When barrister Peter Sefton was studying for his Honours degree in law at Queen’s University Belfast between 1967 and 1971, some of his classmates were members of the RUC, ranging in rank from Constable to Head Constable (station chief) and when chatting with them, some raised a shared gripe.
Their working lives had been transformed, they said, when they were issued with small, hand-held radios, so that when they were out on foot patrol, their bosses could keep in touch with them and vice-versa.
But instead of making their lives easier, a common complaint was that no longer could they wander off, undetected, to a lady friend’s house, for instance, to while away a happy hour or so, out of the reach, so to speak, of their superiors. The radios meant that the boss was always tracking their movements.
Peter can’t remember precisely when the radios were introduced, just that it was some time between 1967 and 1970, the year before he graduated. Why 1970? Well that was when he wrote an essay about life in the RUC in which he mentioned the radios. Remarkably, he kept the essay and this weekend he sent me a copy of the relevant page which I have reproduced below.
Peter’s testimony provides compelling evidence that some time between 1967 and 1970, the RUC had been issued with portable radios of the sort allegedly provided to Jean McConville, who was accused of being an informer by the IRA, murdered and her remains buried in a secret grave in late 1972.
Peter has another reason to be believed in this matter. His father, James Sefton was an RUC Reservist, so policing was in the family – although the connection meant that the family was to be shattered by an unimaginable horror.
Both his parents were killed in an IRA booby-trap car bomb in June 1990; his father, who had retired by then and could not by any standard be described as ‘a legitimate target’, died instantly in the blast, which occurred outside their North Belfast home. His wife, Ellen, Peter’s mother, succumbed later in hospital.
For years, Peter has been campaigning for the truth behind his parents’ murder. Peter suspects British intelligence had foreknowledge of the plot to kill his parents because at least one informer was privy to the plans for the attack. Implicit in this belief is the suspicion that the agent’s handlers approved his parents’ murder.
Peter emailed me after the last posting on this blog dealing with the RUC’s acquisition of portable radios, some of which, according to a British Army document, had been loaned to the 3rd Batt Royal Anglian Regiment in the summer of 1972, then stationed in the lower Falls area.
He had something significant to add to the story.
The security forces’ use of portable radios is central to the allegation by the IRA in Divis at the time, that Jean McConville was working for the British Army. The late Brendan Hughes said one was found in an IRA search of her apartment, after which she admitted to being an agent.
A recent book, ‘Say Nothing‘, quotes a former RUC Special Branch officer as saying that such radios were not in use at the time of her abduction, in December 1972 and therefore the IRA claim was false. You can read about the controversy, here and here.
Peter Sefton’s testimony, based on a contemporary document, not only challenges that Special Branch assertion, it raises questions about why the RUC’s successors are so intent on challenging the plausibility of the ‘radio story’ in the McConville saga.
First the text of Peter’s email, followed by the page from his 1970 essay:
Belated happy Thanksgiving.
Re your articles on radios, I’m sure that the RUC were issued with “pocket radios” somewhere between 1967 and 1970. I know this for two reasons. In the Law Faculty we had a number of RUC officers getting their law degree whilst still serving. They ranged from constables to Head Constables. Some were disheartened at the introduction of the two way radio because, of an evening it had been their habit to rest a while in a house, perhaps that of a lady. Now the station was constantly in touch.
Additionally , I wrote an essay about the history of the RUC. I wrote it in 1970 and I recorded that the pocket/two-way radio was already in use.
I attach a copy of the relevant page. God knows why I could still find it.