Casting a little bit of light on the 'dark side'
Sinn Fein's talk of the shadowy side of policing proves the party is stuck in a time-warp, says Alan Simpson
As a retired detective superintendent who was at the coal face of anti-terror policing in the Troubles, I was quite incredulous at the article about the "dark side" of policing in the Belfast Telegraph, written by Declan Kearney of Sinn Fein. On first reading, I thought it must have come from an era long past.
If I have interpreted him correctly, Mr Kearney seems to be suggesting that somewhere within PSNI HQ there is a cadre of old detectives with an RUC mindset influencing the policing decisions of chief constable Matt Baggott.
These, therefore, must be some of the Special Branch officers whom I have publicly railed against in recent years. Those same Special Branch officers who were behind the murder of Pat Finucane, a case I was left to investigate as it occurred within my geographical area of responsibility, and the same acts of collusion for which no less a person than David Cameron publicly apologised to the Finucane family.
Although Mr Kearney may find it hard to believe, many former RUC officers were quite enlightened about the causes of terrorism and firmly held the belief that the police must never lose the moral precedence over criminals.
I have stated many times that, although Special Branch did a superb job during the Troubles and saved many lives, a small number of their officers seemed to have lost their way by allowing themselves to get too close to some terrorists.
Just last week, my heart sank again when the Police Ombudsman declared that a Special Branch officer had tipped off Robin 'The Jackal' Jackson that he had been evidentially connected to the Miami Showband massacre.
Many of these Special Branch officers had considerably more police service than I did and, unlike several of my colleagues who were murdered by the former military wing of Mr Kearney's political party, I am fortunate to be coasting towards early old-age.
Some of the misguided Special Branch officers to whom I presume Mr Kearney is referring are more likely to be found on the bowling green and the golf course, having been handsomely paid under the Patten reforms to take early retirement.
I can only, therefore, assume that Mr Kearney is referring to MI5 as "the dark side" and, no doubt, they are in situ at PSNI HQ and Mr Baggott is probably receiving regular intelligence updates on the Real IRA, which is daily trying to murder some of his officers.
But to suggest that MI5 is trying to remilitarise the province is naievty in the extreme. I seem to recall that, during the Belfast Agreement, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, openly declared that Britain had no strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland, which, to me, was a lightly-coded message that they would like to be rid of the lot of us.
The only possible takers are the Republic, but with all of their economic woes, I doubt if they wish to have responsibility for those strange people to the north.
I can see the logic of Britain keeping an MI5 presence in Northern Ireland as, when the Troubles erupted onto our streets in 1968, many senior Westminster politicians were left with the question: where - and what - is Northern Ireland? They wisely wish to keep their finger on the pulse of the province so as not to have to commit such a lengthy peacekeeping force again.
No doubt they are handling informants and who can complain about this, after their recent sting operation in Lithuania, which netted Michael Campbell who seemed intent on reigniting a terrorist campaign even to the extent of bombing London. Mr Kearney expresses concern about the recruitment of agents, but he should take note that, a few years ago, the PSNI reviewed all of their registered informants and made a third of them redundant.
However, Mr Kearney may be surprised to learn that we have a meeting of minds on one of his issues and that is the refusal of those retired RUC officers refusing to meet with the likes of the Police Ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
Since I retired, I have met frequently with both organisations, in addition to the Stevens Inquiry team. My purpose in being so willing was to ensure that my side of the story was heard and taken onboard.
Without exception, the staff from these organisations expressed appreciation for my assistance and regret that other retired officers declined to meet with them.
If Matt Baggott's words to the effect that he sees no evidence of a 'dark side' contaminating the new beginning to policing are accurately represented, he is, in reality, saying that he accepts that he must receive intelligence briefings, but this will not affect his way forward.
I would presume he has enough residual matters from the past to deal with, such as long-delayed inquests, which would be sufficient to give a saint a headache, never mind a chief constable.
He deserves support from all sides, instead of being attacked on imaginary problems.