligence was confirmed would the go-ahead be given. Lives were on the line.
What did you hear?
FEMALE: What we heard over our radio net was the words "Contact, contact" which obviously meant an engagement was occurring and there was also the sound of gunfire.
TAYLOR: And what happened to the two IRA men?
FEMALE: They were killed and weapons were recovered from them.
TAYLOR: Was a warning given?
FEMALE: I was told a warning was shouted to them, yes.
TAYLOR: Who told you?
FEMALE: That's from the SAS on the ground.
TAYLOR: Did you believe them?
FEMALE: I did.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness presided at the funeral of the two dead IRA men known to be Brian Campbell and Colm McGirr. They were buried with full IRA honours. The IRA alleged the SAS had given no warning, no chance to surrender. Republicans accused the SAS of murder, their central charge against the British state.
I was here in South Armagh at the beginning of 1976 reporting a series of horrendous tit for tat sectarian killings, and I vividly remember wondering whether indeed the province was on the brink of civil war. You could see the fear in people's faces and you could almost taste it in the air. Since the early 70s I'd watched successive governments try to end the bloodshed with a variety of political solutions, and by even talking directly to the IRA. But all these attempts had failed. By 1976 it was clear that politics had reached a dead end and that the IRA was determined to carry on killing. It wasn't, therefore, surprising that the government made security its number one priority, and the SAS was the cutting edge.
Nationwide 8th January 1976 The SAS, or, to give it its proper title, the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, one of the smallest and certainly the most secret fighting force in the world. They're taught to kill, maim, damage and destroy here in the somewhat mundane surroundings of Herefordshire.
TAYLOR: The SAS was no stranger to Northern Ireland, as over the years members had served there giving advice to other regiments. But now the SAS was to be deployed officially to take on the IRA in South Armagh.
Sir James Glover
Certainly when they were first deployed there was the IRA fear that there was an SAS trooper hiding under every bush, and so as a result of that, the IRA became very much more circumspect.
Sir Robert Andrew
I think there was a fear that this rather mysterious body called the SAS which most people didn't in fact know very much about, if it were deployed in Northern Ireland it might act in some rather ruthless way and perhaps lead to criticism. On the other hand, there was the argument that the SAS was a very professional body of men. If deployed it could probably do some military tasks better than anybody else, therefore why not deploy it.
TAYLOR: When you saw the SAS being deployed, would you have expected to have seen dead bodies at the end?
GLOVER: That's a very, if I might say so, course way of putting it.
TAYLOR: But that's how many people see it.
GLOVER: Yes, all right, I accept that. But the SAS I mean there are the two arms of the SAS. One is the covert surveyance expertise, and the other is their offensive capability, and the one complements the other. If the surveyance yields intelligence on what is obviously a worthwhile and totally justifiable target, then it is right and proper that the SAS should use their offensive arm to come in and deal with that target.
TAYLOR: But before that arm was triggered, other agencies had to provide the vital intelligence. RUC Special Branch recruited informers. MI5 planted listening devices in IRA houses and hides, and undercover soldiers - the DET - bugged IRA weapons and trapped their men on the ground.
FRANK: I wanted to be in there, I wanted to be at the forefront, I wanted to know what was going on and I wanted to make a contribution I suppose, at least do a professional job, work with professional people, not just wander around aimlessly wandering round the countryside, you know, talking to the locals, presenting yourself as a target occasionally.
TAYLOR: Frank did several tours with the DET in the 70s and 80s. We haven't identified undercover soldiers for reasons of personal security.
FRANK: This unit obviously was a very professional unit and had some impact on the situation. There was a quote by some senior officer that comes to mind that one operator, which is what we were called, was worth a company of soldiers on the ground.
TAYLOR: Which is how many?
FRANK: 120, something like that.
TAYLOR: Every day the men and women of the DET risk their lives operating undercover in the heart of republican strongholds. In Derry the IRA tried to hijack an operators car, not knowing who he was, or that his partner was close behind.
JIM: I was the lead car of two, and as we drove round the back of the Rossville Flats I was hijacked.
TAYLOR: Jim joined the DET in the late 70s and became one of its most experienced operators. He's lucky to be alive.
JIM: They had a system then of hijacking cars to use in bombings, and they assumed I was a prime target for hijack, a relatively young single bloke in a car on my own. Two gunmen emerged from a corner of the street and flagged me down, stopped me, drew their guns and tried to get me out of the car, and unfortunately the gunmen that day took on the wrong people.
TAYLOR: Jim's partner, in the following car, saw what was happening.
What does your colleague do behind you?
JIM: He got out of his car and fired two shots at each of the two gunmen. He missed one, hit the other in the leg, and the one on the left-hand side ran away who hadn't been hit. The one that got hit in the leg went down on the pavement. The guy who had been hit in the leg was still a threat to me, he still had the gun in his hand and so I shot him four times through the chest.
TAYLOR: But why do you kill him if he's already on the ground and wounded?
JIM: He had a gun in his hand. He was still a threat.
TAYLOR: Kick the gun away from him? Take the gun away from him?
JIM: It wasn't as simple as that.
TAYLOR: Shoot him in the arm. Why kill him?
JIM: It wasn't as simple as that. It was a case of he had to go down. That was the only way. It was instant, a split second decision.
TAYLOR: You or him.
JIM: Yes, yes. The gun was.. he was coming round, he was levelling the gun at me. I wasn't going to walk over there and arrest him and take the gun away from him - no.
TAYLOR: Any regrets about killing him?
JIM: Not at all, no.
TAYLOR: Most soldiers saw themselves fighting a war and killing the enemy was part of it. Few gave it a second thought. But when regular soldiers picked up the pieces of a covert operation, confusion often reigned. In Belfast, in a shoot out between the IRA and undercover soldiers, both sides were hit. When the regular troops arrived on the scene, they didn't know who the enemy was.
The guy on the floor has got jeans on. I goes over to him and starts treating his gunshot wound giving him direct pressure, as taught, and then putting my own shoulder dressing, designed for myself, putting it on his leg, reassuring him, telling him don't you worry mate, you're going to be all right. He's already in shock, he's going blue, the tips of his ears and his lips etc. I then gets told by a member of the Call Sign "He's one of theirs". I, without thinking, I took the shoulder dressing off, threw it on the floor, picked up a handful of grass and sod of earth - is the best way to describe it - and shoved that where the shoulder dressing had been in his femur, obviously creating a lot of pain, alarm etc, etc. I then gets up and starts looking for something else to do, someone else to treat, someone else to stop getting involved in the incident.
TAYLOR: When you pick up the sod of earth, sod of grass, putting it in his wound, do you say anything?
PRIVATE: "It looks like you're on the way out mate" and that was it. Thought no more of it.
TAYLOR: In such a savage conflict, no love was lost between soldiers and the IRA. But sometimes innocent civilians were victims too. In this graveyard, in the village of Dunloy, an SAS operation ended in tragedy. A 16 year old Catholic schoolboy, John Boyle, was looking at an old family grave when he stumbled upon an IRA arms cache. He immediately ran home and told his father.
He said he had been in the graveyard and he had discovered under the fallen tombstone what to him looked like bomb material, a conglomeration of stuff packed under the headstone.
TAYLOR: John's father then ran the police. For a Catholic in a fiercely Republican area to do so in support of law and order took considerable courage.
BOYLE: I didn't want to see any policeman shot, and I did fear that rather than for any other purpose that it would be used against police. I knew the police and knew them well enough and didn't want that to happen, and that prompted me to send them the word.
TAYLOR: The police said they would be in touch, but no word came that evening. The following morning Con Boyle heard shots and rushed to the graveyard. The SAS had shot his son dead.
BOYLE: I came down here and as soon as I got out of the car the two men came out from behind these pillars with rifles and arrested me.
TAYLOR: Two soldiers?
BOYLE: Two soldiers, yes, and at that time we didn't see John, and they made reference to John lying in there.
TAYLOR: What did they say?
BOYLE: They said that the other bastard was lying in there dead.
TAYLOR: That's what they said?
BOYLE: That's what they said.
TAYLOR: John had returned to the graveyard, probably just to check if his find was still there.
Where were the soldiers?
BOYLE: This is where they were supposed to be.
TAYLOR: What, just here?
BOYLE: Just there, yes.
TAYLOR: As close as that?
BOYLE: As close as that. I think about 7.. it would be 7 yards, 6 or 7 metres.
TAYLOR: And what happened? What is said to have happened?
BOYLE: The soldiers said what happened was that John came in here and made towards the gravestone, and their orders was to arrest whoever would come.
TAYLOR: The two SAS men were tried for murder. They said they believed their lives were in danger when John picked up a rifle from the cache and turned towards them. The judge acquitted them but said that one SAS soldier was an untrustworthy witness.
Did you have any apology from the SAS or apology from the army?
BOYLE: No, none at all. Never a word.
TAYLOR: Nobody said sorry?
TAYLOR: Even though you told the police about it nobody said...
BOYLE: No, nor nobody ever said to me I'd done a good job or that I'd done the right thing.
TAYLOR: The tragic death in the village graveyard convinced Nationalists that the Brits were operating a shoot to kill policy with the SAS pulling the trigger.
What was your view of the SAS?
BOYLE: Well it would have been easy to have arrested John. It should have been easy to have arrested John. They didn't do it. I didn't think much about them at the time, but as time went on and you watched what was happening around, the SAS didn't arrest very many.
TAYLOR: When the SAS were deployed, were you aware of the risks that might be entailed by their deployment, the fact that they might use tactics that were not necessarily appropriate to part of the United Kingdom?
Sir Frank Cooper
I think there's always a risk in deploying the SAS, but I mean it's always done under political control.
TAYLOR: For example, when the young boy, John Boyle, was killed in the churchyard by mistake after he'd identified the cache.
COOPER: The truth of the matter is, if you have a society where guns abound, you're always going to get people killed by accident as well as by design.
TAYLOR: In Dunloy the killing of John Boyle hardened support for the IRA. On a later occasion there was intelligence that the IRA was about to mount an operation. The DET had bugged one of the IRA's weapons and placed a house under surveillance. Frank and his partner Paul had moved in to watch from a building site, opposite the newly built house.
We were wearing just civilian clothes, so that if we were seen people would think we were nicking led or bricks or whatever, acting the part of just yobos basically. We could see the house and we could see what was going.. we were expecting certain cars to come and go to the house, and we wanted to see which cars were associated with the house and various people.
TAYLOR: But what the DET did not know was that the IRA suspected they were under surveillance and had sent out two of its members to scout the area.
FRANK: Out of the blue.. or out of the black, there then came this shout of "What the hell are you doing?" F'ing and blinding. They were obviously very agitated. But all they did was make us stand up with our hands in the air like cowboys, standing with our hands in the air and still screaming and shouting at us. We just looked into each other's eyes and nodded. At a time which was obviously right we drew our concealed pistols. You aim for the centre of the observed mass which in this case is the torso of a man because he's trying to do the same to you, and you fire as many rounds as you can and get him down, which is what we did. But the guy with the submachine gun, he was hit, and as he went down he fired I think it was 13 rounds. I used to think it was unlucky - 13. Three of the rounds hit me, one through my knee, one through my thigh and one through my back. The other four or five rounds that he fired hit Paul high in the chest, and I think he was probably killed immediately.
TAYLOR: But the two IRA men were still alive.
FRANK: And then I could hear the two, Hogan and Martin, they weren't dead. They weren't exactly talking but they were making a noise. So I think I'd still got some rounds left in my Browning so I fired a couple more rounds into them.
TAYLOR: Frank radioed the DET backup team that was only a few minutes away.
FRANK: And then the car team arrived. The guys arrived and they came forward. I indicated to them terrorists.. two terrorists to the front. They could have still been capable of putting rounds down.
TAYLOR: So they finished them off.
FRANK: So the guys came in and put rounds into them.
TAYLOR: Finished them off.
FRANK: It's.. you know, you win the fire fight and that's it.
TAYLOR: But they were wounded. They could have been arrested couldn't they?
FRANK: Yes, but you don't know that do you. Far better for them to be dead than us.
TAYLOR: Martin's parents didn't know he'd joined the IRA. Hogan was from a staunch Republican family. At the funeral Gerry Adams said they were freedom fighters murdered by a British terror gang. Controversy dogged the regular army too. In particular the part-time soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment, the UDR. The vast majority were Protestants. As violence increased, some decided to disregard the constraints of the law. Several were convicted of murder and other serious crimes. They'd been hand in glove with the Loyalist paramilitaries. Republicans cried "Collusion" claiming it was sanctioned by the state.
Sir Frank Cooper
There were quite a number who no doubt did pass information, and indeed some weapons, on to the Loyalist Paramilitaries.
TAYLOR: Some were also members of the Loyalist...
COOPER: Some were also members of the Loyalist paramilitaries.
TAYLOR: At the same time as they were members of the British Army, the UDR.
COOPER: Yes, yes.
TAYLOR: And that caused you concern.
COOPER: Yes. It caused everybody concern. It caused the army concern. I mean it wasn't us at Stormont Castle. I mean it was a concern to everybody.
TAYLOR: And there were elements in the RUC too who had duel membership. There were policemen who were also members of the UDR.
COOPER: There were a lot of funny people all over the place. There's no doubt about that at all. Some were known and some were not known, and some were weeded out and some were not weeded out.
TAYLOR: Most policemen and UDR soldiers who took the law into their own hands lived in country areas where they were seen as soft targets by the IRA. William McCaughey joined the RUC to defend Ulster, but in frustration he sought to hit back.
WILLIAM McCAUGHEY: It was a combination of a feeling that the state was not responding adequately, and I suppose a perfectly human desire for revenge against those or against that community which had killed my friends.
TAYLOR: McCaughey was also a member of the Loyalist paramilitary group the UVF. In this guise he took his revenge. The target was a Catholic who ran a corner shop in the village of Ahoghill. The assassins knocked at his door in the middle of the night and gunned him down. The RUC said the victim was a law-abiding citizen. McCaughey thought otherwise.
When you were going to kill the individual concerned, didn't it occur to you that you were a policeman? Didn't you say to yourself what am I doing here, a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary going out to kill somebody?
No. To be perfectly honest the fact that I was a member of the RUC didn't enter my mind at all. I went there as an Ulster Loyalist in defence of the state of Northern Ireland. That was my only consideration and motivation.
TAYLOR: McCaughey was a member of a 30 strong special police unit based in Armagh. He wasn't the only one involved in terrorist activity.
How many members of the unit were arrested? How many of the 30 roughly?
McCAUGHEY: I think there were 10 arrested and 6 charged.
TAYLOR: And how many found guilty?
TAYLOR: Of serious crime?
TAYLOR: From murder, to bombing, to kidnapping.
TAYLOR: Didn't the conviction of Sergeant William McCaughey and half a dozen of his police colleagues indicate that there was collusion between the police and the Loyalist paramilitaries in the late 70s?
Sir Ronnie Flanagan
No well you see again in terms of allegations of collusion, the allegation is that this was systemic, that this was organisation.
TAYLOR: But in the case of Sergeant McCaughey he was a policemen, he was a member of the UVF, he was convicted of murder.
FLANAGAN: I think you have to look at how the activities of such people are investigated. Is there any tolerance of that or is there absolute rigorous intolerance, and I think the latter applies so far as the RUC is concerned. Wherever it has had such people, it has acted rigorously to root them out and bring them to justice.
TAYLOR: McCaughey served a life sentence for murder inside the Maze Prison. Here, like all Loyalist and Republican inmates he was treated as a common criminal. Government policy had changed. Since the early 70s all prisoners had a special status which, to their minds, recognised they were prisoners of war. But before McCaughey was sentenced the status was abolished and the government insisted that all prisoners were criminals. During his time in gaol, McCaughey found the Lord and repented of what he had done. But he still maintained that he'd been defending Ulster and therefore wasn't a criminal.
COOPER: These were criminal activities, not merely by the IRA but also increasingly by the Loyalists and they should have been dealt with under the criminal law. That's the whole basis of a democracy. You can't have any other basis other than locking people up by due legal process.
World in Action 24th November 1980 TAYLOR: IRA prisoners refused to accept the government's new policy. In protest they smeared their cells with excrement, refused to wear prison uniform and wrapped themselves in prison blankets demanding the right to wear their own clothes. The protest was to have momentous repercussions.
But the IRA argue that they were not criminals, that they were fighting a political war to get the British out of Northern Ireland. They resented being called criminals.
COOPER: Well I'm afraid I don't agree with that and I never have agreed with that.
TAYLOR: The government refused to give in. To do so would have left its new policy in ruins. IRA prisoners then escalated their protest with the weapon of last resort - the hunger strike. Seven IRA prisoners refused food for weeks on end. Whitehall officials faced a dreadful dilemma.
Sir Kenneth Stowe
First of all force feeding was out. Therefore, if the hunger strike continued, these people would die. Therefore we would have more martyrs. And Northern Ireland is not a place to grow martyrs if you can avoid it. Therefore, we were very anxious to try to find some way of enabling the hunger strikers to get off their hook.
TAYLOR: If a compromise were to be found, it would have to be devised in the utmost secrecy. In public the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, was adamant that there would be no concessions. In private things were once again moving behind the scenes. The mover was the MI6 officer Michael Oatley who'd helped negotiate the IRA ceasefire five years earlier. He re-emerged from the shadows as several of the prisoners neared death. His link to the IRA was via a friend in Derry. The IRA wanted the issue resolved.
I was rung up by a friend who said "This is the situation, I think we can do something with it." As usual the telephone call came at 1 or 2 in the morning. We spent two or three hours discussing the situation in veiled language over the telephone. I produced a set of proposals as to how the matter might be managed with a formula, and went the following morning with it to the Northern Ireland office.
STOWE: I got the authority of Ministers to proceed with this course of action. Went downstairs, put Michael Oatley in my car. He was driven at speed to London Airport, put on the shuttle to Belfast and met at the other end, all within the space of a very few hours, and it was accomplished.
TAYLOR: Did you clear it with the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher?
TAYLOR: And what did she say?
STOWE: She approved.
OATLEY: So I hopped onto an aeroplane and went to Northern Ireland. I was required to have my meeting in Aldegrove Airport fairly late in the evening, and that was a rather curious circumstance because nobody in Aldegrove Airport at that time of night. The person who came to see me was a Roman Catholic priest who was in touch with the hunger strikers, was obviously known to be in touch with the hunger strikers and was clearly being tailed by a team of Special Branch officers. So we had this situation where our meeting took place in an entirely empty airport lounge with burly figures standing behind every pillar round about which was quite grotesque and not exactly designed to keep the thing entirely discreet.
TAYLOR: The priest who met Oatley at the airport, Father Brendan, enjoyed the trust of the hunger strikers. Death was now close. The leader, Brendan Hughes, seen here, had gone without food for over 50 days.
The priest was asked to go to Belfast International Airport I believe, and there he would meet a person with a red carnation. I mean nearly half the night the priest told me this sitting in the prison, and the priest duly went to the Airport and lo and behold this guy with a red carnation passed by and passed a document over to Father Brendan.
TAYLOR: Oatley had brought revised prison rules which, to the IRA, were capable of liberal interpretation.
HUGHES: I believed.. sincerely believed that it was a status that we could work with, and we could end this thing. I believed that then, yes.
TAYLOR: Remarkably, Oatley seemed to have ended the hunger strike without loss of face. The prisoners' clothes arrived at the Maze, but would they be allowed to put them on. The climax of the epic confrontation was still to come. With the issues still unresolved, the protest outside intensified. One of the prisoners most vociferous champions was Bernadette McAliskey, still known to many as Bernadette Devlin. What happened to her raised even more questions about the SAS.
TAYLOR: At this critical time Bernadette McAliskey was top of the Loyalist hate list.
What did she represent to you as a person?
MALE: Detestable bitch.
TAYLOR: What did you set out to do?
MALE: To take her out, to kill her.
TAYLOR: This Loyalist was sentenced to 20 years for attempted murder. He asked us to conceal his identity. Bernadette McAliskey lived with her husband Michael and their children in a remote bungalow outside Dungannon. The Loyalist hit squad planned to bring down the telephone line that was their only contact with the outside world. The attack came at breakfast time.
MALE: We drove for about 45 minutes to the place where she lived. It was a very bad morning. Snow, sleet, rain, very dark. Got to the house. Two of us went into the house and the driver stayed outside. His job was to pull the telephone wires down. We went into the house.
TAYLOR: How did you get into the house?
MALE: We had a sledge but it wasn't used. The door was kicked in.
TAYLOR: Did you shoot?
MALE: I did, yes.
TAYLOR: How many shots?
TAYLOR: At whom?
MALE: At both.
TAYLOR: Did you hit them?
TAYLOR: Did you think you'd killed her?
MALE: Yes, I did.
TAYLOR: What the Loyalist UFF did not know was that there was intelligence on the attack, and the SAS had been deployed to the scene.
MALE: When we came out, the first thing I heard was shouts "British Security Forces, drop your arms".
TAYLOR: With the shooting and the arrest over, the army's quick reaction force was helicoptered in to deal with the fallout. One of its members now reveals what the SAS told him when he first arrived on the ground.
He said "Bernadette Devlin's been shot" to which I replied "Yes, and I'm the Pope in Rome." Not that I didn't believe it, it was just something that.. you know, to get that name bandied at you, it was just.. I was just going out in a helicopter. Then it turned out that she had. So we went as quick as we could round to the house, I think we went in through the kitchen door. And lo and behold her and her husband, Michael McAliskey, had also been shot. So we gave first aid as much as we could.
TAYLOR: What's the scene inside the house?
CORPORAL: One of horror I suppose, to a certain extent. Certainly terror. A lot of blood, a lot of blood up the wall. A lot of people shouting and bawling, screaming, wailing.
TAYLOR: The question that immediately sprang to mind was why the SAS hadn't shot or arrested the Loyalists before the deed was done.
Why didn't the soldiers stop you? Why didn't they apprehend you before you kicked the door down?
MALE: I couldn't answer that.
TAYLOR: Because if they had seen you going in, they would have seen you presumably carrying weapons. You'd have expected....
MALE: Yes, if they saw us, they must have seen the weapons.
TAYLOR: You would have expected them to have intervened and stopped you.
MALE: I suppose so but you need to ask them.
TAYLOR: So why had the Loyalist killers been allowed to bring down the telephone line and smash in the door without being stopped? It was what the Corporal asked the SAS.
CORPORAL: I said "Well how come you didn't get them on the way in?" At which there was a pause, and then he said "We must have been looking the other way" which did for me. It was a one off.. a throw away line as far as I was concerned, and I just went about my business.
TAYLOR: The corporal looked on as the colonel dealt with a sensitive situation.
PIKE: To pre-empt any further questions there are three points which I can tell you. Firstly that two occupants of the house were shot. Secondly, that an army patrol initially arrested the men who shot them and that those men are now with the police in custody, those three men.
PRESS: Were they SAS men?
COL. PIKE: No.
PRESS: They were not SAS men?
PRESS: Were they acting on a tip off or had they staked out there?
COL. PIKE: No, as I say, it was a routine patrol.
FEMALE: They just happened to be in the area?
COL. PIKE: Yes.
TAYLOR: Today the Colonel is the army's most senior officer in Northern Ireland, the GOC, General Sir Hugh Pike. He says he was in the dark at the time. The McAliskeys were given first aid by the Corporal and then flown to Belfast for emergency surgery. Miraculously they both survived. But the mystery of why the SAS hadn't intercepted the Loyalists remained unresolved.
BERNADETTE: The question must be asked then, where were they when these people were breaking in the door. I think that question has to be answered. I don't know if it ever will.
CORPORAL: Obviously it was the talk of the town. The more we talked about it, the more we thought surely they would have got them on the way in. It remains unanswered as far as I was concerned.
TAYLOR: What do you think happened?
CORPORAL: Personally, my personal feeling is that they allowed them in to do the deed and then stopped them on the way out.
7th May, 1981 TAYLOR: Meanwhile the continuing drama inside the Maze was about to reach its climax. The prisoners were never given their own clothes and felt duped by the Brits. A second hunger strike began, now led by their commanding officer, Bobby Sands. Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike. One hundred thousand mourners followed his coffin. What made his death even more significant was that he'd just been elected a Westminster MP. Others were to follow in his wake. This time there'd been no Michael Oatley to intervene. By now he was out of the country. Attitudes on both sides had hardened and Mrs Thatcher refused to give in. Nine more Republican prisoners were to follow Sands to his grave. With the first hunger strike resolved, the second should never have happened.
Did you think that ten men would die?
Sir Kenneth Stowe
That was what we were fearful of when we dealt with the first hunger strike, yes, we did believe that they had the resolution to go through with this and that men would die. That was why we tried to avert it, and did so, on the first hunger strike. But having averted it once, I can well see that there was very, very little that anybody could do to avert it a second time. There was no room for compromise then and none was sought.
TAYLOR: Wouldn't it have been worth just giving them their own clothes to save ten lives, to save the political gains that that Sinn Fein got from the hunger strike, all that?
STOWE: Probably yes, yes. But once these situations arise in which the stakes are raised on both sides, it becomes very difficult.
TAYLOR: The IRA had raised the stakes on the military front too, even before the hunger strike. They'd ambushed an Army convoy at Warren Point with two huge remote controlled bombs. The first was hidden in a hay lorry. A paratrooper saw it explode.
LANCE CORPORAL: I'm actually watching it as it happened, and then the hay lorry and the second truck just disappeared together. A big explosion and the truck went up about 100 feet in the air and came down on the central reservation.
TAYLOR: 18 soldiers were killed.
Sir James Glover
It was arguably, I think, the most successful, and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign. We'd always said that one of these days there will be a spectacular. It was almost inevitable that at some stage or other they were going to succeed because we'd failed to interdict them.
Some bodies quite badly mutilated by the blast, others remarkably in tact for what had been a massive explosion. I mean looking at one or two bodies that had their boots blown off - you know, these high legged lace up boots - boots blown off them by the blast but their feet were still on their bodies and I couldn't understand how that could have happened.
TAYLOR: And these were your mates.
LANCE CORPORAL: All of them, every single one of them. All A Company 2 Para. all good mates.
TAYLOR: The IRA had dealt the British a double blow that day. In the Irish Republic a few hours before, it had killed Lord Mountbatten with another remote controlled bomb. The Prime Minister wanted to know what had gone wrong. Why was there no intelligence? Who was to blame? An inquest was held and the government appointed a former head of MI6 to sort out the intelligence mess. It could not be allowed to happen again.
STONE: The intelligence gathering of the RUC and of the army was not, I suspect, effectively shared, that is my suspicion but I think it's probably a well founded suspicion that it was not effectively shared.
TAYLOR: In what sense?
STONE: They weren't talking to each other when they should have been talking to each other.
TAYLOR: But that's astonishing, isn't it, that here you had two organisations, united in what one assumes to be the defeat of terrorism, and yet they're not talking to each other!
STONE: Well, that was the problem.
TAYLOR: By the early 80s the rivalries appear to have been sorted out. With the police now in control, operations were directed from this office, the Tasking and Coordinating Group or TCG. It's never been filmed before. From here all the intelligence agencies - army, police and MI5 - monitor operations on the ground and act accordingly.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan
I think they were tremendously effective. These were organisations into which all intelligence should flow, whether that be from human agents, whether it be intelligence technically gained, or whether it be information gleaned simply from members of the public phoning in or from officers who are out and about their normal duties.
TAYLOR: Among the TCG's resources are two offensive arms; one is the SAS, the other the HMSU, the headquarters mobile support unit, the RUC's antiterrorist squad trained by the SAS. Like the SAS, this special police unit became the focus of intense controversy.
[15th December 1982] At the end of 1982 the police unit shot dead 3 IRA men and 2 members of the INLA. None of them was armed. Republicans accused the RUC of operating a shoot to kill policy. The fact that police officers were tried for murder and acquitted simply convinced Republicans that there was a cover up. The officer appointed to investigate these sensitive killings was John Stalker, the Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester. There was widespread outrage when it was revealed that officers from the special police unit had not told the truth.
TAYLOR: What made the Stalker cases even more controversial was the evidence that the police tried to cover up what they had done. They told cover stories, they told lies, and that simply confirmed people's suspicions that there was a shoot to kill policy and the whole thing was operating illegally.
FLANAGAN: I think that did give rise to those perceptions undoubtedly. That's the case. I think the motivation for those cover stories was the protection of methodology, the protection of informants who had originally given intelligence, and I think the intention was to create a perception that these police officers just happened to be in the places they were.
TAYLOR: Which they weren't.
FLANAGAN: Which they weren't. They were there on a planned basis. They were there on the basis of intelligence.
TAYLOR: Stalker penetrated the darkest corners of the secret war when he investigated the dramatic events that took place at this hayshed. Special Branch had established that the IRA had hidden a huge quantity of explosives inside, and MI5 had planted a listening device to keep track of them. But the device failed to work. The explosives vanished. The result - a huge crater a few miles away, 15 feet deep and 40 feet wide. The explosives had been used to ambush a police car. The 3 officers inside were killed. Had MI5's bug been working, the tragedy wouldn't have happened.
How did the explosives manage to be spirited away from the hayshed and were subsequently used to kill 3 police officers with no-one knowing about it?
FLANAGAN: Well I have no idea. I have no personal knowledge of that incident. But certainly one can never think that either intelligence gained technically or intelligence given by humans is ever infallible.
TAYLOR: The death of the 3 policemen was tragic, but also hugely embarrassing. MI5 then planted a second device in case the IRA returned. When the device picked up voices, the special police unit moved in and shot dead 17 year old Michael Tighe. He'd no IRA connections. His friend, Martin McCauley was wounded. Inside were 3 old rifles without ammunition. The police said they'd shouted a warning. McCauley told a different story.
We looked at the barn, the window was open. We went over to the window, there was metal objects. We climbed in to have a look. Within a few minutes Michael Tighe.. there was two shots rang out and Michael Tighe was killed instantly. I seen a guy with a rifle moving across the door. Once he disappeared the whole place was exploded in gunfire. I moved to get cover to the opposite side of the door and in doing that I was hit.
TAYLOR: But the critical question remains, was there a warning? The police insisted there was. McCauley is adamant there was not.
McCAULEY: No, but there was, after the first two shots, there was a shout "Right, out" right, that was it.
TAYLOR: But it should have been possible to find out whether a warning had been given. MI5's second device had been working at the time of the shooting, and the tape of it ought to have resolved the contradiction. Stalker discovered that MI5 had made 42 tapes of the hayshed. He concluded that the last tape, tape 42, must have recorded the shooting and therefore could resolve the question once and for all. For months he fought to obtain the master tape and was constantly thwarted. He was eventually told it no longer existed.
It transpires that the vital tape, the Security Service tape that recorded the actual shooting of the hayshed disappears and is destroyed.
FLANAGAN: Well I mean I have no personal knowledge of that, but clearly...
TAYLOR: Well you know the tape disappeared.
FLANAGAN: Yes indeed. Yes indeed, and that was very much the focus of John Stalker's investigation and of course these things.. of course they give rise to the gravest suspicions in the minds of people as to what lay behind those sorts of things.
TAYLOR: Although the master tape, tape 42 had been destroyed, what John Stalker did not know was that a cassette copy of it had been secretly made by one of those monitoring the hayshed at the time as a macabre personal souvenir. When MI5 found out, it ordered the cassette copy to be handed over to it and it remained locked away in MI5's safekeeping for some years, until, that is, John Stalker appeared on the scene. Around that time a senior MI5 officer in the province ordered one of his MI5 colleagues to destroy the priceless cassette copy. As a result, the vital remaining evidence as to whether police officers did issue a warning before opening fire was removed.
TAYLOR: Did you know that a copy of that tape had been made?
Sir Robert Andrew
TAYLOR: And did you find out that a copy, once it had been made, had been destroyed by the Security Service?
ANDREW: Only when I heard about it from the report. I didn't know about these things in advance.
TAYLOR: Colin Sampson, a Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, completed Stalker's inquiry. We have discovered that controversially his report recommended that MI5 officers should be prosecuted for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The great majority of those who heard the tape heard no warning.
And when you read in Mr Sampson's report that the copy of the tape had been destroyed by the Security Service, what was your reaction?
ANDREW: That this, if true, was most unfortunate.
TAYLOR: The Attorney General of the day was Sir Patrick Mayhew. Although he was told that there was sufficient evidence for prosecutions, a political decision was made that they would not be in the public interest. The last thing the government wanted to see was MI5 officers in the dock charged with destroying vital evidence. It would have been political dynamite and the consequences for MI5 would have been seismic.
Sir Patrick Mayhew
What I had in mind was that criminal proceedings would be used under the procedures of the court to elicit a lot of material of vital importance to the intelligence services, and that this would be enormously damaging.
TAYLOR: It would also have been extremely embarrassing if Security Service officers had been in court charged with destroying the vital evidence that John Stalker had been looking for.
MAYHEW: Yes indeed.
TAYLOR: The copy of the tape.
MAYHEW: Yes. Yes.
TAYLOR: The additional reason why prosecutions would have been so sensitive is that some of those against whom prosecutions would have been brought, were serving members of the Security Service MI5. That was the additional sensitivity wasn't it?
MAYHEW: Well I think I've said what I said to the House of Commons which represented the truth, that a lot of intelligence matters would have been brought out and that would have been very deleterious to the intelligence operation that was essential in the circumstances of the time.
TAYLOR: Were you in favour of prosecuting?
ANDREW: I think I saw it as a finely balanced case. I don't think I would.. don't want to go further than that.
TAYLOR: The problem of course was, by declaring that there would be no prosecutions in the public interest, people simply said well what did we tell you all along, it was a cover up.
TAYLOR: If the political bombshell, ticking away in the hayshed, had exploded in court, it might have jeopardised not only MI5's methodology but MI5 itself. Covert operations were thereby preserved. But to Republicans it was yet another cover up, confirming what they believed all along. To them the case seemed clear cut. The British has pursued a policy of shoot to kill, and in one sense that was true.
MAYHEW: You don't shoot to tickle; you don't shoot to miss. You do shoot to kill. But it's the circumstances in which you shoot that ought to be the subject of the inquiry, and this thing about shoot to kill as though it's sort of somehow self-evidently wicked is absolutely wrong. It's nonsense. You don't shoot to do other than kill in the circumstances where the law permits you to shoot.
TAYLOR: All soldiers and policemen are legally bound by the yellow card which allows them to open fire only when their lives are threatened. But there are no unbiased witnesses to an armed confrontation. In the heat of battle, legal niceties may not always be observed.
There is not a shoot to kill policy.
TAYLOR: Anna joined the DET in the 1980s and took part in many covert operations against the IRA.
ANNA: All I can say is that on every briefing it was the yellow card and that arrest, and obviously if arms were brought to bear that you would open fire if you believed your life or somebody else's life was in danger.
TAYLOR: Wasn't there a nod and a wink on the yellow card?
ANNA: None at all. Nothing like that at all. They're professionals. They're professional soldiers, not cowboys.
TAYLOR: But however precise the orders to arrest, no Republican will ever believe that there was not a shoot to kill policy. They simply point to their graves. The Brits shed few tears for their victims, knowing that few would be shed for them. To the DET and the SAS killing the enemy was cause for rejoicing.
ANNA: We celebrated if you like, as the IRA would if they'd shot somebody. They make no secret of the fact that they celebrate the death of a soldier or a policemen and they can be highly public about their celebrations, the death of security forces, and we celebrated in the same way. We went to the bar, we drank quite a lot. The cooks made us a cake.
TAYLOR: A cake!
ANNA: Yes, after a shooting occurred, if a terrorist was killed there was a cake made with their name on it, part of the celebration.
TAYLOR: What sort of a cake?
ANNA: Some of the cakes were in the form of a cross with RIP on it.
TAYLOR: A cross!
ANNA: A cross.
TAYLOR: That's macabre, isn't it?
ANNA: Possibly, but the saying is live by the sword and die by the sword.
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