Journalist faces 'dirty tricks' arrest

Northern Ireland: special report


John Mullin, Ireland correspondent
Tuesday May 16, 2000
The Guardian

One of Northern Ireland's leading journalists is facing prosecution under the Official Secrets Act over a series of articles on military intelligence dirty tricks.

Scotland Yard's special branch wants to question Liam Clarke, Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times, in London, and is warning him he will be arrested. Mr Clarke is taking legal advice.

The articles, which appeared late last year, were based on interviews with Martin Ingram, a pseudonym for an ex-member of the force research unit, a shadowy outfit in military intelligence. Its responsibilities included recruiting and running army agents, and infiltrating them into terrorist groups on both sides.

One of those double agents was Brian Nelson, who earned £28,000 a year from the army while also acting as intelligence officer for the Ulster Defence Association. He was implicated in the unresolved murder of Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989, one of the murkiest episodes of the troubles.

Ingram told the Sunday Times that undercover intelligence mounted an arson attack on offices outside Belfast occupied by Sir John Stevens, now the Metropolitan police commissioner, when he was investigating allegations of collusion between loyalists and members of the security forces in 1990. Fire broke out hours before he planned to arrest Nelson, destroying evidence.

Ingram also claimed at least one soldier was killed because army handlers of an IRA quartermaster in Londonderry refused to sabotage weapons, fearing it would compromise him. The IRA later discovered his double life, and murdered him.

Detective Inspector Alan Learner makes it clear in a registered letter to Mr Clarke he is seeking to interview him be cause of a complaint from the Ministry of Defence and not over suggestions of British intelligence wrong-doing. Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, is believed to have played a key role.

Mr Clarke said yesterday: "I am exposing the activities of military intelligence in the public interest. But the MoD's attitude is to shoot the messenger rather than examine the message. I am willing to be interviewed, although would prefer it to be in Northern Ireland. It was here I wrote the stories, after all.

"I don't think it is necessary to arrest me. I have already offered to give a voluntary undertaking not to identify in any way any undercover operative or to compromise national security."

The move comes as Martin Bright, home affairs correspondent of the Observer, is threatened with contempt of court proceedings and imprisonment for refusing to hand over to the special branch notes relating to interviews with ex-MI5 operative David Shayler

Campaigners suggest Mr Hoon is using both the civil and criminal law to prevent disclosures of illegal activity within the security services. He won a broad injunction preventing Mr Ingram revealing anything more, and now Mr Clarke is facing criminal charges.

The Northern Ireland human rights commission, set up under the Good Friday agreement, yesterday said that arresting Mr Clarke would "further muddy the waters" surrounding army intelligence units in Northern Ireland. Brice Dickson, head of the commission, said: "We will be watching to see if Mr Clarke's human rights are being respected."

Alex Attwood, an assembly member for the Social Democratic and Labour party, urged that the threat of action against Mr Clarke be lifted. "The move fuels suspicions about the conduct of the government and its security agencies."


© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000

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