The leadership at Queens University, Belfast (QUB) was told that one of its law lecturers had met senior members of the Provisional IRA in Belfast just before the IRA launched a series of attacks in the early 1980’s, all of which involved the college’s law faculty, according to accounts of the period made available to thebrokenelbow.com.
But the university apparently chose to do nothing about it even though the warning was followed by three IRA attacks on the campus in the next two years, according to Mick McGovern, the co-author of ‘Killing Rage‘, the life story of Eamon Collins, a senior member of the IRA’s spy-catching unit who was brutally killed by the organisation in 1999 for revealing its secrets.
The law lecturer went on the run and sought refuge in Dublin when Collins, the IRA figure who introduced him to the IRA, was arrested by the RUC and agreed to turn ‘supergrass’ against his former colleagues.
The IRA attacks resulted in the death of Edgar Graham, a 29-year old law lecturer and a rising Unionist politician, the serious wounding of an RUC Inspector and law student at the college, and the near death of the then Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Lowry who narrowly escaped a sniper’s bullets.
The warning to QUB came from David Trimble, then an academic in the Queen’s law faculty but later the First Minister in the first post-Good Friday Agreement administration which saw his party share power with both the SDLP and the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein.
Trimble revealed his role in a series of interviews and exchanges with McGovern before and after his book was published.
According to a legal note made in March 1996 by McGovern, Trimble’s claims, were then incorporated into a legal briefing presented to his publishers, Granta.
Mick McGovern has made his notes and the briefing available to thebrokenelbow.com, extracts of which are published below.
He wrote that Trimble had told him that the then UDA Supreme Commander, Andy Tyrie had phoned him to tell him that a law lecturer called David Ewins had been seen in the company of ‘senior republicans’ in Belfast. One of those he met was allegedly a member of the Army Council. How the UDA came across this information was not explained.
It is likely that Tyrie and Trimble knew each other from the early to mid-1970’s when Trimble, along with other Unionist politicians, worked with the UDA to oppose measures such as the Sunningdale power-sharing government.
According to the note:
‘Trimble said he had passed on the information to the university authorities but, so far as he knew, nothing had been done about it.’
Trimble told McGovern, according to the note (see below), that his warning had been given prior to the first IRA attack at the campus.
This means that even when the attacks began QUB seemingly failed to act on Trimble’s warning. The first IRA attack, on Lord Lowry was in March 1982 and the last, on Edgar Graham was in December 1983, a span of twenty-one months.
The law lecturer, an English academic called David Ewins, was later implicated by Eamon Collins in three IRA attacks on the QUB campus, one of which claimed the life of rising Unionist politician Edgar Graham, who was shot dead by a gunman on the pavement outside the law faculty at the university in December 1983.
The first attack was on then Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Lowry who was making his way into the Senior Common Room at QUB to take lunch with members of the law faculty when an IRA gunman opened fire, missing him but wounding an academic who was nearby. That shooting happened in March 1982.
The second IRA attack happened in May 1982 when a gunman ambushed RUC Inspector William Fulton as he was about to sit one of his law exams. He was hit twice, including once in the head, but miraculously survived.
The third and last attack, in December 1983 claimed the life of Edgar Graham.
Dave Ewins was present for the two of the attacks, on Lord Lowry and Fulton. He was an invigilator at the exam that Inspector Fulton was supposed to sit and was scheduled to attend the lunch with Lowry. When Fulton re-sat the exam, Ewins marked it and gave him a high score.
When Eamon Collins was arrested in 1985 and agreed to become a ‘supergrass’, Ewins fled QUB and the North and settled in Dublin where he obtained work teaching law at a private college. Although Collins retracted his supergrass testimony and was later acquitted of terrorist charges, Ewins stayed in Dublin where he is out of the reach of British authorities.
In the face of threats to sue for libel, McGovern’s publishers excluded the chapter on Ewins from the final version of the book. Ewins also threatened to sue Independent Newspapers and Carlton Television which had made a documentary based on Eamon Collins’ story. But after years of inaction the High Court in Dublin struck out Ewins case, while several years later Carlton settled out of court on terms that were not disclosed.
Following that court decision, Mick McGovern published the chapter on Ewins on his blog where it has sat without objection from Ewins for over a decade. It can be accessed here.
Ewins apparently still lives and works in Dublin. He settled in the north of the city, married an African student and has a family.
Here is the title page of the legal note prepared by Mick McGovern for his publisher:
Part of the note on McGovern’s interview with David Trimble: