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’.