Thatcher cited need to protect ‘her boys’ in rejecting shoot-to-kill inquiry

Former British attorney general was prepared ‘to send the police into 10 Downing Street’ over alleged cover-up

Former Alliance Party leader John Alderdice: he was struck by the “many untruths and simple errors” in Margaret Thatcher’s arguments.

Margaret Thatcher’s chief legal adviser was prepared “to send the police into 10 Downing Street” over an alleged shoot-to-kill policy by Northern Ireland’s police during the 1980s, newly-declassified files reveal.

Questioned about a suspected cover-up involving “MI5 and people within the cabinet” , Thatcher said she had to look after “her boys over there”, according to documents released under the 30-year-rule.

Former attorney general Michael Havers told an Irish diplomat in London in February 1988 that a controversial decision not to prosecute anyone in the RUC over a number of killings was wrong.

“Havers said that the more he looks at what is happening, the more he believes that [his successor Patrick] Mayhew should have gone for prosecution and ‘damn the consequences’,” Richard Ryan of the Irish Embassy reported back to Dublin.

“He [Havers] was last year prepared to send the police into 10 Downing Street on a point of law, and his position then, determination to implement the law, was accepted by Mrs Thatcher [although he was in no doubt that she did not like it].

“Mayhew was, in his view, ‘not in any way bound to take the course he did’.”

Havers was replaced as attorney general by Mayhew in June 1987. In January 1988, Mayhew cited “national security” as he announced that 11 RUC officers named in the Stalker/Sampson shoot-to-kill investigation would not be prosecuted.

In a private discussion after the announcement, Havers told the diplomat “there was enough on the file to warrant prosecutions up to superintendent or chief superintendent level in the RUC, but [chief constable John] Hermon himself was not involved.

Perversion of justice

He said if he was still attorney general “he could not have taken the same decisions as those announced by Patrick Mayhew. He could certainly not go along with the suppression of prosecutions in the case of perversion of justice. He was very strong on that point.”

The British government has always denied any shoot-to-kill policy.

Former police chief John Stalker was asked to investigate RUC shootings of six people but was removed from the inquiry shortly before it was due to report in 1986. The inquiry was taken over by another English police chief Colin Sampson. Its findings were never made public.

Thatcher was “visibly angered” when questioned in February 1988 about the suspected cover-up.

Alliance Party leader John Alderdice, who had met with the prime minister just days beforehand, told her the decision not to prosecute over shoot-to-kill was “absolutely wrong”, he told a diplomat.

Her response was “curt” and she “harangued him” saying the “decision was taken for national security reasons and that she would not ask the attorney general to change his mind”.

Then secretary of state Tom King looked on “extremely discomfited” when Alderdice suggested the RUC were being scapegoated.

“[Thatcher] demanded that he tell her who in the RUC told him this,” the diplomat reported.“Was it, she asked, Chief Constable Hermon?”

Alderdice denied it was anyone in particular, and both Thatcher and King were “at pains” to put across the “problem was confined to the RUC”.

“Alderdice told me that he had very good information from people close to the RUC leadership that the people whom Mayhew was seeking to shelter were the MI5 and people within the cabinet who had agreed MI5’s involvement in the operations in Northern Ireland,” the diplomat wrote.

‘Simple errors’
Thatcher interjected during their meeting to say that “she would always have to consider the lives of her ‘boys over there’.”Alderdice took this to mean MI5, according to the files.

They show he was struck by the “many untruths and simple errors” in Thatcher’s arguments.

“Secretary of state King had to intervene on a number of occasions to correct her when Alderdice drew attention to the inaccuracies… the latter could only conclude that she had a very poor grasp of the current situation in Northern Ireland.”

King was “somewhat embarrassed” afterwards.

With many thanks to: The Irish Times for the original story

UVF ‘had secret talks with IRA which discussed federal Ireland’

Today sees the release of hundreds of previously secret government files in Belfast and Dublin. From confidential discussions about paramilitary killings and the 1994 ceasefires, to cross-border and transatlantic diplomatic rows, they shed light on key events during the Troubles and emerging peace process. Reports by political historian Dr Éamon Phoenix and the Press Association

The UVF held held secret talks with the IRA 30 years ago which discussed the prospect of a federal Ireland, declassified state papers reveal

THE UVF was involved in secret talks with the IRA which discussed the prospect of a federal Ireland, newly-released state papers have claimed.

According to a document marked “Secret” in 1988, the meetings were facilitated by Fr John Murphy, a chaplain in the Maze prison.

The memo, written to the Taoiseach’s office and among hundreds of government files released in Dublin and Belfast today, said the priest was anxious to keep the meetings confidential and listed the three main enemies of the talks as “the NIO (Northern Ireland Office), the RUC and the DUP”.

“Fr Murphy was frankly surprised at the speed with which events had moved and was particularly surprised at the signs of apparent flexibility being shown by the UVF in this exercise where they demonstrated a willingness to at least talk about a wide range of possible future arrangements for Ireland, not excluding concepts like a federal Ireland,” wrote Brendan Mahon of the Anglo Irish Division.

Maze Prison. Picture by Brendan Murphy

He said Fr Murphy’s understanding of the concept of a federal Ireland was “based on the four provinces including a nine-county Ulster with a separate province-type arrangement for Dublin similar to the District of Columbia in the US”.

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Federalism is a process by which a central and regional government share power, which indicates Dublin would have a say in a Stormont government.

The papers did not specify whether the UK would have a continued role.

“John Murphy has now informed me on a highly-confidential basis that these talks have now moved outside of the confines of the prison and that the army council of the IRA and the leadership of UVF have now agreed to separate talks with the chaplains outside of the prison,” Mr Mahon wrote.

With many thanks to: The Irish News for the original story

Kelly’s role highlighted in PIRA’s ‘great escape’

STATE PAPERS Belfast and Dublin

THE mass escape of 38 PIRA prisoners from the Maze Prison, near Belfast on September 25 1983 in which a prison warder was stabbed to death, is detailed in previously confidential files. Like many files in this year’s releases, that relating to the prison escape is partially closed to 2069.


The official report claims that Gerry Kelly (Old Baily bomber), one of the PIRA escapees and now a Shame Fein MLA, shot a prison guard in the head. Confidential reports prepared for the Secretary of State Jim Priors shed new light on the event and the role of a British military guard at the prison. In a report on the events of that dramatic Sunday, penned the following day, W J Kerr, director of prison operations in the North of Ireland, described how at 16.45 hours he was informed of ‘an incident at the Maze’. He immediately proceeded to the prison where he ‘was informed that H7 Block had been taken over by armed prisoners who had hijacked the kitchen lorry and had proceeded to the main gate.’ There follows a diary of the events on that Sunday. The day began normally with prisoners unlocked for breakfast and exercise. At 11.15 Fr Rooney, the Catholic chaplain, celebrated Mass in the H Block with 54 prisoners in attendence. Dinner was served at 12.15 hours after which all prisoners were returned to their cells. Suddenly at 14.45 hours prisoners in H Block 7 overpowered staff on duty and took control of the block. Various weapons were used including guns.

The prisoners commandeered the prison meals delivery van and 38 prisoners forced the prison officer driver to drive the van from the block through segment gates one and eight to the prison main gate. The escapees then overpowered the staff on duty at the gate and, although eventually the alam was raised, they managed to get out of the prison proper. The prisoners at this point disappeared and fled in different directions.’ Among the prisoners in H7 were Gerry Kelly, aged 30, (the present Shame Fein MLA for North Belfast) and Brendan ‘Bic’ McFarlane who had been a spokesman for the hunger strikers during the 1981 Hunger Strike. Kelly had been convicted at Winchester in 1973, along with Marian Price/Mc Glincy and Dolours Price (The Price Sisters) and Hugh Feeney, for setting off car bombs in London. In all he had made four previous escape attempts. McFarlane (then 31), described in the file as ‘a PIRA leader deeply involved in the organisation’ was sentenced to five life terms for the 1975 bombing of the Bayardo Bar on the Shankill Road in which five people died. The sequence of events at the prison began when prisoner Mead overpowered a senior officer while ‘Prisoner Storey entered the principal officer’s office carrying a gun and pointed it at the senior officer’s head.’ Storey then took charge, “forcing the officer to answer the telephone in a normal manner”. Meanwhile, other officers were being overpowered and tied up throughout the H Block. “Officer Leak was in the toilet when he heard two shots. He left [to see] Prisoner 58  [Gerry Kelly] pointing a pistol into the control room. “Kelly turned the gun on Leak and forced him into the officers’ tea room. Leak was tied up and hooded. Kerr added at this point: “This would establish that prisoner Kelly shot officer Adams who was on duty in the control. It is not clear if the control grille was locked before Mr Adams was shot.” As the IRA inmates gradually seized control of the wings they approached the inner gates where ‘Bic’ McFarlane told the prison guard that he had been “sent to clean the sentry box”. The officer was then overpowered  by armed prisoners. Meanwhile, officer McLaughlin was on duty as kitchen van driver and at 15.25 hours had passed through the lock gates of H Block to deliver afternoon tea. “As officer McLaughlin started to unload the meal from the van, prisoner Storey put a gun to his head and forced him into the medical inspection room.

“Whilst there he was threatened by prisoner [Gerry] Kelly who told him to do as he was told or he would be ‘blown away’.” McLaughlin was then forced to drive the van from the block to the main gate through the inner gates. According to the report the van proceeded through the first gate unchallenged to a parking lot where most of the uniformed prisoners ddisembarked. At the main gates they seized the controls and got outside. However, Kerr stressed, the staff in the Tally Lodge “resisted strongly and in the ensuing affray one officer was stabbed and died shortly afterwards. “By this time the alarm had been raised and two officers sitting in their cars outside the gate drove into the area, blocking the exit.” In the resulting melee 10 escapees were captured including a man called Murray who was wounded by an army sentry in a watch-tower. At the time of the report on 26 September, 21 inmates remained “unlawfully at large”. In his conclusion, Kerr highlighted a number of aspects of the PIRA escape which gave him concern. In particular, the fact that the inmates were in possession of firearms suggested that they and their supporters outside were able to breach the security measures at the Maze. He was particularly alarmed at the ease with which prisoners were able to gain access to the secure entrance into the blocks and the main gates. He also questioned how the escaping prisoners were allowed to drive a hijacked vehicle through two inner gates without being challenged and why five officers in H Block 7 were permitted to be off their posts at the same time. Claims by the DUP leader, Ian Paisley that the military guard had failed to open fire prompted a memo to the secretary of state from an NIO official, P W J Buxton on September 28 1983 on the reaction of the soldiers who formed a 150-strong prison guard. He reported that in the watchtower on the main gate had shot an escaper whom he had just seen shot a prison officer. The position of a soldier shooting escapers was quite clear, Buxton noted; ‘the Yellow Card’ applied. Thus, unless the escaper is presenting a direct threat to life, or has just killed or injured someone and there was no other way of arresting, he is not authorised to shoot.

With many thanks to: Eamon Phoenix, The Irish News.

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