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Collusion - Transcript of BBC Panorama programme, 19 June 2002

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Text: BBC Panorama ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

Note: this transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script: because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

A Licence to Murder - Part One

DATE: 19 June 2002


Many scenes in this film have been reconstructed based on real events

JOHN WARE: In the early summer of 1987 a van loaded up with personal possessions arrived at Belfast Docks. At the wheel was a native of Belfast, Brian Nelson. Nelson was bringing his family home from abroad, but this was no ordinary home coming. Brian Nelson had once been a soldier, now he was coming back to work for the British Army again, only this time as an undercover agent for military intelligence.

CAROLE CREIGHTON Brian Nelson's sister: He was a very good agent. He's pretty non-descript, he's small, you wouldn't notice him in the street. So from that point of view, very, very good cover, so it ended up with them making him like a secret squirrel.

WARE: The unit, based in Belfast, that Nelson was going to work for was the most secret in the British Army, the innocuously named Force Research Unit, but there was nothing innocuous about their plans for their new agent 6137. These top secret records on agent 6137 were never meant to see the light of day but tonight they will, and what they reveal about how the British state used him is explosive. A brutal killing was to provide their new agent with what military intelligence described as the perfect opportunity.

MICHELLE POWER Aged 8 when her father was killed: It was just a normal Sunday, everyone got ready for mass. (scene of shooting, car to car) I felt all this glass coming in all over my face and the loudness of a bang, and I turned round to the right, I looked at my dad and there was just blood everywhere, all over his whole face, body, and all over me. I was just getting glimpses of them because of the glass. I was calling his name and I was saying 'daddy, daddy'.

WARE: The men who killed Michael Power were members of a Loyalist murder gang. They'd convinced themselves he was in the IRA. But there was only one organisation he belonged to, the Catholic Church.

POWER: My father died for his faith. He died solely because he was a Catholic and just because of the hatred that exists in this country.

WARE: The perfect opportunity for the army's new agent was not to catch the murder gang who killed Michael Power. It was, according to the secret army records, an opportunity for their agent to join the gang, to help make their targeting more professional. Brian Nelson was to ensure the proper targeting of Provisional IRA members prior to any shooting. Every week Nelson would secretly meet soldiers from the Force Research Unit who, in the jargon of the spy world, were his 'handlers'. They told agent 6137 they wanted him to take control of the loyalist murder gangs targeting. According to the army records, Nelson was to get these gangs to concentrate on specific targeting of legitimate Republican terrorist targets. To help Nelson identify these targets his handlers set him up as a mini cab driver. This gave him cover to enter hard line Republican areas where most of the targets lived. Nelson relished this cloak and dagger world as he wrote in a private journal.

"I was bitten by a bug. Hooked is probably a more appropriate word. One becomes enmeshed in a web of intrigue, conspiracies, confidences, dangers, and the power of being aware of things that others around you aren't. The power of this phenomenon acts like a drug."

WARE: Nelson recorded the addresses, the cars and movements of those to be shot by Loyalist murder gangs of the Ulster Defence Association - the UDA.

CREIGHTON: He would only work on supposedly legitimate IRA targets.

WARE: What is a legitimate IRA target?

Panorama 1992

CAROLE CREIGHTON Brian Nelson's sister: Well one that the UDA will have proof has been involved in attacks, in bombings, in murders.

WARE: The army wanted Nelson to work hand in glove with killers like this man - Ken Barrett. We made contact with Barrett a year ago, and to our surprise he eventually agreed to meet us. We've had 12 meetings with him which we recorded secretly. Like Nelson, Barrett wanted to hit only Republican targets which is why Nelson passed their details to him.

Secret Filming

BARRETT: Now, if you were operating with us and you knew the score then that when we asked you for something we knew what was coming next. You're not fucking stupid… Brian had been involved a brave while himself, he knew what the score was. If we asked him details on a Republican he knew it wasn't to send him fucking postcards. I mean, they're not passing us documentation to sit in the house and read it. They were passing us documentation because they know what's going to result afterwards. Know what I mean?

WARE: I certainly got to know what Barrett meant. Later I asked him how many men he'd killed. He held out both hands showing ten fingers.

JOHNSTON BROWN Detective Sergeant Royal Ulster Constabulary, 1972-2000: Ken Barrett was known to be a well placed high ranking member of the UDA in North Belfast, a dangerous individual. Certainly the most frightening individual that ever I had to meet as a detective officer. We suspected he was a killer and there is a common denominator, you look into these men's eyes. Certainly as an interviewer for 30 years talking to him across a table there is a peculiarity, like a common denominator, and yes, I had no doubt he was a killer.

WARE: So murky was this relationship between murder gangs and the army, it's been the subject of three police investigations over 13 years all headed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens. Often the undercover war in Ireland had to get dirty "but never this dirty" his final report will say.

Was what was done in the name of the state defensible?

Sir JOHN STEVENS Commissioner, Metropolitan Police: I think if you look at the work that we did, and this has been the most extensive criminal enquiry in history, that the work we did and discovering what the activities of the double agent.. so-called double agent Nelson was involved in, of course that was inexcusable.

WARE: Tonight, for the first time, some of the detectives who worked under Sir John Stevens, speak publicly about the most sensitive police investigation in modern times.

Let me have a clear answer on this. Did the Stevens Enquiry come to the conclusion that the military intelligence was colluding with their agent to ensure that the Loyalists shot the right people?

NICHOLAS BENWELL Detective Sergeant Stevens Enquiry, 1989-94: Yes, that was the conclusion that we came to. There was certainly an agreement between his handlers and Nelson that the targeting should concentrate on what they described as 'the right people'.

WARE: One of the 'right people' was Alex Maskey. He's a member of Sinn Fein, political wing of the provisional IRA. Fourteen years ago Maskey was their leader on Belfast City Council. On the afternoon of the 17th July, 1988, Nelson spotted Maskey's car outside a Belfast restaurant. Maskey had gone there to have Sunday lunch.

BENWELL: Nelson went around North Belfast trying to recruit an assassination team, and when one unit were unable to assist, he moved on until he found another one.

WARE: Was that role as an agent provocateur?

BENWELL: Absolutely.

WARE: Do you think that Brian Nelson wanted Alex Maskey murdered on that day?


WARE: The first assassination team Nelson approached couldn't get to their weapons in time. So he raised a second team, one of whom was the gunman Ken Barrett. Barrett went into the restaurant but he was too late, Maskey had just left.

BARRETT: I mean actually went into that place and stood and had a glass of beer, like.

WARE: And he wasn't there?

BARRETT: And he wasn't there. And yet withal, after I'd left it, a couple of hours later I was standing in Highfield Rangers having a drink, Brian comes in and says he's seen him in it.

WARE: The secret military intelligence records show that at 7.55 that evening, Nelson telephoned his handler, Sergeant Margaret Walshore. This is the transcript of their conversation in which Nelson refers to a "Mr Heckler" by which he means the gun that had been brought to kill Maskey.

NELSON: He just missed death by about 20 seconds. I was involved up to my neck with a Mr Heckler. I only missed him by 20 seconds. It's because it took so long to set it up.

WARE: Sergeant Walshore then asked Nelson what was going to happen next.

NELSON: If he's there next Sunday he's going down.

WARE: The secret army unit for whom Nelson worked existed, supposedly, to save lives. They were under orders to pass the police life saving intelligence as soon as possible. But no warning about the planned assassination of Maskey the following Sunday was passed to the police.

Why do you think it is that the army didn't warn the police?

BENWELL: The conclusion must be that they didn't want the police to be at the scene.

WARE: Do you think the army were prepared, therefore, to allow events to take their course?

NICHOLAS BENSELL Detective Sergeant Stevens Enquiry, 1989-94: In the absence of any other explanation coming from the army, that is the view that I would take, yes.

WARE: Because Maskey didn't return to the restaurant the following Sunday, he survived. Today he's just been elected Sinn Fein's first Lord Mayor of Belfast. Those who colluded in the attempt to kill him did, however, have one complaint about their agent, "his cowboy attitude to targeting". Their concern, however, was less about Nelson having set up the assassination than about him getting caught. 6137 has been warned "We cannot help him if he's caught by the RUC." The army had always intended their agent to take more of a back seat. They wanted him to stick to supplying just the names and addresses of the targets, but there was a problem. When Nelson joined the Loyalist murder gangs, their intelligence came from files, many of which were out of date.

Voice of Ken Barrett Secret recording

He used to bring fucking that, you know.. hit the button up - just packed. There you are Ken.. you know.. Here's me, fuck, we were throwing them down and we were going through other ones, people were dead on them. I don't mean dead through terrorist activity, I mean fucking dead through natural causes.

WARE: Nelson's problem was the he didn't know which files were accurate and which were out of date. His army handlers came up with a solution. In October 1987 Nelson gathered up all the old targeting files he'd inherited from the Loyalists when he'd joined. Many had been leaked down the years from sympathisers in the Security Forces. The files included police and army intelligence on IRA suspects, photographs and maps. There were so many files, well over 1000, that they filled a bin liner and a cardboard box. One night Nelson drove these files to a prearranged meeting point. There he met his British Army handlers. They loaded the entire Loyalist targeting system into the boot of their car and drove it to their army depot. Back at base all the up to date files were selected and reorganised. The out of date stuff was destroyed which meant crucially the army now had a record of who might be shot. A few days later Nelson's handlers returned only the files of IRA terrorists who were still active. From these up-to-date files Nelson wrote down each target's name, address, and any other personal details on blue index cards. Attached to each card was a photograph, one card for each target.

CREIGHTON: He new they were intelligence matters of some description, they contained personal details about supposed IRA suspects.

WARE: Did Brian seem concerned that you had seen these cards?

CAROLE CREIGHTON Brian Nelson's sister: Yes, he was.. I had seen them I think because he wasn't really thinking and he'd let me see them, then he very quickly realised that I shouldn't be seeing these and it was bad for his business that I see these things. So they were put away very, very quickly and the matter glossed over as it were.

WARE: The secret army records show that once the targeting information had been gathered and checked by 6137, it would be passed on for action. The main emphasis of targeting would now be on accuracy. Within a year military intelligence were reporting that thanks to their agent the targeting by loyalist murder gangs was 'more professional'. This was only just beginning to happen with 6137 in his current position. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

MAURA McDAID: I got the children ready for bed and put them into their camp beds. I said a quick prayer with them and told them to hurry up and go to sleep because it's school in the morning.

WARE: The army agent, Brian Nelson, had found the Loyalist murder gangs a new IRA target, or so he thought.

TRACEY McDAID: Mummy said goodnight, gave us a kiss and a hug and she left the room, went back downstairs.

10th May 1988

MAURA: We were just sat down to watch News at Ten, and just as I sat down there was a loud, horrendous thundery noise. As soon as they come into the room they started shooting. They just started shooting and you just feel you're in the middle of a nightmare, that you're going to wake up any second. This just cannot be happening. I lifted the vacuum cleaner and caught one of them on his arm, and he brought the gun up and put it to my head, just more or less between my eyes. Terry screamed to me. He just screamed. At that they shot him twice in the chest. Terry slumped to the ground and the two gunmen ran out the door.

WARE: Terry McDaid aged 29 and the father of two young girls had been mortally wounded.

TRACEY McDAIDAged 8 when her father was killedI got up out of the bed and went down the stairs, and I turned to the living room where I seen my daddy lying on the floor. His eyes were closed and there was lots of people in the room but I couldn't really see the people in there. I was just looking at my daddy.

WARE: At home that night Brian Nelson tuned into the police frequency on his scanner. What he heard sent him into a panic.

BENWELL: I think basically he panicked because he phoned his handlers on a number of occasions that night.

WARE: But what was his concern?

NICHOLAD BENWELL Detective Sergeant Stevens Enquiry, 1989-94: I think his concern was that they'd shot the wrong man.

WARE: As a result of his targeting.


WARE: Nelson had sent the gunman to the wrong address. Once again his army handler that night was Sergeant Walshore. Normally Nelson's calls were automatically taped and transcribed. This was a basic rule of agent handling. Nelson made four calls that night. But when the Stevens Enquiry came to investigate, there were no transcripts of any of the conversations.

Why do you think they were missing?

BENWELL: I can't speculate but from my experience I would say that it's highly suspicious.

WARE: Suspicious of what?

BENWELL: That there was something in those telephone calls that they wanted to hide.

WARE: Sergeant Walshore did nothing to allay those suspicions. When she was interviewed by Detective Sergeant Benwell under caution.

When you ask why on such an important occasion there was no transcript of any of the four calls, what did she say?

BENWELL: She made no reply which if course was her right because she was under caution.

WARE: But this was another question she declined to answer.


WARE: There is one explanation for Sergeant Walshore's silence, Nelson recorded it in the private journal he wrote. Detective Sergeant Benwell questioned Nelson about his explanation.

BENWELL: I put it to him that he had been told the address by his handler and his words were something along the lines of 'you're almost there, not quite, but I'm not going to say anymore about it.' There is certainly a suggestion that he was given that address by his handlers.

WARE: Sergeant Walshore declined to answer any of Panorama's questions. But at the end of her police interview, she did categorically deny ever giving any information to Brian Nelson. What she can't deny is that military intelligence tried to justify the murder of Terry McDaid to their agent. According to their secret files, Nelson wanted the murder gangs only to attack legitimate targets, not innocent Catholics, which was shy Nelson was upset and why his army handlers met him the day after the attack. They told him their record showed Terry McDaid had been traced as having connections with the Provisional IRA. Nelson's handlers noted that on hearing this, his spirits lifted. Once 6137 had discovered that Terence was traced as provision IRA he was quite content.

What do you think of the reference in the files to Terry McDaid having some link with the IRA when plainly he didn't?

BENWELL: I suspect that was a story put together to appease Nelson.

WARE: In what way appease him?

BENWELL: Well that he would feel better if he thought that there was a connection between the deceased and the provisional IRA.

MAURA McDAID Wife of Terry McDaid: When I heard that it was just total shock, disbelief that.. why add more pain to what they've already done, you know.. why try to destroy Terry's memory by insulting him?

WARE: Did Terry McDaid have any links or connections with the Provisional IRA?

BENWELL: As far as we were concerned, no, none at all.

MAURA McDAID: We need the truth on it, Terry deserves a justice. They have all the answers and they know what happened that night and I also know the truth but I want them to tell and admit why they let an innocent man die.

WARE: Terry McDaid was not the only innocent victim of collusion. By our count at least 80 people listed on Nelson's targeting files were attacked. 29 were shot dead. We do not suggest Nelson had a role in all these attacks. What is clear is that only a tiny minority of the victims were involved in terrorism.

BENWELL: When something's gone as badly wrong, as happened in the case of Terence McDaid where an innocent man has been murdered, I would have thought they would have sat back and thought about what they were doing, or what they were doing wrong and made some changes. But that never seemed to occur.

WARE: Because there are quite a number of disasters like Terrence McDaid afterwards.

BENWELL: Yes there were.

WARE: Where it had gone wrong was that the army had lost control over who was being targeted. Nelson had been handing out his targeting files to any Loyalist murder gang who asked for them. The secret army records show he copied his files at least 36 times.

BENWELL: I think it's a dreadful situation. He's passing it to other groups of killers who are completely outside even his control, and his handlers are just following on and letting him do it. It's a recipe for absolute disaster.

WARE: Sometimes the army seemed to encourage this disaster. The murder gang to which Nelson belonged was the UDA. Having failed to assassinate the Sinn Fein Councillor Alex Maskey, Nelson urged a rival gang, the UVF, to kill Maskey and one other target. 6137 feels that if the UDA are not going to act, it is better the UVF do it than no one. Nelson gave the details of both targets to the UVF. In return the UVF gave Nelson explosives. His handlers approved nothing that if this trade was successful, it will enhance 6137's standing, particularly if the UVF did attack the targets.

BENWELL: We used to have a saying at New Scotland Yard, that the basic rule of agent handling was that you ran the agent, not the agent ran you, and there was clear evidence in this case that Nelson was the leading light, he was running the show.

WARE: By copying his targeting files to murder gangs all over Northern Ireland, Nelson had bequeathed a deadly legacy. The officer ultimately responsible for this was Colonel Gordon Kerr, he had recruited Nelson, he was commanding officer of the unit that ran him. He never hid his contempt for the Stevens Enquiry.

GORDON KERR: There is a further suggestion that Nelson proliferated intelligence docs, within the UDA and as a result has put lives at risk on a long-term basis. This rather political allegation seems to me more designed to justify the actions of the Stevens Enquiry.

BENWELL: Well that's absolute nonsense. I mean it was a fact that this explosive targeting material had been proliferated. It had been passed on to other equally murderous organisations and nobody had any control over it.

WARE: The Colonel believed that his secret world should be off limits to everyone, even to the forces of law and order.

BENWELL: He felt that what he was doing was right, and anybody who questioned this was wrong, and I think he resented it.

WARE: Did he have a clear grasp, do you think, of the rule of law?

BENWELL: No, I don't think he did.

WARE: It wasn't just the army who were colluding with murder gangs. The police were helping them too. According to the secret army records, RUC sources provided a considerable number of targeting files, 50 came from an officer in the RUC's Special Branch. In fact, the police inspired a murder that has become perhaps the most controversial of the troubles. Patrick Finucane was a high profile lawyer. Once again the army agent Brian Nelson helped target him, but it was the police who selected him as a target in the first place.

MICHAEL FINUCANE: He was a young lawyer, and as any person in the legal business will tell you, his best years were in front of him. The work that he was doing was high profile due to the nature of the work and the controversy that surrounded many of the issues.

17th November 1988

WARE: One of Pat Finucane's most controversial client's was this man, Patrick McEwan. He had been charged with a crime that caused revulsion around the world. An IRA funeral cortège was disrupted by a car that had lost its way. Inside were two army corporals. Believing they were under attack the mourners blocked their escape. The soldiers were dragged into a sports ground. An army helicopter filmed them being stripped, beaten and thrown over a wall. They were bundled into a black taxi and driven away to be shot. There last moments were on this piece of waste ground. The prosecution claimed that Patrick McEwan had helped organise their murders, but Pat Finucane got the charges dropped early in the proceedings.

JOURNALIST: … wasn't a fair outcome. Why did you feel it would be?

PAT FINUCATE: I thought we had merit in our submissions to the court.

JOURNALIST: What sort of merit Mr Finucane?

PAT FINUCANE: In that the case was not sufficient to put him on trial on these charges.

WARE: As client and solicitor left the court house they were photographed. It was this photograph that was later to seal Pat Finucane's fate. Many of his clients ended up here at the Belfast Police Interrogation Centre. Many were active in the IRA. But some detectives made no distinction between Pat Finucane the solicitor and his clients. One of his clients was the IRA's commander in Belfast.

Voice of Brian Gillen Recorded in 1999: They told me that my solicitor was a Provo. "He's just the same as you. We'll have him taken out." And generally just running him down, at the same time trying to associate him with something he wasn't associated with.

WARE: What, the IRA?


WARE: Labelling Pat Finucane as an IRA man to IRA prisoners was one thing, doing that Loyalists quite another. By late 1988 some police officers were going even further. The gunman, Ken Barrett, who we secretly recorded, says that younger loyalists were being released from police interrogation having been urged to 'take out' Pan Finucane.

Secret Filming

BARRETT: Young fellers, you know. They'd have come out and said to us they said about Finucane, they say this and they say that, and they must have said it because kids wouldn't come out and say. They said it about Finucane because why would they mention Finucane? You understand what I mean? Finucane wouldn't have been a name in their head.

WARE: Would Finucane have been a target if this hadn't of…. (telephone )

Barrett's mobile interrupted what was to be a shocking allegation.

WARE: Would Finucane have been a target if this feedback hadn't reached you, do you think?

BARRETT: See, to be honest, Finucane would have been alive today if the peelers hadn't interfered.

WARE: Say that again.

BARRETT: Finucane would have been alive today if the peelers hadn't interfered.

WARE: If the peelers hadn't interfered, yes. Do you reckon? You don't think you'd have got round to it anyway?

BARRETT: No. Solicitors were kind of way taboo, if you know what I mean. Like we used a lot of Roman Catholic solicitors ourselves. They were kind of way taboo at the time, like, you didn't touch, like. Do you understand me? Because they came in and seen us and all, like.

WARE: They were off limits.

BARRETT: They were off limits.

WARE: And they acted for you like any other lawyer?

BARRETT: They acted for us like anybody else. You understand me?

WARE: But for Barrett, Pat Finucane as a target did not stay off limits for very long. One night, says Barrett, a Loyalist godfather who organised killings introduced him to a police officer. They met in a car. The officer seems to have impressed Barrett.

BARRETT: Well he was a bit of a cool fucking customer. Very, very sure of himself, you know? He could do more or less anything. This guy could do more or less anything.

WARE: When you met him first time, what did he actually say to you about Finucane?

BARRETT: Just that Pat was one of their men who was an IRA man like. And he was dealing with finances and stuff for them, and he was a bad boy and if he was out, like, they'd have a lot of trouble replacing him, stuff like this. He says: "He'll have to go. He'd have to go. He said: "He's a thorn in everybody's side. He'll have to go." He was determined in pursuing that. That's the one he wanted. They didn't want any fucking about. They didn't want to wait months. They wanted it done.

WARE: The police officer appears to have sized up Barrett correctly.

BARRETT: He says: "You're more, how do you put it - you're more the psychopath." He says: "You're more the one for business here, aren't you?" I says "What do you mean, business?" He says: "No, you want Provies buried." I says: "Aye, of course I do." He says: "I understand where I stand." I says: "Yes, every time." I said: "You do the business for us. If in the near future we can help you at any stage, that'll be done. He says: "Yes, as long as we're on the same wavelength."

WARE: A few months earlier military intelligence had noted in their secret records that one of three Belfast lawyers whom they regarded as sympathetic to the Provisional IRA was Pat Finucane.

MICHAEL FINUCANE: I feel that it's an insult and a grievous insult. It was easy for them to believe that he was a member of the IRA. I think their limited mentalities did not stretch to differentiating between the role of the lawyer and the offence suspected of the client. The line between the two was not apparent to them.

WARE: The killing of Pat Finucane was now being actively planned with Barrett tasked to kill him, but he didn't know what his target looked like. Once again, the army agent, Brian Nelson, was able to assist. Six days before the murder Barrett met Nelson on Belfast's Shankill Road.

Voice of Ken Barrett Secret recording: It would have been a day during the week, like. We walked down and he was actually in a car, he was in a Mazda. I was expecting Brian Nelson to come back with, say, an ID card, you know, saying "There you go - Finucane's photo, date of birth, whatever. I says "Have you got the message?" He says "Aye." And he brought it out. It was in like a wee plastic bag. He was involved in a case at that time and he was outside court or something with a Provie and you seen him fucking jubilant. I just says: "Right, that's dead on."

WARE: Barrett could not positively identify the man he was going to shoot. What he didn't know was where he lived. Once again the Belfast mini cab driver, also known as agent 6137, was ready to oblige.

Voice of Ken Barrett Secret recording: Brian knew what we were fucking doing. Brian took me up to the fucking place. Do you know what I mean? Brian showed me the once and that was all I had to see. Just the once and then I came back up and round and past it again. You go, say: "One, two, three, fourth door down, that'll do us. Swing on there."

WARE: The murder was planned for a Sunday night in February 1989. Late that afternoon the murder gang had assembled in a Loyalist club. They needed to be certain that the solicitor was at home. According to Barrett, the police officer to whom he'd been introduced had said there was one sure way of knowing this.

BARRETT: All I needed to know was that he was in the house. If the car wasn't there, he wasn't there. He never went anywhere without the car. That was one thing we knew, he never went anywhere without the motor. You understand what I mean? Don't go in if the car's not there because you'll only get the one crack. If yous fuck it up, you'll never get a crack at it again. Do you know what I mean?

WARE: As the clock ticked towards 7, a phone call was made and weapons brought for Barrett and a second gunman. The murder gang's vehicle was a hijacked taxi. At the wheel, a young driver. They were keyed up ready to go.

Voice of Ken Barrett Secret recording: Men get nervous when they're hanging about, and get a wee bit edgy, whereas if we get the all clear and go then it's there and that's it. You understand me?

WARE: Earlier that evening, close to Pat Finucane's home the security forces had been searching lock up garages for weapons. The murder gang needed confirmation that the roads to and from the target were clear. According to Barrett this came from the police officer who'd urged him to shoot Finucane. A telephone message was passed to the murder gang.

Secret filming

WARE: The road block had been taken down, and that's what this guy was telling you, the road block had gone.

Voice of Ken Barrett Secret recording

BARRETT: All clear. That meant there's no say, presence in the area, if you know what I mean? Go ahead, everything's clear, right? Unless you know where the police are at that particular time, at that stage of the game. You know what I mean? It's a brave drive - three and a half, four mile there. The decision was taken and that was it. There was none of this fucking about, driving round here and driving round there. The decision was taken. Bang. Let's go. That's how quickly it happens.

WARE: As the murder gang sped towards their target Pat Finucane, his wife and three children were gathered round the dinner table as a family.

MICHAEL FINUCANE: I remember sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner. There was a bang from the hallway, my father jumped up and slammed the door shut while my mother ran behind him and hit the personal attack button. The next thing I remember is being on the floor against the wall in the corner, holding my younger brother and sister, and shots going off very loud and it seemed like forever. At that point my memory blanks. But the thing I remember most is the noise. It's a place I don't care to visit very often but I know it's there, and sometimes I go back and visit, but not often. I try not to dwell on it.

ALAN SIMPSON Detective Superintendent Royal Ulster Constabulary, 1970-93: He'd a fork in one of his hands, so whoever had killed him had arrived like a tornado and had very ruthlessly killed him.

WARE: This was an angry attack?

SIMPSON: This was a most vicious and angry attack and I've seen people shot in the face before and it had always struck me as being a particularly venomous thing to shoot someone in the face, there's so much hate attached to that.

WARE: A press statement from the murder gang claimed responsibility for the 'execution' of Pat Finucane, the IRA officer not the solicitor. It was written by the army agent Brian Nelson, but the prime movers had been renegade police officers.

Voice of Ken Barrett

As I've told you before, the peelers wanted him whacked, and we whacked him, and that's the end of the story as far as I'm concerned.

WARE: But it is not the end of the story so far as the English police now investigating this murder are concerned. Each week Brian Nelson met his handlers from the army's secret Force Research Unit or FRU. Nelson has told the Stevens Enquiry that he kept his handlers informed of everything he knew about the murder of Pat Finucane

BRIAN NELSON: I would like to state that all information concerning the Finucane affair I passed on to military intelligence through my handlers. At no point did I ever conceal or withhold any information that I was party to from them.

WARE: When you came to examine the FRU files what struck you about the Finucane case?

NICHOLAS BENWELL Detective Sergeant Stevens Enquiry, 1989-94: The lack of any information or intelligence that was in there. It was almost like it was a non-event.

WARE: According to the commanding officer of the Force Research Unit, Colonel Kerr, there was nothing in the files because they knew nothing about Finucane being targeted. The Colonel has always said that Nelson thought the intended target had been Pat Finucane's target, the IRA man Patrick McEwan, but that cannot be true. Remember the photograph that Nelson handed over to the killer of Pat Finucane? Nelson had 36 individual photographs of McEwan whereas this was his only photograph of Finucane. I understand the Steven's Enquiry that Nelson must have been told the intended target was Finucane, otherwise he would have handed over one of his many better photographs of McEwan. Colonel Kerr's unit must have known that too.

Did the army know exactly what documents and what photographs Nelson had in his intelligence dump, did they have an inventory?

BENWELL: Yes, I would say they did because the normal position was that whenever they had a meeting with their agent they would take all the documents he had with him and photocopy them. So therefore they should have had a full record of everything that he had.

WARE: Including photographs?


WARE: So do you find Colonel Kerr's insistence that neither the FRU nor Nelson knew that Patrick Finucane was going to be shot or was being even targeted, do you find that believable ?


MICHAEL FINUCANE: I don't believe the claim that was made by Nelson's commanding officer that they were unaware of certain things, or that they were kept in the dark by their agent. They trained them, they infiltrated them, they ran him, supported him and monitored his activities very closely. They did it over a long period of time, a number of years, and I am not prepared to accept their story that they only knew the half of it.

WARE: You think the army have got something to hide on the Finucane murder, do you?

BENWELL: Yes, I think there are some unanswered questions there, yes.

WARE: Principally what?

BENWELL: What exactly there role was, what Nelson's role was, why this hasn't been reported as fully as so much else that Nelson did, those sort of things.

WARE: So you think the FRU are not telling the truth about Finucane?


WARE: That's a pretty serious charge.

MICHAEL FINUCANE: It's had a huge effect on all our lives, and so many people I think have been asked to swallow so much pain and have done so, my family included. But if we are prepared to do that, then we ought not to be expected to put up with lies and deceit as well.

WARE: Eventually the army agent Brian Nelson pushed his luck just too far. The murder of Lochlan Maginn was when everything began to unravel.

JENNY MAGINN Aged 10 when her father was killed: I remember hearing the loud banging noises echoing. I can remember my dad screaming, you know. I got out of bed and daddy had just come up to the top of the stairs and he fell on the landing. I could see the wounds on his body, you know.. the blood and there was blood splattered just everywhere, you know. He started to fall asleep and the neighbour had said to me.. you know.. get a pillow for his head and he was telling him not to go to sleep and.. you know.. and daddy did do.. you know.. he died there. (breaks down emotionally)

WARE: Once again Nelson had gathered intelligence on this target which he'd received from a promising new source. Nelson had given a video camera to soldiers to film intelligence bulletins posted inside their barracks. One named Lochlan Maginn as a suspected IRA intelligence officer. As the secret army records noted, Nelson urged a swift attack against the targets on the video. If no attacks resulted, he said, the soldiers would not supply details of targets anymore. To justify the murder, the Loyalists said Maginn was in the IRA. The family deny this. So in their attempt to prove they now only shot Republican terrorists, the Loyalists took the extraordinary step of pinning up some of Nelson's targeting files all over Belfast.

Panorama 1992

CAROLE CREIGHTON Brian Nelson's sister: The documents, plenty of them, they were too many, like too often and questions were going to be asked, it was obvious. You just can't paper Belfast with security documents and get away with it. So he was very worried about his cover from that stage.

WARE: By flaunting Nelson's targeting files the Loyalists had triggered a political explosion. The Irish government demanded an inquiry. The British government agreed. The army smelled trouble. A team of detectives from England was despatched to Belfast led by the then Deputy Chief constable of Cambridge John Stevens. The army went into a panic. One of their darkest secrets was at risk of being exposed. So their agent was given a crash course in 'in dept resistance to interrogation' just in case he was arrested.

16th September 1989

JOURNALIST: How impartial will the investigation be?

JOHN STEVENS: It will be totally impartial, I can assure you of that.

WARE: The army feared Nelson and his targeting files might be discovered, so they seized them from the flat where he'd hidden them. Nelson was also promised that if he was arrested, his handler would attempt to notify him.

Sir JOHN STEVENS Head, Stevens Enquiry: I've got a fair bit to do now so I'm asking you to excuse me an d allow me to go and continue with my investigations.

WARE: Finally, Nelson was told to deny all knowledge of the unit he worked for. The murky world of military intelligence was one thing, the British army's public face quite another. At their Northern Ireland headquarters it was as if the army couldn't do enough to help John Stevens. No sooner had he stepped off the plane than they volunteered a briefing.

SARAH BYNUM Detective Constable Stevens Enquiry, 1989-91: I asked, just kind of out of the blue, if they themselves ran informants and they denied this. They said categorically that they we re there in support of the RUC and that the RUC had the role of intelligence gathering.

WARE: The British army denied categorically running agents?

BYNUM: Categorically denied running agents.

WARE: Did you believe them?

LAURENCE SHERWOOD Detective Chief Superintendent Stevens Enquiry, 1989-93: Well it was very early days and I didn't want to call anybody a liar at that stage but it was difficult to believe that they weren't.

WARE: Because it wasn't true, was it.

BYNUM: No, it wasn't true.

WARE: In fact it was a complete lie.


WARE: Was that the first of several deceptions by the army?

BENWELL: It was certainly the first and there were others later, yes.

WARE: The extent of the army's deception would soon become apparent. Stevens examined documents that the police in Belfast had seized from Loyalist murder gangs. Many shared a distinctive common feature - spidery writing and details set out in a precise military style. A fingerprint finally identified the author though not, of course, his secret role.

CREIGHTON: He felt they were getting close to him. He started to worry a great deal, very, very much, that they were getting close to him, and he would shake, literally shake. I mean if I get nervous, I shake, and Brian's the same, you know.. you're just sort of highly strung. He was very much under stress.

WARE: Stevens now had the evidence to arrest Brian Nelson and other Loyalists. This operation was planned for dawn on the 11th January 1990. His enquiry offices were in one of the most secure buildings in Northern Ireland. By chance, at 10pm on the eve of the arrests some detectives returned to their office.

SHERWOOD: We had a very strong regime of ensuring everything was locked up. There were guards, armed guards, on the premises 24 hours a day, and the position of the offices within the centre of this large office block have themselves provided a fair amount of security, at least to a passing burglar.

BYNUM: We returned to Cepark and immediately noticed the signs of a fire. There were a number of fire alarm points in the building and I went to one, I smashed it with the heel of my shoe and nothing happened. I ran down to another one, smashed that, and again nothing happened.

WARE: The wall alarms weren't the only alarms that didn't work. In the Stevens offices a heat sensitive intruder alarm had been installed - that didn't work either.

BYNUM: So I went down to where there was a guardhouse where there was an officer stationed.

WARE: An RUC officer?

BYNUM: An RUC officer. My first words to him were to telephone for the fire brigade and he replied that the phones were down. I then told him to get on his radio to call for help and his reaction was one of almost disinterest of well.. you know.. 'what do you expect me to do about it?'. I went to the first floor where I found a phone and was able to dial out and dial to the fire brigade.

WARE: What had actually been destroyed?

LAURENCE SHERWOOD Detective Chief Superintendent Stevens Enquiry, 1989-93: A huge amount of our paperwork and that would have consisted of original statements, original documents, exhibits, things that… statements we'd taken from witnesses, from individuals, people we'd interviewed, and some of those we couldn't recover because obviously they related to individuals who had maybe written a statement under caution or produced an original exhibit.

WARE: The RUC suggested that the destruction of the Stevens offices had been caused by one of their female officers carelessly discarding a cigarette in a waste paper bin. No one in the Stevens Enquiry has ever bought that.

Do you think it was arson?

BYNUM: Yes, I do.

WARE: Is that just a suspicion or a conviction?

SARAH BYNUM Detective Constable Stevens Enquiry, 1989-91: I strongly believe that it was deliberately set, yes.

WARE: Do you think the fire could have been caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette?

Sir JOHN STEVENS Commissioner, Metropolitan Police: No, it wasn't caused by a discarded cigarette, absolutely not. What happened was round about the second or third day of that enquiry we were given some notification that something might well happen. We didn't know exactly what might happen, and that was the reason we had another duplicate office in Cambridgeshire police headquarters where we had statements which made sure that when the fire took place in the headquarters that we had at Cepark we could continue with the Enquiry, so no, it was not caused by a cigarette.

WARE: Sorry, you're saying you had a warning that there might be a fire of something like that?

STEVENS: A very vague warning that something like this might happen, yes.

WARE: As he surveyed the smouldering embers of his headquarters, John Stevens resolved the arrest of Nelson and others would go ahead on schedule, as planned.

SHERWOOD: Because of the fire we had a pretty late night, then we were up very early to carry out a whole series of raids and hopefully arrests. The vehicles went out with all the arrest teams and as the morning went on various people were arrested.

WARE: But not Brian Nelson?

SHERWOOD: But not Brian Nelson.

WARE: Had he been tipped off?

SHERWOOD: Well it looks now, with the benefit of hindsight that that must have happened.

WARE: The army had indeed kept their promise to alert him. Hours before the fire Nelson had fled to England. "Source is in such a tight corner at present" his handlers recorded "but not for long" they hoped. They thought a demoralised Stevens team would be packing their bags.

CREIGHTON: And he phoned the army, apparently, and they told him to come back. They would have documents for him to come back and carry on, business as usual.

WARE: The army were going to hand him back the documents.


WARE: He told you that?

CREIGHTON: Mmm hm. His army handlers had said come back, that they would meet him. I think something like at 7 o'clock, and at 6 o'clock the Stevens team turned up.

WARE: For Brian Nelson the dirty undercover war was over. But for the intelligence services the cover-up had only just begun.

In part two of this special investigation we travel halfway round the world to track down the colonel who ran Nelson's unit, and the police on the police, how the Special Branch covered up the truth about murder.

ALEX MASKEY: A murderer tells me that my colleagues are going to rid themselves of me out of Belfast because I'm treading on toes.

That's Panorama, the concluding part of a "Licence to Murder" this Sunday, after the 10 o'clock news.


Reporter: John Ware
Film Camera: Steve Organ; Simon Niblett
Sound Recordists: Ronan Hill; Sean Poe; Sean Taylor
Additional Cameramen: Eugene McVeigh; Garry Keane; Mark Sewell
VT Editor: Rod Hutson
Dubbing Mixer: Mike Wood
Colourists: Geoff Hockney
Original Research (1989-94): Geoff Seed; John Ware
Film Research: Kate Redman; Tim Shields
Production Team: Paul Caulfield; Mark Dowd; June Gamble; Liz Mace; Kathlyn Posner; Bessie Wedgwood
Production Co-ordinator: Rosa Rudnicka
Graphic Design: Kaye Huddy; Julie Tritton
Original Music: David Sinclair
Production Manager: Martha Estcourt
Unit Managers: Maria Ellis; Laura Govett
Film Editors: Simon Thorne; William Grayburn
Assistant Producers: Sarah Mole; Fiona Crack
Produced and Directed by: Eamon Hardy
Deputy Editor: Andrew Bell
Editor: Mike Robinson

Transcribed by 1-Stop Express Services, London W2 1JG Tel: 0207 724 7953 E-mail

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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