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Former NIO boss Sir John Chilcot involved in IRA peace talks dies

Sir John Chilcot also investigated 2002 IRA break-in at Castlereagh Special Branch offices


Sir John Chilcot.

Sir John Chilcot.

Sir John Chilcot.

The former head of the Northern Ireland Office, who investigated the IRA break-in at Castlereagh in 2002, has passed away.

Sir John Chilcot (82) died of kidney disease on Sunday.

Born in Surrey in 1939, he married artist Rosalind Forster in 1964 and spent his entire career as a civil servant.

He will be best remembered for his detailed report into the 2003 UK invasion of Iraq - The Chilcot Report.

Sir John’s seven-year-long inquiry into the war ruined Tony Blair’s reputation by exposing a subservient relationship with the then US President George W Bush.

It also confirmed that the UK and the US had not exhausted the peace process when they set out to topple Saddam Hussein.

During his time as Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1990 to 1997, Sir John was involved in talks with Sinn Fein about trying to bring an end to IRA violence.

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In 1993, the then head of MI5 in Belfast, John Deverell, took a message said to have come from Martin McGuinness, which read: “The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close.”

Sir John advised Prime Minister John Major of the development and the first steps towards the Good Friday Agreement were taken.

He officially retired from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) in December 1997.

A 2019 Spotlight Troubles series briefly referred back to the IRA break-in at Special Branch offices in Castlereagh.

The IRA raid of the east Belfast police station in 2002 saw dozens of highly sensitive documents taken, including a list of Special Branch officers, along with contact details and codenames of paramilitary agents and their handlers.

However, the IRA never acted on the highly classified information they took.

Sir John, who was appointed to look into the security breach, speculated on Spotlight that the information might have been “too hot to handle” for the IRA leadership.

The NIO said he did not “uncover any evidence whatsoever that members of government agencies were in any way involved”.

Sir John was knighted in 1994 and appointed GCB in 1998. He became a privy counsellor in 2004.

For two years from 2007 he chaired a sensitive committee on the use of intercept evidence in criminal cases.

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