Branch spy at heart of rebel UDA
'Beyond Conflict' top man in hiding after he admits to infiltrating Kirkham group on behalf of anti-terror cops
Published 11/11/2007 | 14:51
This is the top UDA man who was last night in hiding after outing himself as a Special Branch agent.
Terrified Jon McDowell — Tommy Kirkham's right-hand man in south east Antrim — broke his silence on the eve of Remembrance Sunday to make his shock admission.
The former soldier — code- named 'Lee Michaels' — has fled his Carrickfergus home over fears he will become the next "Denis Donaldson" — the ex-Provo who was shot dead at a remote cottage in Donegal after he admitted working as an informer.
In an extraordinary inter- view with the Sunday Life, the former Beyond Conflict spokesman tells how he:
¿ Saved two men from loy- alist hit-squads.
¿ Tipped off cops about arms dumps, drugs caches, senior figures and loyalist fundraising efforts.
¿ Received cash during his three years as an informer.
¿ Was forced to join the UDA.
¿ Was suspected by Kirkham's cronies of leaking sensitive stories.
Said the 28-year-old: "My life has been in turmoil for the last three years and I just couldn't go on living in a world of constant fear. I had to get this off my chest. This has nothing to do with any- one but me.
"I admit I was also giving stories to the media, but I wasn't the only one.
"I was being thrown to the wolves and it was better for me now to tell the real story.
"The main reason I started working for Special Branch was because the UDA gave me a vicious beating and forced me to join the organisation. They did this to hundreds of young men.
"I was always looking over my shoulder because I was providing information to my handlers on a whole range of matters and individuals. Whatever I was picking up I was passing it on.
"I would meet my handlers at all sorts of secret locations. We were on first name terms, but I often wondered if they were telling me their real names.
"They were very profession- al and they weren't like the old Special Branch. I was pleased to be making a differ- ence by serving my country in a different form.
"I may have sometimes passed on information that other people knew about to keep the heat off me, but I was still always looking over my shoulder."
He added: "I admit that I received payments for infor- mation, but it was nowhere on the same scale as the cash given to people such as Mark Haddock.
"I've also no doubt that I wasn't the only high-level in- former in south east Antrim in the last three years. The vast majority of them were at it.
"I stand over my decision to work for the Branch, but I'm no traitor. I was loyal to the crown by trying to get people off the streets who were only interested in crime and greed.
"I lost a lovely girl over the UDA and I just want to get back to being the person I was before I became involved in this murky world.
"I take great satisfaction from the fact I help saved lives and disrupted the activi- ties of people who had no in- terest in loyalism. I will now have to start a new chapter in my life."
The ex-soldier, who served in Belfast and Germany, was beaten up by a UDA gang in 2001 after he was overheard in a social club questioning the terror group's role in a peaceful society.
After spending a week in hospital, he was then ordered to attend a meeting where he was told he was being recruit- ed into the paramilitary or- ganisation.
But the self-confessed agent fled to England to join the Army, where he served for three years before returning to Northern Ireland to be with his girlfriend.
After spending a few months avoiding the UDA, the terror group eventually caught up with him, ordering him to re-join the organisa- tion.
It was at this time the Co Antrim man claims he went to Newtownabbey police sta- tion to make a statement about the beating he had re- ceived three years earlier.
But during the meeting he was given the opportunity to work for Special Branch and after a month of briefings, his undercover work started on a full-time basis.