Case of Marty McGartland, who says he survived two attempts on his life by republicans, is one of 20 being examined as part of ‘Stakeknife’ inquiry
Henry McDonald and Owen BowcottThe Guardian
22 April 2015Martin ‘Marty’ McGartland claims two of the guards who interrogated him were recruited to work for the security forces as double agents. (Photograph: Rex Shutterstock)The only informer ever to have survived an IRA execution squad has accused the police services in Northern Ireland of abandoning him to be killed. The allegations by Marty McGartland, who escaped an IRA interrogation in 1991 by jumping out of a window in west Belfast, will form part of a new inquiry by the police ombudsman into one of the most controversial episodes of the Troubles.
The inquiry will focus on the role of a double agent known as Stakeknife, who ran the republican movement’s so-called “nutting squad”, or counter-intelligence section. Around 20 cases will be examined where the security forces in Northern Ireland stand accused of failing to rescue “prisoners”.
McGartland’s claims that he believes two of the guards who interrogated him were a “protected species” – recruited to work for the security forces as double agents – will reinforce suggestions that the republican movement’s key departments were thoroughly penetrated by the intelligence services.
Speaking from a secret location outside Northern Ireland, McGartland said: “It’s my understanding that for 15 years, first the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and later the Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI), sat on evidence that could have led to the arrest of both men. I have consistently said I would go as an eyewitness naming these two people as the ‘guards’ that held me in the flat in Twinbrook before I was to be tortured and then shot dead,” he said.
“I also know for a fact that for 15 years the RUC and then the PSNI failed to make it public that there was fingerprint and DNA evidence from that flat in Twinbrook which belonged to these two men. They even could have been arrested shortly after my escape, and yet nothing was done about them. This pair later took part in the interrogation of another IRA member accused of informing, also in west Belfast.”
McGartland was a former petty criminal whom Special Branch persuaded to infiltrate the IRA in the city. After he escaped the interrogation at which he belives he was to be killed, he went into hiding. He wrote an autobiography about the events, called 50 Dead Men Walking, which was later made into a film starring Jim Sturgess and Sir Ben Kingsley.
McGartland had a second narrow escape in 1999 when an IRA hit team tracked him down to his home in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside. During a confrontation with an IRA gunman, McGartland put his hands over the gun barrel and sustained injuries to prevent his attacker from firing into his upper body or head. He is currently taking legal action against MI5 over the security service’s alleged neglect in protecting him from the 1999 attack and for failing to provide him with medical help in relation to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Speaking to the Guardian, McGartland said: “A very senior member of Special Branch, Ian Phoenix, in his posthumous memoirs – Phoenix: Policing the Shadows – revealed that undercover officers were watching and filming me on the day the IRA ‘arrested’ me. From the moment I entered the Sinn Fein office in Andersonstown to me being driven away by these two men for the interrogation in Twinbrook, I could have been rescued at any time, and yet they did nothing. I think it was a case of ‘Well, we’ve got four years out of Marty and now we need to recruit some new informers’ … or else protect other agents.”
McGartland’s claims form part of the inquiry into the role of Stakeknife, who has been identified as Freddie Scappaticci, a republican activist who fled Belfast more than a decade ago. Scappaticci has always denied working for British military intelligence and continues to deny being Stakeknife.
Relatives of those tortured and then killed for being state agents have told the police ombudsman that in some instances their loved ones were “set up” in order to protect the identity of higher-grade informers at the top of the IRA.
McGartland said he would be providing material related to his allegations to the police ombudsman, but had “little faith in anyone taking on the security machine”.
The two men McGartland has named as his guards before his planned execution are veteran republicans who at one time were part of a security team protecting the Sinn Féin president and former west Belfast MP Gerry Adams.
In 2003, when the Stakeknife story broke, Michael Flanigan, a solicitor for Scappaticci, threatened legal action over allegations that his client had operated as a spy at the heart of the IRA. Scappaticci confirmed at the time that he had been involved in the republican movement but had since left.