Chronicle Review: Who Killed Jean McConville?

Who Killed Jean McConville?
By Beth McMurtrie
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Chronicle Review – Chronicle of Higher Education

Among the many atrocities committed during the 30-year Northern Irish conflict known as the Troubles, the story of the McConville family is uniquely tragic.

In December 1972, gunmen dragged a widowed mother of 10 from her apartment in front of her children. She was never seen again. Shunned by neighbors, who believed Jean McConville had been an informer for the British Army, the children survived on their own for weeks, eating stolen biscuits and moldy bread. Then they were separated and sent away. Their mother’s body was discovered decades later, on a desolate beach in Ireland. She had been shot in the back of the head, the fate of those tagged as informers by the Irish Republican Army.

In 2011 a police investigation into the murder led the authorities to Boston College. They demanded confidential tape recordings that the college’s Belfast Project had collected from people with knowledge of her death.

But will those tapes, now in the hands of the police, lead to arrests? Not many close to the case think so, including members of the McConville family.

Michael McConville, who was 11 when his mother was taken away, has little faith in the investigators, who he notes had decades to pursue his mother’s killers. “They failed the McConville family in every way,” he says.

In 2006 the police were the subject of a scathing ombudsman’s report, which found a systematic failure to investigate the abduction in the 1970s and 1980s. The IRA admitted, in 1999, to her murder. The report also found no evidence that she was an informer. “She was an innocent woman,” the report concluded, “who was abducted and murdered.” (The family plans to file a civil suit against the police.)

The police renewed their investigation in 2004, says Mr. McConville. A detective told him they’d sort it out in a couple of months. After two years of silence, he got a call telling him only that another detective was taking over the case, which had been handed off to the Historical Enquiries Team, newly created to pursue unsolved murders during the Troubles.

The police contacted the McConvilles again after learning of the oral-history project at Boston College and said they were going after the tapes. The family has heard little since then. (The Police Services of Northern Ireland declined an interview request from The Chronicle.)

Mr. McConville finds the focus on the tapes strange. The police never tried to question Dolours Price, an IRA member who admitted to participating in the abduction, yet they went after her interviews. Further, he says, his mother’s abduction isn’t as much of a mystery as people outside of Belfast might think. It’s a small community; people talk. He even saw the faces of some of those involved that night. But naming names results in threats and retaliation, so people keep quiet.

“It leads nowhere,” he says of the police process.

A compact man with pale blue eyes, Mr. McConville has the deeply serious demeanor of someone who has learned to hope for little and trust even less. He has managed to build a life for himself, including a family of his own, but some of his siblings have found it hard to do so.

After the McConville children were taken into custody by a social-welfare agency, the younger ones were dispersed to different state-run homes and often subjected to harsh treatment. Released at the age of 16, Michael McConville and his siblings struggled to find their place in society.

“No one had any sympathy whatsoever,” he recalls. The McConville name made them the target of slurs and got them kicked off job sites. “We were just treated like scum.”

In Voices From the Grave, a book that came out of the Belfast Project, Brendan Hughes, a former IRA commander, said a transmitter had been found in the McConville apartment, proving that Jean McConville was an informer for the British Army. That is not true, her son says. He met with IRA members after the book was published, he says, and they said they did not know where those stories were coming from.

Michael McConville, who was 11 when his mother disappeared: “I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t know who’s telling the truth.”

But in this secretive place, where information is guarded, sectarian mistrust thrives, and special disdain is reserved for those in authority, it may be hard to ever find out who killed Jean McConville.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t know who’s telling the truth,” says her son.

The Boston College case brought attention to Jean McConville’s story. A recent BBC documentary, The Disappeared, enlarged the spotlight to include more than a dozen other people similarly abducted and killed. Mr. McConville says he has found support from a grass-roots organization, called WAVE, that helps people affected by the Troubles.

In an interview in one of the hotels that have sprung up in Belfast’s revitalized business district, Mr. McConville makes clear that he has little regard for the Boston College project that led to the subpoena. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he says of those interviewed, whose tapes can be released only after their death. “You can’t question them because they’re dead.”

Now there’s talk in the highest political circles of abandoning the pursuit of old crimes and granting amnesty in cases like his mother’s, so that Northern Ireland can move beyond its past.

As for the McConvilles, he says they will continue to speak out. Not to seek arrests, but to eliminate the stigma that has dogged them for decades. “I’ll keep going,” he says, “until my mother’s name is cleared.”

McConvilles to mount civil case in bid for justice

McConvilles to mount civil case in bid for justice
Adams could be forced to give evidence after benefactor backs murdered widow’s family
Sunday Independent
04 AUGUST 2013

THE family of murdered widow and mother-of-10 Jean McConville has received an offer of financial assistance to mount a civil legal action, which they hope could lead to Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams being forced to give evidence in court.

The family has not decided on what form of action to take. But they could follow the civil case taken by relatives of the 1998 Omagh bomb victims against five suspects, four of whom were found by the High Court in Belfast to have been involved in the atrocity that killed 29 people, including Avril Monaghan, 30, who was pregnant with twins.

Mrs McConville’s daughter Helen McKendry and her husband, Seamus, have confirmed they have an offer of assistance from a wealthy benefactor who wishes to keep his identity secret.

“He is very generous and concerned to see the truth about what happened to Jean and the family brought out,” Mr McKendry told the Sunday Independent.

The couple has already contacted the Omagh families who brought the civil action against dissident republican figures deemed in the action to have been responsible.

“We are currently seeking legal representation,” Mr McKendry said.

A similar case to the McConville murder would be likely to see the tapes of interviews with former Provisional IRA figures brought into play.

Currently, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has possession of one set of tapes of an interview with former IRA woman Dolours Price in which she named Gerry Adams as the local IRA commander who gave the order for Mrs McConville’s murder and secret burial in December 1972. Price, who suffered from depression, took his own life in January

Mr Adams, who denies any involvement in Mrs McConville’s murder, was also named by another former IRA man, Brendan Hughes, as being the commander of the Belfast unit that abducted the mother-of-10 from her home in the Divis Flats complex.

Hughes, who died in February 2008, also claimed in a taped interview to researchers from Boston College that Mr Adams gave the order for her secret burial.

The PSNI is currently seeking tapes from six other former IRA members referring to the murder of Mrs McConville as part of a historic case review. These are expected to be handed over in coming weeks.

If the PSNI and Northern Ireland’s Prosecution Service decides there are insufficient grounds to mount a criminal case, the Boston College files could become part of a civil action where the grounds of “probability” rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal law apply.

Gerry Adams has consistently denied that he was even a member of the IRA at any time and also that he had any part in Mrs McConville’s murder. A number of women were in the gang, including the then head of the women’s IRA on the Falls Road, Madge McConville, no relation of the victim.

Madge McConville died in July 2009 and was described as a “republican icon” in an obituary in the Sinn Fein weekly paper, An Phoblacht. It was well known in the lower Falls area that she was involved in the abduction of Mrs McConville after she was seen to give assistance to a British soldier who was injured near her front door.

At the time, the IRA had set up units in Belfast to attack anyone who was seen as sympathetic to the police or British Army. Dozens of women were abducted and beaten up and several young women had their heads shaved, were tied to lampposts and had black paint and feathers poured over them.

The claims of Mr Adams’ involvement have been raised on a number occasions in the Dail.

Last month, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said there would be a “clarion call” for clarification if such an accusation was made against any other TD.

Mr Adams replied that he had “consistently rejected claims that I had any knowledge of, or any part in, the abduction or killing of Jean McConville”.

Weeks before her abduction, Mrs McConville, 38, was brutally beaten up by a gang of local IRA men and women because of her perceived sympathies to British soldiers. A decision was then made to murder her as an example to others to avoid contact with soldiers or police. Local sources said the decision to murder her was taken because she was a Protestant who had married a Catholic.

She was driven to north Co Louth and taken to Templetown beach where she was brought to a shallow grave, shot and buried. Her children, including a baby, were left abandoned and went without food as local people were too afraid to help them. They were eventually taken into care by social services and placed in separate orphanages and foster homes.

Mrs McConville’s body was discovered by accident on Templetown beach by a family in August 2003 when part of the sand dune she was buried in eroded.

The inquest into her death found she had been killed by a single gunshot to the back of her head, probably fired downwards indicating she was made to kneel at her graveside before being murdered.

Further Reading


PSNI confirm securing Boston College tapes on Jean McConville’s murder

PSNI confirm securing Boston College tapes on Jean McConville’s murder
by Gemma Murray
News Letter
Published on the 07 July 2013

THE PSNI have confirmed that transcripts of interviews relating to the murder of IRA victim Jean McConville, carried out as part of a project at Boston College, are being handed over.

The PSNI had been attempting to obtain the transcripts of tapes recorded with IRA member Dolours Price, who died in January.

The transcripts are understood to contain information about the death and disappearance of the Belfast mother-of-10.

In a statement the PSNI said: “Two detectives from Serious Crime Branch have travelled to Boston to take possession of materials authorised by the United States appeal court as part of their investigation into the murder of Jean McConville.

The west Belfast mother was among dozens of people – later known as the Disappeared – who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by republican militants during the Troubles.

The officers will return to Northern Ireland to assess the material and continue with their inquiries.”

The transcripts were made as part of Boston College’s ‘Belfast Project’, which was designed to be an oral history of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

Project director, Ed Moloney, and his researcher, Anthony McIntyre, had resisted attempts by the PSNI to obtain the transcripts, and had hoped that the US Supreme Court would overturn a Boston Federal Court decision to hand the tapes over.

Ms Price was an unrepentant republican hard-liner who became a bitter critic of Sinn Fein when the party endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and encouraged the IRA to give up its weapons.

She clashed with party leader Gerry Adams in recent years over her allegations that he had been her IRA Officer Commanding during the early 1970s.

The 62-year-old consistently claimed that Mr Adams, now a Louth TD, had ordered the kidnap and killing of Mrs McConville in 1972.

Mr Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA.

She said she had made the claims in an interview with the American university academics who have compiled an oral history on Northern Ireland’s 40-year conflict.

The recordings were started in 2001 and were made on the condition that confidentiality would be guaranteed until after the death of the republican and loyalist paramilitaries who took part.

Price, the former wife of actor Stephen Rea, was convicted and jailed along with her sister Marian for the 1973 attack on London’s Old Bailey courts in which one man died and more than 200 people were injured.

She spent eight years in jail including several weeks on hunger strike before being released in 1980.

Revealed: Secret murder tapes that ‘name’ Gerry Adams over IRA execution of mother accused of passing information to British

Revealed: Secret murder tapes that ‘name’ Gerry Adams over IRA execution of mother accused of passing information to British

  • Adams is accused of ordering execution of mother-of-ten Jean McConville
  • IRA woman who drove Mrs McConville to her death recorded a confession
  • The tape had languished for ten years in a Boston College library
  • It has now been handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland

Daily Mail
PUBLISHED: 21:10 GMT, 6 July 2013

The night of December 7, 1972, is forever branded on Michael McConville’s memory.

That night a gang of masked IRA terrorists smashed down the door of his family’s West Belfast home and dragged out his mother Jean, as several of her ten children clutched at her skirts and screamed.

It was the last time Michael, then 11, was to see his mother alive.

Horror: The remains of IRA murder victim Jean McConville are recovered from an area near the Templetown beach in County Louth in 2003

Now, at last, the McConville children are on the verge of hearing – from beyond the grave – the confession of the IRA woman who drove their mother to her death.

Yesterday, 11 clandestine tapes recorded by Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, which have languished for ten years in the archives of the Burns Library in Boston College in the US, were handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

They include an admission from Dolores Price, one of the IRA’s most infamous terrorists, that she ferried Michael’s 37-year-old mother to the Irish Republic where she was tortured, tied up and shot in the head.

And she asserts it was Gerry Adams who sanctioned the murder.

Adams, who now sits in the Republic of Ireland’s parliament, has always strenuously denied belonging to the IRA and any involvement in terrorist murders.

But Michael McConville, now 51, believes the tapes’ shocking contents could lead to fresh arrests – among them that of Adams.

Price’s damning revelation is corroborated in another tape, made by Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes, the terror-hardened deputy commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade.

He, too, insists it was Adams who signed the Catholic Belfast housewife’s death warrant. Yet Adams claims credit for shaping the 1996 peace agreement that ended Ulster’s Troubles after he swapped the ArmaLite for the ballot box.

Price and Hughes, now both dead, agreed to make the tapes with Irish academics on the strict proviso they remain locked away while they lived. Price’s death in January this year freed the Boston College from its obligation to keep them secret.

The release of the tapes has been at the centre of a bitter legal wrangle. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a self-confessed former IRA commander, and US Secretary of State John Kerry have waged a high-profile battle to have them suppressed on the grounds that they could derail Ulster’s fragile peace process.

For Michael and his siblings, their hope is that the recordings may at last lead to their mother’s executioners being brought to justice.

‘If Price mentions Gerry Adams in the tapes, that he was in some way involved and if it can be proved, he should be tried,’ Michael says. ‘At the very least I’d like to see him stand in court and answer the accusations.

‘You can’t turn around and say it is right to kill someone the way they did, especially a mother, no matter what your beliefs are.’

Michael’s mother, Jean, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when she married husband Archie, had moved to the staunchly Republican Divis Flats in the Lower Falls area after being intimidated out of a Loyalist area.

When the IRA eventually confessed to abducting and killing her, they claimed it was because she was a ‘tout’ who was passing information to the British Army.

The McConville family has always insisted that their mother’s only involvement with the Army was that she once gave succour to an injured squaddie.

Michael has yet to hear the tapes. But shortly before she died Delores Price chillingly told me of her role in the murder of his mother – one of 17 IRA victims known as the Disappeared. She told me that her memoir, including her role driving away the Disappeared, was recorded in the Boston Project – as the collection of tapes are known.

Price, who led the IRA terror squad that bombed the Old Bailey in 1973, admitted she drove Mrs McConville to Dundalk in the Irish Republic.

She confessed she was a member of a select unit of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, codenamed the Unknowns, whose mission was to take those believed to have betrayed Republicans for interrogation.

For those found guilty by the Republican kangaroo courts, the only sentence was death. ‘I never knew for sure their ultimate end, I was simply told by Gerry Adams to take the people away,’

Price admitted. ‘Some, I knew their fate, some I didn’t. I took seven in all. My job was to hand them over to others. I don’t even remember some of their names.

‘I drove Jean McConville away. She was a very, very unpleasant woman. I know I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead and I don’t think she deserved to die. I didn’t know she was a mother.

‘I had a call one night and Adams was in a house down the Falls Road. McConville had been snatched and held for several days.

‘It was part of my job to take them across the border to hand them over. She got into my car and as far as she was concerned she was being taken to a place of safety by the Legion of Mary [a Catholic charity].

‘She went on and on about “them f****** Provies, they wouldn’t have the balls to shoot me. F*** them”. I was saying to myself “please don’t say any more”. But she went on and on, she convicted herself out of her own mouth.

‘It wasn’t my decision to “disappear” her, thank God. All I had to do was drive her. I even got her fish and chips and cigarettes before I left her.’

Price refused to enlarge on why Adams ordered Mrs McConville’s execution, but commented: ‘You don’t deserve to die if you are an unpleasant person, as she was, but you do deserve to die if you are an informer. Particularly in a war. That is the Republican way.’

For the McConville children, their mother’s death blighted their lives for ever. Today a fragmented family, they rarely meet or discuss the trauma of her being taken.

Michael remembers his older brother Archie, then 16, followed the terrorists dragging his mother onto the street, begging: ‘Can I go with my Mammy?’ One of the gunmen took him aside, put his pistol to the teenager’s temple and told him to ‘f*** off’.

He added: ‘Not long after she was taken, a local IRA man knocked on the door and handed Mum’s purse and wedding ring to my sister.

I knew then she hadn’t just been murdered but executed. We found out she had been taken to a beach, had her hands tied, was knocked to the ground beside what would be her own grave and shot in the head.’

The Provisional IRA immediately imposed a menacing omerta among the West Belfast community. To talk of Jean McConville’s fate was to invite a visit from a death squad.’

When, 30 years after her abduction, the IRA admitted they had killed Mrs McConville, exhaustive searches found no body. Then, in August 2003, walkers stumbled upon her remains buried on Shelling Hill beach, Dundalk.

Now, for Michael McConville and his family, justice is at last in sight.

Boston College, The AP & James Rosen Cases And The Wikileaks Connection

Boston College, The AP & James Rosen Cases And The Wikileaks Connection
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow
May 21, 2013

From the outset of the affair over the Boston College archives one aspect of the business has puzzled me and that was the apparent failure or refusal of the Obama Department of Justice (DoJ) to realise that the PSNI subpoeanas had the potential to cause big problems for one of the US’ few positive foreign policy successes in recent years (as opposed to negative successes like winning a war in Iraq at the cost of alienating and angering half the world).

It is, I would submit, undeniable that the peace process in Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement that it produced were in large measure the result of direct US involvement in Northern Ireland, firstly by the Clinton White House which broke the ice by giving Gerry Adams a visa to visit New York and then by the Bush administration, whose ambassador to the process, Mitchel Reiss arguably forced Adams and the Provos to complete IRA decommissioning, thus paving the way for the power-sharing, DUP-Sinn Fein government that currently sits at Stormont. Without these efforts it is very questionable that the process could have succeeded.

So why was the Obama DoJ, the Attorney-General, Eric Holder and the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts so uncritically bent on going down a road that a few moments of due diligence would have revealed was littered with political tank traps that could quite readily destroy or seriously harm a project that American diplomats and politician were justifiably proud of, a project that set a positive example elsewhere in the troubled world that America polices?

After all we have all known since at least 2002 that any serious probe of the disappearance of Jean McConville would lead back to Gerry Adams, the principal architect and instigator of the IRA’s journey out of war but also the man, according to Brendan Hughes, who gave the order to disappear the alleged British Army spy. A threat to Adams, the Kim Il Sung of the Provos, is by extension a threat to the process. And to those who would say that the British would never countenance such a move I ask: well then why have they persisted with the subpoenas?

And it has also been evident since 2010 that if the British finally do shrink from prosecuting Adams, which is of course very possible, then there are others in the wings all too ready to take on the task. One of those is ex-Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter, the PSNI’s former liaison with those nice fellows in MI5, who publicly called for Adams’ prosecution for war crimes in 2010 and failing that endorsed Helen McKendry’s threat to sue Adams in a civil court for her mother’s murder and secret burial.

Indeed there are reasons to suspect Baxter’s hidden hand at work somewhere in this whole business and that a civil action was always the real if hidden goal of the action. He was the senior detective in the failed Omagh bomb trials which ended when the families, frustrated at the failure of criminal prosecutions, successfully took a civil case against the chief suspects. Is it beyond the bounds of credence that this subpoena effort had its genesis in his Omagh experience and the knowledge that if criminal proceedings fail or never materialise there is the alternative of a civil action against Adams, a person whom Baxter makes no secret of loathing?

Baxter knows that in a civil case the standard of proof is much less rigorous than for criminal trials: ‘on the balance of probabilities’ as opposed to ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’, a very telling advantage in a case that would be reliant almost entirely on peoples’ ancient recollections. And he knows that in all the important ways, for instance evidence would be presented in court by police witnesses, the proceedings would differ from a criminal prosecution only in the punishment available to the court. And if you don’t believe that, go ask O J Simpson.

Assuming the DoJ did its due diligence – and I am not assuming that it did – all this would have been quickly apparent to Eric Holder’s people but notwithstanding the risk that Obama’s White House could be remembered, at least in Ireland, for undoing all the good that Clinton and Bush did, it perservered. And not just perservered but pursued the case relentlessly even when opportunities to retire gracefully presented themselves (as with the death of Dolours Price).

One possible explanation of why the Obama administration has acted so evidently against US’ foreign policy interests by pursuing the BC tapes has emerged in the last fortnight or so with the chilling stories of the DoJ’s pursuit of the American news media for doing its job, i.e. unearthing government secrets and telling the public.

First there was the revelation that the DoJ had secretly acquired the work, home and cell phone records of some twenty journalists at the Associated Press in an effort to trace the leaker of a story that the government was planning to make public anyway, that it had, with the help of an agent, sabotaged a plot by Al Qaeda in Yemen to bomb a US-bound aircraft.

The government complained that the story endangered the life of its agent but it was going to do that itself by boasting about its achievement, something that automatically would have alerted Al Qaeda to the possible presence of a traitor in its ranks. (Ask the IRA: whenever a plot is interdicted in such a way the automatic assumption is that it was betrayed internally)

Then in the last day or so we have learned that in 2010 the same DoJ used a search warrant to acquire the email and phone records of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen in pursuit of a leaker who told him….now hold your breath….that North Korea might respond to new UN sanctions with more nuclear tests. Now even I, whose knowledge of North Korea is confined to writing stories about some dodgy bank notes that circulated in Ireland a while back by people not a mile away from the current leadership of the Irish Labour Party, could have written that story but nonetheless the brave folk in DoJ pursued Mr Rosen undaunted.

The worst aspect of the story however is that in order, it seems, to avoid a court challenge to the search warrant the DoJ accused Rosen of being a co-conspirator of the leaker and had aided and abetted the alleged breach of security. What Rosen did is what every journalist does, or, if they have any sense of self-worth, what they should do, which is to encourage holders of secrets to let them go.

The Obama DoJ’s action effectively threatens to criminalise the media in an unprecedented way. Obama had already, pre-Rosen, chalked up the worst record since Richard Nixon of pursuing journalists who had gotten hold of government secrets and leakers who provided them. But arguably Obama is worse. With Nixon you got what you expected and at least in his case he was fighting for his own survival. Obama, he of “Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes, We can”, was supposed to be different but now the hypocrisy (or is it cowardice, as in the act of a Black President seeking to assure the White establishment of his trustworthiness?) is breaking through, becoming visible even to his most zealous supporters.

The action against Rosen unquestionably pushes Obama ahead of Nixon in the creepy president stakes but it also sets the stage in a very convenient way for the prosecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, if or when he is extradited from Sweden, via the UK, to the US. Assuming Bradley Manning is convicted of the spying charges he faces then Assange could, like Rosen, be accused of aiding and abetting Manning’s treachery. That compelling case is outlined here.

Which brings me back to the Boston College case. I am not arguing that it is on the same level as Wikileaks or the AP and Rosen cases but it does strike me that a DoJ in hot pursuit of Wikileaks, that is determined to bring Assange to his knees and, with threats and intimidation, to plug for evermore leaks from government – and in the process is ready to alienate what is normally a tame, well-behaved media and outrage both left and right – is more likely than not to take a very uncompromising line in any legal action it is involved in which undermines the ability of non-government agencies, like Boston College, to claim the right of confidentiality. Even more so if the foreign government behind the action is one the US is dependent on to send Assange to Sweden and thus to a federal court.

And if all that implies a willingness to do damage to something like the Irish peace process then so be it. As the man said “Yes, We Can”.

Warning over Boston tapes; Testimonies could be used to destabilise peace process: McGuinness

Warning over Boston tapes; Testimonies could be used to destabilise peace process: McGuinness
25 August 2012
Belfast Telegraph

DEPUTY First Minister Martin McGuinness has warned that the release of taped terrorist testimonies from Boston College could be used to destabilise the peace process.

His warning came as it emerged that the tapes may be used in a civil action to sue Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and other senior republicans after the police are finished with them.

Mr McGuinness spoke on Wednesday on PBS NewsHour, a leading public service current affairs show which is screened nationwide in the US. He said:

“Anybody reading the news reports in the United States here would be very concerned about how that situation is being used by elements who are not favourably disposed to the peace process in order to use that situation in order to destabilise the progress that we have made.”

Up until now senior republicans have brushed off the Boston College issue in the belief that the tapes could not be used to mount a prosecution.

However, it has now emerged that, even if the tapes do not provide the proof beyond reasonable doubt required in a criminal case, they could be used in a civil action where proof is only on the balance of probabilities.

That is what happened in the case of the 1998 Omagh bombing.

In June 2009, some of the families of the 29 dead won a £1.6m civil action against four suspects who had not been convicted.

They did so using police evidence which was subpoenaed by their lawyers. Norman Baxter, a former RUC and PSNI Chief Superintendent who investigated the Omagh bombing, said the same thing was likely to happen again.

“Before the information can be used in a civil action the opportunities for criminal prosecution must be exhausted.”

Further Reading


Getting Gerry Adams: Norman Baxter’s Long Crusade

Getting Gerry Adams: Norman Baxter’s Long Crusade
FEBRUARY 13, 2012

Norman Baxter may find policing in Kabul these days more congenial than policing in Belfast. The former RUC and PSNI Detective Chief Superintendant is one of a number of senior Northern Ireland police officers who have decided that the new, reformed force is not for them, have taken redundancy and signed up with a private firm of “security consultants” with a contract from the Pentagon to help train the new Afghan police force.

Since leaving the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2008, Baxter has spoken and written of his anger and frustration at changes which have seemed to him to belittle the sacrifices of Royal Ulster Constabulary in the long fight against the IRA and at policies brought in under the peace process which he believes now hamper the force in its continuing fight against terrorism. A year and a half ago, Baxter joined New Century, founded and led by Belfast-born Tim Collins, a commander in the Royal Irish Rangers who became a star of the British tabloid press in 2003 for a stirring speech he is said to have delivered to troops in Kuwait on the eve of their advance into Iraq. (The only record comes from an embedded Daily Mail reporter who claims that she took verbatim notes of the desert oration.)

The inclusion in New Century of a contingent of former NI police officers, as well as British soldiers with experience in covert operations in the North, indicates that Collins’ involvement in Iraq and now in Afghanistan hasn’t occluded his interest in affairs back home. Writing in the Daily Mail a few days after the Real IRA gun attack in Co. Antrim in 2009 which left two soldiers dead, he declared: “The emasculation of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary, once the world’s most effective anti-terrorist force, is largely to blame for this shambles…In its new guise as the PSNI, the force is so riddled with political correctness that many good old-fashioned coppers…have simply been sidelined. Nowadays, these old RUC professionals who haven’t been driven out work for MI5 as collators or clerks but take no part in operations. This is a disgrace.”

Collins’ rationale for throwing the doors of New Century open to those in the RUC/PSNI who hankered after the old days and the old ways is easily understandable. He will have anticipated that the techniques and experience which the RUC and British security services developed over 30 years combating the Provos and other paramilitary groups will have equipped them with the special skills needed to mentor Afghans training to fight the Taliban once Nato forces have left.

Baxter, a high-ranking officer who had become chief liaison officer between the police and MI5 in the North, will have been a natural. He has been joined in the upper echelons of New Century by a cluster of colleagues, including Mark Cochrane, former RUC officer in charge of covert training; David Sterritt, a 29-year RUC/PSNI veteran and specialist in recruitment and assessment of agents; Joe Napolitano, 25 years in the RUC/PSNI, retiring as a Detective Inspector running intelligence-led policing operations; Raymond Sheehan, 29 years a Special Branch agent handler; Leslie Woods, 27 years in the RUC/PSNI, with extensive Special Branch handling the selection, assessment and training of officers for covert intelligence-led operations. And many others.

Experience in the North is the single most common factor among recruits to senior positions with New Century.

New Century’s presence in Afghanistan and the involvement of veterans of the Irish conflict briefly surfaced in the mainstream British media last June when a former RUC man working for the company was killed in action in Helmand. Ex-RUC officer Ken McGonigle, 51, a father of four from Derry, died in an exchange of fire with two escaped Taliban prisoners.

Baxter had been a relatively well-known policing figure in the North for some years, regularly interviewed to provide a police view on security matters. His most prominent role had been to head the investigation of the Omagh bombing in August 1998, the most bloody attack of the Troubles. It is widely accepted now that the Omagh investigation was botched to an embarrassing degree – although there is no agreement on where blame lies. Baxter is not alone in believing that political considerations and the protection of security service “assets” North and South were major factors in the failure to bring the case to a conclusion

After leaving the PSNI in 2008, he was able to speak out with less restraint. He took a particular interest in the alleged involvement of senior Sinn Fein figures in IRA activities in the past.

The fact that the policing changes had been specifically designed to coax Sinn Fein into acceptance of the Northern State and thereby into a share of Executive power did nothing to sooth the disgruntlement of police officers resentful of reform. Baxter’s particular animus against Gerry Adams came through in a column in the Belfast Newsletter on March 30 2010, in which he urged the PSNI to launch a new investigation into the Sinn Fein leader’s alleged role in the 1972 abduction and killing of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 whose “disappeared” body was finally located on a beach in Co. Louth in 2003. He appears to have been the first figure of any note – certainly the first with a media presence and extensive police connections – to call publicly for action to subpoena video tapes held by Boston College, Massachusetts, in which two ex-IRA members claim that Adams, as a senior IRA commander in Belfast, had ordered the killing of Mrs. McConville and others of the “disappeared”.

Baxter’s intervention came within 24 hours of the publication on March 29 of “Voices From The Grave ”, the book by Ed Maloney based on interviews with senior IRA figure Brendan Hughes and UVF leader and Progressive Unionist Party politician David Ervine. Both men had recently died, allowing Maloney to publish the material: he had given assurances that none of it would be used while they were alive. The same assurance had been given to more than 20 other former paramilitaries, most of them ex-IRA, who had been interviewed by Maloney and his researcher Anthony McIntyre – himself a former IRA prisoner – and the tapes lodged with Boston College.

In the book, Hughes, once a close personal friend and paramilitary comrade of Adams, told that the man who was now an internationally respected figure had orchestrated the abduction and killing of Mrs. McConville.

“Although Brendan Hughes is now dead,” wrote Baxter in the Newsletter, “his evidence, which was recorded, may provide evidence which could lead the police to build a case for criminal proceedings.” His intense personal feelings were evident in his description of a recent appearance by Adams in a Channel 4 religious programme as “sickening” and in a suggestion that Mrs. McConville may have heard herself condemned “from the lips of a demon of death”.

The level of hatred – it is not too strong a word – of Baxter and many of his colleagues at the new status of individuals they had striven to extirpate from Northern Ireland society was unconcealed. “Sinn Fein and the IRA have a record of human rights abuse that would equal some Nazi units in the Second World War, and yet they currently wear the duplicitous clothes of human rights defenders with such ease.”

The pursuit of Adams and others will be seen by Baxter and his colleagues as unfinished business.

Baxter will have been well aware that a taped record of a conversation with a man who had since died is no basis for charging a senior political figure – or anyone – with murder. In the Newsletter, he urged Mrs. McConville’s family to try instead, or as well, to bring civil proceedings – where the standard of proof is less daunting than in a criminal case. Referring to Mrs. McConville’s daughter, he made a public appeal: “Helen McKendry should not be left in isolation to seek justice for her mother through civil proceedings. Civic society and democratic politicians should come together in a campaign to financially and morally support the McConville family.”

His bitter experience heading the Omagh investigation might have put the option of civil proceedings in Baxter’s mind. He had come to believe that shadowy forces had contrived to thwart his efforts.

At Omagh library in February 2006, Sam Kinkaid, the most senior detective in the North, told a meeting of relatives of the victims that MI5 had known months in advance that a bomb attack was planned for either Omagh or Derry, that one of those involved was an Omagh man whose name was known and that the bombers would use a Vauxhall Cavalier. MI5 passed this information to the gardai in the South, he went on – but not to the PSNI in the North. Baxter was seated alongside Kinkaid as he spoke, nodding vigorously. Kinkaid resigned from the PSNI the following morning.

Meanwhile, the Garda Special Branch had been running an informer who supplied information about a series of planned cross-border bomb raids by the Real IRA. Gardai decided to let a number of bombs through so as not to compromise the identity of the informer. Police in the North were not told about this. So there were no special security measures in place in or around Omagh when the bomb in a Vauxhall Cavalier was parked in Market Street on August 15, 1998.

Even after the explosion, with 29 people dead, none of this information was passed to Baxter’s investigation either.

The only person eventually charged with the Omagh atrocity was Sean Hoey, an electrician from south Armagh. He was acquitted in November 2009. The trial judge, Mr. Justice Weir, then launched a scathing attack on the investigation, accusing the police of “a slapdash approach” and condemning two named officers for “reprehensible” behaviour.

Remarkably, however, none of the relatives of the victims interviewed afterwards blamed Baxter or the men under him. Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son James had perished in the blast, placed the blame much higher: “It is the appalling inefficiency of (Chief Constable) Sir Ronnie Flanagan that has meant that Chief Superintendant Baxter has not been able to secure a conviction”.

Many of the families were at one with Baxter in believing that the investigation had systematically been stymied by senior figures in policing and politics who had reason to be nervous about the full facts emerging and whose political agenda may have taken precedence over the safety of citizens and the pursuit of the perpetrators.

A number of families took Baxter’s advice and initiated a civil case for compensation against four men they believed had been involved in the bombing. In 2009, the four were found to have been responsible. Two were cleared on appeal. But the families were able to express some frugal satisfaction that at least they’d seen somebody held publicly accountable for the devastation which had befallen them.

It is hardly fanciful to trace Baxter’s loud advocacy of civil proceedings against Adams back to the Omagh experience which had confirmed his belief that “the world’s most effective anti-terrorist force” had been prevented from winning its war against the IRA by the machinations of people with no stomach for the fight. Getting Adams now, whether by civil or criminal proceedings, was a part of getting even.

It was against this background that the British authorities launched legal action to recover the Boston tapes. The suggestion came from the Historical Enquiries Team, established in 2006 to re-examine more than 3,000 unsolved cases of Troubles-related murder. The 100-strong team included Mike Wilkins, head of the Special Branch in Warwickshire in England until seconded to the HET in 2006. He had become HET chief investigations officer by the time he left in September 2010 – to join Baxter as training coordinator for the Afghan project. This was six months after Baxter’s call in the Newsletter for a new police investigation into the McConville case. The interconnections between these events have, inevitably, provided fodder for fevered speculation in Republican circles and on blogs and websites over recent months.

To the dismay of Maloney and McIntyre, Boston College decided not to contest a lower-court order to hand the tapes over. The archive is now in the custody of the court while Maloney and McIntyre continue legal action to try to prevent the material being passed on to the PSNI. It is a matter of speculation what the implication will be for Adams and others who have left paramilitarism behind if the tapes are handed over.

As he looks back on more than 30 frustrating years policing in the North, even as he assumes his new and more wide-ranging – and enormously more lucrative, one imagines – role in the global war on terror, Baxter may take grim satisfaction from the fact that he has some of his old enemies still in his sights. He may be cheered, too, by the thought that he won’t be confronted by the same defeatist attitudes and dark maneuvers in the freewheeling fight in Afghanistan as he faced in the constrained circumstances of Northern Ireland, that this time the good guys will get to win. Of course, he could be wrong about that.

Further Reading

Security services making a killing from the Troubles

Security services making a killing from the Troubles
By Eamonn McCann
Belfast Telegraph
Friday, 27 January 2012

From the dusty wastelands of Afghanistan to Desertcreat in Co Tyrone, the G-men keep the memory of the B-men alive. The B Specials provided a sizeable percentage of the first recruits to RUC Special Branch. Now the FBI is sending its own recruits over here to learn from the Branch’s experience.

The first wave of G-men and G-women anxious to access local expertise gained in the battle against terrorism is expected to arrive at the £140m emergency services college near Cookstown in spring 2015.

“We have a real product to sell here,” said PSNI deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie last month. Facilities on the 250-acre Desertcreat site will be “world class”, she promised. “The FBI and other international law-enforcement agencies are interested in using the facilities for anti-terrorism and public order training”.

Counter-terrorism lore from the fight against the IRA and other paramilitary organisations will be passed on to FBI operatives in state-of-the-art surroundings, including a mock-up prison where conflict between staff and inmates can be re-enacted and a street complex where US law-enforcers can draw on Northern Ireland experience to practice and perfect their crowd control tactics.

What the paranoid schizophrenic cross-dressing closet queen J Edgar Hoover would have made of it all we can but guess. Irish subversives were by no means top of his target list during 48 years as FBI director. The Reds, the Mob and uppity blacks took priority.

But files released four years after his death, in 1976, contained 2,871 pages recording warrantless wiretapping, electronic eavesdropping and so forth directed against suspected IRA fundraisers and gunrunners. Some local veterans sharing their knowledge of conflict at Desertcreat seminars may find the students well ahead of them.

Experience in subverting republican and loyalist paramilitaries is also proving a valuable commodity elsewhere in the war against miscreants trying to subvert the new world order.

Charismatic Iraq war rhetorician Tim Collins’ New Century group last year won a $45m (£29m) Pentagon contract to train the Afghan army and police how to “find and cultivate informants among the Taliban”.

The Intelligence Online website reports that “most of the instructors are not US, but Northern Irish, former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which for many years was in the frontline of Britain’s combat with the IRA.”

The biography for Collins issued by New Century refers only in passing to his Iraq involvement, highlighting instead his experience as “operations officer of 22 SAS and subsequently commander of the Royal Irish Regiment in east Tyrone (Northern Ireland) . . . has worked closely with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch . . . assumed command of 1R[oyal] Irish in Jan[uary] 2001, where he led the battalion on operations again in Northern Ireland, for which he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service.”

Three years ago, Collins wrote in the Daily Mail that, “the PSNI . . . is so riddled with political correctness that many good, old-fashioned coppers – who were expert in terrorism and the communities they worked in – have simply been sidelined.”

He will have had in mind such old-fashioned coppers as retired chief superintendant Norman Baxter, formerly chief liaison officer between Special Branch and MI5, now New Century’s director of doctrine, standards, audit and training.

Mark Cochrane, consultant programme manager (training and compliance) served for 28 years in the RUC/PSNI.

“For over 20 years, he was employed in counter-terrorism duties . . . was the officer in charge of covert police training within the PSNI.”

Human resources manager Steve Smith is a former commando who has “served on eight operational tours in Northern Ireland in support of the RUC/PSNI in areas as diverse as south Armagh and west Belfast”.

New Century’s training co-ordinator in Afghanistan is Mike Wilkins who, from September 2006 to September 2010, was based in Belfast as senior investigating officer with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

The company’s roster of political advisers is headed by Nancy Soderberg, her intelligence credentials apparently established during her stint as Bill Clinton’s point-woman on the north.

The $45m success of New Century shows what a tradable commodity experience gained in the fight against the IRA and other paramilitaries has become.

Now DCC Gillespie is bringing it all back home and making it available, at competitive rates no doubt, to the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies worldwide.

The two main parties, which together have spearheaded the drive for the Desertcreat facility, will be chuffed at how favourable the auguries now seem.

Gives the lie to begrudgers who claim that the struggle wasn’t worth it and brought nothing worthwhile.

See also:


Boston tapes ‘give hope to victims’

Boston tapes ‘give hope to victims’
News Letter
Published on Sunday 15 January 2012

TERRORISTS who confessed their membership of illegal organisations and their crimes to Boston College researchers may have unwittingly led to the solving of their own crimes.

The man who headed the investigation into the Omagh Bomb, former detective chief superintendent Norman Baxter, said that any confessions on the Boston College tapes would be admissible in court if the PSNI can win a court battle to gain custody of several recordings.

The PSNI is known to have requested several tapes, including those relating to the abduction and murder of west Belfast mother Jean McConville.

But Mr Baxter told the News Letter that the police and the Government had a duty to press for every recording to be handed over if they are serious about solving Troubles atrocities.

And the senior officer, who retired in 2008, said that politicians should be pressing the police to get the whole archive and see whether they can re-investigate scores of Troubles murders.

In a searing article for the News Letter in 2010 in which he compared some IRA crimes to some of those by Nazi units, Mr Baxter called on the chief constable to urgently appoint a senior detective to conduct a proper investigation into the murder of Mrs McConville.

Speaking last night, he said: “Access to the Boston papers is absolutely vital in the process to establish the truth concerning the murders of so many victims in the Northern Ireland Troubles.

“The PSNI are to be commended for commencing the legal process to gain access to this material.

“Justice for the victims demands that every possible action is taken by the authorities to collect information and intelligence on the criminals who perpetrated some of the worst crimes known to humanity.

“The Boston interviews would provide the reasonable grounds to arrest these terrorists for the crimes they have confessed to on tape; and indeed, subject to the rules of evidence, could form the basis of criminal charges against those who have confessed.

“The Boston project should therefore lead to the arrest and potential charging of scores of terrorists and help bring closure to the families of the victims of loyalist and republican terror.

“Politicians should encourage the PSNI to seek possession of all the recordings and statements to help seek justice and truth for the families of the victims.”

Mr Baxter also called on those who had collected the confessions to cooperate fully with the police in solving murders.

He added: “Justice is for all and the law should be applied to everyone including journalists, academics and researchers.

“Everyone who is aware that an arrestable offence has been committed and has information on that crime has a legal obligation to pass this information expeditiously to the police.”

Journalists Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, two of those involved in the project, have said that they will not cooperate with any criminal investigation emerging from the tapes.

On Wednesday the News Letter reported their fears that the PSNI’s success in the court action – which to their fury Boston College has declined to appeal – will now stop any paramilitary from telling the truth of what happened during the Troubles.

Both men have now initiated their own legal action in an attempt to keep the tapes secret and a hearing at the end of this month is expected to decide the case.

Mr McIntyre, a former IRA man who is now a trenchant critic of Sinn Fein, conducted the republican interviews.

He said: “No one would have been interested in giving frank interviews unless there were stringent guarantees and I would never have been involved without those guarantees.”

Mr McIntyre said that the relationship between those who conducted the interviews and Boston College had now broken down and accused the Jesuit-founded university of “putting the institution ahead of the interviewees”.

He and Mr Moloney have now called for the destruction of the archive – something which would destroy what may be some of the most historically significant artefacts relating to the Troubles.

Mr Moloney has suggested that the British Government is not keen to win the court battle and would like it to “go away”.

And he called for an amnesty for past terrorists – something which unionists have made clear they would oppose – in an attempt to help people talk openly about what happened in past decades.

The New York-based journalist and author said: “It is one thing pursuing people who are continuing to oppose the process but there is a distinction between them and those who said they were ending this with a compromise that a lot of their people didn’t like but they were going to do it and the assumption – and practice – was until recently that there would be no retribution.

“But that’s not happening, according to this.

“If this goes forward, anyone in the PSNI who is capable of reading a book or a newspaper is going to realise that this will involve in some way the leadership of organisations like the Provisionals who were the architects of the peace process.”

Last week, the family of Mrs McConville made clear that they want to see the police do all within their power – including accessing the tapes – to bring her killers to justice.

See also:


It is victims of the IRA who need to be hugged

It is victims of the IRA who need to be hugged
News Letter
Published on Thursday 15 September 2011

The Rev David Latimer was used by Sinn Fein to assist republicans rewrite history, writes NORMAN BAXTER. The ex-RUC man says that instead of being praised, IRA leaders should be facing war crimes charges

I WOULD strongly defend the right of the Rev David Latimer to address the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last weekend.

It was his right to free expression — a right that was secured by the deaths of 301 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and 711 British service men and women. Over 1,000 members of the security forces murdered by an unrepentant Sinn Fein/IRA organisation; which the Rev Latimer so warmly embraced.

In his address the Rev Latimer degraded the sacrifice of the innocent victims of the IRA campaign to the level of the evil terrorists who murdered them. His message was the theology of terrorism — society is guilty of wrongdoing, therefore terrorism was justified.

The inaction of society in dealing with historical grievances warranted a response of violent terrorism. I am sure Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams could feel the ‘angelic halos’ float above their heads.

Unfortunately for republicans this message was delusional and contrary to the teaching of the scriptures — repentance precedes forgiveness. The Rev Latimer seems to have forgotten this very basic tenet of the Christian faith.

Rather he eulogised a member of one of the most ruthless terrorist groups the Western world has witnessed. There was no call for IRA members to repent and seek forgiveness.

A quick review of the historical record of the troubles in Northern Ireland would have conveyed to the Rev Latimer the nature of the leadership given by Martin McGuinness. For example, evidence to the Saville Inquiry indicating that he was in possession of weapons in Londonderry prior to violence breaking out. Lord Saville found that he had probably been armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun.

A trip to Claudy to visit the relatives of the young and old, Catholic and Protestant, who died in the 1972 IRA bombings, when McGuinness was a leading figure in the IRA, would provide heart wrenching testimony.

If the Rev Latimer needs someone to hug, then he should visit the family of Frank Hegarty. Martin McGuinness gave Rose Hegarty his word that her son would be safe if he returned home. He became another statistic — abducted, tortured and murdered. It is the victims of paramilitary violence who should receive encouragement and adoration for enduring pain and suffering, not those who encouraged destruction.

The fall of Gaddafi and the emergence of a new regime in Libya may herald a new opportunity to gain evidence to directly link the IRA with Libyan state-sponsored terrorism. Gaddafi claimed that every IRA bomb was a Libyan bomb. As agents of Libya, the IRA leadership could be brought to The Hague to answer their crimes.

Those who led and directed the IRA should be pursued under the Rome Treaty and brought to the International Court, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. What weight would the Rev Latimer’s words have in this arena?

The invitation to the Rev Latimer to attend the Ard Fheis is a subtle attempt by Sinn Fein to rewrite history and present themselves as a moderate, all-embracing political party. The Rev Latimer has been manoeuvred into a place where his witness as a Christian minister has been compromised. Regrettably he has added pain and suffering to the victims of IRA violence.

Norman Baxter is a retired RUC and PSNI chief superintendent who now works as a security consultant

See also: