Roy Greenslade’s ‘very amusing’ comments on IRA ‘Gibraltar 3’ left ‘profoundly filthy taste’ says journalist Kathryn Johnston

A journalist whose husband worked under Roy Greenslade was left with “a profoundly filthy taste” after he described placing a fake call to his own paper about the ‘Gibraltar Three’ as “very amusing”.
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Writing in the British Journalism Review at the end of February, Mr Greenslade, a former Daily Mirror editor and Guardian media commentator, said he was “in complete agreement about the right of the Irish people to engage in armed struggle”.

Belfast journalist Kathryn Johnston said in recent days that his revelations “knocked her senseless” as Greenslade had been line manager for her late husband Liam Clarke when he was a senior journalist with the Sunday Times.

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She also spoke of her shock at hearing him explain how he placed a fake phone call to one of his own Sunday Times journalists to pass on information from “republican contacts” in order to influence an investigation.

Speaking in an audio recording in 2007 about his period on the Sunday Times for a British Library Recording, Mr Greenslade addressed how he tried to influence his paper’s investigation into the killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988 by the SAS.

He said: “When I felt the investigation wasn’t going as I wanted it to, I even made a fake phone call in an Irish accent to give them a bit of evidence to push him [his own journalist Peter Hounam] ... to investigate further ... yes... very amusing.”

He added: “I understood from the republican contacts that I knew [that they] would never speak to Hounam [and] that a certain captain of a plane had information that was important. I couldn’t tell Peter Hounan how I had this information so I put in a call with an Irish accent to point him in that direction - so he then contacted him.”

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The republicans alleged the SAS soldiers had met the pilot in a hotel and told him they knew the three IRA members had not been armed. However the pilot would not cooperate with the journalist when contacted, Greenslade said.

Roy GreensladeRoy Greenslade
Roy Greenslade

But Kathryn Johnston was deeply disturbed by his comments.

“As a self-appointed media scruineer it doesn’t sit very well to hear him laughing and joking about making a fake phone call to pass on information which he says came from republican contacts - and using a fake Irish accent to a colleague in the Sunday Times. It is deeply unethical,” she told the News Letter.

She heard Mr Greenslade laughing and joking about it in his own words for the first time this week.

“The first thing I thought when I heard it was that last Saturday was the 33rd anniversary of the Gibraltar three, and I just kept thinking of the disregard that some people have for human life. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘How would the families of those three people killed feel if they heard Royal Greenslade out of his own mouth - a supporter of the armed struggle - laughing and joking about how he made a fake phone call to a member of his own news staff giving information from a republican contact?”

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She added: “To be honest I thought it was trivialising the whole thing.”

His comments were put in context by other things, she added.

“He has written that one of his motives for writing about all this in the British Journalism Review was so that he could explain to his grandchildren what he had done. Well I am sure that Colin Parry wishes that his son had lived long enough to have given him grandchildren that he could sit down and discuss the effects of the Warrington bomb with them.”

Mr Parry’s son, Tim, was one of two children killed in an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993.

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“It was a shocking year 1988 when you think about it,” Mrs Johnston continued. “It is very unedifying to see it talked about like this. It left a profoundly filthy taste in my mouth after I listened to it.”

After the Gibraltar shootings, 1988 saw the funeral of the three IRA members attacked by loyalist Michael Stone. When two soldiers drove into the funeral of his victims they were then beaten and shot.

The year saw 105 killed, 40 of whom were civilians. Republicans and loyalists were responsible for 69 and 23 murders respectively while the security forces were responsible for 12 killings.

Mr Greenslade told the Press Gazette that during his career he “did nothing more than the scores of journalists who keep their political views to themselves”.

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Writing in the British Journalism Review, he confessed to supporting the Republican movement, adding “That is not to say, however, that I was not appalled by the carnage.”

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Alistair Bushe