Some Hidden Histories of the British State Revealed in 2013

In ten years we’ll leak the truth
By then it’s only so much paper[1]

According to the U.S. punk band the Dead Kennedys it takes about 10 years before our ‘democracies’ decide to “leak the truth” about activities of secret arms of the state. In the current world of social media and the information highway there seems to be a perception that no secret is safe and that “it will get out somehow”. This suggests the cosy idea that somehow the internet is leading us to a more open society with rapid access to the ‘truth’.

In the US things certainly seemed to have been speeding up lately with the ‘Wiki-leaks’ by the ex-National Security Agency spook Edward Snowden becoming almost real-time in relation to the recent military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course the joke is on us, as Snowden’s exposés demonstrated that the sword of internet cuts both ways with comprehensive spying by the secret state on home populations facilitated by social media such as Facebook.

However, Snowden’s revelations are the exception to the rule; I would argue the lack of concrete information on the activities concerning the ‘secret state’ on the internet leads to speculation and conspiracy theories rather than openness and ‘truth’. Interestingly, 2013 provided plenty of evidence of long-term strategies of secrecy in the British state which seem to be working on a minimum of 40-50 years and unbelievably up to 350 years before the ‘truth’ becomes “only so much paper”. I am going to concentrate on two particular ‘hidden histories’; the Mau Mau court cases relating to the Kenya ‘Emergency’ of 1950s-60s (Part 1) and British Army death squads in Northern Ireland in the 1970s (Part 2). Both of these stories hit the headlines in 2013 and demonstrate the lengths to which the British state will go to hide information in order to mythologise its history as well as the methods that are used to neutralise problematic fragments of the ‘real’ history of the British Empire.

Part 1

May 2013: The Mau Mau victims

If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly[2]

In May 2013, the British government, after it had failed in its disgraceful attempt to avoid responsibility for the torture of five Kenyans during the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion in the 1950s, finally agreed to negotiate ‘out-of-court’ compensation for up to 10,000 similar victims[3]. Revelations about torture, rape and murder carried out by British police and army units during the Kenya ’emergency’ have sporadically hit the headlines over the last few years, whilst debates have raged between historians as to their scale, longevity and systemic nature[4] One of the main problems in answering these questions has been getting at concrete evidence. What became clear during the ‘Mau Mau’ case in 2013 were some aspects of the British state’s enduring strategy in covering up its numerous crimes against humanity in the post-war era. The two practical features of this policy seem to involve time and suppression and/or destruction of information.

The four Kenyans at the high court who have been given the go-ahead to sue the British government over alleged atrocities committed during the Mau Mau uprising.
The four Kenyans at the high court who have been given the go-ahead to sue the British government over alleged atrocities committed during the Mau Mau uprising.

Many journalists and commentators complained about the length of time it had taken to bring the ‘Mau Mau’ cases to court; their naiveté is astounding. For British citizens seeking justice who have had a relative killed by the Police[5], to the family of Stephen Lawrence[6], the families of the Hillsborough victims[7] or those gunned down by British paratroopers in Derry in 1972[8] or in Ballymurphy in 1971[9]; time is clearly a weapon of the British state. In many of these cases decades passed, interspersed with botched, half-arsed and faked inquiries, before anything like the ‘truth’ was even hinted at. As for ‘justice’ well you might as well be searching for Shangri-La! For the various arms of the British state this ‘war of attrition’ aimed at its victims and their relatives, often not only breaks their resolve, their families and personal relationships but crucially demoralises future victims from taking them on.

In the case of the thousands of surviving victims of torture and rape in Kenya, the British state clearly followed this delaying strategy. They relied on the Kenyan authorities enforcing colonial-era legislation which outlawed Mau Mau and branded them ‘terrorists’. This law stopped victims coming forward through fear of prosecution and was not repealed until 2003, over 50 years since the start of the uprising[10]. After the rejuvenation of the status of Mau Mau veterans in Kenya, a number of civil cases were launched against the U.K. government, which responded by trying to claim any legal technicality, however ludicrous, it could find to hold up the proceedings. For example in 2010, I kid you not:

The British government claimed the issue was the responsibility of the Kenyan government on the grounds of “state succession” for former colonies, relying on an obscure legal precedent relating to Patagonian toothfish and the declaration of martial law in Jamaica in 1860[11]

Clearly the plan was to hang on for as long as possible trusting that most of the victims and crucially the perpetrators would be deceased when finally some of the truth was revealed[12]. Then it would just be a matter of (if absolutely necessary) making a ‘statement of regret’ about some ‘bad apples’ to put this particular isolated fragment of colonial history to bed for good. Not only would this save significant compensation money but more crucially avoid the possible embarrassment of having to expose systemic murder, rape and torture by the British state. As one commentator noted this could challenge the “British people’s carefully nurtured narrative of the final days of their imperial mission”[13].

The Road to Hanslope Park

So despite international criticism[14], the British government lawyers forged ahead with their time-wasting strategy. Years passed, until horror of horrors, in July 2011, a judge granted the surviving elderly Kenyan test claimants the right to sue the UK for damages. This allowed the claimants lawyers to demand access to documents pertaining to the ‘Kenyan emergency’ which a number of historians, called as expert witnesses in the case, believed were secretly held by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Finally in April 2013, after decades of consistent denials (that is lies), the FCO suddenly “discovered” the “existence of an enormous secret archive at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire, a repository for more than 8,000 files from 37 former colonies”.[15]

Hanslope Park, where the secret archive of colonial papers was held.
Hanslope Park, where the secret archive of colonial papers was held.

As the Guardian noted, amongst the contents relating to the ‘Kenyan emergency’:

was a damning memo from the colony’s attorney general, Eric Griffith-Jones, a man who had described the mistreatment of the [Kenyan] detainees as “distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia“. Despite his misgivings, Griffith-Jones agreed to draft new legislation that sanctioned beatings, as long as the abuse was kept secret. “If we are going to sin,” he wrote, “we must sin quietly.”[16]

More than 50 years later, with the imperial endgame long over, evidence of those sins remained quietly concealed in a secret archive within one of the British government’s most secure facilities. Set deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside and surrounded by 16ft-high fences topped with razor wire, lies Hanslope Park, home of, Her Majesty’s Government Communications Centre, where teams of scientists – real-life versions of Q, the fictional boffin of the James Bond films – devise technical aids for the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6.

What better place to bury Griffith-Jones’s letter to Baring, along with thousands more documents from colonial-era Kenya and countless others from 36 other former colonies and protectorates? Were this secret archive to be stacked upright, it would create a tower 200 metres tall. And every document was selected for concealment on the basis of an instruction that nothing should be handed over to any post-independence government that might “embarrass HMG or other government” or cause problems for any colonial policeman, civil servant or member of the armed forces.[17]

The documents suppressed for so long by the British State not only provided further evidence of systemic abuses during the ‘Kenyan emergency’ (including forced labour, organised starvation and the burning of detainees alive) but crucially demonstrated that:

The government in London knew what was going on, Anderson states. “These documents contain discussion of torture and abuse and the legal implications for the British administration in Kenya of the use of coercive force in prisons and detention camps, by so-called ‘screening’ teams, and in other interrogations carried out by all members of the security forces.” The legal limits of coercive force were debated. “They reveal that changes to legislation, and additions to the emergency powers regulations, were made retrospectively in order to cover practices that were already normal within the camps and detention centres.”[18]

Throughout the legal saga of the 2000s, FCO lawyers had consistently denied that the abuses in Kenya in the 1950s had been systemic or widespread and a central plank of their defence was that “London knew nothing”. The newly released information seriously undermined their position and once again demonstrated that they had systematically lied over a number of years. In October 2012, after the judgement which granted the right of the victims to sue the British government, the FCO ironically responded:

The judgement has potentially significant and far reaching legal implications. The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is 3 to 6 years. In this case, that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decision makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened. Since this is an important legal issue, we have taken the decision to appeal[19]

This is a bit like a Mafia boss complaining that if key witnesses (who he had arranged to be killed) had been present in court he would have been found innocent!

The disgraceful and widely condemned decision of the FCO to continue to fight the case against the Mau Mau victims was followed by an embarrassing climb-down, leading to ‘out-of-court’ negotiations in May 2013. The FCO response to the release of the secret information and their ‘U-turn’ was characteristically nauseating: “We believe there should be a debate about the past. It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history.”[20]

You have got to be joking!

From a historical perspective the opening of the secret files or as the FCO called them, the “migrated archive” (sic) seemed to be the final act in the Mau Mau case, but this was far from the end. The suspicious historians, who had struggled to uncover the suppressed history of the Kenyan emergency over many years[21], were at best sceptical and at worst paranoid[22]. The Guardian naively noted:

Hague ordered an independent review of the “migrated archive” before its transfer to Kew, overseen by Professor Tony Badger, master of Clare College, Cambridge. The first documents, representing about a sixth of the total archive, are now available at Kew, with Badger promising that very few have been redacted, usually to conceal the identities of informants.

Many historians remain suspicious of the FCO and believe it may seek to retain some of its secret files. Caroline Elkins, the Pulitzer prize-winning historian of the Mau Mau rebellion, warns that the FCO’s history of concealment and denial is such that the public should also continue to sceptical.

As the files come available, Badger admits that many of his colleagues wondered whether the FCO was “up to its old tricks again”, and adds: “Given the failure of the Foreign Office to acknowledge the existence of the migrated archives, I understand the legacy of suspicion. It is difficult to overestimate the degree of suspicion.” But he believes the depth of embarrassment suffered by the FCO over the Hanslope Park scandal offers the best reassurance that it will now finally offer up the full archive.

It may be significant, he adds, that Hague and David Lidington, the junior foreign minister responsible for the transfer process, are both historians and should be conscious of the potential for further “reputational risk” if the FCO continues to conceal documents.[23]

“Embarrassment” and “reputational risk”, you are having a laugh! The British state is covering up a recent history of mass rape, torture and murder; do you think they give a toss about these? What about getting obstruction of ‘war crimes’ trials onto the agenda; that might concentrate some minds!

End of Empire: “The great destruction”

Of far more interest than dubious assurances from Cambridge dons and government ministers was the revelation uncovered in the ‘migrated archive’ files that:

many of the British empire’s most sensitive and incriminating documentation was not hidden at Hanslope Park but simply destroyed – sometimes shredded, occasional dumped at sea, but usually incinerated – as the British withdrew from one colony after another[24]

Starting in the mid-1950s and then formalised in 1961 by the secretary of state for the colonies, Iain Macleod, the British state activated a plan to deny post-independence governments and others access to colonial documents that:

“might embarrass Her Majesty’s government”, that could “embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others e.g. police informers”, that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might “be used unethically by ministers in the successor government”[25]

In at least 23 countries and territories, from Kenya to Malaya, documentary evidence of systematic torture, murder and other crimes was removed from the colonial archives in an operation kept secret from British subjects both in the colonies and on the mainland. Interestingly, and this is something for historians to note, the plan made provision to hide the fact that the ‘sifting’ had even happened by creating sanitised ‘dummy’ files to replace those that had been selected. It was imperative that post-independence colonial administrations (or future historians) were unaware that the selected files existed or that a “cleaning” process had taken place. Finally, the colonial cleaners were told that the ’emphasis is placed upon destruction’[26] rather than transferring the selected files to London. So the files recovered from Hanslope Park are probably the least “embarrassing” tip of an iceberg of destroyed information. This was backed up by a memo from an MI5 liaison officer in 1957 which stated after an 8 month long incineration operation of files pertaining to Malaya that “the risk of compromise and embarrassment [to Britain] is slight”[27].

One of the ‘Mau Mau’ case historians, Professor Anderson, sarcastically noted:

As a nation Brits nurture memories of empire that are deceptively cosy, swathed in a warm, sepia-tinted glow of paternalistic benevolence. The British empire, so the story goes, brought progress to a primitive and savage world. Education, hospitals and improved health, steamships, railways, and the telegraph – these were the tools of empire, brought to colonised peoples by the gift of commerce and good British government.

We take pride in this imperial heritage, pointing with scorn at the lesser achievements of other European powers – the French, Italians, Germans, Belgians and Portuguese – whose empires we variously view as haplessly mismanaged, malignly exploitative and brutally coercive. Britain’s empire was better than all the others, historians such as Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts and Lawrence James have assured us, so why should we worry?’[28]

It amazes me after revelations concerning the suppression and mass destruction of the colonial records that famous ‘establishment’ historians have the gall to peddle this nonsense. After all, if the ‘official’ evidence has been destroyed, this means you have to turn to other sources, not just assume it was all a bed of roses.

Caroline Elkins faced this very problem when researching her book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya published in 2005, which helped begin the process of uncovering the systematic campaign of brutality during the Kenyan emergency. Elkins faced a barrage of criticism particularly over her assertion that “tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands” of Kenyans died during the ’emergency’[29]. To a certain extent, Elkins had a point regardless of the figures, that is if the evidence had been wilfully sanitised and thousands of ‘dirty documents’ destroyed by the British who could say she was wrong or in fact what was correct? In October 2013 she wrote:

“Africans make up stories.” I heard this refrain over and again while researching imperial history in Kenya. I was scarcely surprised when it came from former settlers and colonial officials living out their days in the country’s bucolic highlands. But I was concerned to find that this position took on intractable proportions among some historians.

At the time of decolonisation, colonial officials destroyed and removed tons of documents from Kenya. To overcome this, I collected hundreds of oral testimonies and integrated them with fragments of remaining archival evidence to challenge entrenched views of British imperialism.

My methods drew sharp criticism. Revising the myths of British imperial benevolence cut to the heart of national identity, challenging decades-old scholarship and professional reputations.

Some historians fetishise documents, and historians of empire are among the most hide-bound. For decades, these scholars have viewed written evidence as sacrosanct. That documents – like all forms of evidence – must be triangulated, and interrogated for veracity using other forms of evidence, including oral testimonies from colonised populations, mattered little.

Instead, many historians rarely questioned the official archive, nor the written, historical record. Instead, they reproduced a carefully tended official narrative with either celebratory accounts of empire, or equally pernicious, by turning their collective heads away from the violence that underwrote Britain’s imperial past and towards more benign lines of inquiry. Either way, their document-centred histories served as excuses for liberal imperial fictions.[30]

Elkin’s point about the discrediting victims of British torture, emasculation and rape has a horrific resonance with Holocaust deniers. How would it have sounded if subsequent to 1945 historians had said “Jews make up stories”?

October 2013: Hanslope Park and the dam busters….

It appeared by the summer of 2013 that the revelations about secret archives and the destruction of colonial documents on a massive scale was the final chapter of the story. However, the cracks that had appeared in the wall of secrecy erected by the British state were beginning to spread, and in October 2013 the dam burst.

Having originally been caught out by an eagle-eyed historian who “had located a 45-year-old Whitehall memo that referred to the material” stored in the secret archive in Hanslope Park, a court directive led to the FCO effectively admitting it had hidden 1,500 Kenyan files[31]. This was the first crack in the dam. Then:

Ministers then informed parliament that there were a total of 8,800 files from 37 former colonies being stored at Hanslope Park; when these were finally handed over to the National Archives at Kew, the true figure was found to be nearer 20,000.

What the Foreign Office did not disclose at that time was that the colonial-era files were just a tiny part of the vast repository at Hanslope Park. Instead, it has since acknowledged, it asked the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, to sign an authorisation for the retention of 1.2 million files, putting them on a legal footing for the first time while a plan could be devised for their transfer to Kew. That was done without any public announcement. The exact number of files within the archive that have been withheld in breach of the Public Records Act is unclear. Initially, the Foreign Office said there were 1.2 million[32]

As the FCO admissions began to turn from isolated torrents of ‘hidden’ information into a deluge, the volume of the dam became apparent:

The scale of the hidden archive is demonstrated by an inventory that the Foreign Office has published, which appears to show that one of the listed items may itself contain 2.9 million documents

So one ‘file’ may comprise 2.9 million documents and there are 1.2 million files! No wonder one estimate put the length of the shelving at Hanslope Park at 15 miles; potentially representing tens or even hundreds of millions of documents!

Even more incredible was the scope of historical periods covered by the secret archive which dated back over 350 years to 1662 and which ranged in content from the West African slave trade to Nazi war criminals in the U.K, including documents right up to the present day. The sheer volume and historical sweep of this evidence demonstrates the systematic suppression of information in the British state for hundreds of years; which comes as no surprise to some of us, but absolutely crucial for all historians of Britain and its Empire to confront.

Of course getting access to all this information is another matter. Ostensibly it is meant to be handed over to The National Archive (TNA) at Kew, but despite the information spewing from the shattered dam, the FCO are still trying to hold back the flood water by a series of stalling measures:

The Foreign Office has presented its plans for the release of some of the Hanslope Park files during a meeting of the National Archives’ advisory council, which usually scrutinises government departments’ requests to retain or redact a small number of files beyond the 30-year disclosure rule. The meeting, held last November, was closed to the public.

In a statement to MPs the following month, Foreign Office minister David Lidington said a portion of the files would be transferred over a six-year period.

However, it remains unclear what proportion of the archive will be transferred during this period. Although Lidington said the Foreign Office was “committed to meeting our public records obligations in as transparent a manner as possible”, the department has released no details of its transfer plan, declined to say how long it will be before all the files are made public and given no details of expected cost.[33]

It is hilarious to hear so many historians from Oxbridge to Harvard complaining of the underhand methods used by the British state to obscure its real history. Many are threatening legal action against the UK government and FCO to gain access to the information; others are in shock:

Mandy Banton, senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said it was “extremely likely” that the archive had been culled to remove material that would most damage the reputation of the UK and the Foreign Office. Banton, a Colonial Office records expert who worked at National Archives at Kew, south-west London, for 25 years, said she had been “very angry” when she discovered that the migrated archives had been withheld. “I would have been incandescent had I learned while still working there. In lying to me, the Foreign Office forced me to mislead my readers.[34]

Richard Drayton, Rhodes professor of imperial history at King’s College London angrily added:

For decades, historians of diplomacy and empire have spoken of the “official mind”, and have assumed it was possible through diligent work in the Public Record Office to know the “truth” of how policy was made. What do we do now that we know officials have had such an extraordinary power to sculpt the archival trace? It seems likely that no one individual even knows what this Babel of documents actually contains. These collections have the potential to force historians to revise their explanations of such major diplomatic questions as the partition of Africa, and the origins of the first and second world wars[35]

Professor Margaret MacMillan, warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford complained:

I am one of many historians who has benefitted from using the British archives and who had confidence that the documents had not been weeded to suit particular interests. Now I am wondering whether I will have to go back and rethink my work on such matters as the outbreak of the first world war or the peace conference at the end. But when are we going to get the complete records? So far the pace of transferring them is stately, to put it politely[36]

The Guardian estimated the rate of declassification by the FCO employing its spoiling tactics and came to the conclusion that it would take 340 years, ironically longer than the history of the modern British Empire![37]

What is really shocking is the naiveté of these academics in swallowing the British lie, hook line and sinker. After all, how do they think the Brit ruling class seized the Empire in the first place and then defended it? By telling the truth? By openness and honesty?

As for the establishment historians of Britain and its Empire; Ferguson, Schama, Starkey et al.?

The silence was and remains deafening.

Part 2

November 2013: Northern Ireland

The evolution of British death squads

Unfortunately, for the establishment historians of ‘Empire’ the 2013 Annus horribilis continued apace. In November some more pieces of the jigsaw of colonial repression undertaken by the British state in the mother country, that is Northern Ireland, also began to emerge. The BBC Panorama documentary Britain’s Secret Terror Force[38] exposed the activities of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) a secret British Army unit which operated in Belfast from the summer of 1971 to early 1973.

The programme was based on a series of interviews with former MRF operatives who described the organisation’s tactics and a number of operations it undertook. From this and other evidence it appears that the MRF had two main purposes, intelligence gathering and an offensive mode which was primarily to assassinate (or if necessary apprehend) suspected members of the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) and its more important split the Provisionals (PIRA) as well as to generally terrorise the republican movement. The MRF’s actual offensive practice included targeted assassinations, random ‘drive-by’ attacks with automatic weapons on unarmed civilians, kidnapping and torture.

In the context of the rest of this article, it is interesting to see how the BBC handled this particular fragment of hidden history of the activities of the British state. Consider the following passage which advertised the programme on the BBC website (my emphasis in bold):

In the early 1970s, the British Army ran a secret undercover unit. Its existence was deniable and its tactics were so controversial that the unit was disbanded after just 14 months. Now, for the first time in 40 years, some of the unit’s former members break their silence and talk candidly to John Ware about how they took the war to the IRA, sometimes even imitating the IRA itself. The soldiers believe they saved many lives. But Panorama’s new evidence reveals that some members of the unit operated outside the law, firing on and killing unarmed civilians. The Ministry of Defence says it has referred Panorama’s allegations to the police.[39]

A simple deconstruction would suggest:

  • The unit was short-lived, and by implication so were these ‘controversial’ tactics.
  • The MRF fought ‘dirty’ just like the IRA did and may have saved many lives.
  • Some operatives in the MRF went too far.
  • Something is being done about this by the MOD and the police.

Though what we actually have here is:

  • Isolation of this fragment of history from any contextual political-military strategy, tactics or policy during the war in N. Ireland.
  • Justification of the general tactics of the MRF in the context of the Irish conflict.
  • The use of some ‘bad apples‘ to obscure the practice of terror as a military policy and objective of the MRF.
  • Paternalism; the British state will investigate these ‘bad apples’ to see how bad they really were.

All of these tactics are standard practice in dealing with fragments of ‘controversial’ history concerning the British state. Of course, historians shouldn’t accept this nonsense. It would be like suggesting the Nazi counter-insurgency campaign in France during WW2 was an isolated ‘mistake’ but perhaps justified under the circumstances, the work of a few ‘bad apples’, or that the Nazi state would have investigated these miscreants and pressed charges after ‘stabilisation’ (sic) had occurred. Instead we have to look a bit deeper than this BBC fluff, albeit with the limited evidence we have available[40].

As briefly explained in the programme[41], the MRF was probably the inspiration of Brigadier Frank Kitson who pioneered and then theorised the post-WW2 British counter-insurgency campaigns in Kenya and Malaya[42], and was appointed commander of the 39th infantry brigade in Northern Ireland from 1970-72[43]. Kitson’s tactics for counter-insurgency in Kenya were based upon mirroring the tactics of the insurgents; that is capturing enemy operatives, ‘turning them’ and then along with specialist British army personnel setting up ‘counter-gangs’ (as Kitson calls them). Armed with the grass-roots knowledge of the insurgent double-agents these forces could then be used in a number of ways; to carry out surveillance in order to capture insurgents, as death squads to assassinate opponents or as terror units to demoralise the guerrilla’s civilian support base. Interestingly it did not take much imagination for states who employed these tactics to move towards the concept of ‘pseudo-gangs’, that is forming fake insurgent groups, equipping them with typical insurgent arms and kit and then directing them to carry out attacks which discredit the enemy or create confusion and divisions amongst dissenting civilian populations.

Many of these tactics were present in the MRF, for example:

  • The MRF was a full on undercover unit; they were given false identities, dressed like their enemy, drove unmarked vehicles and prowled Republican areas looking for targets.
  • The MRF operated a series of ‘front companies’, that is business premises and vehicles which were used for surveillance purposes and for isolating potential targets for assassination.
  • Significant use was made of double-agents within the republican movement to provide intelligence information.
  • The MRF copied the style of attacks by loyalist para-militaries on republican areas, such as ‘drive-by’ shootings at community barricades. This exacerbated sectarian violence.
  • The MRF also began to act as pseudo-gangs employing weapons (such as the Thompson sub-machine gun) which were associated with the PIRA or OIRA in order to sow confusion amongst the victims of their attacks.
  • The MRF were colluding with loyalist para-militaries (often acting as pseudo-gangs) to carry out terror attacks on the republican/nationalist community[44].

All these forms of activity have the stamp of Kitson and his theories all over them, and if we want to believe it was just a bunch of senior ‘bad apples’ that were leading the British Army astray, then the BBC documentary has something interesting to say about this. Tony Le Tissier was a Major in the Royal Military Police brought in Belfast to deal with legal complaints against the army in Northern Ireland in the early 70s:

BBC Interviewer: “There were elements in the army that had imported a colonial approach to Northern Ireland”

Le Tissier: “Virtually the whole lot had imported this, it wasn’t just elements, it was a strong theme in the armed forces. That was the experience they were bringing to Northern Ireland… Well I mean you could do just about anything you wanted[45]

The point is that these counter-insurgency strategies and tactics were entrenched in British Military theory by the early 1970s; the troops had been trained in these methods which had been employed in many places in the ’empire’ in the 50s and 60s[46] and were then applied to the colony of Northern Ireland[47]. This should come as no surprise. However, what should not be assumed is that the British Army had some kind of operational autonomy in Northern Ireland which allowed Westminster and Whitehall to duck responsibility for control of the ‘dirty war’. In fact the British Army’s own assessment of its involvement in Northern Ireland states:

At no stage in the campaign was there an explicit operational level plan as would be recognised today. This may appear surprising….It had been entirely normal to conduct campaigns, such as the Mau Mau or the Malayan Emergency, by a series of directives. The modern understanding of the operational level of war did not exist in the British Army until the mid-1980s[48]

These ‘directives’ came from Chief of the General Staff (the head of the British Army) who was directly responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence. So to a certain extent both Whitehall and Westminster were closer to day-to-day tactical control of the British Army in Northern Ireland in the 1960s-70s than they may have been if an operational plan had been agreed and the Army allowed to run it unmolested, as is more common today. The key points about all this are:

  • The British counter-insurgency doctrine was in place and had been tested in colonial wars.
  • Top level political and military authorities in London decided to apply it to Northern Ireland.
  • The Military Reaction Force was a small but important part of this counter-insurgency campaign.

The end of the MRF or a new strategy?

So what happened to the MRF? According to the BBC documentary the unit was wound down after an MOD report stated that there was “no provision for detailed command and control”[49] implying that it had gone ‘rogue’. What is certainly clear is that Republicans had begun to piece together the modus operandi of the MRF during 1972 and had concluded that their attacks on civilians were for two reasons:

Firstly, to draw the IRA into a sectarian conflict with loyalists and divert it from its campaign against the state; and secondly, to show the Catholic community that the IRA could not protect them, thus draining its support[50]

The problems of the MRF were that the terror attacks on republicans had left piles of civilian bodies on Belfast streets and some British soldiers had been ‘accidentally’ arrested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) after drive-by shootings. Despite the ‘pseudo-gang’ approach of the MRF in hiding behind supposed sectarian violence, it wasn’t just Republicans who had become aware of these British Army ‘death-squads’. As a result of persistent rumours and press articles, official denials followed, for example in May 1972 the Army Under-secretary stated: “In no circumstances are soldiers employed to assassinate people or in any way which would involve deliberately going outside the law”.[51]

It was no surprise that the Provisional IRA struck back against these British Army ‘terror squads’. In September 1972 the PIRA exposed two MRF double-agents, who were interrogated giving up valuable information about the MRF and were then summarily executed. In October the Belfast Brigade of the PIRA launched coordinated attacks against several of the MRF’s ‘front companies’ and claimed to have killed six members of the undercover unit[52]. This effectively shattered the MRF’s cover and is a far more plausible reason for the shut-down of the unit’s operations than a sudden change of heart in Whitehall.

In fact, rather than a change of heart in the British state, it appears a modification of tactics was underway. The MRF seemed to ‘disappear’ in early 1973, but according to several sources was in fact reorganised as the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU), expanded to over three times the number of active personnel and deployed more widely in Northern Ireland[53]:

In late 1972, according to a Northern Ireland Office brief, its (MRF) operations were brought under a more centralised control and a higher standard of training was introduced by establishing a Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) of 130 all ranks under the direct command of HQNI. It was classic British modus operandi in the wake of bad publicity – to re-form and re-name….The Defence Secretary, Lord Carrington, sent a…minute to the Prime Minister on 28th November in which he sought agreement for the use of volunteers with SAS training as the basis for reorganising “the old Military Reaction Forces” into what became the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU). He agreed that….every attempt would be made to conceal SAS involvement[54]

The SRU is also noted in an April 1974 briefing for Prime Minister Harold Wilson which states:

The term “Special Reconnaissance Unit” and the details of its organisation and mode of operations have been kept secret. The SRU operates in Northern Ireland at present under the cover name “Northern Ireland Training and Advisory Teams (Northern Ireland)” NITAT(NI)[55]

So we have two Prime Ministers Heath and Wilson (Tory and Labour), briefed about the existence of the new, MRF inspired, secret Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU). This evidence clearly scotches any idea that Westminster was uninformed.

The expanded SRU marked a move away from two phases of British Army engagement with the Republican movement and its armed wings. The first was the straight-forward deployment of Army units, in a colonial style, to put down protests and urban disorder. This had led to massacres of civilians in Belfast and Derry in 1971-2, which were international propaganda disasters for the British state and massively increased IRA recruitment. Their response to the intensification of armed Republican violence as a result of these and other incidents was to ‘take the war to the enemy’ using units such as the MRF. Within a year this tactic had been rumbled by the Republicans, so a new approach was needed. The subsequent phase had two main characteristics:

  • Comprehensive intelligence gathering as crucial to the counter-insurgency war.[56]
  • The use of proxy-groups (loyalist para-militaries) to carry out the targeted assassination and terror attacks against republican organisations and communities.

So rather than the British Army gathering intelligence and sending out its own assassination squads such as the MRF, the emphasis would be on coordinating all intelligence gathering by Special Army units, the RUC and Ulster Defence Regiment. This information would then be used to help inform and plan attacks on the Republican movement by loyalist paramilitaries[57].

The beauty of the approach was that British soldiers would not now be directly implicated in killings whether in uniform or under-cover. This would help neutralise Republican propaganda and could draw the IRA into retaliatory sectarian warfare, thereby diverting them from their primary objective of direct attacks on the British state in an attempt to force negotiations for their withdrawal. Collusion between British state and proxy-forces would take a number of forms; by the mid-1970s a number of collaborations were underway including:

  • The official Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) which sat right between the British Army command and the paramilitary groups. This was effectively a ‘dual card’ organisation.
  • Unofficial ‘terror’ networks such as the ‘Glenanne gang’ which was comprised of British soldiers from the UDR, police officers from the RUC, and members of the illegal para-military Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).[58]
  • Collaboration between special units in the British Army such as the SRU and the numerous loyalist paramilitary organisations.
Republican mural drawing attention to the complex web of organisations involved in the counter-insurgency campaign in Northern Ireland
Republican mural drawing attention to the complex web of organisations involved in the counter-insurgency campaign in Northern Ireland

The difficulty in disentangling the nature of this collusion is that it came in several forms. The active version involved the British state arming and supplying loyalist para-militaries with information on potential targets and then facilitating their operations on the ground. In some cases however the loyalist para-militaries were unaware of the ‘long-hand of Whitehall’, as operations were instigated by British double-agents in their organisations. They may have believed they were carrying out missions for the ‘loyalist’ cause, but in fact were being controlled indirectly from London. A large amount of collusion was passive, in the sense that the British state did not organise it, but instead allowed it to occur as it suited their aims. This appears to be the case within the RUC and UDR and their relationships with loyalist para-military organisations. There is also significant evidence that ‘unofficial’ secret networks such as the murderous ‘Glenanne gang’ which obscured their origins, were actually orchestrated by British Military Intelligence and RUC Special Branch.[59]

The evolution of special British Army units such as the MRF from self-contained intelligence gathering and assassination/terror squads to organisations gathering information and colluding with loyalist para-militaries who would undertake the operations was paralleled by changes in policing and army structure. The emphasis in intelligence gathering was marked by a fundamental alteration of policing philosophy in the RUC in the early 1980s:

Within the RUC this change gave supremacy to Special Branch (SB), which could now decide who should or should not see particular intelligence, who should or should not be arrested and whether or not criminal investigations should or should not be carried out. Informers, whatever they did, from murder to exhortation, became the backbone of the new policing strategy and were to be protected at any cost.[60]

Similarly, the British army aimed at rationalising its intelligence gathering networks and operations:

It is now apparent that the reform of the police was part of a wider, more deadly security strategy that had been devised at the very highest echelons of government and included fundamental changes in the Army and the way it collected, collated and disseminated intelligence. Until 1977, each battalion ran its own agents who were then passed on after the four month tour of duty. This practice was stopped and brigades became responsible. A short time later in 1980 all intelligence gathering was centralised in what was euphemistically called the Force Research Unit (FRU), based in the Northern Ireland Headquarters in Lisburn (HQNI). It was tasked with the responsibility of looking after all recruits from all the various units of the armed forces. It trained them to go under cover in Northern Ireland. [61]

Republican mural explaining collusion between Force Research Unit operatives and the Ulster Defence Regiment
Republican mural explaining collusion between Force Research Unit operatives and the Ulster Defence Regiment

The FRU’s covert role was not only to coordinate the gathering, analysis and dissemination of intelligence information but also to run ‘double-agents’ in both the loyalist and republican para-military groups. How ‘double’ the loyalist agents were, is up for debate; there is plenty of evidence that the relationship between the FRU and loyalist paramilitaries was cosy and productive in terms of dead republicans. The FRU provided reams of intelligence information about republican targets, helped organise arms shipments to loyalist gunmen, facilitated para-military operations and protected operatives from arrest and prosecution[62].

The British Army’s assessment of its 37 year campaign in Northern Ireland Operation Banner states: “By 1980 almost all the military structures which eventually defeated PIRA were in place”[63]. Clearly the evolution of British repression from trigger-happy Paratroopers via Army under-cover terror units to paramilitary proxy death-squads was a key part of this supposed ‘victory’. It is interesting to note that the PIRA in Northern Ireland was slowly strangled during the 1980s to the point where loyalist paramilitaries were in the ascendancy:

Reorganised, armed, trained and directed by the British state, Loyalists groups intensified their campaign. During the 1980s, Loyalist groups had been responsible for about 25 percent of conflict related deaths, but from the early 1990s onwards they were responsible for well over 50 percent outgunning republicans. In the six year period from January 1988 to their ceasefire on 13 October 1994, they were responsible for 229 deaths, 207 of which were sectarian assassinations. Between 1989 and 1993, loyalists killed 26 members of the IRA, Sinn Fein and relatives of republicans… “These lethal attacks on both wings of the republican movement by the SAS and loyalist paramilitaries, as well as conventional attrition by the police and the army through the courts were no doubt an important contributory factor in the IRA’s decision to call a ceasefire in 1994”[64]

The evolution and use of the death squad during the struggle in Northern Ireland demonstrates both the ruthlessness and innovation of the British ruling class in its attempts to defeat the republican movement and hang onto Northern Ireland, bucking the trend of decades of colonial withdrawal. Now the so-called ‘victory’ has been achieved there are new problems for our rulers and their historians to contend with. As part of the ‘peace agreement’ in 2005 the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), a unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, was set up to investigate the 3,269 unsolved murders committed during the Troubles (specifically between 1968 and 1998). This has presented a number of problems for the British state as it has to maintain its historic image as the benign democratic state attacked by ruthless republican terrorists. Interestingly as a result of the HET investigations and demands of relatives of victims, the Provisional IRA has been making frank statements concerning many of those killed or executed by the organisation during the war.[65] No one expects ‘justice’ from the British state, but some ‘truth’ about systematic collusion with loyalist paramilitaries or the activities of British Army ‘death squads’ would at least allow us to write the history.

I suspect this will not be forthcoming.

Epilogue: How to protect myths of the benign British state when the cat is out of the bag?

When faced with evidence of state sponsored murder, rape and torture and other crimes, there is an interesting parallel in the actions of ‘patriotic’ historians and their allies in the British ruling class. Both groups have an interest in protecting the benign ‘history’ of Britain and its Empire, although the latter may have more immediate concerns in dealing with the claims of victims and/or protecting the perpetrators. What is crucial to both is to avoid exposing patterns, policies or strategies systematically and consciously undertaken by the British state across time and geography. When caught out by ‘unethical’ (sic) use of information, there are a number of ways our rulers and their lackeys have learned to deal with the problem:

  • Temporal and spatial isolation: It is unusual for a great deal of damning information concerning the repressive activities of the British state to be released into the public domain. More typically, some investigative journalists write an article or make a documentary uncovering a particular incident or some fragment of hidden history. The approach of the journalists is in itself useful as it ‘ring-fences’ the issue by default. The rules are ‘keep it local’, do not disclose and hope it goes away.[66]
  • Discrediting the ‘whistle-blowers’: Persistent critics or witnesses need to be demeaned as unreliable sources, as ‘having an axe to grind’, a drug or alcohol problem or simply mentally ill.[67] Often personal information unrelated to the issue is leaked to the press by the state in order to undermine the ‘whistle-blower’ or victim.[68] Or a good old dollop of racism can do the job…after all “Africans make up stories”… don’t they?
  • The ‘inquiry’: Classically used by politicians and others to make some time for a ‘cover-up’ or for damage limitation. Inquiries create the idea that ‘something is being done’, despite the fact that the state usually withholds evidence and consequently it can take literally years to come to dubious conclusions. The aim is to draw a line under an incident, hopefully putting it to bed for good. State inquiries are also perfect for stifling debate about an issue, as politicians and other implicated figures can hide behind ‘I cannot comment as there is an inquiry underway’. It is also rare for inquiries to get translated into meaningful legal action. Perfect for delaying tactics, that can sometimes last decades.[69]
  • The ‘bad apple’ strategy: That is blaming and in some rare cases sacrificing a few low-level miscreants, in order to limit the issue to a local problem, rather than being systemic. For establishment historians it is symbolic, where the delinquent colonial administrator or military officer becomes responsible for the ‘crimes’ rather than a centrally driven policy or strategy of the British state. For the state it is a practical issue of deflecting blame away from the organisation and towards deviant individuals. If a sacrifice is required to bury the issue, then usually the ‘lamb’ is portrayed as having mental health problems or some other dysfunctionality.
  • The ‘justification’: Usually appears when the state officials (or historians) are on the ropes after their persistent denials have been exposed as lies. It is an appeal to the public to understand the context of some war crime or other in order to justify it. So the ‘troubles’ in Ireland suddenly become a ‘dirty war’ which justified assassination and torture; the torture camps in Kenya become necessary in order to fight the ‘psychopathic’ Mau Mau; and of course suspension of habeas corpus, extraordinary rendition (international kidnapping) and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (torture) during the so-called ‘war on terror’ were essential to fight ‘Al Qaeda’ .
  • The ‘statement of regret’: This is an end-game move for the state which is part of the process of ‘drawing a line’ under some infamous history. However, a ‘statement of regret’ is a (reluctant) benevolent gesture not a legal apology, that is, it is not an admission of responsibility. This protects the state from both compensation claims and crucially from exposure of comprehensive evidence of systematic crimes in the courts.[70]
  1. [1]I Am The Owl from the Dead Kennedys album Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982) [Back...]
  2. [2] “In June 1957, Eric Griffith-Jones, the attorney general of the British administration in Kenya, wrote to the governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, detailing the way the regime of abuse at the colony’s detention camps was being subtly altered. From now on, Griffith-Jones wrote, for the abuse to remain legal, Mau Mau suspects must be beaten mainly on their upper body, “vulnerable parts of the body should not be struck, particularly the spleen, liver or kidneys”, and it was important that ‘those who administer violence … should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate’. Almost as an after-thought, the attorney general reminded the governor of the need for complete secrecy. “If we are going to sin,” he wrote, “we must sin quietly.” – The Guardian 18/04/2012 – Sins of colonialists lay concealed for decades in secret archive [Back...]
  3. [3]Interestingly, “One of those abused was Hussein Onyango Obama, the grandfather of Barack Obama. According to his widow, British soldiers forced pins into his fingernails and buttocks and squeezed his testicles between metal rods. Two of the original five claimants who brought the test case against the British government were castrated”. It should be noted that the 10,000 claimants were selected on the basis that “they suffered personal injury and grievous bodily harm, such as castration or rape”. Compensation was not extended to the hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu who had their property and land seized from them by the colonial authorities, reducing them to poverty which remains to this very day. The Guardian 05/05/2013 – Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement [Back...]
  4. [4]See the BRHG article Kenya At Last [Back...]
  5. [5]See for example the film Injustice (2001/98 minutes/UK/Dir: Ken Fero & Tariq Mehmood/Migrant Media), which the UK Police attempted to suppress in 2001 and has yet to be shown on national TV stations. Central to this film is the extraordinary length of time (sometimes decades) it takes in order to get an inquest verdict if police officers are suspected of ‘unlawful killing’. Achieving a conviction against police officers is of course almost impossible. [Back...]
  6. [6]Stephen Lawrence was murdered on 22 April 1993. Nearly twenty-one years later the full facts of the effect of police corruption on the original investigation have yet to be addressed. Another inquiry is underway: “The home secretary said an existing inquiry by Mark Ellison QC into allegations of corruption and incompetence by officers investigating Lawrence’s murder would now be widened to incorporate claims that undercover police spied on the family” The Independent 06/03/2012 – The Lawrence case is far from over  and The Guardian 24/06/2013 – Stephen Lawrence’s father demands judicial inquiry into police spying [Back...]
  7. [7]The Hillsborough disaster occurred on 15 April 1989. The crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 766 others. Despite more than 40,000 witnesses, the South Yorkshire Police force and an MP with the collusion of the national press conspired to cover up their crimes. The incident has since been blamed primarily on the police and remains the worst stadium-related disaster in British history and one of the world’s worst football disasters. Not a single police officer has been charged as yet. Wikipedia – Hillsborough Disaster [Back...]
  8. [8]Thirteen unarmed civilians taking part in a Civil Rights March in the Bogside area of Derry were shot dead by British Army paratroopers on 30 January 1971. It took nearly 40 years for the British state to issue a formal apology.Wikipedi – Bloody Sunday [Back...]
  9. [9]Eleven civilians were shot dead by British Army paratroopers between 9 and 11 August 1971, otherwise known as the ‘Ballymurphy Massacre’ or ‘Belfast Bloody Sunday’. “The families of the victims…seek acknowledgment from the British government that those killed were innocent of any wrongdoing”. As yet, more than 40 years later, this has not been forthcoming. Wikipedia – Ballymurphy_Massacre [Back...]
  10. [10]See The Guardian 01/11/2003 [Back...]
  11. [11]Wikipedia – Mau Mau Uprising and Huffington Post – The Mau Mau Were Vile, but So Was the British Response to Them [Back...]
  12. [12]In 2011 George Morara, a program officer with the Kenya Human Rights Commission stated “For the British government to continue to press its case for dismissal makes the issue ‘a war of attrition; these veterans are old.’ He estimated there are as many as 75,000 former Mau Mau fighters, scouts, and sympathizers still alive in Kenya. Most are 70 and older. Among the official claimants, the youngest is 75 and the oldest 84.” Harvard University News – Professor Elkins helps make the case that aged Kenyan veterans deserve justice. One of the five test case claimants, Susan Ciong’ombe Ngondi, died in 2010.  [Back...]
  13. [13]The Guardian 28/10/2012 – The Mau Mau may rewrite the history of the British empire [Back...]
  14. [14]This included the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, a host of civil rights organisations and politicians including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vince Cable, and Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture. Current United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, “called publicly on the government to ‘provide full redress to the victims, including fair and adequate compensation’, and writing privately to David Cameron, along with two former special rapporteurs, to warn that the government’s position was undermining its moral authority across the world”. See The Guardian 05/04/2011 -Kenyans sue UK for alleged colonial human rights abuses, BBC: Today Programme – Mau Mau blame ‘goes right to the top’ and The Guardian 05/05/2013 – Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement [Back...]
  15. [15]The Guardian 05/05/2013 – Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement [Back...]
  16. [16]The Guardian 05/05/2013 – Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement [Back...]
  17. [17]The Guardian 18/04/2012 – Sins of colonialists lay concealed for decades in secret archive [Back...]
  18. [18]The Guardian 07/04/2011 – Mau Mau victims seek compensation from UK for alleged torture [Back...]
  19. [19]FCO statement on Mau Mau court judgement [Back...]
  20. [20]The Guardian 05/05/2013 – Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement [Back...]
  21. [21]For example, Professor David Anderson author of Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. Weidenfeld & Nicholson (2005), Caroline Elkins author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. Henry Holt (2005) and Dr Huw Bennett author of Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya. CUP (2012). All three acted as expert historians for the Mau Mau compensation cases. [Back...]
  22. [22]The Guardian 18/04/2012 – The colonial papers: FCO transparency is a carefully cultivated myth [Back...]
  23. [23]The Guardian 18/04/2012 – Sins of colonialists lay concealed for decades in secret archive [Back...]
  24. [24]The Guardian 18/04/2012 [Back...]
  25. [25]Ironically, “unethical use” probably meant exposing war crimes and other abuses of human rights. The Guardian 18/04/2012 – Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes [Back...]
  26. [26]The Guardian 18/04/2012 – Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes [Back...]
  27. [27]The Independent (I) 29 November 2013 p.21. [Back...]
  28. [28]The Guardian 25/07/2011 – It’s not just Kenya. Squaring up to the seamier side of empire is long overdue [Back...]
  29. [29]Wikipedia – Mau Mau Uprising [Back...]
  30. [30]The Guardian 21/10/2013 – Listening to the voices from Kenya’s colonial past [Back...]
  31. [31]“It was only the persistence of a handful of FCO officials, notably Edward Inglett, and a witness statement by Oxford professor David Anderson in December 2010 alleging ‘systematic withholding by HMG of 1500 files in 300 boxes taking up 100 linear feet’, that eventually resulted in the migrated archives coming to light in January 2011” – Wikipedia – Foreign and Commonwealth Office migrated archives [Back...]
  32. [32]The Guardian 20/01/2014 – Slave trade documents among illegal Foreign Office cache [Back...]
  33. [33]The Guardian 20/01/2014 – Slave trade documents among illegal Foreign Office cache [Back...]
  34. [34]The Guradian 18/10/2013 Foreign Office hoarding 1m historic files in secret archive [Back...]
  35. [35]The Guardian 27/10/2013 – The Foreign Office secretly hoarded 1.2m files. It’s historical narcissism [Back...]
  36. [36]The Guardian 13/01/2013 – Academics consider legal action to force Foreign Office to release public records [Back...]
  37. [37]The Guradian 18/10/2013 Foreign Office hoarding 1m historic files in secret archive [Back...]
  38. [38]You can watch the doc on Youtube at [Back...]
  39. [39]BBC: Panarama Britain’s Secret Terror Force [Back...]
  40. [40]According to the BBC documentary documents relating to the MRF were destroyed, but perhaps they are amongst the 66,000 files relating to Northern Ireland hidden in another secret vault by the MOD in Derby? See The Guardian 06/10/2013 – Ministry of Defence holds 66,000 files in breach of 30-year rule [Back...]
  41. [41]Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Force. See 19:15 to 20:15 in [Back...]
  42. [42]he two key texts (manuals?) which Kitson produced were Gangs and Counter-gangs (1960) and the seminal Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (1971) [Back...]
  43. [43]The 39th infantry brigade had previously seen service in counter-insurgency campaigns in both Kenya and Aden. It was deployed in Northern Ireland in August 1969 with responsibility for the security of Belfast and the eastern side of the province. Wikipedia – 39th Infantry Brigade [Back...]
  44. [44]For example, McGurk’s Bar bombing in Dec 1971, the most deadly attack in Belfast during the conflict, was attributed to the MRF who allegedly both organised the attack and with other security forces, helped the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bombers enter and escape the area. Fifteen civilians were killed and seventeen injured in the attack. The original target was a bar frequented by the OIRA, but the UVF attackers were scared off and impulsively chose a softer target. The MRF planned to blame the attack on the Provisionals (PIRA) in order to divide the republican movement. Wikipedia – Military reaction Force [Back...]
  45. [45]Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Force. See 20:45 in [Back...]
  46. [46]In Kenya, Aden, Malaya and Cyprus. [Back...]
  47. [47]It is interesting how Le Tissier remarks in the film that such tactics were not appropriate to Northern Ireland; suggesting that either it is not a ‘colony’ or at least the full-on dirty war tactics are only applicable to colonial subjects rather than British citizens. Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Force. See 21:10 in [Back...]
  48. [48]Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland MOD (2006) Para. 408-9.  [Back...]
  49. [49]Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Force. See 55:40 in [Back...]
  50. [50]Wikipedia – Military reaction Force [Back...]
  51. [51]Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Force. See 17:16 in [Back...]
  52. [52]The British Army only referred to one victim. Wikipedia – Military Reaction Force [Back...]
  53. [53]The SRU was deployed in three detachments based in Belfast, County Londonderry and Fermanagh. [Back...]
  54. [54]spinwatch – The long shadow of the Military Reaction Force [Back...]
  55. [55]Wikipedia – 14 Intelligence Company Interestingly, in the conclusion to the British Army assessment of their campaign in Northern Ireland, ‘Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland’ MOD (2006) Para. 856, a major tribute is paid to NITAT as ‘having high quality instructors and frequent visits to theatre so that troops deployed with confidence after training in appropriate tactics’. Is this a nod to the death squad? Operation Banner – An Analysis of Military Operations in Northern Ireland. [Back...]
  56. [56]Perfidious Albion: Cover-up and collusion in Northern Ireland by Paddy Hillyard [Back...]
  57. [57]“The De Silva report found that, during the 1980s, 85% of the intelligence loyalists used to target people came from the security forces” Wikipedia – The Troubles [Back...]
  58. [58]“It has been claimed that permutations of the group killed 120 people – all but one of whom were “upwardly mobile” Catholic civilians with no links to Irish republican paramilitaries. The Cassel Report investigated 76 murders attributed to the group and found evidence that British soldiers and RUC officers were involved in 74 of those.” Wikipedia – Glenanne Gang [Back...]
  59. [59]Collusion in the South Armagh / Mid Ulster Area in the mid-1970’s [Back...]
  60. [60]This change was hidden from the public for 20 years. Perfidious Albion: Cover-up and collusion in Northern Ireland by Paddy Hillyard [Back...]
  61. [61]Perfidious Albion: Cover-up and collusion in Northern Ireland by Paddy Hillyard [Back...]
  62. [62]Wikipedia – Force Research Unit [Back...]
  63. [63]Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland MOD (2006) Para. 812. [Back...]
  64. [64]The Irish Revolution – A history of the Provos – part three [Back...]
  65. [65]CAIN Web Service – Statements by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) [Back...]
  66. [66]For example, spatial isolation; in the Mau Mau case the FCO claimed for many years that the issue was ‘local’ to Kenya and that the authorities in the Britain had no idea what was going on there. This defence was patently ridiculous and has now been proved to be so. Also, temporal isolation; the Military Reaction Force in Northern Ireland is portrayed as having a short, ‘rogue’ life before it is supposedly shut down as an embarrassing liability. This fragmented approach obscures the long-term strategy and tactics of the British state in dealing with the Republican movement. As we have seen the British state actually expanded its operations based on the MRF tactics with a similar (though more developed) approach to eliminating its military enemies and terrorising their supporting communities. [Back...]
  67. [67]Two recent examples include: Craig Murray, the ex-British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who exposed systematic torture and rape of so-called suspects in the ‘war on terror’ by the regime to obtain what he called “dross” information for the CIA and MI6. Murray was accused of 18 offences by the FCO including being drunk and selling visas for sex; these were leaked to the press to discredit him. All the charges were eventually dropped, though Murray was removed from his post by the FCO for “operational reasons”. He finally resigned from the FCO after being charged for “gross misconduct” for speaking to the press about the torture allegations. Wikipedia – Craig Murray. The exposure of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a secret police unit used to infiltrate activist groups, by The Guardian and Channel 4 Dispatches programme in 2013 also uncovered the fact that its operatives had been used to spy on the family of Stephen Lawrence in order to gain information which could be used to discredit the campaign as well as family and friends of the victim. See In June 2013 right-wing journalist, nationalist and establishment historian, Max Hastings opposed paying the paltry compensation to the Mau Mau victims on the basis that 1950s “were a long time ago” and that the oral history evidence given by the victims “couldn’t be trusted”. [Back...]
  68. [68]In 2006, a completely bungled police operation involving 250 officers and costing more than £2 million in Forest Gate, East London led to raids on two innocent families and the shooting by police of 23 year-old Mohammed Abdul Kaha. Police subsequently ‘discovered’ indecent images of children on Kaha’s computer and mobile phone, which he strenuously denied having put there. No case was ever brought against Kaha as the CPS was not satisfied that he had the knowledge to transfer the images. However, the wounded Kaha had been successfully discredited and the origin of the images was never established. Wikipedia – 2 June 2006 Forest Gate Raid [Back...]
  69. [69]For example, the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 led to three inquiries (Taylor, Stuart-Smith and Hillsborough Independent Panel) spanning nearly 25 years. The first two attempted to definitively draw a line under the dubious official ‘history’ of the event, however thanks to the endurance of the campaigners, a cover-up which connected the police, politicians and the media was finally uncovered in 2010. The ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre carried out by the British Army in Derry in 1972, had two inquiries (Widgery and Saville), the first a complete ‘whitewash’ and the latter launched in 1998 took twelve years to come to a conclusion! [Back...]
  70. [70]The Foreign Secretary William Hague gave such a statement in June 2013 concerning the Kenyan ’emergency’ of 1952-63 but it had a significant caveat: “We continue to deny liability on behalf of the Government and British taxpayers today for the actions of the colonial administration in respect of the claims, and indeed the courts have made no finding of liability against the Government in this case. We do not believe that claims relating to events that occurred overseas outside direct British jurisdiction more than 50 years ago can be resolved satisfactorily through the courts without the testimony of key witnesses, which is no longer available….we will also continue to exercise our own right to defend claims brought against the Government, and we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration.…” The BBC – Mau Mau torture victims to receive compensation – Hague [Back...]

1 Comment

  1. I have not had words yet that would describe my thankfulness for your patiently and intelligently work done here concerning the concealed material relating to the British colony; Kenya during Mau Mau era. The work is rich with clear content and written with passion and commitment of the mission intended. Thank you.
    My name is Elijah Ngugi I live in the US but originally from Kenya. I was a journalist in Kenya and now do research work on the Kenyan history.
    Again thank you
    telephone 803 6297502

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