RUC Also Had Portable Radios When Jean McConville Was Abducted

By James Kinchin-White and Ed Moloney

In his new book about the disappearing of Jean McConville, ‘Say Nothing‘, American writer and New Yorker journalist, Patrick Radden Keefe writes that a former RUC Special Branch officer told him that hand-held radios of the sort the late IRA leader, Brendan Hughes maintained was found in the Divis Flats apartment of Jean McConville in late 1972, were not in use by either branch of the security forces at the time.

In other words, since neither the British Army nor the RUC had access to such devices at the time, Jean McConville could not have have used one in her capacity as an alleged agent of the British military.

Jean McConville’s possession of the radio is a key part of the IRA allegation that she was a British army spy and the RUC claim to Keefe that such a device was not in use at the time serves to significantly undermine it.

If the radio was not in service in 1972, as Keefe’s RUC officer claimed, then the IRA must be suspected of inventing the story and McConville was thus innocent of the charge against her. It must mean that some other motive, ranging from base sectarianism (Jean McConville was an East Belfast Protestant) to local unpopularity, was the reason for her death.

As Keefe wrote:

‘There was also mystery relating to the detail of the radio itself. Some former police officers, like Trevor Campbell, maintained that neither the army or the police were using hand-held radios to communicate in those days, much less to communicate with informants’.

If, on the other hand, the radio was in service, it adds credibility to the IRA claim against Jean McConville. By no means does it prove she was a spy, merely that she could have been.

So the existence, or otherwise, of such a radio and its use by the security forces circa 1972 is crucial to the McConville narrative.

There is a plethora of evidence, much of it published on this blog, that the British military was using such radios – either Stornophones or the Pye Pocketfones which replaced them – between 1971 and late 1972, important elements of which Keefe either ignored or failed to detect. You can read that part of the story here.

But now evidence has been unearthed from the British government’s own archives at Kew, Surrey showing that the RUC was also using hand-held radios at this time.

The evidence comes in an end of tour report by the 3rd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment which was based in the lower Falls and Divis Flats area between 12th April 1972 and August 3rd 1972.

The report was prepared for the British Army’s top brass and, significantly, was embargoed until 2017, an interdiction of some forty-five years. Normally, reports are embargoed for twenty years but there are exceptions, usually made, it is assumed, because the contents are still so sensitive.

For instance, War Diaries from 39 Brigade, i.e. Belfast, at the time when Brigadier Frank Kitson ran military operations, are embargoed for 100 years. Kitson is believed to have founded the controversial Mobile Reaction Force (MRF) unit during his time in NI.

In a section describing the system of radio communications used by the Royal Anglians, the report has this to say, in paragraph 83 (e):

Pye Pocketfone RUC – limited number of sets for Bn and Coys Ops rooms for monitoring of local RUC Divisional nets.

Translated into plain language, this paragraph is saying that the RUC gave the Royal Anglians some of their own Pye Pocketfones so that they could communicate with senior RUC personnel.


The reason for this is that the British Army Pocketfones and the RUC Pocketfones were built to different specifications and operated on different frequency ranges; to make communication with the police possible, the Anglians needed RUC models. And so they were loaned some by the police.

Ergo, RUC personnel were using hand-held radios in 1972; Trevor Campbell was wrong and for reasons only he can explain, gave Patrick Keefe misleading information. What those reasons are is a different matter, but the affair does raise troubling questions.

(Interestingly, the report reveals that the Pye radios were issued to the Royal Anglians mid-tour, circa early July 1972, suggesting this was when they replaced the Stornophone as standard issue.)

Beneath the following extract, the reader can see other evidence for this report’s bona fides along with an interesting photograph of a violent episode in the Divis area during the Royal Anglians’ tour of duty. It lasted for four days and was called the ‘Divis Battle’.

The Divis Battle

11 responses to “RUC Also Had Portable Radios When Jean McConville Was Abducted

  1. Great work, I personally feel that I have no reason to doubt what The Dark had said about this case, but yet again this further evidence goes to show how far Black Ops were (and indeed STILL are been used on this island!)

  2. But WHO claimed to have *found* such a radio in her flat ? If PIRA  ever produced one as *evidence*, that is of no value as proof. How can PIRA be trusted in any  of this  – those who undeniably condemned, kidnapped, tortured, murdered and secretly buried Jean  ? And how much time  did a widowed mother of 10 have to *spy* on anything   – except time to struggle to survive ? Tom

    • 1 – Brendan Hughes was in charge of the initial matter, and I would consider him a reliable source. Unless you don’t think he was right to say Adams was involved in her murder.

      2 – Do you really think the IRA are holding onto such things after 40 odd years?

      3 – Because the evidence lines up with their story. After all, why would the Army lie to the RUC about her disappearance, when the RUC were on the right track?

      4 – All she had to do was look out the window.

  3. No claim was ever made, until after the GFA when the PIRA claimed that they had murdered Mrs McConville due to a radio transmitter being found in her flat, however, the model wasn’t available at that time, so it was ditched & replaced by a new PIRA claim that she was seen entering a Army barracks, this has also been binned & now we have the radio story, it’s all rubbish

    • 1 – Considering the IRA never admitted responsibility until 1999, it’s no wonder you didn’t hear anything about the radio.

      2 – You can say that until you’re blue in the face, but it makes no difference. The Saville Report lists it being in use by January 1972. No amount of sticking your fingers in your ears will change that.

      3 – No it hasn’t. She was caught first time with the transmitter, then spotted at an ID parade in Hastings Street barracks.

      4 – Considering the depth of your “argument”, I don’t hold out much hope for what you genuinely believe happened.

  4. I have raised this before so perhaps someone can provide a response. As far as I am aware there have been not other cases of informers being given such radios. Why would Jean McConville been the exception? Back in the day just about every RUC, UDR and British Army two way radio system, if within range, could have been picked up by a bog standard FM radio. If me and my friends could do it for a laugh, I have no doubt the Provo’s were making a point of doing it in Divis. There is no way they would have allowed any source to use such a transmitter for this very reason.

    And please no more referring to Brendan Hughes as ‘The Dark’. I know, and just about everyone else knows that his nickname was ‘Darkie’. Much less PC, and doesn’t quite fit in with the Provo’s revisionism of the whole story

    • Well, first of all we don’t know whether other informers were given radios as a way of communicating with their handlers, but if you think about it this is a vital part of the job. What to do in a place like Divis where there are few working public phones and none that are safe to use? People are assuming that a radio was used to pass on info, but it is much more likely used to set up a meet at a pre-arranged place within an agreed space of time, especially when urgency was at a premium. It is called tradecraft. A code could be used for instance to make even harder for an eavesdropper to work out what was happening. That is, assuming JMcC was an agent. Definitive proof is still to be obtained but being one of the few to have actually talked to Brendan Hughes about this, and knowing the character of the man, I am inclined to believe him. Incidentally people keep saying that ‘the IRA’ was the source of this story; they were not. Hughes and Dolours Price were among the sources for this story and they had broken with the IRA at this stage. At no point was the IRA a source for this story, i.e. IRA as in P. O’Neill-IRA. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me re the story but I do mind it when they get basic facts wrong. It suggests they are re-writing the story either because they don’t know better, or because they do know what they are doing…..

  5. 4 – All she had to do was look out the window.

    Which would have made her a pretty useless source. More valuable information would have came from covert and overt military observation posts situated around Divis.

    • No it wouldn’t. She could have alerted her handlers to the fact that known faces were associating together, and to expect something.

      In 1972, the Army were still touching base with the area. People like Jean McConville would have been useful to them in the early days. After 1974, not so much.

      • Incidentally, although Patrick Keefe quoted only one former RUC Special Branch officer in his book, he has written elsewhere that he spoke to two policemen who both said the same thing. From what I have been able to glean about his sources, it seems as if this other police source was a very senior, former Special Branch man, now in the PSNI, who certainly should have known that such radios were in use by the RUC at the relevant time. If that was the case, and we have two policemen, one very senior, denying something they should have know was actually true, the obvious question begs to be asked: why did they mislead Patrick Keefe?

  6. Pingback: Evidence That The RUC Was Issued Portable Radios ‘Between 1967 and 1970’ | The Broken Elbow

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