MI5 mole within Sinn Féin close to McGuinness says Stakeknife saved his life

Willie Carlin pictured several weeks ago during his first fleeting trip back to Londonderry since he fled in 1985
Willie Carlin pictured several weeks ago during his first fleeting trip back to Londonderry since he fled in 1985
Share this article

A former MI5 agent within Sinn Féin who for years was close to Martin McGuinness has revealed that it was fellow agent Stakeknife who saved his life when his cover was blown by his handler.

Willie Carlin makes the claim in a forthcoming book detailing his life as someone who handled Sinn Féin’s finances in Londonderry, who wrote press releases which went out in Mr McGuinness’s name and who played a key role in stealing votes to ensure the future deputy First Minister’s election for the first time in 1982.

Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin and Gerry Adams pictured in 1987

Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin and Gerry Adams pictured in 1987

Agent 3007’s story is unusual because it involves a figure who infiltrated the political wing of the republican movement rather than the IRA, where most agents were focused at that time.

Carlin, a Catholic from Londonderry, had joined the Army but when his wife became homesick in 1974 and he contemplated leaving the military he was approached by MI5. They recruited the soldier and gave him the mission of returning to his home city as a British intelligence asset charged with getting close to McGuinness.

Carlin spent 11 years in the role, although the former agent - who in an interview in 2000 said that he still regarded himself as a republican - said that his allegiances were complex and he believed in what he was doing in the early years of Sinn Féin’s move into electoral politics.

Conor Graham, publisher of Merrion Press, which is publishing his account said that the book’s title, Thatcher’s Spy, referred to his significance to the then Prime Minister. Mrs Thatcher read his intelligence reports, authorised the use of her personal jet to extract him from RAF Aldergrove when his cover was blown and then received the spy and his family in Downing Street.

Mr Graham told the News Letter: “He wasn’t touting on the IRA - this was all at a much higher political level. Often his reports were going right to the Home office and to cabinet level, to the then Tory government and right to Margaret Thatcher who read much of the material herself.”

He said that one of the significant new revelations in the memoir is how the senior IRA man Stakeknife - alleged to be Freddie Scappaticci, something he denied before fleeing Northern Ireland - had tipped off the intelligence services that Carlin’s cover had been blown and the IRA were on their way to abduct him.

Carlin has given evidence to former Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher’s ongoing Operation Kenova investigation into the individual code-named Stakeknife.

Mr Graham said that earlier this year Carlin’s house was broken into with a briefcase of material about Stakeknife stolen. Nothing else was taken.

Mr Graham said that the book details how over time Carlin “got closer to Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin” and that as he became more deeply involved in Sinn Féin he broke off contact with the intelligence services before re-engaging in response to his horror at the IRA murder of the census collector Joanne Mathers in 1981.

Mr Graham said: “He was a rising star of the Sinn Féin organisation in Derry, someone who helped with the election campaign to get Bobby Sands elected in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and who helped get Martin McGuinness elected for the first time.

“He set up advice centres and did community work in republican areas and slowly got closer and closer to McGuinness - but then his cover was blown in a sensational way.”

The man who betrayed him was his handler, Michael Bettaney, who was in fact a double-agent for the KGB who was jailed after being uncovered by a British double-agent within the KGB. Once in prison, Bettaney told IRA inmates about Carlin.

Mr Graham, who is from Northern Ireland, said: “As a publisher I get to read a significant amount of often very sensitive material detailing the experiences of those involved in various aspects of the Troubles, but I genuinely haven’t read anything like this before. Willie Carlin lead an astonishing life. This is the real deal.

“It’s real John le Carré, Ian Fleming stuff. It reads like a spy thriller with the influence of MI5 and KGB agents. But it is also the inside story of the development of the political strategy of republicans in Derry by someone who was very very close to Martin McGuinness.

“It’s the political nature of the intelligence he was feeding back that marked him out from the rest of the agents, and it went as far as influencing government policy as to how to best handle Sinn Féin as they slowly moved towards peace talks.”

He said that the book, which is due out in October, contains new revelations about the Raymond Gilmour ‘super-grass’ trial in 1984 and “extraordinary insight into Sinn Féin’s political development in the north-west under Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin”.

Mr Graham said that several weeks ago Carlin had been on his way back to the north west for the first time since 1985 but that on his way through security at a major airport in Great Britain he was taken into a room by British intelligence officers who said: “We’re here to warn you not to go to Derry because your life is still in danger”.

However, as the photo below shows, Carlin did return to Londonderry several weeks ago for a brief and low-key visit.

He said that the book provides insight into the extraordinary double-life of an undercover intelligence agent, a role which even decades after it came to an end means that Carlin, now in his early 70s, “still has to look over his shoulder”.

He said that the threat against the author was such that he was unable to attend his own mother’s funeral or those of two of his children who died in tragic circumstances, or even send flowers to the funerals in case his secret address could be traced via the florist.

The headstones of his children only says “much loved by their mother”, for fear that it would be defaced if it mentioned their father, Mr Graham said.

Willie Carlin first spoke publicly about his role to Liam Clarke in The Sunday Times almost 20 years ago.

He revealed how Carlin had been so unnerved by the drunken recklessness of his handler, Michael Bettaney, that he travelled to London to warn MI5. During his meeting with a “well-spoken civil servant” he realised that the woman posing as his secretary was in fact a senior figure. Years later he realised that it was Stella Rimington when she became head of MI5 and her photo was made public.

The Security Service dd not listen to his warnings about Bettaney, with disastrous consequences for both Carlin and British intelligence.

In a BBC Spotlight interview in 2000, Carlin said that his finest achievement was the illegal rigging of the 1982 assembly election where the Sinn Féin candidate was Martin McGuinness.

In that interview the former spy said that he still regarded himself as a republican.

Mr Carlin told The Observer in 2001: “I’m living on borrowed time. From my contacts I’ve learnt the IRA want to lift me, take me away somewhere and torture me until I talk. Then I’ll get one in the head in the middle of saying the ‘Our Father’.”

However, although he spent years spying on Sinn Féin for the British government, Carlin said that he wanted to give evidence - which he said was the truth - to the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday which would state that Martin McGuinness did not fire shots that day.

Carlin said: “Before I die I want to give evidence to the inquiry. McGuinness should fry for some of the things he has done, but I can’t stand by and see an inquiry that is trying its best to get at the truth about the murder of those people on Bloody Sunday be muddied by the Ministry of Defence. The statement from [fellow agent] Infliction about McGuinness’s involvement in shooting on the day is bogus. I am not prepared to keep silent while I see the law abused.”

The Observer said that Carlin was convinced he would be killed, and quoted Mr McGuinness when he talked about the IRA’s treatment of informers: “As Martin used to say to any republican who transgressed: ‘You know the rules’.”

However, the agent has outlived the former IRA commander.