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Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone who provides us with updates on the Freddie Scappaticci case and the Ivor Bell case. (begins time stamp ~37:12 )
MG: With us on the line we have the great historian, author, expert on the Irish conflict, Ed Moloney. Ed, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
EM: My pleasure, Martin.
MG: Alright, we’re going to talk about two things: First of all during the week, Freddie Scappaticci – he is somebody who was a British agent, infiltrated the Irish Republican Army – committed many, or is believed to have committed many murders while acting within the Irish Republican Army as an ostensible Irish Republican Army member who was really acting on behalf of the British government. Could you tell us a little bit about Freddie Scappaticci and what his importance is, Ed?
EM: Yeah, Freddie Scappaticci – the name is Italian as you’re listeners probably guessed and one of many Irish-Italians who joined the Provisional IRA in Belfast – there’s quite a few famous characters who came from that community which arrived in Belfast in the late nineteenth century mostly doing marble work when Belfast City Hall was being constructed – they did a lot of the marble work inside and a lot of the tile work and he’s one of those families from The Markets area and he joined the IRA fairly early on in The Troubles and rose through the ranks, was interned, came out and under the reorganisation of the IRA lead by the Gerry Adams leadership he was appointed to a new unit in the IRA called the Internal Security Unit (ISU) whose job it was, and this is the first time in the modern IRA they had such a unit, their job was to basically hunt out informers in their ranks and administer the sort of very rough justice that the IRA would mete out to people who were caught giving information to the British ie they would be shot. Well, for some reason during that period he had a falling out with someone in the IRA – the background to that story we’ve never really been able to discover but it seems that he got a bad beating or a very bad falling out with someone in the IRA and out of revenge or his desire for revenge he offered his services to the British Army and he became an informer for the British Army and one of the most important informers, probably, during the entire period of The Troubles because he rose, thanks largely to his new patrons working assiduously on his behalf, he rose through the ranks of the Internal Security Unit to eventually head it.
Now the Internal Security Unit had enormous power in the IRA – it could go into any meeting, including Army Council meetings, and question/interrogate people and no one really could stop them. They were given that mandate from the very get-go. And they would investigate IRA operations that went badly wrong to see if there was evidence of informers. So there really wasn’t much about the IRA that they didn’t know and I’ve often compared the Internal Security Unit to like an electrical circuit box or one of those fuse boxes that you have in your homes. All the lines, all the wiring in the house goes through the fuse box at one stage or another and that was the Internal Security Unit – and there’s very, very little that they did not know about what was happening inside the IRA and to have an agent within that unit, particularly a high-ranking one like Freddie Scappaticci, would be priceless and of course he wasn’t the only agent as things have turned out – we’ve discovered the identities of others who worked in the same unit who were also informers. And of course if you’ve got an informer running the unit it’s so much easier to place other agents in there so there was no shortage of information flowing from that unit and I would say it’s probably the most important intelligence success that the British enjoyed during the entire length of The Troubles – that was the recruitment of Freddie Scappaticci.
Now where the story gets dark and very dubious is that of course in order to maintain his cover as being a loyal and faithful IRA Volunteer he had to do all the things that the Internal Security Unit did which included taking people away and shooting them, killing them – people who had been judged to be informers and there can be, I think, very, very little doubt that this was all done with the knowledge and approval of his masters in the British Army. It was being run by an outfit called the Force Research Unit (FRU) which was also running people like Brian Nelson who is now dead but he was deeply involved in the plans to assassinate Pat Finucane. And it stands to reason that if you’re going to run one of these agents then in order to maintain their cover they must allowed to behave as if they were not an agent – in other words that they would do all the things an IRA Volunteer would do and in his case that meant killing people as I said which means that the big scandal here which has led to demands for inquiries and has led to court cases on the part of people whose family members were victims of Freddie Scappaticci is that there’s a cry or call for some sort of inquiry or some discovery of what really happened in relation to British government knowledge because this sort of activity and the running of an agent as senior and as important to the British Army as Freddie Scappaticci that’s a piece of knowledge that would be shared at the very highest levels of the British government. There’s an outfit called the Joint Intelligence Committee which has all the major intelligence and spy agencies represented on it – MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Military Intelligence and so on and so forth and I’m sure there are outfits that we’ve never even heard of but they’re all on this committee which is a Cabinet Committee in which the Prime Minister of the day sits as well.
So Prime Ministers from let’s say you know mid-to late 1970’s on until the end of the 1980’s or early 1990’s – go through how many Prime Ministers Britain had at that time – and every single one of them would have known about Freddie Scappaticci and would have essentially, because they didn’t stop him, they would have approved of his activities which included as I say killing people with the knowledge and approval of British intelligence. So it’s a major, major scandal. There are all sorts of attempts now in the courts and also pressure on the authorities to have some sort of inquiry. They have appointed an outside policeman to look at all of this but none of his report will be made public or at least only those bits which the government deems fit for publication – the rest of it will remain secret. We will never get to read his report. We’ll never know who he questioned – all of this will take place in private and in secret – the very usual British way of doing these things – in fact most governments behave this way – they’re not special in that regard. So whether we ever get know the full truth of Freddie Scappaticci’s activities and how many people – and the estimates range you know twenty, thirty, forty people that he may have killed or overseen their deaths at least during his intelligence career – we’ll be lucky to find the truth but there are efforts going on at the moment in the courts.
MG: Ed, there is another case that happened last week, that of Ivor Bell. He’s a veteran Republican. He is being charged with encouraging or soliciting people who are not before the court with a killing that occurred in 1972 and I’m struck – Freddie Scappaticci – there’s seems to be evidence or claims – statements that he made to people who were family members of victims of his that would have proved his involvement in quite a number of killings working on behalf of the British government meanwhile he’s not being prosecuted.
MG: Ivor Bell is being prosecuted and was in court again last week for encouraging or soliciting people not before the court for one killing on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. Could you tell us what happened with Ivor Bell’s case last week?
EM: Yes. It now seems that there’s a distinct possibility that Ivor Bell will never be brought to trial and that’s because his legal team made an application which was granted by the court for him to have a medical examination on the grounds that he was not fit to plead. In other words that he could not attend the court and take part in its proceedings in a cogent and knowing way. Now one can only guess what the defence team are suggesting is wrong with Ivor Bell but there are obviously possibilities there and if they are shown by medical examination to be true and that essentially they say Ivor Bell doesn’t understand or cannot understand what is going in the court then he cannot be tried because you know under common law you’re not allowed to try someone who’s putting up a defence unless they’re capable of doing so. So, this may, we don’t know, we’ll have to wait for a month or so while the medical inquiries and examinations are made but that’s what has happened. And of course you know Ivor Bell is no spring chicken. He’s getting on in years and it’s one of the ironies of all of this is that here you have the police pursuing very old men for ancient offences and it would be the most ironic of ironies if it ended up that because of their age that the police are not able to have their day in court against them but we shall see.
MG: Well another irony, Ed, Ivor Bell is being prosecuted for something that happened in 1972 based on evidence, a statement that they claim he made – he denies that he made it to the Boston tapes – meanwhile, there’s no problem with expenses, the expense of sending representatives over to get those tapes, accumulate that evidence, bring him before a court – that seems to go ahead very rapidly once they forced those tapes to be released. Meanwhile the Bloody Sunday troopers, we’ve had numerous guests – Kate Nash was on a couple of weeks ago – none of them has been charged or brought to a court for something that happened, was witnessed, was overwhelming evidence about, there were many journalists, many witnesses with their statements which Saville, the person who presided over the Saville Inquiry, basically said was perjury, which the British Prime Minister said was ‘unjust and unjustifiable killings’ which would be murder or manslaughter yet none of them is brought into a court room. What is the lesson that we can draw from this?
Hello? Ed? (telephone connection lost)
Ed was so shocked he dropped off the line – we’re going to try to get him back on. That’s what happens when you make a local call. We were able to go to Ireland and get John Crawley, we were able to get Dan Dennehy on a cell phone but we go to a local land line and we just dropped off Ed Moloney. We were making the point: The British government spent a fortune moving against Ivor Bell who I believe is about seventy-nine years of age, moving against him for an incident that happened in 1972. They made no moves – Do we have him back? Ed, are you with us again?
EM: Yes, I am. I don’t know what happened there.
MG: Ed, we thought you were so shocked at what the British are doing against Ivor Bell as compared to what they’re not doing with the British troopers of Bloody Sunday that you were speechless.
EM: Absolutely…fainted in horror.
MG: Alright, Ed, we were just making the point: I don’t know how much money the British government spent on getting the Boston tapes and moving against Ivor Bell on the basis of that evidence. But they make no moves to bring any British trooper for Bloody Sunday, much less one of the superiors, into a British court room. They’ve made no moves thus far and it just seems to be one delay after another meanwhile they seem to be moving rapidly to move against Ivor Bell for something that happened in 1972. How can the British get away with doing that?
EM: Well, because no one’s stopping them, essentially, and no one’s complaining about it and you know that’s why they’re able to do it. I mean if there was a campaign against the way that the police are prosecuting these cases then you know you might have a different result but there’s been you know – from all the established parties who are present in the Assembly – there’s been silence and they’re all acquiescing in this and particularly now that there’s no chance that Gerry Adams is going to be prosecuted interest has fallen off entirely almost and you know we shall see what happens with the Bloody Sunday paratroopers. Personally I would be astonished if there were charges brought. The whole British military establishment would rise up in anger at that – you know, that these were their soldiers doing their job on their orders and it sets a very bad precedent which the British Army has never in the past been prepared to accept. And secondly, you know you could argue, as people like Eamonn McCann argues very cogently, that the wrong people would be put on trial anyway, that the people who gave the orders, who set up the conditions, quite deliberately in his view, that allowed Bloody Sunday to happen and that this was going to be a punitive expedition by the Paratroopers and it all went badly awry – those people, the Generals and the Colonels, etc who were in charge that day they’ve all been absolved of any blame by Saville – and no surprise in that – that’s what a lot of these inquiries are set up to do essentially is to find scapegoats – and the scapegoats are the ordinary soldiers who went out and did the business on behalf of their officers and you know one could argue that: No, they shouldn’t be charged because they’re not the guilty ones in a sense – they may have pulled the trigger but they were told to pull the trigger and put in circumstances where they were encouraged to pull the trigger by other people who are much more senior who are getting off scot-free.
MG: Alright, Ed and it’s just another case, the British government – they seem to be taking efforts to insure that none of their troopers will be – or soldiers or members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) – are being brought before British courts and charged with offences. Ivor Bell was certainly a very senior, well-respected Republican – people that he would have been affiliated with for many years are now in government but it doesn’t seem to be able to halt the prosecution of him just as it doesn’t seem to be able to halt prosecution against Gerry McGeough or Seamus Kearney or others who were involved with Republican activities. Alright Ed, we’re just about out of time. I want to thank you for being with us…
MG: …and giving us those views.
EM: No problem. Bye-bye. (ends time stamp ~ 54:14)