Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Special Branch Files: Bordering on the farcical!

In the final part of our explosive series The Special Branch files, journalist and author Greg Harkin reveals how a bizarre IRA interrogation involving three double-agents led to the jailing of a Sinn Fein leader...

Later this year, lawyers at the Criminal Cases Review Commission in Birmingham are expected to send one of the most controversial cases of the Troubles back to the Court of Appeal.

It involves the one-time director of publicity for Sinn Fein, Danny Morrison, and how Special Branch, Army Intelligence and their informers were responsible for putting him behind bars.

Martin Ingram and I devoted an entire chapter to the case in our book Stakeknife - not least because it gave a fascinating insight into the world of Freddie Scappaticci, who led a double life as interrogator for the IRA's internal security unit and informer for the Army's Force Research Unit.

Scap featured heavily in the testimony at Morrison's trial.

Today, however, for the first time new light can be shed on evidence that has just emerged which will almost certainly see Morrison's conviction for false imprisonment overturned.

All day Sunday January 7, 1990, Morrison - the propagandist who declared war on the British "with an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other" - was harassed by IRA members asking him to attend a house in Carrigart Avenue, west Belfast.

In the spare bedroom of the Martin family home at No 124, Special Branch agent Alexander 'Sandy' Lynch was awaiting the verdict of an IRA court martial.

There are two versions of what was going to happen next.

The RUC believed that a member of the IRA's 'Army Council' would be summonsed to pronounce sentence. Morrison insists he was asked to organise a Press conference.

Whatever the truth of what was going to happen, it never did.

Shortly after 5pm, Morrison and Anto Murray entered Carrigart Avenue.

A couple sitting in a car looked straight at them, and the two republicans became very nervous. As they walked up the pathway to No 124, Morrison muttered he didn't "like that (the car)."

The Sinn Fein PR man walked through the outer front door and was only in the house a matter of seconds when a joint RUC/Army raiding party arrived. Special Branch had got their man.

We will never know what would have happened had Morrison simply turned around and stepped back outside the house, but instead of doing that he walked through the house and out the back door, where he was spotted by two soldiers. He jumped over a fence and entered No 126.

At 5.35pm he was identified by a Private Cairns and 30 minutes later was arrested by two RUC officers who had been assured by a member of the Martin family that they did not know the man standing in their living room.

Lynch had been 'rescued' - and one of the most elaborate security force operations of the Troubles was at an end.

Forty-eight hours earlier Lynch had been 'arrested' by the IRA as he entered the house at Carrigart Avenue around 7pm on Friday, January 5. Scappaticci and a second man pushed Lynch onto a bed in an upstairs room.

He was blindfolded with bandages and cotton wool and his hands were tied behind his back. He was stripped naked and his clothes were searched.

In Stakeknife, I gave a lengthy account of Lynch's interrogation, some of it based upon transcripts from the Morrison trial.

There is no doubt that Lynch was terrified, but his terror was mitigated by the fact that he knew he was being watched by Special Branch.

But only now - 17 years later - can we reveal just how 'watched' he was.

Scappaticci, working for Army Intelligence, was in on the plot. Three separate, reliable sources - none of them known to each other - have now confirmed that his other interrogator was also working for Special Branch.

When he was being searched in the bedroom, Lynch told CID officers later a bug detection device used by 'Scap' went off.

"I heard a voice, which I believed to be Scappaticci. He was swearing and saying the anti-bugging device was going haywire."

Sunday Life can reveal that it was the second man who was wearing the bugging device. It would be normal IRA policy to abort an interrogation if a detection device responded in the way that it did. Scappaticci and the other man chose to continue.

Here we had two agents starting the interrogation of another agent.

One commentator described such a scenario as "like something out of Monty Python". Lynch knew Special Branch were watching over him, but he had no idea until later that Scappaticci and the second man were on his side. Scap knew Lynch was a tout - but Scap had no clue of the other man's role.

The second man - now a community activist - had been involved in a seemingly bizarre incident with Lynch on his way to Carrigart Avenue.

Lynch arrived in Belfast from his home in Magherafelt around 6.30pm that Friday and was ordered to travel with the other IRA man to check out a 'drug dealer's' house in Upper Dunmurry Lane.

When they arrived at that house, the IRA man got out of the car, leaving Lynch alone for several minutes. This was a breach of the IRA's strict rules when luring a suspect into the hands of the so-called 'nutting squad'.

Lynch made no effort to escape. We can now reveal the reason the second IRA man left Lynch alone. He used this opportunity to meet his own Special Branch handlers and he was given just one warning - to be out of the house at Carrigart Avenue as soon as Lynch confessed.

Lynch did made a quick confession, not seeing any reason to suffer at the hands of the internal security unit when he was promised that he would be rescued.

We now know that Lynch was detained at the house for another 40 hours after his initial confession. Morrison had received several requests to attend the house that Sunday, but was unable to do so for family reasons. It was teatime before he could go there.

During this period Scappaticci's Army handler had several heated telephone conversations with Special Branch, believing that Lynch's life was in danger. Special Branch insisted they had the situation under control.

By the time Morrison and Murray arrived at No 124 Carrigart Avenue, Scappaticci and the second man had left the premises.

Both men were named at the trial of Morrison and the others as being part of the abduction and interrogation team. In fact Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Hutton expressed regret that they were not before the court.

Sir Brian had not been told of the secret roles of Scappaticci and the second IRA man. The defence, prosecution and even the CID officers who began investigating the case once Lynch was rescued were also kept in the dark, and played no role whatsoever in the cover-up.

Lynch even pulled the wool over the eyes of CID officers by giving a false description of Scappaticci that would never have stood up in court. Neither Scappaticci nor the other man were charged with any offence in relation to the incident.

Morrison continues to insist he was asked to go to Carrigart Avenue that evening to set up a Press conference at which Lynch would be paraded. Certainly, that was what was offered by interrogators from the IRA's northern command in the darkened room where he was held.

INCONSISTENCIES

At his trial Morrison's lawyers argued that Lynch's evidence was tainted by inconsistencies and his reputation was damaged by the fact he had been involved in the shooting of Peter Duggan in Downpatrick in January 1988 when Lynch was working for the Branch inside the INLA.

Sunday Life can now reveal that Lynch was actually a double-killer - a fact known to the senior ranks of RUC Special Branch.

Documents show that Lynch was one of the gunmen who opened fire on notorious IPLO leader Gerard 'Dr Death' Steenson - shot dead along with Anthony McCarthy in west Belfast in March 1987.

When questioned about his role in the double-murder, Lynch admitted his involvement. Special Branch detectives reported this admission but were ordered by senior officers to keep using Lynch as an agent. Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan did investigate the Morrison case, but the investigation was cut short when it was taken over by the Stevens Inquiry because of Scappaticci's involvement in the case.

Before the investigation ended, however, her officers found that the DPP had issued a Public Interest Certificate (PIC) agreeing to a Special Branch request for the details of Scappaticci the second man's roles as agents be withheld from CID and the court.

It is all these new facts which will lead to the case being referred to the Court of Appeal.

INFORMERS

Once there, there are two options for the Crown - a re-trial, which would expose the role of agents in the case, giving official and public confirmation to the roles of Scappaticci and the second IRA man as informers and chief prosecution witness Lynch as a double murderer. Or the Crown agrees to drop all charges and Morrison's conviction is quashed. Few would be surprised if the second option is preferred.

Morrison was sentenced to eight years for false imprisonment. Five other co-defendants were also jailed - James Terence O'Carroll (28), Daniel Caldwell (34), Gerard Hodgins (31) and John Anthony Murray (40).

The owner of the house Lynch was held in, James Martin (54), was also convicted of false imprisonment. Martin's wife Vera (45) and their 27-year-old son Liam had pleaded guilty to the same charge.

In his book All The Dead Voices, Morrison recalls that after his release from prison he met the detective who had charged him back in 1990.

He had declined several requests to join CID Inspector Tim McGregor at a Belfast restaurant one evening, but accepted a present - it was the court artist's impression of him at his trial. "I got that after the trial and kept it for you," said McGregor.

Morrison thanked him and before leaving the premises joked: "Off the record, where exactly is Sandy Lynch living these days?"

The former Sinn Fein leader revealed why he had refused the request to join McGregor, another detective and a journalist at their table that night.

He wrote: "I felt that their confidence in having me, with my reputation, at their table vaguely suggested the magnanimity of the victor. I felt that the bonhomie was tenuous and that conviviality with former enemies, for whom I feel no bitterness, suggested not quite collaboration, but could be misunderstood by republicans and my community as having potentially compromised myself.

"But what I thought about most was the dead: theirs, in the broadest sense, whom we had killed, and ours, in the broadest sense, whom they had killed - as if the dead were sitting in their mortal prejudices, looking down on us and saying: 'How dare you. How could you? Did our sacrifices amount to nothing - did our suffering and death and manner of death not matter?'"

greg.harkin@ntlworld.com

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