Brian Nelson

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Person.png Brian Nelson  
(spook)
Brian nelson.jpg
Photo credit BBC
Born 30 September 1947
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died 2003-04-11 (Age 55)
England, citation needed
Brian Nelson was an agent of the British Army's Force Research Unit and senior intelligence officer in the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association.

Early life

Nelson was born on the Shankill Road in West Belfast in 1947. When he left school he obtained an apprenticeship at the Harland & Wolff shipyard where his father worked, which he left after 16 months.[1]

Black Watch

He joined the British Army's Black Watch Regiment in 1965.[2] He left the regiment in August 1969 in somewhat murky circumstances.[3] According to journalist Greg Harkin, Nelson told one UDA associate he had gone AWOL and was a wanted man.[4]

Loyalism

After his return to Northern Ireland, Nelson set up his own battalion of Ian Paisley's Ulster Protestant Volunteer Force.[5] Eighteen months later, in 1972, Nelson joined the Ulster Defence Association.[6][7]

Greg Harkin cites a UDA source as stating Nelson was involved in taking lives in this period:

The fact he was an ex-soldier meant he was called upon more than most. He had a deal of respect because he could handle firearms better than most, and he was always keen to impress the bosses.[8]

In March 1973, Nelson was involved in the UDA kidnapping and torture of a North Belfast Catholic, Gerald Higgins.[9] Harkin gives the following account of the incident:

There is absolutely no question what Brian Nelson had in mind. They had a gun. They had a Catholic and that Catholic was going to die. But Gerry Higgins was not going quietly. He had just been through hell in that UDA torture chamber, and he began to struggle as Nelson, Brown and Eppleston bundled him into the back of the car. The tussle alerted soldiers on foot patrol a few hundred yards away, and two Land Rovers sped in and blocked the car.[10]

As a result of this incident, Nelson was convicted of assault, intimidation and firearms offences in 1974.[11] A charge of conspiracy to murder was dropped in exchange for a guilty plea.[12]

According to journalist Peter Taylor, Nelson rejoined the UDA on his release from prison.[13] According to Harkin, it was in the late 1970s that Nelson began working on targeting intelligence for the UDA, carrying out surveillance while working as a carpet-fitter.[14]

The Force Research Unit

There are a number of different accounts of when Nelson began working for British intelligence. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin claim he was recruited by the Force Research Unit (FRU) in 1979, and may have been an agent earlier.[15] It may be significant in this respect that the FRU itself was established in 1979.[16]

Germany

According to Harkin and Ingram, Nelson worked in Germany during 1981-82 for 2 Company, spying on the Irish community for the Army and MI6. By late 1982, the FRU wanted to bring him back to Northern Ireland to infiltrate the UDA/UFF, but the RUC wanted to maintain a monopoly on the recruitment of loyalist agents. By Christmas, the FRU had won the argument on the grounds that; "Nelson was a serving British soldier and, as such, an employee of the Ministry of Defence, therefore the FRU was entitled to use him.[17]

First FRU/UDA period

According to an earlier account in an Irish News profile, Nelson is understood to have begun working for British military intelligence in 1983. [18] Peter Taylor's Brits gives a similar date, reporting that Nelson told the FRU he was "sick of violence and had had enough."[19]

By 1985, Nelson was an intelligence officer for the UDA in West Belfast.[20] Taylor states he was the Senior Intelligence Officer in this part of the city, and notes that he had risen "with remarkable speed."

Ingram and Harkin contrast the FRU's use of Nelson in the 1983-85 period, with that in 1987-90:

The facts speak for themselves: during the last six months of 1983 the UDA in Belfast did not kill any nationalists or Catholics. It is our understanding that at that time Nelson's information was used to prevent a number of murder attempts (a very different modus operandi from that implemented by the regime he was to work for in the late 1980s. [21]

Gerry Adams

According to Ingram and Harkin, the FRU used information from Nelson to tamper with the bullets used by the UFF in its 1984 shooting of Gerry Adams. [22]

Patrick Brady

On 16 November 1984, loyalist Michael Stone killed Catholic milkman and Sinn Féin member Patrick Brady, after reading a military intelligence report passed on by Nelson.[23]

South Africa

In June 1985, he travelled to South Africa on an arms procurement mission.[24]

Return to Germany

Nelson left Northern Ireland for another stint in Germany on 25 October 1985.[25] He remained an FRU agent, according to the Irish News.[26]

Second FRU/UDA period

Peter Taylor states that in January 1987, the new head of the FRU, 'Colonel J' (Gordon Kerr) identified a gap in agent coverage of the loyalists, and decided to re-recruit Nelson. This decision was opposed by MI5, according to Taylor, who felt that the loyalists were sufficiently covered already.[27]

In 1987, he met his FRU handler and an MI5 agent at a London hotel where they persuaded him to rejoin the UDA.[28]

The final arrangements for the South African arms shipment initiated by Nelson were made in December 1987: {{QB |Although Nelson is understood to have informed his handlers of developments at every stage of the proceedings, no action was taken to intercept the weapons coming into Northern Ireland.
Nelson was crucial to the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance 1988 shipment of 200 AK47 assault rifles, 90 pistols, 500 grenades, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 12 RPG 7 rocket launchers from South Africa.
Despite security forces being aware of the weapons' consignment, only the UDA's part of the shipment was intercepted.
It is estimated that the South African weapons have been used in well over 100 murders since 1988.[29]

On his return to Belfast, Nelson was given the code number Agent 6137. Again Taylor notes, he rose 'with surprising rapidity' becoming the UFF's senior intelligence officer for the whole of Northern Ireland. His remit with the FRU was to refine the UDA's targeting[30]

A Military Intelligence Source Report from 3 May 1988 stated:

6137 wants the UDA only to attack legitimate targets and not innocent Catholics. Since 6137 took up his position as intelligence officer, the targeting has developed and become more professional.[31]

In theory, according to Taylor, this was supposed to make it easier to save lives, including those of republicans by allowing the FRU to pass information TCG Belfast that would prevent attacks.[32]

The FRU helped Nelson to compile targeting data, and to computerise the UDA's files which included existing material supplied by RUC and UDR sources.[33]

80 people on Nelson's files were attacked, 29 of whom were shot dead.[34]

Gerry Adams

According to Peter Taylor, intelligence from Nelson enabled the TCG Belfast to foil a UFF plan to kill Gerry Adams by seizing the limpet mine that was to be used in the attack.[35]

Edward Campbell

Edward Campbell, a 40-year-old Catholic taxi-driver was shot dead by the UDA/UFF on 3 July 1987. Although he had been interned in the 1970s, he had no IRA connections at the time of his death. This was one of some 15 murders in which the Stevens Inquiry concluded Nelson played an active role.[36]

Michael Power

One of the first files which Nelson passed to the UFF was on Michael Power, a Catholic with no paramilitary involvement. FRU files showed that this was purely an opportunity for Nelson to ingratiate himself with the UDA.[37] Power was shot dead on 23 August 1987.[38]

Patrick Hamill

Patrick Hamill, a 29-year-old Catholic with no paramilitary connections, was shot dead at his West Belfast home on 9 September 1987. The UDA/UFF used intelligence given to Nelson by the FRU for the killing.[39]

Jim Meighan

Jim Meighan, a 22-year-old Catholic from the New Lodge in North Belfast, was shot dead by the UDA on 21 September 1987. He was targeted by Nelson because he was going out with a Protestant girl.[40]

Francisco Notorantonio

Francisco Notorantonio was shot dead at his home on 9 October 1987. The FRU allegedly passed his name to the UDA through Nelson in order to direct them away from an FRU agent in the IRA.[41]

Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert, a 19-year-old Protestant , was shot dead by the UDA on 9 November 1987. The gang used information supplied by Nelson who was under the impression that Lambert was a Catholic.[42] Sir John Stevens concluded that Lambert's murder could have been prevented and that there was collusion in the case.[43]

Terry McDaid

Terry McDaid was shot dead on 10 May 1988.[44] He died after Nelson sent UFF gunmen to the wrong address. Nelson made four phone calls to the FRU on the night of the murder but when the Stevens Inquiry team sought the transcripts they were missing.[45]

Alex Maskey

Nelson called his handlers in July 1988 to check details of Alex Maskey's car registration on the same day as a planned UDA attack on the Sinn Féin councillor. His handler is alleged to have said: "You're not wrong about the car.[46]

UFF interrogation

In August 1988, Nelson was subjected to a violent interrogation by the UDA, who suspected that he was passing information to the IRA.[47]

Gerard Slane

On 23 September 1988,the UFF shot dead Gerard Slane in his home, claiming he had been involved in an IPLO attack on UDA man William Quee. The RUC denied there was any evidence of this. Nelson had provided the intelligence for the killers. Peter Taylor reports that although Nelson had warned his handlers that Slane was being targeted ten days beforehand, and on the day of the killing itself, no action was taken.[48] Harkin and Ingram report that FRU handlers had actually helped prepare the targeting file.[49]

Pat Finucane

In December 1988, Nelson informed his handlers of a threat to the life of solicitor Pat Finucane.[50]

Four days before Finucane was killed, Nelson passed a photograph of him to the UFF.[51] He was shot dead on 12 February 1989 in front of his family at his North Belfast home.[52]

John Joe Davey

John Joe Davey was a 58-year-old veteran of the IRA border campaign and a Sinn Féin councillor in Magherafelt. He was shot dead by the UVF on 14 February 1989. Nelson had supplied files on him to the UDA, UVF and to Michael Stone.[53]

Patrick Feeney

Patrick Feeney was a 32-year-old Catholic. He was shot dead on 22 February 1989 at the linen mill where he worked as a security guard by the UDA/UFF, who had been given a file on him by Brian Nelson. He had no paramilitary connections.[54]

Gerard Casey

29-year-old Gerard Casey was an IRA member from Rasharkin in North Antrim. He was shot dead on 4 April 1989 by the UDA/UFF, using intelligence documents supplied by Brian Nelson.[55]

Liam McKee

Liam McKee, a 39-year-old Catholic from Lisburn, was shot dead by the UDA/UFF on 24 June 1989. Although Nelson's files listed him as an IRA member, he had no paramilitary connections.[56]

Paddy McGrory

In July 1989, Nelson received a report on the movements of solicitor Paddy McGrory. Although he passed the details on to his FRU handlers, McGrory was never warned.In the vent, no attempt was made on his life.[57]

According to journalist John Ware, the information was never entered on the official FRU record:

Because none of the targeting details of Mr McGrory were written down, the Stevens inquiry suspects Mr Nelson's handlers were concerned to leave no trace that they had known of - but did nothing to prevent - another Finucane tragedy.[58]

Loughlin Maginn

Loughlin Maginn, a 28-year-old Catholic from Rathfriland in Co. Down, was shot dead by the UDA/UFF on 25 August 1989. The UDA attempted to justify the killing with evidence from the security forces. This led to the appointment of the Stevens Inquiry.[59]

Abortive attempts

Two of the charges of which Nelson was ultimately convicted involved abortive attempts on the lives of Patrick Monaghan and James Morgan.[60]

Stevens Inquiry

Following the appointment of Sir John Stevens to investigate collusion between loyalists and the security forces, intelligence files on Nelson were removed from Army headquarters. They were not turned over to Stevens until August 1990, when the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a warrant for their release. Forensic tests subsequently showed most of the files had been altered.[61]

Stevens planned to arrest Nelson after his fingerprints were found on security force documents that had been handed over to the UDA. This was furstrated, however, when Nelson's Army handlers moved him to Liverpool the night before the planned arrest on 11 January 1990. On the same evening a fire was started at the Stevens Inquiry's offices near Larne.[62]

The Army subsequently agreed to allow the investigation to question Nelson. Although under instructions not to talk about the FRU, he admitted his role and was charged.[63]

After Nelson threatened to expose the FRU's activities a deal was agreed with the Government. He pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to 100 years imprisonment. During the trial, FRU commander Gordon Kerr described Nelson as a "very courageous man."[64]

A fortnight after Nelson's imprisonment, his senior handler, Margaret Walshaw, was awarded the British Empire Medal at Buckingham Palace.[65]

In 1993, the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, Sir John Wilsey, said he was in no way ashamed of Nelson's role:

"If the Nelson episode taught us anything, it taught us that the relationship between the army and the RUC and other agencies involved was strong enough to withstand any pressures that came about because of that investigation, " he said.[66]

According to Irish News journalist Barry McCaffrey, Sir John Stevens wanted to use Nelson as a witness against the UDA but was over-ruled because he might be cross-examined about the FRU . Charges against five leading UDA suspects were subsequently dropped.[67]

Nelson was released from prison in 1997 and given a new identity outside Northern Ireland.[68]

External Resources

Books

  • Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, chapters 8-10.
  • Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, Chapter 26.

Articles

  • Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.



References

  1. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.162.
  2. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  3. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.164.
  4. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.165.
  5. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.164.
  6. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.164.
  7. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  8. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.164.
  9. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  10. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.170.
  11. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  12. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.170.
  13. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.288.
  14. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.173.
  15. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.179.
  16. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.287.
  17. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.179.
  18. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  19. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.288.
  20. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  21. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.180.
  22. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.176.
  23. Martin Ingram & Greg Harkin, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, O'Brien Press, 2004, p.176.
  24. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  25. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.288.
  26. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  27. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.289.
  28. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  29. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  30. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.289.
  31. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.290.
  32. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.290.
  33. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.290.
  34. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  35. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.291.
  36. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 183.
  37. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  38. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, and David McVea, Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.1087.
  39. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 184.
  40. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 184.
  41. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.295-296.
  42. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, pp. 184-185.
  43. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, and David McVea, Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, pp.1098-1099.
  44. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, and David McVea, Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.1127.
  45. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  46. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  47. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.294-295.
  48. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.289.
  49. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 185.
  50. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  51. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  52. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 185.
  53. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 186.
  54. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 185.
  55. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 186.
  56. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 186.
  57. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 189.
  58. John Ware, Plot to kill Belfast lawyers revealed, The Guardian, 2 August 2002.
  59. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 187.
  60. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 188.
  61. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  62. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  63. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  64. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  65. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  66. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  67. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  68. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.294.