Belfast Telegraph

‘SAS team were tipped off by member of the eight-man IRA gang that they then wiped out’

Veteran broadcaster Peter Taylor tells how the Provos’ ill-fated Loughgall attack was compromised in revealing new Troubles documentary

Some of the scenes from the new BBC documentary My Journey Through The Troubles, which is being screened tonight
Some of the scenes from the new BBC documentary My Journey Through The Troubles, which is being screened tonight
Peter Taylor
Murdered prison boss Desmond Irvine
Late IRA leader Brendan Hughes
UFF’s Bobby Philpott
Martin McGuinness
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

The SAS unit who wiped out an eight-man IRA bomb team in Loughgall were tipped off about the plans to blow up the village police station by a member of the Provo gang who was subsequently killed by the undercover soldiers, a veteran broadcaster has claimed.

Peter Taylor makes the allegation in a new BBC documentary - My Journey Through The Troubles - to be screened tonight.

He says: "They got the intelligence, I am reliably informed, from a source who'd been turned within the IRA active service unit."

He claims the informer, whom he doesn't name, was not in a position to pull out of the attack in May 1987 and "had no option but to go ahead in the operation, and he was shot dead by the SAS".

Taylor replays an interview with an SAS soldier who says the undercover soldiers often celebrated killing their "IRA enemies" with cakes made by cooks who put the names of the terrorists on them with a message: "Live by the sword, die by the sword."

Taylor adds that senior civil servants would sometimes celebrate too, saying basically: "We gave as good as we got."

At one point in the documentary, which starts and finishes with Taylor's reflections on Bloody Sunday, he states that if he had been a teenager in Derry at the time of the Parachute Regiment killings he probably would have joined the IRA.

The 90-minute programme, which airs tonight on the 50th anniversary of the deployment of troops in Northern Ireland, features Taylor's observations on his years here, interspersed with clips from some of the 100 documentaries he made.

These programmes earned the wrath of the Northern Ireland Office, who put pressure on TV bosses to silence Taylor because his work was "unhelpful".

During tonight's programme Taylor also attacks collusion between the security forces and loyalist killers and condemns the methods used by the police and Army in the interrogation of suspects in the early days of violence.

Taylor, who uses archive interviews with the main players in the Troubles and sometimes graphic pictures of the victims of the violence, admits that some of his candid personal opinions are controversial

He says he was encouraged to make the programme as a personal account of his experiences through almost 50 years of reporting the Troubles, a journey which started with his first trip to Derry in January 1972 only hours after the Bloody Sunday shootings.

He says as he walked into the Bogside on the morning after the Parachute Regiment massacre there were still pools of blood on the ground

Taylor, who was working for Thames Television's This Week programme in Derry, adds: "I remember feeling guilty on two counts: first of all that my soldiers - me being a Brit - appeared to have shot dead 13 innocent civil rights marchers. I also felt guilty that I didn't know what was going on, and there and then I decided I'd better find out what it was all about."

Taylor tonight broadcasts a previously unseen interview with a man who was said to have been the commander of the Derry brigade of the IRA on Bloody Sunday.

The man, whose face is blurred, says the IRA played no part in the civil rights march and took all their weapons out of the area.

Asked by Taylor what Bloody Sunday had done for IRA recruitment, the man replies: "I would say if we had the facilities we could recruit the majority of the Bogside."

Looking back from 2019, Taylor says: "If I had been a teenager that day on Bloody Sunday I probably would have joined the IRA. I would have considered taking that final step, which is what happened to hundreds of young Catholics, men and women."

Taylor says that he thinks Bloody Sunday legitimised violence in the minds of many people who believed that if the State could use violence against them, they would use violence against the State.

Taylor says that as he looked at the bodies of the Bloody Sunday victims in a church, John Hume told him the person he should talk to was Martin McGuinness, whom he did interview and quickly assessed to be a "natural leader who was very articulate, charismatic and friendly".

"He looked you straight in the eye and he had eyes that could be friendly and warm and welcoming and he also had eyes that could be hard as iron," Taylor adds.

He says that in his opinion McGuinness came to be the single most important IRA leader on the island of Ireland, a man who was "charming and ruthless", and who would go on to meet the Queen.

Taylor continues: "In the end he was somebody I came to admire, as did many of his fiercest critics because of the journey he made from war."

After Bloody Sunday Taylor went on patrol with the Army in 1972, the most violent year of the Troubles, and he is heard asking soldiers if they are biased against Catholics. One of them says it isn't possible to be neutral because of the different reactions the Army receive in loyalist and republican areas.

One soldier says that most of his colleagues "on seeing their mates shot would love to punch the f*** out of some Paddy".

Taylor says that many of the soldiers, not all of them, hated the Catholic community that they believed supported and harboured the IRA.

Some of the footage in Taylor's latest documentary is of the fledgling UDA after they set up no-go areas in response to similar moves by the IRA in the early Seventies.

He says he understood why loyalists thought their heritage was under threat "and they had good reason to fear that".

He also recalls how the "bulwark of loyalism", the Rev Ian Paisley, once told him to "get you back" to England, but how the "funny, charming and irresistible" politician later bought ice-creams for him and his crew.

Taylor says his discovery in the 1970s that terror suspects were being abused by the security forces at interrogation centres including Castlereagh shocked him

He adds: "I really felt outraged by what I was convinced was happening. I got confirmation from all the main sources, apart from the police, who were denying it was happening."

It was around that time in the Seventies that Taylor claims the Northern Ireland Office "presumably encouraged by the Secretary of State Roy Mason" said he was doing programmes that were unhelpful to the security forces who suggested that his bosses should get another reporter to cover the situation.

Taylor says: "I felt very exposed. It makes you think - have I got this right? And you conclude 'yes'."

He also deals with the IRA prisoners' dirty protest and the resultant hunger strikes over political status in the Maze and how, against the advice of the NIO, Desmond Irvine, the secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, gave him an interview in which he talked of the respect he had for the Provos for their protest.

Two weeks later Mr Irvine was shot dead by the IRA and Taylor, who says he felt sick at being indirectly implicated in a murder, was asked by a journalist how he felt about having "blood on his hands".

Taylor says he was in tears at Mr Irvine's funeral and admits he considered stopping covering Northern Ireland, but decided to carry on with his work.

He says Bobby Sands martyred himself for the cause and the hunger strike showed that the IRA had a reservoir of support, which built the platform for the rise of Sinn Fein over the next decade.

"The Iron Lady met the Iron Men and the Iron Men won," he says, adding that in the Eighties after the hunger strikes neither the British Government nor the IRA were prepared to compromise, something the Provos illustrated with their attempt to assassinate Mrs Thatcher with the Brighton bomb.

Back in Northern Ireland, Taylor says a killing which affected him deeply was that of teenager John Boyle, who was shot dead in 1978 by the SAS the day after his Catholic father alerted the security forces that his son had stumbled on an arms cache in a graveyard in Dunloy.

Taylor says Mr Con Boyle went to his grave without ever receiving an apology, adding: "It's a small thing but it's the least that should happen when these tragedies happen, it's the least the family deserves."

However, Taylor says that the SAS and their sister intelligence unit called 'The Det' played a crucial role in what he dubbed the "secret war against the Provos" using a range of weapons including surveillance which could even tell the British what the terrorists were having for breakfast.

In an interview for one of Taylor's earlier documentaries, the late IRA leader Brendan Hughes tells the broadcaster the technology effectively brought the IRA to a standstill where they could move very, very little, and "contained" the organisation.

Taylor says he was shocked when he found out that the security forces had been helping loyalists in what he called the "dirty war".

He replays an interview with convicted UFF terrorist Bobby Philpott, in which he says he was getting so many intelligence documents for targeting republicans that he didn't know where to put them, and claims the information went right down to the colour of socks they were wearing.

Taylor deals briefly with atrocities like the Enniskillen massacre, Michael Stone's Milltown cemetery attack, Loughinisland, Warrington and the Corporals' killings in Andersonstown and says he got a sense that all sides were growing weary of the violence.

The documentary also focuses on Taylor's coverage of moves by the British Government to persuade the IRA to call a halt to their violence.

He revisits interviews with one-time MI6 officers Frank Steele and Michael Oatley and with an emotional Brendan Duddy, the Derry businessman who was used as a "secret peacemaker", liaising between the British and the IRA, who both realised they could not win the war.

And Brendan Hughes is heard telling the broadcaster that the war is over.

Taylor marvels at Ian Paisley taking office as Northern Ireland's First Minister, and though he says the peace of today is not perfect, it is "certainly better than what we all went through for all those awful, bloody, desperate years".

Taylor says no one apart from dissidents wants to go back to those years of violence.

But he says another major outstanding issue remains - how to deal with the past, in particular the prosecution of soldiers, like Soldier F, for killings including Bloody Sunday.

Taylor says he thinks the law must take its course.

Towards the end of the documentary he addresses the question of the border and predicts: "In the long tunnel of history a united Ireland is perhaps more likely than not."

But he adds: "That will only happen if unionists are party to it."

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