Fortnight Publications Ltd.

A Flawed Account of Why I Was Shot
A Very British Jihad: Collusion, Conspiracy and Cover-Up in Northern Ireland by Paul Larkin
Review by: Adrian Guelke
Fortnight, No. 425 (May, 2004), p. 24
Published by: Fortnight Publications Ltd.
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Fortnight MAY 2004
AAdrian Guelke books
A Very British Jihad: collusion, conspiracy
and cover-up in Northern Ireland
By Paul Larkin
Beyond the Pale
ISBN: 1-9900960-25-7
Paul Larkin is a television journalist who
made a series of programmes for the BBC
Northern Ireland current affairs slot,
Spotlight. The book draws on the research
he did at the time for these programmes,
but also contains much new material as a
result of further research he carried out
since. The very first programme he made
was on the murder of the lawyer, Pat
Finucane. This was in February 1989. It is
therefore not surprising that the question
of collusion looms large in Larkin's book.
Though Larkin does recognise that it is
impossible to treat the British state as if
every member of it is of a single mind, his
allegations of collusion go much further
than suggesting that individual police
officers and members of military
intelligence were implicated in collusion
with loyalist paramilitaries. This is where
the case made by Larkin runs into problems
and I'll illustrate the point by examining his
discussion of my case.
In September 1991 I was shot by the
Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). I did not
realise at the time that the people who had
broken into my house in the early hours of
the morning were loyalists. Indeed, as I lay
in my hospital bed after the operation to
*remove the one bullet that had struck me, I
imagined that my assailants had been
republicans. This was because I had
received a threatening letter after writing a
piece in the Irish Independent. This was on
the subject, as it happens, of allegations of
an inner circle in the RUC colluding with
loyalists. My scepticism about these
allegations had upset the letter-writer(s). I
was disabused of the notion that
republicans were responsible when a police
officer appeared at my bedside with a
statement issued by the UFF. This asserted
that the UFF had shot me in the belief that
I was an IRA intelligence officer. It also
claimed that 'my' activities were known to
M15, Interpol and Mossad. The alarming
implication of this piece of news was that
the UFF would try again to kill me in the
hospital. The RUC took this threat seriously
enough to move me to a private ward and
to provide me with bodyguards.
Fortunately for me, the UDA
and hence
the UFF
quickly realised that it had made
a mistake, largely thanks to the work done
by the journalist, Alan Murray. Murray
discovered that the information contained
in the UFF statement did come from a
security-force file, but about somebody else.
Let's call him Mr X. But it wasn't a
straightforward case of mistaken identity. I
had been deliberately targeted by an agent
of South African Military Intelligence. This
agent had somehow got hold of the
security-force file about Mr X and then
changed the details, inserting my name and
address. He had then shown the file to the
loyalists. The switching of names part of the
story does not appear in Larkin's book. To
my consternation, it isn't even made clear
that I am not a republican, which is
extraordinarily irresponsible of Larkin in
the circumstances. However, he does just
about manage to convey the impression to
the reader that there was South African
involvement and that the reason I was shot
had something to do with my being 'an
enemy of apartheid'. (I should mention in
parenthesis that while I was indeed
opposed to apartheid, I was not a member
of the ANC. Exactly why South African
Military Intelligence was so keen to kill me
is still not entirely evident.)
The problem for Larkin is that my case
hardly demonstrates the intimate level of
collusion that he wishes to suggest existed
among the loyalists, elements of the
security forces and the apartheid regime.
Larkin claims that Brian Nelson, the UDA
intelligence officer with both security-force
and South African connections, had a role
in supplying information about the file at
the heart of my case. This seems highly
improbable. Had the UDA had access to
the file about Mr X, then it would have
been impossible for the agent of South
African Military Intelligence to exploit his
contacts with the loyalists to get me shot.
The UFF would have realised from the
outset that I was not Mr X. What is more,
the readiness of an agent of South African
Military Intelligence to behave in this way
hardly pointed to a durable relationship
between apartheid South Africa and the
It was not the only indication of the
opportunistic and instrumental nature of
their relationship. When three loyalists
were arrested in Paris in April 1989 in the
company of a South African diplomat, in
the subsequent court case the French judge
treated the loyalists leniently. He did so
because what they had been handing over
to the diplomat was just a display model of
a Shorts missile and not anything that could
have been of any value to the South African
military. In addition, my case also hardly
suggests that the security forces had a
complete picture of what the loyalists were
up to, since the British authorities would
hardly have had an interest in allowing me
to be shot if they had had any advance
knowledge of the UFF operation. (I was
told that the first theory the police
developed after my shooting, before the
UFF statement but after they had
established that loyalists were responsible,
was that I had been a target because of my
public support for the Anglo-Irish
Agreement and because my wife's first
name was Brigid!)
Larkin's interpretation of many of the
other episodes he describes in his book is
just as open to argument, to put the matter
mildly. In particular, he does not take on
board the fact that prosecutions of people
involved in collusion point not to
widespread collusion but rather the
opposite, since if collusion had been
routine practice the state would hardly have
been in a position to have punished those
responsible. The obvious defence of
anyone prosecuted for crimes while
engaged in collusive activity would have
been to implicate those higher up. This is
in fact what exposed the activities of
assassination squads within the security
forces in South Africa. This is not to
underestimate the damage that the issue of
collusion has done to the reputation of the
government or the security forces.
However, I would surmise that what has
done most damage has been their
inclination after the event to cover up
failings of control, so as to avoid
embarrassment. This has allowed critics
such as Larkin to assume the very worst.
One final point should be made about
Larkin's book. Its lack of an index is going
to frustrate many readers. Indeed, the
absence of an index makes the book almost
unusable, given the huge cast of characters
involved in the various episodes he
discusses. That is perhaps just as well
the amount of
f o o l i s h
the book
about a
number of
fisures in
h5 i s
t _
_ !
rW ; {Ei:S:tt E
PAGE 24 |
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