Joe Fenton was a much-loved real estate agent in West Belfast.
He was well known for getting IRA members knockdown prices on great property and they loved him for it.
What they didn’t know was that Joe Fenton was working for the police and MI5, who were helping him find houses for IRA members so he could supply information to his handlers. Eventually, IRA commander Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes became suspicious and the IRA moved in to interrogate Fenton.
Fenton was taken to a house very familiar to IRA interrogation squads - the home of James Martin and Veronica Ryan, where he was interrogated, made a taped confession and was taken away for execution.
What he didn’t know was that the head of the interrogation team, Freddie Scappaticci, the IRA’s mole hunter, was himself a very well paid British agent, working for MI5 and the Northern Ireland police.
But there was more to come. Alexander ‘Sandy’ Lynch was also suspected of being an informer, and one of the very few who lived to tell what happened. In 1990, the year after Mr Fenton was executed, Lynch was taken from his native Derry and shoved face down in the same guest room of the Martin-Ryan house in West Belfast.
He was kept there for three days while being interrogated by Scappaticci and others. In court, he recalled Scappaticci pressing his elbows down on top of him and telling him that, unless Lynch admitted being a British informer, Scappaticci would have him hanging upside down in a shed in South Armagh where his screams would not be heard.
But Scappaticci left the house during the three-day interrogation, leaving Lynch in the hands of other IRA members, including Gerard Hodgins, who had already spent 15 years in prison for IRA involvement.
Unknown to Hodgins and the others, Scappa, as he was known, was informing his police handlers that Lynch was in the Martin-Ryan home in Carrigart Avenue in Lenadoon.
This time, the police moved quickly, bringing in the army for reinforcement.
One IRA member, John Anthony Murray saw them coming.He rushed upstairs, told Lynch to take his blindfold off and go downstairs to the livingroom, where he should pretend to watch TV.
Murray tried to destroy the tape they had used to record Lynch’s confession, but police found it and forensics experts managed to put it back together and play it in court.
On the tape - broken, incomplete but still audible - Lynch can be heard saying how much he was paid by his police handlers.
Danny Morrison, former IRA prisoner, was also in the house. As Sinn Fein’s director of publicity, he was famous for saying that Republicans would win “with a ballot box in one hand and an Armalite in the other”.
When he heard police coming, he ran out the back of the house and jumped into the next door neighbours, where he was caught by British army soldiers.
A shaken Lynch was rescued by police and went on to give evidence against all of them in court, leading to eight convictions and an eight-year sentence for Morrison.
Then the big revelation in 2003 - Scappaticci, while killing dozens of suspected IRA informants like Joe Fenton, was the British government’s best placed agent within the IRA. The mole hunter was the mole he was hunting.
That led to a review of the eight convictions in the Lynch case. Defence lawyers argued successfully that the government had withheld the role of Scappaticci and therefore denied them vital information they could have used in the criminal trial.
All eight convictions were overturned in 2008 and 2009 and James Martin and Veronica Ryan’s conviction for the Fenton case was overturned in 2012.
Immediately, the eight demanded compensation and their lawyers began talks with the Northern Ireland Office. For the Lynch case, each will receive over £200,000, while James Martin and Veronica Ryan are close to settling the second case of being convicted of holding Joe Fenton before his execution.
And that’s only the beginning. Kevin Winters, who is representing James Martin, Veronica Ryan, their son, Liam, and Gerard Hodgins, is also suing the police separately through the High Court, while also seeking punitive damages through the Miscarriage of Justice Act.
With three different strands of compensation open (and a fourth open for James Martin and Veronica Ryan), the eight could earn millions more. This is despite the fact that James Martin and Veronica Ryan both pleaded guilty to the false imprisonment of Joe Fenton and Sandy Lynch. It should also be noted that the European Court of Human Rights found no good reason why John Anthony Murray kept his silence during police interrogation and his trial, despite being told repeatedly that a negative inference could be drawn from his silence. (He won £150,000 in costs after it was found that he should have had a solicitor present during interrogation - a time when he said absolutely nothing)
Danny Morrison claims that Lynch, the only one of Scapp’s 25 victims to be rescued, was being held against his will for a Sinn Fein press conference, but has yet to explain why Joe Fenton or any of the other murdered IRA victims were not brought before the media and then released unharmed. It is an extraordinary coincidence that the one victim the IRA never intended to kill was the very one whose interrogation was dramatically stopped by a police raid.
The family of estate agent Joe Fenton, found dead in an alleyway in West Belfast, is still fighting for compensation.