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US gangster Bulger behind Provo arms haul aboard seized trawler: Spotlight

Boston crime boss James 'Whitey' Bulger
Boston crime boss James 'Whitey' Bulger

By Rebecca Black

A claim that notorious Boston crime boss James 'Whitey' Bulger was involved in a shipment of arms for the IRA is set to be aired.

The allegation concerns the Marita Ann trawler, which was intercepted off the Co Kerry coast by the Irish Navy on September 29, 1984.

It resulted in the seizure of seven tonnes of arms.

Bulger, one of the FBI's most wanted criminals, was on the run for 16 years before he was caught in 2011. In 2013 he was convicted of 11 murders.

He was found dead in a US federal prison in West Virginia last year in what police are investigating as a homicide.

The latest episode of the new BBC Northern Ireland series Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History will link Bulger to the IRA gunrunning operation. Those interviewed on the programme, which is set to air next week, include New York-born former US Marine John Crawley, who went on to join the IRA.

He said that he was ordered to set up a new IRA arms network in the United States.

"I wasn't given any advice on anything, you know, just get weapons. I was given a $5 note that's cut in an erratic way, and I was to meet somebody in Boston who had the other half of this note," he tells the programme.

The torn $5 bill led to Patrick Nee, described in the programme as an IRA arms supplier and associate of Bulger.

In autumn 1984 the seven-tonne arsenal of weapons was delivered to Gloucester, north-east of Boston, for shipment to Ireland on board a fishing boat that the south Boston mob gang had bought and renamed the Valhalla.

"Total cost was in the $1.2m region over a two-year period, the boat being the most expensive. I think that cost $400,000," Mr Nee told the programme.

The programme will allege that Bulger was parked nearby and used a radio scanner to check police calls as the boat was loaded.

However, the weapons did not reach Ireland after an informer tipped off Irish police, and after the weapons were transferred to the Marita Ann, the shipment was intercepted.

The third episode of Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History will be shown on BBC One NI tomorrow at 9pm.

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