Two of Northern Ireland’s best known Troubles-era police agents are taking test cases against MI5 for allegedly failing in its duty of care to them.
Martin McGartland and Raymond Gilmour, former undercover agents within the IRA, are living under false identities in different parts of England.
They claim to have been left high and dry despite severe health problems as a result of their work and lavish promises of life-time care from their former intelligence bosses.
Both suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and sometimes wake up screaming or in a cold sweat, after nightmares that the IRA has tracked them down.
Mr Gilmour has struggled to control a drink and gambling habit.
He is being assisted by his local Tory MP in taking a case under the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) a body which examines complaints against the intelligence services.
“My MP spoke to Owen Paterson when he was Secretary of State and he advised that this was the best way to proceed,” he said.
He added: “I was promised a pension for life, now I have nothing and I am even being denied confidential medical treatment. I have to get treated on the NHS and avoid telling the psychiatrist what I am so worried about. He draws inferences but I can’t level with him.”
Mr McGartland has taken a different route. He has had his case taken up by a well-known firm of English solicitors and a barrister who have asked not to be named at this stage.
They have served letters of claim on the Home Office, the department responsible for MI5, through the Treasury Solicitors.
“We are pleading breach of the common law duty of care, breach of contract and examining employment law and other options with counsel,” his legal representative said.
“Mr McGartland is seriously injured as a result of the gun attack in Whitley Bay and has not recovered fully. He also suffers mental trauma. We have initiated a claim on his behalf for personal injuries arising from the Home Office’s failure to provide medical treatment after he was shot,” he added.
He went on “my client can’t access the NHS for the obvious reasons that he would have to explain his assumed name and his gunshot wounds. The Security Service initially gave him private treatment but later cut it off and as a result he has terrible pain. His psychological injury has also been made permanent by the lack of treatment.”
The lawyer is also initiating a claim on behalf of Mr McGartland’s partner Jo, who moved with him when he was shot by mystery assailants in Whitley Bay in 1999.
“She used to manage a hair-dressing salon but had to give that up to become his full-time carer.
“She can’t use her qualifications because they are all in a different name,” he said.
The solicitor said he and the barrister had reviewed “an explosive tape” in which an MI5 officer allegedly threatened Mr McGartland.
“It sounded like a bluff Yorkshire man and what he said was extremely damaging if played in court.”
Last November, MI5 reviewed Mr McGartland’s case, accepted that he could neither work nor claim benefits and offered him two monthly payments. One was of £350 a month to help with rehabilitation and the other of £660 to substitute for lost benefits.
The first payment was stopped after two months on the allegation that he had spoken to the Belfast Telegraph.
“It is unreasonable to try to gag someone like this. If he was injured in the army or police he would have a service pension and that should be the case now,” his lawyer said.
Those who risk it all have rights when the game is over
By Liam Clarke
Secret agents who live in the shadows are often condemned as traitors by those who fought more openly. They have sewn suspicion and hatred in every underground conspiracy from the IRA to the Mafia to al-Qaida.
Yet every state, every police force and every army needs the inside information they provide and should be prepared to pick up the often hefty bill when the game is over.
Both Martin McGartland and Raymond Gilmour have struggled in their individual ways to cope with life after working as M15 assets.
All these years later, both men still sometimes wake up screaming or in a cold sweat after nightmares of the past have caught up with them.
The cases initiated by Mr Gilmour and Mr McGartland could have serious repercussions now and in the future.
They could help define the rights for security and intelligence agents not only in Northern Ireland but in other arenas, such as the fight against Islamic terrorism in Britain.
It is only right that those who go out on a limb for the authorities — losing their friends, family and even their names — should be looked after when things go wrong.
That is why it is so disturbing that the Security Service — people who enjoy a lifetime of security on gilt-edged pensions and benefits — threatens agents and attaches strings to any payment that is made.
Mr McGartland was told that
he would be cut off after one payment for talking to the Press without authorisation, a reference to the Belfast Telegraph.
He was shown forms to sign which would have gagged him for life and given the state the right to claim damages against him if he revealed anything new about his life story.
This is outrageous but we don’t just have his word for it. He has a threatening and disturbing tape and other agents have received the same treatment.
Willie Carlin, who infiltrated Sinn Fein in Derry on behalf of MI5 and was sometimes handled by the British Army’s Force Research Unit — who is making no legal claim and has no financial interest — suffered the same harsh treatment.
“They asked me to sign confidentiality forms but I told them to f*** off before the question of money arose,” he said.
“They wanted to talk to me about the Official Secrets Act and a new document that people were going to sign that would protect them. They said if I signed they would treat me ‘in kind’. They were particularly interested in anything I didn’t tell my solicitor about (Martin) McGuinness and the Saville Inquiry but I had nothing to add,” he said.
They told him that systems of rolling pick-ups of agents for debriefing have remained in use. That may be true but they have also been published and depicted in movies.
Something else that may not have changed is the treatment of agents when they have outlived their usefulness.
Payments do not last, those who can adjust may be able to use a modest lump sum to start a new life but others fail and are treated as a nuisance to be silenced and ignored when they get in trouble.
Raymond Gilmour was told by his handlers that he was like a plain clothes RUC officer, but he got no police pension when his cover was blown.
In England he applied for jobs and found that his new identity would not stand up to scrutiny. The school he attended didn’t exist. When he asked to join an English police force they laughed at him and even private security firms ran a mile.
When Martin McGartland was caught speeding in Newcastle the court acquitted him on the grounds that he thought he was escaping a following vehicle. But the case exposed his double identity and within months he was gunned down getting into his car.
Many agents lose their families but Willie Carlin brought his wife and children to his new life with him.
“They gave us all these new documents and our names were changed by deed poll but the only thing they can’t do is produce birth certificates and I think that is a problem for them,” he said.
He added: “They can produce baptism lines but not birth certificates. So when I tried to get a passport for my daughter there was nothing in her new name.”
All this can lead to people being compromised and, even if nothing happens, the risk of exposure increases the strain of having a secret past for which the penalty could be death.
Raymond Gilmour is from the Creggan estate in Londonderry. He was recruited as an RUC Special Branch agent there in his early teens.
This sort of recruitment would now be illegal without parental consent.
In 1976 his handler, who wrote an account of his life under the pen name Alan |Barker, steered him into the INLA.
When he had compromised that organisation he was told to move on to the IRA which he succeeded in joining in 1980.
In 1982 the IRA were suspicious of him and his cover was blown when police used his information to recover an M60 machine gun.
He then became a supergrass witness in the biggest criminal trial in UK or Irish history.
More than 100 alleged republicans were charged on his word but, after two years, his evidence was dismissed by Lord Lowry, the Chief Justice. Mr Gilmour was then resettled in England under a new name.
Martin Mc Gartland
Martin Mc Gartland, from Moyard in west Belfast, infiltrated the IRA between 1987 and 1991.
Like Mr Gilmour, Mr McGartland was never a republican before being recruited and says he would never have joined the IRA of his own volition.
IRA career ended when he was captured by an IRA interrogation squad after being asked to attend a meeting in Sinn Fein Connolly House headquarters. He escaped by jumping out a third storey bathroom window.
After he was treated for his injuries MI5 gave him a new name, Martin Ashe, and he was resettled in Whitley Bay.
In 1999 he was shot six times by mystery assailants — presumed to be republicans with a grudge against him for his role in Belfast.
He now lives under a fresh identity in another part of the UK. He believes there was a police cover up of his abduction and subsequent shooting to protect other agents.
He has written two autobiographical books and a film — Fifty Dead Men Walking — which is loosely based on them gives a fictionalised account of his life.