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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Death of a Journalist

Martin O'Hagan attending the trade union event to mark May Day 2001. Photo © 2001 Kevin Cooper

Tá coiste cróinéara ag dul ar aghaidh sa Tuaisceart i láthair na huaire faoi mbás an iriseora Martin O' Hagan. Tá an aiste seo thíos tábhachtach cionn is go luann sé rudaí faoi Mhartin agus cad é a bhí i mbun aige nuair a mharaigh "siad" é. Sé sin a rá go raibh cúis mhaith ag dreamanna airithe, ar nós an Brainse Speisialta de chuid an RUC, Mairtin a chur chun bais. Mar is gnáth, ta an mean cumarsáide ag tabhairt neamhaird ar na rudaí is tábhachtaí faoi scéal Mhartin. Tá an aiste seo bainte amach as mo leabhar A Very British Jihad agus ní dhéanaim leithscéal ar bith daoibh maidir leis an fad, nó gur scéal casta atá ann.


A coroners inquest is taking place at the moment into the death of the journalist Martin O'Hagan. The essay below is important because it makes reference to Martin and the things he was involved in before "they" murdered him. In other words, there were groups, like the former Special Branch of the RUC, who had a vested interest in "taking out" Martin O'Hagan. As usual, the media is ignoring the most important aspects of Martin's story. The essay below has been taken from my book A Very British Jihad and I make no apologies either for its length or the fact that the story is slightly complicated.

Death of a Journalist
Does anybody remember Martin O'Hagan? Where are the eulogies and feature films about the murder of a journalist who did more, even, than Veronica Guerin to expose the squalid reality of 'paramilitary'crime in Ireland. Veronica Guerin was a good friend of mine so those with yet closer ties to this crusading journalist than I will understand that I do not wish to minimise her own famous contribution to exposing the criminal underworld. Martin O'Hagan's own important role, however, has been virtually ignored precisely because he very often sought to expose the source of that crime as emanating from corruption within the security forces in Northern Ireland. There are, of course, some honourable exceptions who have refused to join the ranks of amnesiacs where Martin's death is concerned.
Martin had a background in the Official IRA and many loyalists and senior RUC men have used this fact both to attempt to rubbish his evidence and also to portray him as being close to the Provisional IRA. In my experience, anyone from an Irish Catholic background is branded a 'Provo' when attempting to investigate the British state's secret activities in Ireland. One prominent English journalist, for example, has been known to describe me as a 'Provo who believes in God.' It is a greater pity that many Irish journalists have chosen to ape their colonial betters with this kind of 'media darling' dinner table excess.

Billy Wright would often quote Martin O'Hagan's 'republican' background in chapter and verse to justify his threats in the early 1990s. Readers may wish to take just another glance at the chapter Sticking to Their Guns to measure the difference and degree of hatred between the Official IRA, which once counted O'Hagan within its ranks, and the Provisional IRA. There is also the fact that the Provisional IRA abducted Martin O'Hagan and threatened his life after finding his name and telephone number in the notebook belonging to a senior RUC Special Branch officer whom they had just murdered. The notebook belonged to Superintendent Harry Breen who has his own significant place in the Jihad pantheon. Breen was assassinated by the IRA in March 1989 and Martin told me that he was convinced he was never coming back from the place he was taken for 'interrogation'. The IRA has told me that it wished to establish whether O'Hagan was working for the RUC but that it was never their intention to kill him. Be that as it may, the Provisional IRA had no great affection for Martin O'Hagan, which loyalists and police officers knew very well.

As also noted in the Sticking to Their Guns chapter, the Official republican movement has probably provided more journalists in Ireland, North and South, than any other political group. What distinguished Martin O'Hagan from this 'Stickie' constituency, however, was his consistent examination of two issues. One, his ongoing investigations into collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries and, two, his delving into the exponential relationship between loyalist paramilitaries and the drugs rackets which brought them into regular contact with Dublin criminals like Martin Cahill. Some commentators have criticised O'Hagan for using the Sunday World as his journalistic forum, and it is true that the Sunday World would not be many people's favourite Sunday morning read with its mixture of gossip, sleazy innuendo and sensation seeking headlines which sometimes have little substance behind them. The fact is, though, that papers like the Sunday World, both in its Northern and Southern editions, are often much closer to the pulse of what is going on behind the scenes and on the streets than their supposedly esteemed counterparts with larger pages.

One bone of contention for loyalists on those streets was that Martin O'Hagan had been blamed for coining the tabloid phrase 'King Rat'to describe Billy Wright. As we have seen in the chapter Billy Wright, the UVF bombed the Sunday World's offices in 1992 and the editor Jim Campbell who had already been shot, along with Martin O'Hagan had been forced to flee to the South of the country. O'Hagan, however, continued his investigations into Billy Wright and continued to use the term 'King Rat'. Unfortunately, the Sunday World , in Belfast at least, failed abjectly to offer Martin O'Hagan the protection he needed, and deserved, so that he could carry out his work. Following the IRA's assassination of the 'General' Martin Cahill in August 1994, just two weeks before the first IRA ceasefire, the Dublin end of the Sunday World operation invited the exiled O'Hagan to write a background piece about the killing.

O'Hagan's article quite correctly linked Billy Wright to Martin Cahill and to racketeering generally. The UVF was incensed by the article and demanded and received the 'right to reply' in the northern editions of the Sunday World. Effectively, the newspaper's new editor Jim McDowell gave front page space to the Ulster Volunteer Force to attack and threaten a Sunday World journalist, i.e. Martin O'Hagan. The UVF 'article' accused O'Hagan of being a 'black propagandist' and the paper also gave space to King Rat to rebuke Martin O'Hagan in its inside pages. Amazingly, the UVF was also given space to make a promise to other journalists that they would not be targeted where they wrote (even critically do you mind) 'on matters of fact'. As far as I am aware, the only media outlet which has followed this story up to the present day is the Dubllin-based, satirical and political fortnighly magazine The Phoenix. After the Sunday World had effectively published a death threat against one of its own journalists in 1994, the Pheonix delivered a withering expose of how the newspaper had collapsed in the face of paramilitary intimidation:

"The paper's northern editor, Jim McDowell, was brought to Dublin last week for a serious talk with editor Michael Brophy. Brophy was aghast at the 'agreement 'McDowell was forced to make with the UVF to publish, without criticism, the paramilitary group's view of the Worst [the Sunday World] as well as the group's analysis of the North and even its own activities."

Despite all this, loyalists in Portadown, know that Billy Wright was simply using his complaints against O'Hagan as a device to intimidate any journalist from writing exposes on Wright's growing drugs empire. Martin O'Hagan was not even the first person to use the phrase 'King Rat'. This honour falls to the late RJ Kerr who first described Wright in this way during knock about banter in a bar when nicknames were being apportioned to each new person who came through the door. Of course, once the phrase was picked up by Martin O'Hagan his tabloid instincts went to work.

There is no doubt that O'Hagan loved to stir up controversy and very often employed the yardstick of the most sexually explicit denominator on which to base his many diary type stories. Before any high moral ground is adopted here, however, one must ask where the job offers were from the quality newspapers, or the television industry for possibly the only journalist in Ireland who made it his business not just to write tittle tattle about paramilitaries but also to seriously confront the question of state cooperation with loyalist killers? It will be no surprise to readers, that O'Hagan increasingly regarded the Belfast offices of the Sunday World as a cold house. His discomfort there grew in tandem with his conviction about RUC culpability in the Jihad. Put simply, this courageous controversialist had very few outlets for his stories, some of which were of major importance.
His own former newspaper editor's recent book on drugs gangs contains precious little investigation of the relationship between these gangs and RUC Special Branch despite the fact that this was Martin's area of research and his motif, and that the book is dedicated to Martin's memory. In a further irony, the book praises the work of 'legendary' RUC man Assistant Chief Constable Eric Anderson, describing him as a 'top anti-terror detective'. Martin O'Hagan would have been extremely uncomfortable with this description. Readers may recall that Eric Anderson headed the inadequate investigation into the McLoughlin family's complaint against the RUC with regard to the death of their daughter. According to senior RUC officers, Anderson was also 'task force commander' in the Omagh bomb inquiry which was savaged by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan. Anderson answered directly to Ronnie Flanagan, according to these same police officers. Perhaps more importantly, O'Hagan was well aware of Anderson's key role in the Jihad for which he was eventually rewarded by Sir Ronnie Flanagan with a promotion to the rank of Assistant Chief Constable.

'Dirty war' operatives like Anderson, Flanagan and others bore nothing but great resentment towards Martin O'Hagan as was clear in testimony given at court proceedings which ultimately cleared Sean McPhelimy of allegations of his Committee television film being nothing more than a hoax. Martin O'Hagan's crucial behind the scenes work with Sean McPhelimy in shaping both the Channel Four film and the subsequent writing of the book The Committee was an extremely sore point for both senior Special Branch officers, and for senior loyalists. O'Hagan was the key journalistic source who could corroborate what The Committee's main witness, Jim Sands, was saying.

As is perhaps obvious to some, I take a different approach from Sean McPhelimy's The Committee in terms of identifying the historical context and provenance of the 'dirty war'. My own aim has been, firstly, to connect covert British Army and RUC operations with political events in the 1980s and 1990s. Secondly, I have sought to identify the security force structures which were in place at a given time and their relationship with pro-British paramilitaries. Typically, one need look no further than the Tasking and Coordination Group (TCG) for the biggest clue as to what and who was behind a particular event. Nor do I have the kind of information which leads McPhelimy to identify certain prominent individuals in Northern Ireland as being members of a formal loyalist liason body called 'The Commitee'. That said, I regard The Committee as an extremely important work which was automatically accepted on the ground in Northern Ireland as containing important new evidence. The debate around murders like the mobile shop killings in Craigavon, along with the murder of Sam Marshall have been moved on enormously by what McPhelimy and O'Hagan have revealed. Until very recently, the main body of journalists looking at these issues have avoided the question of there being an overarching political strategy, or indeed any clear historical pattern of cooperation. They have preferred instead to look at individual murders and the 'bad apples' involved which may have occasionally corrupted the security force apple barrel in Northern Ireland. The effect of the William Stobie affair on this debate is referred to in the foreword to this book. After Stobie's controversial court case and his subsequent murder it was far more difficult to argue that the RUC Special Branch was not involved in a murder campaign; that it was not a 'force within a force'.

On this note, I find it ironic that it took a British Commissioner (Chris Patten), who had just handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese, to speak a truth that many journalists and commentators could not bring themselves to utter. This truth was that the RUC was irreformable and had to be effectively broken up and renamed. Individual issues aside, this is precisely the general point which is argued in The Committee and precisely the conclusion reached by Martin O'Hagan. Irish journalists are particularly at fault here because we have allowed the collusion story to be told in the main by English journalists who, whilst having a very keen sense of 'fair play', seem to have no sense of Ireland ever having been occupied by a military power. It is to the eternal credit of the BBC in Belfast that it gave me, and others, the space to explore corruption within the security forces from that anti-colonial perspective. The senior journalists who provided that space cannot by any means be described as radicals but they are extremely principled journalists who recognised the truth in the 'story'. Those journalists are named and praised elsewhere in this book.
For the purposes of the Jihad, however, the most significant element which arises from The Committee is the lengths to which a section of the liberal establishment both in Britain and Ireland was prepared to go to try and discredit the book, its research and its basic thesis. It is also fair to say that a section of the liberal establishment in Britain stood up to defend The Committee and the reputation of its author Sean McPhelimy.

It is for all these reasons that this book should look at what Martin O'Hagan was investigating before he was assassinated. Three stories lay at the heart of O'Hagan's research before his murder by the LVF on the 28th September 2001. All three were guaranteed to incense the late Billy Wright's camp followers in the LVF where Mark 'Swinger' Fulton was now in command. They would also infuriate RUC Special Branch which was anxious that some of its own members were spilling the beans to a member of the press. Given what happened to James Craig and William Stobie once they had been discovered by the secret security services in handing information to the IRA and journalists respectively, the scenario of RUC Special Branch cooperation with Martin O'Hagan's killers cannot be ruled out.
At the start of the book I discussed how members of RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence fed Brian Nelson with information about James Craig when he was found to be disrupting their targeting of republicans. With regard to Stobie, does anyone doubt that he was thrown to Johnny Adair's wolves once he threatened to go public on his role as a Special Branch agent and UDA/UFF quartermaster? There was to be no new life and new identity for William Stobie. The fact that the dogs in the street knew that O'Hagan was being tracked down by LVF members and the fact that this same organisation is riddled with police informers certainly hints at an awareness amongst certain officers that Martin O'Hagan was going to be 'taken out' before he could reveal to the world the fruits of his triple investigation.

The first of Martin's three stories was essentially a tabloid piece about the number of Catholics involved in the LVF. The loyalist who is said to have murdered Martin, whom we can call 'M', was raised as a Catholic and was about to be 'outed' by O'Hagan. One of Billy Wright's closest allies, whom we can call 'K', has now been publicly named as having been baptised as a Catholic. A senior LVF member originally from the Ballymena area, whom we can call T, also has a Catholic background. For most of us there would be nothing controversial in this but in the sectarian bear-pit that is the loyalist paramilitary circle this kind of thing is dynamite. As evidence of this, 'K' had to leave Northern Ireland when his story was revealed in the Sunday newspapers.

Martin's second story looked at how the LVF was set up and then financed. Here the DUP connection and false or 'clean' bank accounts were the most controversial elements. Neither Billy Wright nor 'Swinger' Fulton after him wanted any publicity as to how their money from extortion and drugs was 'cleaned up'. The way the system worked was that Wright had organised a pool of 'clean' front men who were prepared, on foot of a large and tempting commission, to open accounts on behalf of Wright's UVF/LVF gang in mid-Ulster. Some of the cash amounts going in to these accounts are substantial. The bigger the account, the bigger the 10% retainer and the 5% cut for every withdrawal made which had to be done on the basis of full time availability day or night. That is, Wright and others had to be able to withdraw from the accounts at a moment's notice. Martin O'Hagan showed me a list of clean front men who were keeping money for loyalists in mid-Ulster. One of the names was 'K', the loyalist Catholic who had to leave Northern Ireland when his secret history was revealed. On the other hand, one set of names I was able to give Martin was that of a group of loyalists with a strong connection to the Democratic Unionist Party generally and to the DUP's Reverend William McCrea specifically. Some of the individuals within this group are well known UVF/LVF activists who have been involved in possession of weapons, money laundering and counterfeiting.

Martin O'Hagan's third story required a much bigger canvas and, I would argue, a different forum than the Belfast Sunday World which had done so little to fight his journalistic corner during his spats with the UVF. To be fair, O'Hagan had told me that he was writing a book about Robin 'The Jackal' Jackson and it is possible that this third story was to appear as part of the book. This 'book', however, had been mentioned by him so many times that I wondered whether it would ever emerge. It does appear that O'Hagan received important and new information about Billy Wright from at least one senior RUC officer whilst doing research on 'The Jackal'. Martin rang me about a year before his death and not long after the first LVF attempt on his life. He told me that he had evidence that Billy Wright had enjoyed a priviliged relationship with certain members of RUC Special Branch and asked me about the possibility of making a film on this subject.

I was involved in other projects but finally met with Martin in Belfast. Wily journalist that he was, Martin would only give me sight of one name whom I instantly recognised. I did manage to get the other five names out of him after promising him that I would not do anything with the information without his prior approval. Unfortunately, I could do nothing about the story before Martin's death. The six names of RUC Special Branch officers were also eventually presented to me by another source. One name was of a high ranking RUC officer operating in mid-Ulster and the other had already been mentioned to me by loyalists in Portadown as 'knowing a lot'. This second officer was based in Lurgan. I had asked O'Hagan at our meeting whether he knew the code name which RUC Special Branch had given to Billy Wright. At the end of our meeting, Martin whispered this word to me as I walked back to my car. I then committed a cardinal, and very basic, journalistic error by failing to immediately write this important information down in my notes - which is a long, winded way of saying that I promptly forgot what Martin had whispered in my ear. It took me years to retrieve this single piece of information. The code name given to King Rat by the RUC was 'Bertie'.
Martin O'Hagan had told me that these officers had worked with Billy Wright on UVF operations and had 'looked after him' by arranging for his alibi or escape routes after those operations. He went on to say that an RUC Special Branch source had given him Wright's code name and numbers. For this reason, O'Hagan had been reluctant to divulge either the code name or the numbers to me for fear of compromising that source. He did, however, cite the UVF murders of pensioner Roseanne Mallon, the three people at the mobile shop in Craigavon and the large scale attack at Cappagh which left four people dead, including three IRA volunteers, as examples where King Rat was assisted by the covert agencies. There is strong supporting evidence that Billy Wright was receiving assistance in high places.
It is true that there have been claims that Billy Wright was not involved in the Cappagh attack, which took place in March 1991, but this is not the account of other UVF volunteers who were in on the operation and who speak of having to drag Wright into the car because of his frenzy once he had started shooting. Contrary to many media reports, there was no IRA meeting going on at Boyle's bar that day. The three IRA men had simply driven up the street to investigate the noises they were hearing only to be confronted by Billy Wright's gang.
Almost immediately, a 999 emergency call was made from Cappagh yet no road blocks were put in place in a wider area which is saturated with security force installations both covert and overt. Cappagh is in the heartland of Irish republican East Tyrone and is both difficult to gain access to, and to escape from, unless a driver knows the area well. It takes at least 15 minutes, at speed, to drive from the winding roads surrounding Cappagh to the Belfast/Dungannon dual carriageway where a quick getaway can then be made. Anyone who knew Billy Wright would know that he would have been a leading figure in the Cappagh operation which was a huge coup for the UVF in mid-Ulster. The quote below from the English Guardian newspaper gives Billy Wright's crowing version of not only how 'his' UVF units destroyed the IRA in mid-Ulster but also of events at Cappagh.

"I genuinely believe that we were very successful, and that may sound morbid but they know that we hammered them into the ground and we didn't lose one volunteer. Indeed, members of the security forces have said that we done what they couldn't do, we put the East Tyrone brigade of the IRA on the run. It was the East Tyrone brigade which was carrying the war in the whole of the North, including in Belfast. East Tyrone were decimated, the UVF wiped them out and that's not an idle boast.' Asked about the 'military value' of specific operations, Wright said: 'I would look back and say that Cappagh was probably our best' . "

The article which was written a week after Wright's murder quotes the LVF leader as saying that there is 'not a death that I regret'. It also describes Wright as referring to 'his strategy' for the UVF in mid-Ulster. What this otherwise extremely incisive Guardian article does not explain, however, is exactly how King Rat managed to gain alibis for these murders when he is quite clearly accepting responsibility for those same murders in the article. Billy Wright was arrested by the RUC following the attack at Cappagh and, during interrogation, gave an apparently cast iron alibi, which was confirmed by RUC officers, to the effect that he was in the vicinity of Dungannon at the time when the Cappagh attack took place.

This was such a blatant lie and such clear evidence of Wright's relationship with the police that the building resentment within UVF elements in Portadown broke out on to gable walls bearing the legend 'Billy Wright - Tout'. One UVF 'player', who has no public profile whatsoever, began to run checks on Billy Wright's accounts as to where he was arrested and where he was kept after UVF operations including Cappagh. This very experienced and careful UVF hit man asked Wright directly where he had been taken for interrogation after Cappagh and Wright gave an answer which turned out to be false. This UVF volunteer, whom I have previously referred to as 'O', became convinced of two things. One, that Billy Wright was receiving more than the usual help from the security forces in the planning, execution and escape routes used in loyalist murders in the mid-Ulster area. Two, that UVF volunteers and ordnance were being regularly compromised and exposed by Wright in a way that allowed the British secret services to regulate and control UVF activities.

The line in the sand for this concerned UVF man was the mobile shop killings on March 28th 1991 which happened within two weeks of the Cappagh attack and involved the same UVF units. Initially members of The Jackal's unit, from Donaghcloney, County Down, were picked up by the RUC and questioned about the shop killings which had stunned the nationalist part of Ireland at least. These men were held for months and at one stage charges were preferred. 'O' breathed a sigh of relief as the police seemed to have gone down the wrong track. After six months, however, The Jackal's men were released and the 'heat' was back on in Portadown, with 'O'and other people being lifted by the RUC and eventually one of them being charged. Billy Wright, however, was not subject to police scrutiny over the murders of the two teenage girls and Brian Frizzell who unfortunately had chosen the wrong moment to walk across to the shop from his house nearby. 'O' was now advising people within his sphere of UVF operations to keep clear of anything in which Billy Wright was involved.
Alex Kerr was another loyalist who had cause to regret his relationship with Wright because of the LVF leader's close links with the security forces. Kerr, who was in prison when the LVF was formed, was the other loyalist ordered out of Northern Ireland along with Billy Wright in September 1996. Kerr had been regarded as one of the rising stars within the UDA/UFF in Belfast and was possibly not aware of the concerns within mid-Ulster about Billy Wright. He was arrested along with Stephen Lunn, another of Billy Wright's acolytes, during a staged LVF show of strength which was intended for the media.

In the Spring of 1996, Lunn, Kerr and King Rat himself attended the 'occasion' wearing masks and paramilitary uniforms. Quite how the RUC managed to miss the leader of the LVF in its swoop on the trio was never explained but this too became a source of tension. As far as I am aware, Alex Kerr has dropped out of paramilitary activity altogether, although he was pictured with South Belfast UDA/UFF man Jackie McDonald on his release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
One issue I raised with Martin O'Hagan was that reporters have usually treated stories regarding controversial killings by loyalists as either a 'mid-Ulster' story as opposed, say, to a 'Belfast' story. This approach facilitates the impression that there was no overall strategy involved in the relationship between loyalists like Billy Wright, the Special Branch and British military intelligence. An IRA Intelligence Officer once told me that the IRA were keen to take out Billy Wright not just because he was a good operator for the loyalists but also because King Rat was being groomed by the security forces to take over from Robin ('The Jackal') Jackson as the new playmaker in mid-Ulster after Jackson's 'retirement'. As the then commander of the Force Research Unit, Colonel Gordon J. Kerr, has acknowledged, there was a general covert policy (just as with Brian Nelson in Belfast) of encouraging loyalists to target known republicans. Members of the FRU, 14th Intelligence, Special Branch and its armed wing of Mobile Support Units were especially active in the area in which Billy Wright's gang was operating.
FRU operatives have claimed that Brian Nelson was their only loyalist agent but this is hard to believe and, besides, there is no reason to infer from this that the British government's security policy for Northern Ireland was any different in mid-Ulster than that pertaining in Belfast. In fact we have many reasons to believe that it was exactly the same. We have already seen with the exploits of Michael Stone and Brian Nelson that the Jihad's writ did not just hold in Belfast but rather applied right across the 'Protectorate'.
UVF security personnel in Belfast believed that Billy Wright's personal car was fitted with a communications system set up by the security services. Their suspicions were aroused when Wright asked for a sweep of his house, to be carried out by a Belfast UVF team, to check for electronic bugging devices. This they did but they then proceeded to Wright's car to carry out the same operation at which point he became extremely agitated and ordered that the car be left alone. Belfast UVF suspicions were further aroused when the IRA carried out one of their numerous assassination attempts on Wright. On this occasion, a booby trap bomb was left on the handle of Wright's car. Two police officers were very quickly on the scene shortly after the bomb exploded leaving Wright shaken but otherwise unharmed. Both Wright and the police officers then had to take cover as illegally held weapons which were left in the vehicle began to go off in the heat of the explosion. No action was taken against Wright for possession of these weapons.
The way that Martin O'Hagan had put it to me was that Billy Wright was the Brian Nelson of mid-Ulster. UVF volunteers I have spoken to have referred to a constant stream of security force material being handed over to Billy Wright. Some of this material was simply delivered through a pre-arranged letter box at the home of UVF sympathisers who were also members of the security forces.
All this does not, however, mean that Wright was an automaton receiving instructions to kill and then retiring to his installation to wait for the next command. There are numerous examples of Billy Wright taking his own initiatives which did not necessarily suit the wider intelligence game. The murder of taxi driver Michael McGoldrick is a case in point where I have never heard of any evidence of direct security force involvement. Billy Wright was intelligent and charismatic. In fact, he was a born leader who had his own agenda and seemed to believe that he could manipulate British covert agencies just as much as they manipulated him.
The nexus of 'understanding' between a sectarian killer like Wright, the Protestant and pro-British 'Force within a Force' which was RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence revolved around the desire to wipe out the IRA. If Catholic civilians were sometimes caught up in this, well one couldn't make a fenian omelette without breaking eggs. Billy Wright understood the officers of the Jihad perfectly and, from his perspective, there was no reason not to shake the hidden hand. It is my view that the secret agencies which engaged with loyalists became hopelessly compromised (just as with Brian Nelson) by this policy of using Wright in this way.
Billy Wright knew that he had individual members of RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence in a bind. Or, at least, he had them in a bind until the drastic switch in security policy which suddenly made state sponsored assassinations of Irish republicans and Catholics passe. The money, resources and political will within the security establishment were simply no longer going to be there anymore. Billy Wright's ultimate mistake was to carry on his murder campaign when he could have stopped. Even after the cease fires, Billy Wright preferred to believe the exaltations his dwindling band of 'groupies' both within the security forces and outside were continually whispering in his ear. In my last private meeting with him in 1996 the word 'hubris' kept running through my mind.
Of course, there were good reasons for Wright to believe that he could carry on and get away with what he had done so well thus far. The murder in Lurgan of republican Sam Marshall showed that the HMSU units in mid-Ulster were just as willing as their comrades in Belfast to help loyalists in or near Portadown when it suited them. Rosemary Nelson had already alerted me to other killings, many of which I subsequently discovered involved the Rat Pack and some of which bore the hallmarks of RUC Special Branch involvement. I then drew up a list of Rat Pack murders from information I have received from a variety of sources, not least of those sources being Martin O'Hagan. The list is too long to recount here but the timeline stretches from 1991 up to the murder of Martin O'Hagan himself on the 28th of September 2001. This means, of course, that the murders happened both before and after the death of Billy Wright.
One critical aspect of the list is the apparent attempt to target whole families of republicans at their place of abode. In this way, 63 year old Charlie Fox and his wife Tess (53) were murdered at their home in Moy on the 6th of September 1992. The Foxes had seen two of the McKearney family, to whom they were related by marriage, killed by the same gang at the turn of the New Year. The murders also follow a pattern whereby active republicans in the family are threatened by members of the security forces who reveal that personal family details have been passed on to the UVF.
Loyalists, including Billy Wright, have argued the Biblical philosophy of 'an eye for an eye' with me in excusing these murders as the most effective method of terrorising the Catholic population as punishment for its support for the IRA. Loyalists point out that the IRA was, at this time, engaged in bomb attacks like the Teebane massacre on January 17th 1992 where seven Protestant building workers and a driver returning from work on an RUC station were killed outside Cookstown, County Tyrone.
My answer to this sums up the theme of this book. I am dismayed but not surprised when loyalists seek to wipe out a whole family of Catholics. I am, however, both surprised and dismayed when members of the security forces and in particular the most powerful section of those forces in RUC Special Branch have connived in that same desperate purpose. Martin O'Hagan pinpointed one stark example of this with the attempt at mass murder carried out by Billy Wright's men which led to the slaying of 76 year old pensioner Roseanne Mallon on the 8th of May 1994. The Rat Pack had intended to wipe out as many of the Mallon family as possible in this midnight attack.
Roseanne's two nephews Christie and Martin sometimes stayed at the house that was targeted that night. Both brothers have strongly republican backgrounds and have served time in jail on IRA offences. Martin Mallon is perhaps one of the most well known republicans in East Tyrone and has been accused by the security forces in briefings to journalists of having masterminded numerous IRA attacks.
There were a string of incidents in the period leading up to Roseanne Mallon's murder where her two nephews received regular death threats from members of RUC Special Branch and members of the RUC's elite Mobile Support Units. Just a few weeks before the Rat Pack struck at the Mallon household, one of the Mallon brothers was stopped at an HMSU road block and held there until Billy Wright himself appeared at the scene to deliver a personal death threat. Roseanne's nephew was then told that the only thing that could save him from a visit from the Rat Pack was to begin working for the RUC as an informer. The members of RUC Special Branch who made this 'offer he couldn't refuse' then revealed that they knew about his private financial details and offered handsome rewards for becoming a 'tout'.
The actual day of the murder of Roseanne Mallon, the 8th of May 1994, is a significant date in the 'dirty war' calendar as it marks the 7th anniversary one of the IRA's greatest reverses in the recent Troubles. For on the 8th of May 1987, eight IRA men, along with an innocent passer by, were assassinated at Loughgall, County Tyrone by a TCG unit comprising soldiers from SAS and 14th Intelligence and HMSU and Special Branch operatives. Special Branch Commander Ronnie Flanagan was in overall charge of the TCG operation on the ground. Superintendent Ian Phoenix led the HMSU input that day and another 'legendary' Special Branch officer Chief Superintendent Frank Murray drew the intelligence together. We will have cause to look at Frank Murray again in this chapter. On the day of the attack at the Mallon household, one of the Mallon brothers was stopped by a Special Branch officer and told directly that Billy Wright was going to kill him. I know the identity of this officer.
Some readers may be asking why, given so much prior warning, and the day that was in it, the whole Mallon family did not just disappear for a couple of weeks. The answer to that is that both Christie and Martin Mallon had become extremely cautious in their movements in and around the small rural area where the extended Mallon family lives. All the Mallon households group around the central family home where Roseanne was killed. One night, some weeks before the Rat Pack attacked, Christie Mallon was about to drive in to his mother's driveway and was followed part of the way by another car. Christie slammed on the reverse gear forcing the other car to do the same. Christie ran out to the road to find three police officers standing at the car. 'I thought it was the UVF', said Christie. 'Sure we are all the one, Christie', came the policeman's reply.
Tightened personal security was one reason, but there was another reason why the wider Mallon family felt a bit more secure as long as the two boys were either obviously not at home or ensconced very quickly inside the house.
This was to do with the fact that the area was surrounded by a substantial number of soldiers from 14th Intelligence who were dug in around the fields surrounding two houses belonging to the Mallons. They had been there for at least a week and were able to observe the UVF car try one Mallon house on a rise before driving down to the house where Roseanne and her sister (Martin and Christie's mother) watched television. Some days before the murder, at another location nearby, some of the undercover soldiers had been disturbed by children playing.
The British Army's surveillance also involved hi-tech cameras which were trained at Martin Mallon's house and at his mother's house nearby (where Roseanne also lived). If and when this footage is shown in the ongoing court case over the UVF attack, it should reveal that, in amongst the local traffic, Billy Wright drove past the Mallon house on the day before the shooting and possibly also on the day itself. The surveillance cameras had been running for 13 days at this point and had been authorised by Secretary of State Peter Brooke after an operational request made by Chief Superintendent Frank Murray, who was a key player in the Loughgall massacre referred to above.
The Rat Pack arrived at midnight, driving first to Martin Mallon's property and then on at speed past undercover troops to the other Mallon house down below. The killers did two interesting things. Firstly, they stopped their Datsun Stanza car not at the main driveway to the Mallon household but rather at a secondary drive which is lined by a hedge and thus gives better cover from any kind of surveillance that might be going on.
Secondly, they did not go for the easy option of blasting their Czech made assault rifles through a front bedroom window at the bungalow house, even though a light was on. Instead they followed the line of the secondary driveway round the back of the house. This ‘line' brings them to the back and far corner of the house where the maximum spray could be effected not only into the living room but also the kitchen and connecting hall. They had as much knowledge of the layout of the house as Brian Nelson would have had on any of his Belfast operations.
Roseanne Mallon was 76 and suffered from arthritis and could not rise from the sofa quickly enough when her sister called frantically from the adjoining kitchen for her to get up and run. She had received a phone call from her daughter who lives on another rise nearby who could see the men running round the back of the house. In fact, the gunmen passed Mrs. Mallon on the phone in the kitchen but were clearly under strict orders as to their firing position. Long blasts of automatic rifle fire into the living room windows threw the heavy curtains up so that the killers could clearly see the old lady in the chair. Bullet holes and marks remain in the house to this day.
But what of the soldiers and the surveillance cameras? This is how 'Soldier A', in legal depositions, describes the actual moment when the UVF gunmen began firing at Roseanne Mallon.

"At 23.50 on 8th of May 1994 we heard a burst of automatic gunfire in the area. We reported this fact to our operations room. We were instructed by our operations room not to react to the situation and that the RUC would deal with the situation."

There is one safe conclusion to be drawn from the above evidence and that is that this time consuming and expensive covert TCG operation was not in place to protect anyone in the Mallon household. The RUC have done the opposite of 'dealing with' Roseanne Mallon's killers who talked quite openly about their different roles in the murder. Billy Wright was the organiser of the attack and two young understudies, whom we can call 'E' and 'Me', carried out the actual shooting. All these people were in police custody not long after the murder but were soon released without charge. According to Martin O'Hagan, Billy Wright's alibi as to his whereabouts that night was supported by a member of RUC Special Branch.
This, if true, is bad enough but it is also necessary to look at the wider security agenda at work here which involves the Tasking and Coordination Group or 'TCG'. The soldiers from 14th Intelligence who were secreted in dug outs along with their cameras could not have been placed there without the primary involvement of senior members of RUC Special Branch. This decision would have been made at the level of TCG where all top grade intelligence coming from individual active surveillance units is reviewed and then acted upon, or not as the case may be. In the case of the murder of Roseanne Mallon there seems to be evidence that the TCG system has been used to effect the passage and exit of a UVF gang into a remote nationalist area.
The RUC is now in dispute as to how valuable the surveillance footage might be, or might have been, given that some of it has gone missing. Chief Superintendent Frank Murray of Special Branch advised the investigating officers from CID that there was nothing of worth on the tapes. Frank Murray was the first recipient of evidence collated from the tapes rather than investigating officers from CID. Indeed senior CID officers were not even told about the existence of the surveillance footage until the Mallon family inadvertently discovered it. Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at that time, signed the order for the use of the tapes without necessarily knowing precisely why they were being used. What was his reaction to Roseanne Mallon's murder?
Loyalists have given me the names of all the UVF people involved in the murder of Roseanne Mallon which was planned by Billy Wright and, according to Martin O'Hagan and other sources, prompted by members of RUC Special Branch who believed the Mallon brothers to have carried out certain IRA operations in mid-Ulster. It is my belief that members of RUC Special Branch wished to wipe out the Mallon family before the imminent IRA ceasefire in August of that year and that they enlisted Billy Wright's assistance so to do using the cover and protection of a British Army surveillance operation.
Martin O'Hagan was preparing this story, apparently with inside police information, when he was killed. O'Hagan was, however, choosing a bad time to be carrying out more investigations into the RUC and Billy Wright's outfit. RUC Special Branch was reacting extremely badly, not only to the coming and enforced changes in policing but also to the mounting revelations about its relationship with loyalist gangs.

At the same time, a new anti-peace process nexus was now emerging involving some of those disgruntled RUC men, military personnel and the new paramilitary group started by Billy Wright which was moving ever closer to Johnny Adair's Belfast operation. It was this constituency which opposed the peace process and gave backing to groups like the LVF.
One of the key lessons from the circumstances of Martin O'Hagan's murder is that influential people continued to support the Jihad and opposed the democratic peace process long after the first military cessations of 1994. Readers may recall that whistle blower and RUC man Detective Sergeant Johnston 'Jonty' Brown was threatened by members of RUC Special Branch when he made it clear he was going to reveal evidence about the cover-up over the murder of Pat Finucane. These officers told him that they would 'set him up' for assassination by the LVF. Political backing for this new force (the LVF) was provided by members of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party. The cheering within this cabal at the news of Martin O'Hagan's murder could be heard in Dublin. It is time to look at where exactly the DUP fits into the Jihad.
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Title: Death of a Journalist
Date posted: 20 Dec '06 - 17:22
Filed under: General
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