Martin Dillon On Ruby Davison, An IRA Traitor and One Of Scap’s Spycatcher Colleagues

By Martin Dillon

Image result for funeral of ira men brendan davison

Spot the spies! Sinn Fein leaders give assassinated Ruby Davison an IRA send-off. Did they know he worked for British intelligence? On the extreme left, wearing a moustache is the IRA’s head spycatcher, also a British spy, Freddie Scappaticci

When I visited Belfast last November, I made my way to Milltown Cemetery where my parents, and many of my Dillon, Clarke and Carson relatives are buried. It was a cold, early morning when I strode through the pathways between the headstones, trying to recall the steps I took on Sundays as a child with my Uncle John Clarke. He knew the cemetery like a jig-saw puzzle he had repeatedly completed, upended and reset. I gazed at Black Mountain, no longer able to discern what was once known as the Hatchet Field. The mountain and its companion Divis Mountain, both towering over the city, held memories of the Blitz when Protestants and Catholics sheltered there nightly from Hitler’s Luftwaffe. They willingly put aside historical enmity and memories of the 1920 Pogroms because when a community is assailed from without it understands what binds it from within.

As I passed the Provisional IRA monument, I stopped momentarily, my eyes straying to a name, which I knew well – Brendan Davison. Some journalists have chosen over the years to spell his name Davidson, a fact that has not drawn much criticism from his family. Standing over his shared headstone, it struck me that some might reasonably conclude that Provisional IRA leaders had either mistakenly placed his name on a plaque in their hallowed ground, or they had been conned into thinking this Brendan Davison, whose nickname was “Ruby,” was an IRA hero like the others honoured in that same space, some of them hunger strikers. The decision to give “Ruby” Davison pride of place alongside Provisional IRA “heroes” was made in the immediate aftermath of his assassination in the Markets area of Belfast in 1988. The news of his demise was marked by the IRA’s assertion that he had been the victim of a Loyalist killer squad. The Provisionals accorded him what amounted to a state burial. When I exposed him as a British agent in my book, The Dirty War, the IRA denounced me, and some of his associates threatened my life.

Related image

Brendan ‘Ruby’ Davison

I subsequently pointed out that Davison was not just a British agent – his MI5 codename was Agent Ascot – he was one of the most important agents MI5 and Special Branch ran within the IRA during the Troubles. As the IRA Commander in the Markets area of Belfast, he had links to the IRA’s leadership and is operations throughout the city. He was in a position to betray IRA bombing runs into the city centre because the bombers often laid low in houses in the Markets before, or after their bombs exploded. He was also privy to IRA leadership plans for operations in other parts of the city,  Davison was not only an active, respected and feared IRA boss, he was a paedophile. That aspect of his secretive life was known to the IRA and his Intelligence handlers. Knowledge of his sexual proclivities gave his handlers sufficient dirt on him to keep him under their control. The fact that the IRA was aware of his perverted sexual history did not prevent them lionising him before, and especially after his death when they portrayed him as an IRA hero cut down in his prime by Loyalists. When I exposed him as British agent, the IRA refused to acknowledge the truth, just as they had overlooked his abuse of young boys in the Markets when he had total control of the area. They knew that he had a fondness for punishing local boys by spanking them with a wire brush. His legacy as a hero was later promoted and protected by his nephew, Gerard “Jock” Davison who was the IRA Commander in the Markets area. In 2015, he was shot dead in an IRA feud.

I think that it is fair to conclude that the IRA’s political leaders believe that they have successfully airbrushed the past, enabling them to leave Brendan Davison’s name and remains in their elaborately decorated Milltown Plot. They clearly hope that he will be admired and remembered with awe by future generations of young Republicans. That is so ridiculous; it is almost hard to believe. If Provisional Republican leaders had any integrity they would have had him interred elsewhere in Milltown, but of course they will not do that. It would be tantamount to admitting that they have known for three decades he was a British agent and paedophile; facts they have consistently lied about it.

This brings me to another issue: Who really murdered Davison in 1988?

Immediate suspicion fell on Loyalists. A security friend of mine, who knew him well, and claims he saved many lives by betraying the IRA, is like me unsure if the Loyalists alone were the guilty party. The hit was professionally planned and carried out by people who had accurate information about Davison’s exact location in the Markets area. On the morning he was killed, a young man who had spent the night with him was in his apartment, but his identity has remained secret. He knew nothing about the killing. Someone with close knowledge of Davison’s daily habits certainly did. At the time of his death, the IRA was becoming more and more suspicious of him. If its security people had arrested and brutally interrogated him, as they did many others, he might have given up a great deal of intelligence about his role as a spy. It should be noted that at this time, his friend, Freddie Scappaticci, was rising to prominence in the ranks of the Provisionals and he, too was a British agent. In fact, I believe that in his role as head of an IRA internal security unit, known as the “nuttin” squad” he helped shield Davison from IRA elements deeply suspicious of him.

Did the IRA kill Davison? One could argue that they had the means and intelligence to do it, and it would have been better for them to kill him than to interrogate and disappear him, given his deep roots in the IRA. His absence would have raised too many questions, and any hint that such a high ranking figure was a traitor would have generated serious morale issues among the rank and file who admired him.

Did the Loyalists kill him, and if so, why? The ranks of the Loyalist paramilitaries, especially the UDA, were replete with British agents. In East Belfast, a former British soldier, Brian Nelson, working for British Intelligence, ran the UDA’s Number One assassination unit. He provided the unit and other UDA killers with Intelligence on Republicans, which had been fed to him by his British Intel bosses. While the UDA targets were Republicans, more often than not they were not IRA members. Did those Intel bosses who selected targets for Nelson’s assassins mark Davison for death? If they did not, they had to surely know he had been marked for death since they were effectively running the people in charge of Loyalist hit squads throughout the city and beyond. Any Loyalist plan to kill a senior IRA figure like Davison would have come across the desks of Nelson, or other Loyalist leaders in MI5’s employ.

A source whom I trust suspects that there may have been a “rogue security forces element” that was unaware of Davison’s importance as an agent. The source asserts that MI5 and Special Branch know this truth, which is why they have always been reluctant to answer questions about his murder, fearing it might open up controversial lines of inquiry. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis, given that security figures I have contacted over the years have shied away from discussing it. Could it be that, aside from the higher level security operations which involved supplying Loyalists like Billy Wright and others with intelligence to target Republicans, there was another secret outfit carrying out its own assassinations? There was such a lower level operation in the early 70s known as the MRF – the Military Renaissance Force, sometimes referred to as the Military Reaction Force. Its creation was a throwback to Colonial operations in Aden, Cyprus and Kenya when the British used “counter gangs” to kill their enemies and to blame the killings on the groups they were targeting. Many of the MRF murders were branded sectarian killings by the authorities and the media. MRF hit squads had, as in Colonial times, terrorists in their ranks. The MRF trained members of IRA, UVF and UDA to operate with British soldiers, some of whom were members of the SAS. Their arsenal of weapons included the Thompson submachinegun, a gun closely associated with the IRA. By using the Thompson, the MRF knew that when they left Thompson bullet casing at a murder scene, blame would fall on the Provisionals or the Officials. Equally, it was a way of setting the two wings of the IRA at each other’s throats. It is my contention that the MRF squads may have killed many more people than we know. The BBC interviewed me about the MRF in the past decade, but the subsequent documentary was in my view incomplete. I suspected that it was not the fault of the programme makers but the BBC hierarchy in London under pressure from government lawyers. Knowing the way the MRF operated and its freelance-type strategies, it is possible that there could have been a similar “rogue security element” in the late 1980s which copied the MRF operations of the early 1970. An argument, which somehow contradicts that, is that targeted assassinations by the State had become more streamlined by the 1980s. Nevertheless, the prospect of rogue assassins cannot be ruled out since there remains so much we do not know about the Dirty War. There is much that remains hidden by the authorities which we may never know. I have been told that there has been an ongoing exercise to “scrub” highly sensitive security files from the Troubles because they could expose military and intelligence figures to legal action.

Before his death, Brendan “Ruby” Davison was becoming a liability for British counter intelligence chiefs. His paedophile lifestyle, allied to his often violent, erratic behavior stemming from his stressful role as Agent Ascot were gradually placing him at risk, leading to increasing chatter about him in the IRA’s internal security ranks. Threats by an IRA bomber in West Belfast to expose him as a traitor, led him to him outing his accuser as a spy and personally killing him. Knowing this, as they surely did, British Intel chiefs could have concluded that his days as a top agent in the IRA were numbered. Losing Davison would not at that point have seriously impacted counter- terror operations because a much bigger agent was already at the top of the IRA leadership chain in Belfast.
He was Davison’s close buddy, Freddie Scappaticci – Agent 6126 – with the MI5 codename, Stakeknife. He was a vicious narcissist and executioner who, like Davison, was an invaluable asset to British Intelligence. He and Ruby Davison shared a special relationship, often drinking together. I tend to believe there is much we do not know about this pair and what they shared. Scappaticci had an attachment to pornography and Davison was a paedophile. They each had to know the other’s sex secrets. Did each also know the other was a spy? It is an open question.

One of my sources speculated that Davison was used by his handlers to draw Scappaticci deep into the British Intelligence web, but I have no evidence to support the hypothesis. Nevertheless, I have often wondered why Scappaticci remarked, after Davison’s death, that he had failed his friend. It implied that he was in a position to protect him. If so, how? Did Scappaticci learn who murdered Davison? He would surely have demanded the information from his handlers, with whom he was very close. If indeed, a Loyalist hit squad was responsible, it is not inconceivable that it acted on the orders of the FRU – Research Unit – a British Military Intelligence outfit that was involved in many murders. It had carte blanche authority to do whatever it chose. I had links to MI5 and Special Branch. Was it the “rogue intelligence outfit” which one of my sources speculated killed Davison? That would be something Scappaticci might have subsequently learned, leading him to conclude that he could have saved Davison by asking his handlers to protect his friend. Perhaps, he could have warned them that Ruby was a spy for MI5 and Special Branch and should not be on one of their hit lists. As I say, there is much we do not know about these two British terrorist agents.
For its part, the IRA, as it did when faced with incontrovertible evidence about Davison’s treachery, refused to believe the truth about Scappaticci, even when it was clear that he was a traitor in their ranks. Unlike Davison, Scappaticci had and continues to have leverage over IRA leaders. While dead men like Davison tell no tales, Scappaticci is a living, walking encyclopedia of incriminating evidence against his former IRA colleagues. He knows enough to put many IRA operatives and leaders behind bars. He could if he wished name those who helped him run the “nuttin’ squad” or the leaders who approved his murders. The great irony about Scapp, as he is sometimes known, is that he was in charge of identifying and eliminating spies within the IRA, and yet he was the biggest spy of all. A former IRA man, who spoke to me about him, hinted that the IRA struck a deal with him when they learned that be was a British agent. They would not harm him, or his family, if he kept his mouth shut. That kind of deal suited everyone, including those British Intelligence figures who ran him. It makes IRA leaders less nervous about the prospect of ever being linked to a wide range of murders and violent acts.

For years since he was outed, Scapp had been living in Manchester under the watchful eye of MI5. He chose Manchester because it allowed him to attend matches of his favourite football club, Manchester United. MI5 spirited him back to Belfast last November to see his wife before she died. He has since been moved by his MI5 handlers to a small town north of Blackpool.

I believe that if Scappaticci had died, or been killed during the peace process of the 1990s, the IRA would have buried him with honours in its revered Milltown Plot alongside his buddy, Brendan “Ruby” Davison. There is no reason why they will not give him pride of place there at some time in the future since they have never, and will never likely admit that he was once the biggest British spy in their ranks.

Finally, I contend that if we were we to know the kinds of automatic weapons used to assassinate Davison, we might be in a better position to solve some of the mystery surrounding his sudden demise, who ordered his death, and the allegiances of the triggermen. For example, were the weapons parts of a batch that Brian Nelson helped acquire for the UDA, UVF and other loyalist paramilitary actors? Bullets casings at the murder scene in 1988, and bullet fragments removed from Davison’s body, could be matched to weapons seized from the UDA and UVF. And what about the PP weapon – Personal Protection weapon – which Davison often carried. I know that he had one, but there was no mention of it being found and removed from his apartment during searches of the property in the hours after his death. What kind of documentation was found among his possessions, and how much cash was he really holding? I know that his PP weapon had been provided to him by MI5 and that he kept cash payments from MI5 under his bed. Was the PP weapon removed from his apartment? If so, was it ever used in subsequent murders? The histology of the weapons would be an important element in an investigation of his murder. With that in mind, in August 2019, I requested details on the histology of the weapons from the PSNI under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The PSNI responded that it would not release this information to me.
I was informed that information was being withheld under Section 30 (1) Investigations and Proceedings conducted by Public Authorities – information held by public authority is exempt information if it is held for the purpose of any investigation which the public authority has a duty to conduct to withhold, with a view to it being ascertained if a person is going to be charged with an offence
It was PSNI speak for “Get lost!” and no mention was made of my query about Davison’s PP.

I penned a reply, asking for a review in which pointed out the following:
“The decision is especially difficult to understand in light of the fact that this murder does not appear to be linked to a live investigation. If evidence has come to light since it happened to encourage a new
Investigation, perhaps the family of the victim, and the public, should know that such a development has occurred. If there is no live investigation, why is the PSNI withholding the information I have requested, and when is it likely to release it?
……. If there is no ongoing investigation, why is this information on lock down?”

A reply was not long in coming. In October, I was again told my request had been rejected. However, the PSNI admitted that there was no live investigation, making my point that it was absurd that they were continuing to hide information about this murder almost three decades after it occurred. Who had placed a hold on it and why? One can only speculate. Clearly, there is something dirty in the shadows of this murder which some in the Intel community would prefer to remain classified. If this was simply an assassination carried out independently by UDA killers there would be no reason to deny my request for histology of the weapons. I contend that this killing falls neatly into the dirty war which has ongoing tentacles. For those who like detail, here is the reply, which I received from the PSNI:

This investigation is not currently a live investigation. However, the PSNI has a duty to protect all evidential/investigative information should further evidence come to light and as this was adequately explained within the response issued to you; I will not reiterate the rationale. In carrying out my review I have referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) guidance on Section 30. PSNI is bound to deal with your request under the terms of the legislation which you have triggered when you submitted your request to us i.e. the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I would like to advise you that any information released under this legislation is considered to be a release into the public domain and not just to you as the requester. PSNI must therefore consider with all FOI requests whether the requested information is suitable to be placed into the public domain.

The ICO guidance advises that Section 30(1)(a)(i) is engaged if the information has been held “at any time” for the purpose of criminal investigations and proceedings. I have referred to the ICO guidance in relation to Section 30 which advises:

“8. Section 30(1) provides an exemption from the duty to disclose information that a public authority has held at any time for certain investigations or proceedings. As long as the other requirements of the exemption are satisfied, the exemption will apply to information even if it was not originally obtained or generated for one of those purposes and it will continue to protect information even if it is no longer being used for the specified investigation or proceeding. It is only necessary for the information to have been held at some point for those purposes.”

I have included the link to the ICO guidance on Section 30 Investigations and Proceedings which you may find helpful.

Click to access investigations-and-proceedings-foi-section-30.pdf

I have independently reviewed your request and I would agree that Section 30 (1)(a)(i) is engaged to your request for information.

If you remain unhappy about how your request has been handled you have the right to apply directly to the information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner’s local address is:-

Information Commissioner’s Office
3rd Floor
14 Cromac Place

I am unhappy about the response. There is no reasonable justification for it, but I think that those of us who have carefully studied the dirty war know that this is a predictable response from hidden figures and organisations that ran part of that war.

I also know that seeking information about these issues under the Freedom of Information Act is a waste of time.

©Martin Dillon

7 responses to “Martin Dillon On Ruby Davison, An IRA Traitor and One Of Scap’s Spycatcher Colleagues

  1. While it might not be a live case -it is still an open case until it is solved. Re: the document you provided a link to, check paragraph 62 which states: ” Where a criminal offence is unsolved there is always the possibility that the investigation could be reopened. This may be as a result of new witnesses coming forward or advances in forensic techniques. Where there is a real possibility that a case could be reopened there will still be a public interest in not prejudicing any future investigations into the matter.”

  2. “Some journalists have chosen over the years to spell his name Davidson, a fact that has not drawn much criticism from his family.”

    Such journalists include Dillon himself, who does it repeatedly in his memoir from a few years ago.

    • Also, John Ware has claimed that there’s another spy in that photo, using it as an example of how bizarre the undercover war had become.

      • well there are only six other clearly visible faces in that pic, and one of them is Adams. so who could it be?

      • I thought Ware was saying ‘ Scap, an ira informer at the funeral of another ira informer. And that the killer of Ruby D was also an informer. Always read that uvf killed him. So not sure why MD wrote all that uda/ Nelson stuff.

  3. The little stray dog on the corner of the street knows it’s Gerry the peacemaker?

  4. Huge amount of speculation here, most of it very wide of the mark. Davison would never have carried a PPW given to him by the security forces. If he’d been found with it, he’d be immediately compromised – as anyone who’s carried a gun for a protected period of time will know, it’s really difficult to keep it hidden from close associates. if he did have a gun, it would have been an IRA weapon. As for the weapons used in his murder, the authorities will have had detailed records of where those weapons had been used before, weapon intelligence having been something of an art form during the troubles. As for knowing of Davison’s movements, the paramilitary leaders on both sides all knew each other, so it wasn’t difficult to find out where they’d be on certain days. The IRA and the UVF/UDA used to hold bi-monthly meetings in the Capstan Bar in Belfast to manage the boundaries of their organised crime activities. The reason the FOI request didn’t produce what was asked for was that to put evidence into the public domain would prejudice any future investigation. And given the clamour for investigations into particular killings during the troubles, the PSNI would be failing in their duty to pass on this info. Really, this is a huge amount of smoke blowing out of very little fire indeed.

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