John Stalker, the former Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester who was framed by the RUC and MI5 when he came too close to the truth of the ‘shoot-to-kill’ scandal of the early 1980’s has died, aged 79.
I met Stalker – and his formidable wife, Stella – while helping the late Mary Holland organise a TV interview for Channel Four to mark the publication of his book on his inquiry into the RUC, during which he famously butted heads with then RUC Chief Constable, John ‘Jack’ Hermon.
At a dinner with Hermon, the RUC chief allegedly passed over to Stalker an envelope on which was sketched Stalker’s family history, showing his various Irish descendants. Stalker, who unfortunately lost the envelope, saw this as a veiled threat by Hermon that the RUC had done their homework on his background and would accuse him of pro-Catholic sympathies if needed.
To help frame questions for Mary, a small number of the researchers were given advance copies of his book, whose contents were the subject of feverish speculation by the rest of the media. We were sitting on a book which some in Fleet Street would have paid a lot of money for.
Stalker was taken off his investigation when largely bogus links were discovered between himself and Manchester businessman, Kevin Taylor, who was alleged, falsely it transpired, to have smuggled drugs on a yacht on which Stalker was a guest. Public anger in Manchester and in Ireland at Stalker’s treatment made him a hugely popular figure. His book sold out.
Stalker was taken off the investigation when he was intensifying pressure on MI5 to hand over a tape recording made by the spy agency of the death of a Catholic teenager, Michael Tighe, killed by a special RUC undercover unit at a hayshed near Lurgan, Co Armagh which had been used by the IRA to store explosives.
MI5 , which was and still is in charge of all covert electronic surveillance in Northern Ireland, was resisting the demand amid suspicions that the tape would also have demonstrated that the RUC shooters had not, as they claimed, given a warning before opening fire.
The tape might also have shown that the security establishment was aware that explosives stored at the shed were used by the IRA in a huge landmine explosion which killed three policemen. The suspicion was that the bombers had been allowed to plant the bomb – and the RUC/MI5 had allowed colleagues to be killed – so as to protect an informer.
The full story of the Stalker inquiry was told in a remarkable piece of television docudrama by Yorkshire TV, the sort of television journalism that Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch helped kill off within a few years. It lasts over three hours and is followed by a studio discussion (mostly for balance purposes). The discussion can be missed without any loss.
Incidentally John Hermon sued Yorkshire TV, not for alleging that he had allowed his officers to be killed by the IRA, but because it showed the actor playing him drinking a large glass of whiskey.