Belfast Telegraph

Ex-RUC man to follow up his best-seller on Troubles cops with new book

Colin Breen has been commissioned to compile a second book
Colin Breen has been commissioned to compile a second book
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A former RUC man who wrote a best-selling book incorporating the untold stories of his colleagues during the Troubles has been commissioned by his publishers to compile a follow-up.

Bangor man Colin Breen, who has urged ex-members of the force to share their experiences with him, said he wants his second book to be like his first - a collection of stories that are largely about tragedies, but also include lighter moments from officers in and out of uniform.

His first book, A Force Like No Other, came out nearly two years ago, was a huge success, and is currently in its third reprint.

Last month the Washington Examiner recommended it to its readers.

The newspaper said the book is "a story of cops trying to their best in clearing crimes and getting home alive to do another day".

The reviewer said that while Breen underplays collusion between elements of the RUC and loyalist terror groups, he "convinces us that most officers were professionals doing their job well".

Other positive reviews have come from somewhat contrasting sources, like former Secretary of State Owen Paterson and Ulster golfer turned broadcaster David Feherty, who is an old friend of the author.

Like so many of his erstwhile colleagues, Breen, who served as a police officer for 14 years, mainly in Belfast, lived with death and destruction on an almost daily basis.

He survived a series of terrorist attacks and on one particularly distressing occasion he investigated a killing in which he later established that he was the IRA's intended target.

The Provos had shot dead a man who drove a similar car with an almost identical registration number to Breen's.

For the first book he met dozens of former RUC officers, many of them from Special Branch and CID, who gave him a glimpse into their perilous lives on the front line.

Many of the interviewees had never talked about what they went through during the Troubles. And they did so on the guarantee of anonymity.

Their stories reflected the physical and psychological toll exacted on them by their job and they also underlined the devastating impact that the Troubles had on their personal lives.

And among the recurring themes that Breen uncovered were how the comradeship of their colleagues and the reliance on alcohol helped many of them cope.

However, the book that he produced was not the one that he had in mind at the outset of the project.

He explained: "My plan was to write a book around the black humour that was involved in being a police officer.

"But that quickly changed to take in serious and horrendous stories too.

"One guy in particular struck a chord with me. I used to play rugby with him and he was a giant of a man, but at one point during our chat the tears were tripping him.

"I apologised for upsetting him but he said it was important that stories like this should be told and that they shouldn't be lost.

"He went on to share some very powerful and moving experiences and that was the case with many of the officers I met. And, as a book, it was all the better for it."

He included an email address in the first book - aforcelikenoother@gmail.com - on the off-chance that other officers might want to get in touch with their stories.

The response surprised Breen, who added: "I was contacted by a lot of people who were keen to talk to me, again on condition that they remained anonymous. And I agreed."

One former officer whom he met spoke for 90 minutes in response to just one question that he had been asked.

Breen added: "Every single word that came out of his mouth will be in the new book. I won't be editing it.

"His story is amazing and includes his memories of an accidental shooting carried out with his gun by a young child; about a bomb and gun attack on his home, and about the shooting of two soldiers after a mistake in communications."

Now he is anxious to draw out more stories from policemen and women for what he said will be his last ever volume of the book, which he says has come about after the publishers approached him asking for a second publication.

He has issued a Facebook appeal in which he said: "If there are any former police officers out there who feel they have a story to tell, now is your chance - funny, sad or whatever.

"I am just finishing A Force Like No Other: The Next Shift.

"There will not be another one - it is our history and it is us who should tell it."

Breen said the new book is due be published by Blackstaff Press in September.

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