A secret memo presented to top Downing Street civil servants during the 1990s containing false and hurtful allegations about John Hume was “inexplicable”, an ex-Army intelligence officer has said.
Colin Wallace, a psychological warfare expert, said the previously classified document made public this week as part of a release of state papers is one of a series of attempts to discredit the late SDLP politician over the decades.
The memo, published online by Village Magazine, reveals how “possible press stories regarding Mr Hume’s private life” attracted the attention of Prime Minister John Major’s officials.
The information, which was completely unfounded and carried no substance, was sent to Cabinet Secretary Sir Robin Butler, and John Major’s private secretary Sir Alex Allan.
It begins by making a reference to a conversation held about potential press stories regarding the SDLP leader of the time.
The memo claims that Mr Hume had himself told them that “on at least two occasions over recent months he had been told of stories circulating among journalists to his discredit” regarding his private life.
During the early 1990s Mr Major was not supportive of the Hume-Adams talks, which had taken place secretly until disclosed in 1993, and were forming part of the peace process.
British intelligence, specifically MI5, also opposed them.
Mr Wallace was dismissed from the Army in 1975 after attempting to expose a sexual abuse scandal at the Kincora Boys’ Home in east Belfast.
He was also wrongly convicted of manslaughter in 1981, for which he spent six years in prison. His conviction was later quashed.
He said Mr Hume was subjected to various smear campaigns from the 1970s when he emerged as a leading figure of the civil rights movement.
His relationship with a Washington DC political establishment that was largely sympathetic to the Irish nationalist position also made him a target for character assassinations.
“I think part of the problem was that John Hume was one of the most competent politicians in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“There were attempts to drive a wedge between Mr Hume and the good political relationships he had forged in the US, and by the 1990s attention turned again to another smear campaign.
“I think the attempts by (were) to undermine Mr Hume as much as possible. Because I think it was thought that if he could be taken out of the equation, the dealings with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would be much more straightforward.
“Mr Hume was a new breed of politician and he was in the middle ground, and he was (perceived) to be dangerous because he was in the middle ground... I think (the) campaign was almost inexplicable. By the 1990s he was very well known, and that makes it even more inexplicable from my view, but sometimes the belief was: if the information doesn’t fit with the mindset, stay with the mindset.”
Mr Hume, who died last August, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998, along with then UUP leader David Trimble, for his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.