Ex-IRA man sceptical on Shankill advance warning claim

A former IRA prisoner turned academic has rejected claims that an agent inside the IRA gave police advance information that could have prevented the 1993 Shankill bomb.

In January 2016 families of the deceased recoiled in horror at media claims, affirmed by An Phoblacht, that a senior IRA member involved in the bombing had been an agent who had given advance warning to police about the bomb.

Former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre visiting the Maze prison in 2017

Former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre visiting the Maze prison in 2017

However Anthony McIntyre, who spent 18 years in jail for IRA activity before completing a PhD in history at QUB, does not believe the claims.

According to the allegation, affirmed by An Phoblacht in 2016, the IRA reportedly took 14 years to decode documents it stole from Special Branch at Castlereagh police station in 2002. Then 14 years after stealing them, republicans came forward to claim the documents revealed that one of their leaders was an agent who gave police advance warning about the bomb.

However Mr McIntyre had previously interviewed the former head of Special Branch in Belfast, Bill Lowry, about the Castlereagh documents and was told that “all they [the IRA] got were a few books of no consequence”.

Mr McIntyre still believes Mr Lowry: “I have no reason for believing otherwise.”

From being feasible to being factual requires a lot of dots being joined. I have yet to see them joined.

Anthony McIntyre

He has “not seen enough to be persuaded” that the media had “authenticated” the claims that police had advance warning about the bomb. “From being feasible to being factual requires a lot of dots being joined,” Mr McIntyre said. “I have yet to see them joined.”

He is much more inclined to believe the unequivocal rejection of the claims by Chief Constable George Hamilton, a statement which he believes would have put the police chief’s career on the line if there had been any doubt about it.

“On the balance of probability Hamilton’s narrative is the more plausible,” Mr McIntyre added.

Shortly after the agent claims surfaced, Chief Constable George Hamilton told an audience at QUB that he was “100% convinced that the police service at the time had no knowledge of the Shankill bombing that could have prevented it”.

Mr McIntyre’s interview with Mr Lowry and his subsequent conclusions appear to dovetail with the reaction from former BBC Security Correspondant Brian Rowan.

Speaking just after the agent claim was made in 2016, Mr Rowan catalogued the actual documents stolen from Castlereagh and expressed skepticism that the IRA could have got any “fine detail” about advance bomb warnings.

Talking to U105, he pointed out that the catalogue of documents stolen by the IRA from Castlereagh did not contain any information about what agents might have told their handlers.

“What was taken out of Castlereagh at the time of the robbery was, an alphabetical list of Special Branch Officers and their telephone numbers, a coded list of agents and their police handlers and a log of addresses of interest which would have included the homes of many loyalists and republicans,” Mr Rowan said.

Michelle Williamson, whose parents were killed in the blast, has personally investigated the allegations and agrees that there is no evidence to support claims about an advance warning.

The media “shouldn’t have put that story out because it hurt us and it brought us all back to where we were trying to get away from” she said.

The reports “made me feel physically sick” she said, however after careful investigation she concluded there was “no evidence to back it up”.

She added: “I don’t believe there was any truth in it. It was just a story put out there to hurt the victims of the Shankill.”

Gary Murray, whose sister Leanne was also killed, is awaiting a report from the Police Ombudsman before making up his mind. He has not seen any evidence to support the claim either.

“No, but all there is are rumours, it is a rumour mill,” he said.

Meanwhile, over two years after the Police Ombudsman was asked to investigate the claims, it says it has not begun investigating due to a shortage of resources.

“We received a complaint in early 2016 which made a number of allegations which centre on the belief that a security force informant provided information, which if acted upon, could have helped them prevent the bombing; that the subsequent police investigation of the attack was compromised, and that police failed to deliver justice to those who lost their lives that day,” a spokesman told the News Letter.

“We have carried out an initial assessment of the information which is available, including intelligence material held by police at the time, and are of the view that these allegations are matters which should be investigated.

“Unfortunately, given our limited resources we have not been able to begin this investigation, nor to set a date when we would hope to do so.”