Public Inquiry into collusion in Sean Brown’s murder in the public interest

By Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice

Two MI5 folders, (folders 15 & 16), have been ‘disclosed’ to the inquest into the LVF murder of Bellaghy man and GAA Wolfe Tones Chairman, Sean Brown. The inquest was halted this morning by the coroner while he now writes to the British appointed secretary for the North requesting a public inquiry on the grounds that material evidence is being withheld under ‘national security’.

Mr Brown was abducted and murdered by the anti-agreement loyalist group on May 12, 1997. This latest development follows revelations last week that a number of state agents are among the 25 people suspected of involvement in the murder of Mr Brown.

Well, disclosed folders in the sense that no one can view them – not the Brown family nor their lawyers. Not even the court. The folders can only be viewed by those vetted and approved by MI5, and even after viewing them the contents cannot be revealed. Only a ‘gist’ of very limited information can be discussed. Any disclosures beyond this would likely result in prosecution, and possibly under the British Official Secrets Act (OSA). A Kafkaesque, Alice Through the Looking Glass reality when it comes to legacy here – with all the evidence just sitting there yet literally nothing being allowed to be seen. By contrast the Brown family still manage to carry themselves with such dignity despite the obvious frustrations.

The two folders in question relate directly to Mr Brown’s murder concerning surveillance carried on the LVF by MI5 at the request of the RUC. One folder contains 56 pages. All 56 pages are completely redacted with not one word visible, hence the halting of this inquest after a year of state obfuscation and delay. This, along with the UK’s Legacy Act effectively guillotining all ongoing inquests on May 1, (the Act declared unlawful last week by the Belfast High Court), provides an incentive for state agencies to run down the clock. It’s an appalling state of affairs – an appalling vista to coin the phrase.

In 2004 the then Police Ombudsman Nuala O’ Loan was not aware of the MI5 folders during her extensive investigation into the Brown murder. She, along with key staff had clearance to view such materials, yet they were deliberately withheld; a recurring theme involving the PSNI and MI5. The information would have certainly led to very different findings at the time.

The information was withheld too from the Irish government, who along with our colleagues in the Pat Finucane Centre, supported the Brown family in their efforts to uncover the facts given their suspicions of the murder of their father and husband. A murder, that in all likelihood was preventable given the protagonists, yet sinisterly had all the hallmarks of collusion. This view is now hardened by the fact the RUC asked MI5 to undertake surveillance of those loyalists involved in the murder throughout the period of 1996 for over a year, which included the timeframe when Sean Brown was murdered.

Even without having these folders the ombudsman’s investigation found ‘significant failures’ in the murder investigation including that ‘no earnest effort was made to identify those who carried out the murder.’ That same so-called ‘investigation’ did not lift or analyse forensic evidence such as cigarettes butts found at the murder scene, or the ballistic history of the murder weapon.

A key witness, who saw Mr Brown’s vehicle and another vehicle at the murder scene and who came forward to the RUC, was ignored.

Nuala O’Loan also noted the ‘unexplained disappearance’ of the Murder Investigation Policy File (MIPF), which along with the ‘Occurrence Book’ also going ‘missing’, ‘seriously impeded’ her investigation.

Incredibly, the RUC claimed not to have video evidence obtained from their barracks at Toome. Instead, they focussed their attentions on ‘other vehicles’ from the recorded footage and not Mr Brown’s car. Accordingly, the footage no longer exists.

Sophisticated cameras were strategically placed at this location to monitor and record all vehicles passing through this arterial route from south Derry and west of the Bann into Antrim; the route the killers took along with Mr Brown and his vehicle to nearby Randalstown. It is believed that Mr Brown was bundled into the boot of his car and that one of his assailants then drove that car to Randalstown before Sean Brown was shot six times. His body left beside his vehicle that was set ablaze.

The appalling nature of the abduction and sectarian murder of Mr Brown shocked the entire country. Mr Brown was a man held in the highest regard by those who knew him. He was a pillar within the community and throughout the GAA. The late Seamus Heaney, a friend of Sean Brown, wrote: ‘I have known two generations of the Brown family. They are a people of great probity, much respected in the Bellaghy district.’

It was an attack that was carried out with chilling effect and for maximum impact so as to instil fear throughout the nationalist community. A tried and tested terror tactic deployed since partition whenever nationalists dared raise their heads above the parapet. It is therefore perceivable that Sean Brown was deliberately targeted given his standing within the community. If someone like Sean Brown could suffer such a fate then so could anyone.

The abduction and murder took place shortly after the people of Mid-Ulster elected Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as their MP.  It was a time when we were on the cusp of unprecedented change. It was a time when the securocrats within the British establishment emerged and were seeking to destabilise ceasefires, private talks, and negotiations towards a lasting peace agreement.

At the apex of that securocrat pyramid were MI5, pulling the strings. The saturation of loyalist, and infiltration of republican, groupings and the directing of agents to militate against a possible political settlement were a core part of the securocrat agenda. The LVF, were a prime example of a group entirely under such influence and control.

No stranger to those ‘dissident’ loyalists was the DUP’s reverend Willie McCrea, the former MP for Mid-Ulster. In his outgoing speech, having lost his parliamentary seat to the late Martin McGuinness, the dejected McCrea warned the people of Mid-Ulster would ‘reap a bitter harvest’. 11 days later Sean Brown was dead.

McCrea had previously used parliamentary privilege to name republicans from south Derry who were later assassinated by loyalists in collusion with the RUC and British army’s notorious UDR/RIR. McCrea was no stranger to controversary having a long history of advocating violence including calling for nationalist areas to be bombed by the RAF.

So, who in the RUC would have requested MI5 surveillance?

One person that would have likely been in the know is former special branch honcho Chris Albiston.  Albiston was part of an RUC cabal of leaders that sought to vilify human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in the period prior to her assassination in March 1999 by spreading lies about her character.

During the inquiry into Rosemary’s murder NIO director for policing & security, David Watkins, told the inquiry that RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan had referred to Rosemary Nelson as an ‘immoral woman’. It was also disclosed that Rosemary’s home was bugged and that there was an ‘escalation in surveillance by both the RUC and MI5’ on Rosemary prior to her murder.

The family of Sean Brown with their legal representatives KRW Law and Niall Murphy speak outside the Belfast Inquest Court

Many similar surveillance operations involving MI5 and special branch were in fact the antecedes of state sanctioned political murders that on the surface were made to look like the actions of sectarian psychopaths. A mixture of sectarian hatreds and political oversight oftentimes coalescing to achieve a shared objective when suited.

The question now posed is what precisely the RUC and MI5 did during the period of surveillance on those who murdered Sean Brown from 1996 onwards. Given the LVF wasn’t disrupted during this period, what was the purpose of this surveillance if not to stop Wright and his entourage of drug-dealers and sectarian hate-filled killers?

The MI5 surveillance period was during the Drumcree stand-off in which Catholic taxi-driver Michael McGoldrick was murdered – disgustingly, according to sources, the murder was reported as a birthday gift to Wright. In reality it was about upping the ante during the dispute. Whose agenda did that suit? Did MI5 and the RUC know about this murder in advance?

This MI5 surveillance operation on the LVF, and presumably other active murder-triangle loyalists, was in place at a time when their actions conveniently corresponded with the ascendency of certain securocrats within the then developing peace-process.

The intentions of these same faceless spooks was to disrupt forward momentum by attempting to weaken, intimidate and terrorise republicans and nationalists in the run-in to more public and formal negotiations. A well-rehearsed tactic in other spheres as experienced in South Africa, where the phrase securocrat was termed. The end-game terror tactics so designed to create internal communal pressure points in advance of full negotiations.

These spooks were a mix of the above and those caught in the tunnel vision of a continuing war footing seeking to damage the then fragile peace.

The surveillance was also at a time when the LVF were responsible for numerous attacks and murders.

Therefore, it should be in the widest public interest imaginable – not hidden behind the cloak of gagging orders and national security clauses – that the murder of Sean Brown be examined in the minutest of detail. Above all the family has a right to know.

The election of Martin McGuinness was likely the moment securocrats edged back towards the abyss in desperation, in a bid to play the familiar orange card. But that hand, the dam of supressing nationalist and republican hopes, had long burst and the unstoppable tide would advance with an unprecedented confidence.

It’s time for the full truth, full disclosure, about Britain’s murky role – its dirty war – that we’re now beginning to see – the truth about what actually visited the beautiful county Derry village of Bellaghy on May 12, 1997.

As solicitor for the Brown family, Niall Murphy, said today outside the court: ‘The dignity that this family have invested in this process can only be matched by the depravity of the state actors who executed the murder,… but most egregiously then covered it up.’

This story first appeared on the Relative for Justice website here.

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