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Ex-RUC man Alan Mains: 'Worst day was when my friend Harry Breen was murdered by IRA. After that, I regard every day as a bonus'

Alan Mains saw the worst of the Troubles as an RUC officer before becoming deputy head of criminal investigation department. Now he is flying high in the world of private business

Alan Mains and his wife Allison at home
Alan Mains and his wife Allison at home
RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and his colleague Superintendent Bob Buchanan were shot dead in an IRA ambush in south Armagh in 1989, as they crossed the border after a meeting in Dundalk Garda station
RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen
Alan Mains
Alan with Michael Bingham, whom he has just appointed as SecuriGroup area manager.
Alan being interviewed by Claire McNeilly
The Mains’ son Jonathan
The Mains’ daughter Rebecca
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Former deputy head of the criminal investigation department and ex-PSNI Detective Superintendent Alan Mains (58) is now a director of SecuriGroup, one of the UK's leading security companies.

Q. You joined the police on September 3, 1978, and retired in 2007. Tell us a little about your career in the force.

A. I joined the police to help the community, police the community and be part of the community. I was a constable in Dunmurry for three years. Then I went into neighbourhood policing in Lisburn Road for three and a half years. On July 26, 1986, the IRA shot and killed RUC men Karl Blackbourne (19), Peter Kilpatrick (27) and Charles Allen (37), who were sitting in their stationary armoured patrol car at Market Street, Newry. The following Monday I was promoted to replace Peter and then they realised my brother was in Peter's section so they moved me to Forkhill, south Armagh.

Q. How did your mum feel about having two sons in the police at the same time?

A. That's a very good question and it was picked up by Harry Breen, the then deputy divisional commander. When I went to see Harry, he asked me how my mother felt, because Newry and south Armagh were killing zones. And he got Richard moved back to Belfast because of that. There was an overlap of a couple of months, but Harry got that resolved.

Q. You gave evidence to the Smithwick tribunal - a Dublin-based public inquiry into claims of IRA/Garda collusion in the murders of RUC Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan. You worked with Harry Breen for three years before his 1989 murder by the IRA. How did you feel about the tribunal and its findings that there had been collusion?

A. I met Judge Peter Smithwick when he was appointed in 2005; he told me there'd be no stone unturned in this investigation and I believed him. I'm satisfied that the right conclusion was arrived at by a very experienced judge. The two most difficult times in my policing career and my civilian life - one was when it happened. Rugby saved my life - that day I was due to go with Harry but didn't because we were training for the senior cup that night at Ards Rugby club. Then for me to revisit that in my civil capacity... but I knew if it was the other way round Harry would have been standing there for me.

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Q. You were Chief Superintendent Breen's staff officer. How did you cope with his murder?

A. It was one of the biggest - if not the biggest - blows for me personally. Hearing about his and Bob's murders was the most traumatic thing I've been through.

Q. You've previously said Northern Ireland was the most dangerous place in the world to be a police officer during the Troubles. Did you have any close shaves?

A. I was blown up, shot at and ambushed several times. The bomb that was designed for the RUC band in 1982 blew me off my feet; there was a mortar attack in Forkhill in 1987. We were also ambushed in Ardoyne in 1989 - that became a bit like the wild west show.

Q. Does death frighten you?

A. For me, every day is a bonus after Harry was killed.

Q. What are the security threat implications in terms of Brexit? Will we see a return to violence?

A. Investors are more concerned about the logistics of the border and what it means commercially.

Q. You're around the same age as Jim Gamble (former chief of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, CEOP). Are you friendly?

A. Yes. We served together, but not in the same units.

Q. It's been said his time in RUC Special Branch prevented him from getting the PSNI Chief Constable's job when he was shortlisted to replace Hugh Orde.

A. The more relevant question is could Jim have performed the role of chief constable and the answer is, absolutely.

Q. Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald recently said that no one currently within the PSNI is capable of becoming Chief Constable. What's your view?

A. That's just totally unfounded.

Q. Who do you fancy to replace George Hamilton?

A. The most natural person is Will Kerr, but I think he'll be a close runner to Stephen Martin.

Q. What's your assessment of the police refusal to apologise over the drugs 'de-arrest' of the Greenvale Hotel owner following the Cookstown disco tragedy? Would you have apologised?

A. You can't apologise at that point. It's an awkward one. They are always covered by reasonable suspicion.

Q. Why did you retire in 2007?

A. I did my senior command course in Scotland (to become Assistant Chief Constable) and was unsuccessful, but I was head-hunted from public to private and that was the deciding factor to go to the private sector.

Q. What happened next?

A. When I retired I went in as a director to Ultimate Leisure and spent several years as a consultant to them, opening up restaurants and bars across Ireland and England. That led to me becoming chairman of The Porterhouse Group in Dublin for five years (2010-2015). During that period I was asked to look at a humanitarian project in Iraq on behalf of the UK and Irish governments. I based myself in Dubai. It was a three-year project. We had $200m from Americans to build houses that they'd bombed and I worked with the Iraqi government at ministerial level. During that time numerous security companies were asking me to join them as part of their senior management team and I declined.

Q. You're also regional director of a security company, SecuriGroup. Tell us about that.

A. They approached me in 2014. It's a Scottish company; I run Ireland and Northern Ireland. I've just appointed Michael Bingham as SecuriGroup area manager.

Q. Don't you also have companies of your own?

A. I'm currently selling a water company called Anu. I also have my own consultancy company called A and A Security. I work in conjunction with Peter Robinson (Rock Global Services Group) and we consult with various groups in locally, in America, London and across the world.

Q. How do you juggle so many jobs?

A. Out of sheer interest I applied for the Ulster Rugby chief executive's post and they asked me to list what I did and they said I couldn't possibly be doing all these different things...

Q. A you a former rugby player yourself?

A. I played for CIYMS, the police PAA team, Ards and Ulster on a couple of occasions and went on to referee after that. One of my biggest achievements is building the Ireland Police Rugby team.

Q. You're a former PSNI crime adviser for Northern Ireland. Give us an example of when your advice would be called on.

A. Drew Harris (now Garda Commissioner) and myself headed up an investigation of attacks on the elderly across the province. We found they were being done by groups of people travelling between the south and the north.

Q. You were formerly linked to The Life Channel as head of business development. What was that?

A. When I became a director of Ultimate I became a consultant for Life Channel (CCN) at the same time. I was head of development for South Africa, India, GB and Ireland and I set up operational teams. The Life Channel was the biggest channel outside home entertainment. You'd go to dwell points like doctors' surgeries, supermarket restaurants and schools - and, for example, kids would be encouraged to make their own film about bullying and we produced it. That was 2007 until 2010.

Q. You're married to Allison (53), a midwife, with whom you have one daughter Rebecca (26) and a son Jonathan (23). Where did you and Allison meet?

A. At a Tuesday dance in the Stormont Hotel and we got married at Newtownabbey Presbyterian Church on January 5, 1990. We went skiing in Mayrhofen for eight days on honeymoon.

Q. Tell us about your kids.

A. Rebecca is a staff nurse general in the private wing of St Mary's Hospital, London, where she deals with celebrities and the royals. Jonathan works in sales at Charles Hurst in Belfast.

Q. Your mum Edna is 91 and your dad Jim, who was head constable in charge of Special Branch in Londonderry, died in 1968 from lung cancer, aged 48. Any siblings?

A. Two sisters - my sister Rosalind (68), is a retired nurse who lives in Scotland, and Carol (65), is a retired private hospital admin worker, who lives in Australia. My brother Richard (56) is a retired police officer.

Q. You lost your other brother Brian (32), an ears, nose and throat doctor in Manchester, on March 17, 1990. What happened?

A. He had a brain tumour. It was devastating. He was so young. The last time I saw him was at my wedding. He was a groomsman. He actually missed the meal because a female server slipped; she had an issue with her heart and he looked after her until the ambulance came.

Q. You now live in east Belfast but your early years were spent in the Bogside in Derry. A happy childhood?

A. Losing our father at such a young age was traumatic, but we had a brilliant childhood. We moved to Dundonald to be near mum's relatives when I was seven.

Q. You went to Dundonald Primary, Dundonald Boys High and then the Masonic Boys' School in Dublin for a year, before returning to the Boys High to sit O-Levels. What was next?

A. At that age you were either encouraged to go to uni or get a trade. Our financial position wasn't great; our dad left my mum enough to buy a house and then she had to work as a part-time auxiliary nurse. One night I heard that the cost of one book for Brian (in 1976) was £25; I remember my mum wondering how she was going to pay... I decided to go to the shipyard and take up technical drawing and sheet metalwork. I stayed there until I was 18 and got into the police. The purpose of doing all that was to help mum pay for Brian's education in medicine.

Q. You fell on a train in Dundalk railway station in 1995 and took CIE to court, didn't you?

A. It was horrendous. The train had stopped but they changed the engine without telling anybody. I went flying and broke my wrist. Undisclosed damages.

Let's just say that it paid for a few things in the house.

Q. Tell us about the best day of your life so far.

A. The births of my children. Nothing to beat that.

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