Monthly Archives: October 2019

Sorry, Mr Simpson – We Need You To Tell All You Know About Finucane Murder

For instance, who was the guy involved in Pat Finucane’s killing who hanged himself? And why did he do it? Why are we learning about this key detail only now, thirty years afterwards? You have a responsibility to tell the full truth, the full story.

Here is what retired RUC cop Alan Simpson wrote about the Pat Finucane killing in the Belfast Telegraph. What he writes is a tease, like a high class stripper he only hints at what lies beneath the beguiling bulges, leaving the reader gasping for more. But the audience won’t leave the theatre until all is revealed.

Alan Simpson: An RUC detective colleague told me the Finucane murder would follow me to my grave… I don’t believe we’ve heard the last of it yet

Pat Finucane
Pat Finucane

When I joined the RUC in 1970, Northern Ireland had just experienced almost two years of civil unrest, but, like many, I felt it was but another episode in the troubled history of Ireland and would soon pass. How wrong I was.

Little did I realise that 30 years of bitter violence lay ahead, which would result in almost 3,700 deaths, with thousands more injured.

I was at the coal-face of anti-terror policing during most of those terrible years and it began for me when I was posted as a probationer constable to Tennent Street in north Belfast. The station was responsible for policing the Shankill, Ardoyne and Oldpark areas.

The reality of my posting was to prove that the Troubles were far from over as, during my first two years of uniformed service, I was the first officer at the scene of 12 sectarian murders. Most of these victims had been shot, but others had been savagely beaten to death.

The faces of these unfortunates were like something from a horror movie. It was clear that the hatred some people had for each other ran much deeper than I could ever have imagined.

In late 1972, I was accepted into the CID and gradually worked my way up the ladder, ending my service as a detective superintendent and deputy head of the CID for Belfast. At that stage, I had attended approximately 100 murder scenes and had faced down some of the most notorious terrorists, ranging from Martin Meehan of the IRA to Lenny Murphy, leader of the Shankill Butcher gang. I thought I had seen and heard everything.

But I was totally unprepared for the phone call I received at home on the evening of Sunday, February 12, 1989, informing me that leading solicitor Pat Finucane had been shot dead at his home.

I had known Mr Finucane from my many days at Belfast Crown Court and while it would have been unwise for him to be seen speaking to me in the crowded foyer, occasionally I would meet him in an isolated corridor and he would give me a friendly nod.

On arriving at the scene, it was cordoned off and I was led to the kitchen of the house by the local CID duty officer, where I saw Mr Finucane lying on his back. His face was a mass of bullet holes and powder burns and this indicated that the killer had stood over him and pumped bullets into his head from a distance not greater than 18 inches.

We also noted two bullet holes in the glass kitchen door; the gunman had downed his victim by first firing two shots through the door and into Mr Finucane’s body.

Retired policeman Alan Simpson
Retired policeman Alan Simpson

Several spent 9mm cartridges littered the floor, so the likely weapon was a Browning automatic. This was undoubtedly the work of a very professional assassin from either the UFF or UVF.

Geraldine Finucane, the victim’s wife, had been shot in the foot and was in hospital, but the rest of the family had isolated themselves from us by staying in the front lounge behind a closed door.

I had the scene photographed, videotaped and expertly examined by forensic scientists, in addition to Professor Marshall, the State Pathologist, after which we placed Mr Finucane in a body-bag and had him removed to the mortuary.

I then went to the nearby Antrim Road RUC station, where I summoned extra detectives to work on the case and set up an incident room.

Many observers have written about the case and I am correctly presented as the senior investigating officer, but this was just another killing to add to the list of murder investigations then under supervision by me.

However, I did realise that the murder of Mr Finucane was causing a political storm and hitting the news headlines worldwide, so, in reality, I dedicated myself more to his case.

Two days after the murder, I was surprised to receive a phone call from RUC HQ, advising me that the head of the CID for Northern Ireland, Assistant Chief Constable Wilfred Monahan, was on his way to visit the Finucane incident room. He stayed for about 15 minutes and I saw him back down to his car.

Before getting in, he turned to me and said, “Alan, if I were you, I wouldn’t get too deeply involved in this one.” He then closed his car door and was driven off.

I was quite stunned by his advice and not a little confused. Was he saying I had a lot of murders on my hands and Mr Finucane was a republican sympathiser unworthy of too much police time? Or was there some deeper meaning?

I returned to the incident room and continued with the investigation full steam ahead, but the following day I received another unexpected visitor from RUC HQ in the form of a Special Branch detective chief superintendent, who was deputy head of Special Branch for Northern Ireland. I thought he was going to offer me some vital information, but I simply briefed him and he left.

Almost from the moment I arrived at the scene of the murder of Pat Finucane, I sensed that there was a great deal of hostility towards the RUC from the family. I wasn’t in the least surprised as it was widely known they held strong republican views.

However, as the days wore on, the Press began to report that the family suspected some form of state involvement in the killing. It was not an idea that I took onboard easily, as I didn’t believe any state agency would be so stupid as to arrange such a killing. The ramifications for that, if true, would be disastrous and far-reaching.

My investigation ran for about six weeks and, as with so many other cases, it had to be shelved until some new information came to light.

The next significant event for me in the Pat Finucane case was the inquest into his killing, which was heard in September 1990. I was the sole police officer in attendance and, as anticipated, the courtroom was filled with members of the Finucane family and representatives from the world’s media.

After the formal evidence had been presented, such as the post-mortem examination report, I was called to the witness stand.

Junior barrister Seamus Treacy (now Lord Justice Treacy) represented the Finucane family. He cross-examined me at length and there was undoubtedly a suggestion of collusion in his questions.

I fielded his examination as best I could, but more in the interests of the reputation of the RUC, as by then I had a distinct unease about the whole case.

In short, I had a nagging feeling that there had, indeed, been dirty work afoot by the intelligence services.

I was starting to believe that I had given them too much credit by believing they would not be so stupid as to murder Pat Finucane by proxy — ie using a loyalist terror gang to carry out their dirty work.

The following year, the case was cracked wide open by two of the best detectives I had ever worked with: Detective Sergeant Johnston Brown and Detective Constable Trevor McIlwrath.

A well-known UFF assassin, Ken Barrett, had approached them, offering to give evidence and they had cleverly pulled him onto the punch by getting him to boast about his killings. These included the murder of Pat Finucane.

In due course, Barrett was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, but under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he served only two years.

It was also established that UFF man William Stobie had provided the weapons for the murder. He was shot dead by the organisation, as they feared he would give evidence against them. A third man involved in the killing hanged himself from the goalposts of Glencairn playing fields.

One of the many things that stick in my mind from the Finucane case is that a close colleague told me it was a case that would follow me to my grave.

I don’t believe we’ve heard the last of it yet.

** Retired RUC Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson is the author of Duplicity and Deception (Brandon Books)

British Spying On Paisley

Interesting piece from about two years ago that appeared in Spinwatch. Tom Griffin writes that Clifford Smyth was accused by the DUP of passing insider party intel to the Northern Ireland Office. In fact he was passing DUP secrets to MI5.

Wednesday, 09 August 2017 14:45

Spying on Paisley: How MI5 used Tara to infiltrate the DUP


Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley

The DUP-Conservative alliance that emerged from the 2017 election might seem like a natural one given the long history of the ‘Orange card’ as a Tory expedient at Westminster. 

There is however an equally long record of conflict between the British establishment and the the particular strand of unionism represented by the DUP.

One significant episode in this story came to light in 1976, when DUP leader Ian Paisley complained in the Commons about the activities of intelligence officials at the Northern Ireland Office.

An affirmation has been made—I affirm this in the House tonight—that there is an attempt in this unit of psychological warfare to discredit and undermine the Loyalist leadership in the Province [1].

Paisley’s allegation was a credible one. The following year, the Sunday Times reported that the Northern Ireland Information Policy Co-ordinating Committee was involved in just such activities.

On the political front, we have discovered that, towards the end of 1974 a committee consisting of representatives from the Northern Ireland Office, the Army, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary met at Stormont Castle and discussed among other things, ways of discrediting politicians judged hostile to Government policy [2].

The IPCC had been established in part to get a grip on projects that were already being carried out by the Army. In 1990, the Ministry of Defence admitted that Army information officer Colin Wallace may have been authorised to carry out disinformation activities. The strongest assurance Minister Archie Hamilton could give the Commons was that ‘It has not since the mid 1970s been the policy to disseminate disinformation in Northern Ireland in ways designed to denigrate individuals and/or organisations or for propaganda purposes’ [3]

This was not the only occasion during 1976 when the DUP pushed back against what it saw as Whitehall operations against it.

Towards the end of the year, DUP member Clifford Smyth was expelled from the party, over alleged contacts with the Northern Ireland Office. He later recounted:

In November 1976 I had been called to a meeting in Ian Paisley’s Parsonage where I would be accused of passing on information to Merlyn Rees’s office at Stormont and of having compiled a document which made scandalous allegations about leading loyalist politicians. Ian Paisley was irate and the whole atmosphere was deeply hostile. Nothing had prepared me for this. I didn’t know what was going on. I was mystified but some of the information that I was aware of, had come from the lips of Ian Paisley’s paid employees. I felt there was little alternative but to take whatever was coming to me however unfair the situation might be [4]

Smyth denied the accusation, but in his later book on Paisley, he claims to have some heavily compromising information on the DUP. He states that in June 1976, the party secretary Peter Robinson told him that the DUP should form its own paramilitary force (something that would occur a decade later with the formation of Ulster Resistance) [5].

Smyth goes on to note that he had some experience of the paramilitary world, having been approached at one time to join the UVF [6]. This was probably a result of his role as intelligence officer of Tara, a shadowy group run by the paedophile William McGrath [7].

As with Clockwork Orange, there is evidence to substantiate DUP suspicions about official surveillance. If Smyth was not passing information to the authorities, someone else close to William McGrath was doing so at around the same time.

In his book The Kincora Scandal, journalist Chris Moore described how an army officer he called ‘James’ made contact with two individuals with information on Tara in the mid-1970s. One was ‘Sydney’ a politically astute and well-informed Tara member, the other was Roy Garland, a former member who was trying to expose William McGrath’s sexual proclivities [8].

When James put Garland’s allegations to the political advisor at HQ Northern Ireland, he was peremptorily ordered to break off contact with both sources. Contacts with Sidney, though not Garland, resumed following a meeting in 1976:

With approval from his authorities, James set off to a Belfast cemetery for the meeting and what he learned there was to make him the political advisor’s ‘blue-eyed boy’.Sidney informed James that certain political figures were seriously examining the possibility of UDI and in the short-term were planning an announcement to that effect [9].

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which reported earlier this year, confirmed many of the details of this story. it made clear that ‘James’ was Captain Brian Gemmell, and that the political advisor was Ian Cameron of MI5. It confirms that Cameron and Gemmill discussed a second source as well as Garland [10]. This source is referred to as ‘an agent whose identity is known to the Inquiry’ suggesting that, unlike Garland, he was formally recruited by army intelligence [11].

The inquiry says very little else about this other source, but the evidence strongly suggests it was ‘Sidney’. MI5 documents disclosed to the inquiry show that an agent close to McGrath was debriefed following the exposure of the Kincora scandal in 1980. The agent admitted to MI5 officers that he had told McGrath of his relationship with them, possibly in 1976 [12].

The question that the HIA Inquiry never addressed is this: If MI5’s agent feared a threat to him in the aftermath of McGrath’s exposure in 1980, could his recruitment have given MI5 a motive to protect McGrath earlier?

If the agent was ‘Sidney’ he was himself a member of Tara, and one who claimed to have have heard that McGrath was working for MI5. This raises a number of other questions.

Did the HIA Inquiry ever seek to question Sidney about this, assuming he is still alive? Did the inquiry give Sidney an assurances in relation to the Official Secrets Act? What did Sidney tell MI5 about Tara’s activities, including its involvement in loyalist arms dealing and overseas paramilitary contacts?

Finally, there’s the issue of who exactly were the politicans plotting UDI that ‘Sidney’ was reporting on. Given the eclipse of William Craig’s Vanguard the previous year, the major force to the right of Ulster Unionism in 1976 was the DUP, which was indeed gearing up for a challenge to the British state, the United Unionist Action Council strike of 1977, backed by the UDA and other paramilitary groups. Was Sidney’s information instrumental in the strike’s failure?

This covert intelligence struggle between the NIO and the DUP, which seems to have spanned both Labour and Conservative Governments, may be one reason why neither side in the Tory-DUP deal was anxious to look too closely at the past activities of the state.


[1] Hansard, House of Commons Debates, 19 February 1976, vol 905, cc1653-64. <>.

[2]David Blundy, The Army’s Secret War in Northern Ireland, Sunday Times, 13 March 1977

[3]Hansard, House of Commons, 30 January 1990, Written Answers to Questions, cc108-110. <>.

[4]  Clifford Smyth, Dealing with my sexual brokenness, Belfast Telegraph, 20 July 2005. <>

[5] Clifford Smyth, Ian Paisley: Voice of Protestant Ulster, Scottish Academic Press, 1987, p.106.

[6] Ibid. p.108.

[7] Chris Moore, The Kincora Scandal, Marino Books, 1996, p.73.

[8] Ibid. pp.16-139.

[9] Ibid. pp.142-143.

[10] Report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, Chapter 28: Module 15 – Kincora Boys’ Home (Part 2), Ian Cameron, Roy Garland and Brian Gemmell, pp.42-46.<>.

[11]  Report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, Chapter 28: Module 15 – Kincora Boys’ Home (Part 2), The interaction between Brian Gemmell and Ian Cameron in 1976, p.66.<>.

[12] The relevant MI5 reports are archived at Powerbase:

29 April 1980. <>

1 May 1980. <>

See also my article: Loose ends from the Hart Inquiry – significant evidence from the RUC and MI5, Spinwatch, 27 February 2017.

Tom Griffin

Tom Griffin is a freelance journalist and researcher. He is a former editor of the Irish World newspaper, and is currently undertaking a Ph.D at the University of Bath. He was a contributor to Fight Back! OpenDemocracy’s book on the 2010 student protests, and a co-author of the Spinwatch pamphlet The Cold War on British Muslims. His website is at:


Gagged Ivor Bell Hearing To Open On Monday

The news conveyed in the headline above is news that, thanks to a judge, the people of Northern Ireland do not know, and are not allowed to know.

Last December, some nine months ago, former SDLP politician and barrister Adrian Colton, in his capacity as a High Court judge, ordered a veil of secrecy to be drawn over all and any aspects of the legal proceedings against former IRA Chief of Staff, Ivor Bell on charges connected to the 1972 disappearance and killing of Belfast housewife and mother-of-ten Jean McConville.

There are two theories in currency to explain Colton’s gagging order, which has not been defied by the Irish media.

The one favoured by most observers says it was done to protect Bell’s reputation following a court ruling that he was unfit to stand trial because of severe memory loss associated with a condition known as vascular dementia.

Colton ruled that the 82-year old was mentally unfit to take part in a normal criminal prosecution. Instead he ordered that he face a so-called ‘trial of the facts’, in which a jury will be asked to decide whether the facts of the case suggest guilt or innocence. He cannot face a prison sentence if found guilty.

The other explanation is that it was done to save the prosecuting authorities from the embarrassment that would follow from the disclosure that a key prosecution witness, the Boston College librarian Bob O’Neill, is himself suffering from serious memory loss and would not give crucial evidence confirming that the interviews given by participant ‘Z’ were actually given by Bell.

O’Neill lost the contract for ‘Z’, the only piece of paper which can identify by name this interviewee in the Boston project. His evidence would have enabled the court to claim that Bell was ‘Z’.

Without O’Neill’s testimony the whole case against Bell may collapse before it starts. Hence the embarrassment for the DPP’s office from a badly mishandled case which, in theory, could have been dealt with several years ago when both O’Neill and Bell were mentally fit and healthy.

There are however some suggestions in legal circles that another prosecution witness from the US is ready to take O’Neill’s place and can identify ‘Z’ as Ivor Bell. Who that could be is a mystery, not least to this writer as no-one outside of O’Neill, myself and the interviewer knew who the interviewees really were – and even then many were unknown to me.