The Fool who knows he is a fool
Is that much wiser.
The Fool who thinks he is wise
Is a fool indeed.
Dhammapada – The Sayings of the Buddha
I have drawn on the emergent histories of the collaboration between security forces and terrorists of all hues, and of the informers who operated at the heart of our darkness. I drew also on reminiscences of a late relative who served for a time in the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch, but I do not claim to have been rigorous in my research as this is, after all, fiction. But amongst others, I would direct folk to:
Barker, A. (2006) Shadows: Inside Northern Ireland’s Special Branch, Edinburgh (Mainstream).
Bew, P. and Gillespie, G. (1999) Northern Ireland: A chronology of the Troubles 1968–1999, Dublin (Gill and MacMillan).
Brown, J. (2006) Into the Dark, London (Gill and MacMillan).
Cadwallader, A. (2013) Lethal Allies: British collusion in Ireland, Cork (Mercier Press).
Dillon, M. (1991) The Dirty War, London (Arrow)
Ingram, M. and Harkin, G. (2004) Stakeknife, Dublin (O’Brien).
Ministry of Defence (2006) Operation Banner: An Analysis of Military operations in Northern Ireland, British Army Code 71842, retrieved online on 01/06/14.
Moloney, E. (2011) Voices from the Grave: two men’s war in Ireland, London (Faber and Faber).
Rennie, J. (1996) The Operators, London (Century).
Stalker, J. (1988) The Stalker Affair, London (Viking).
Stevens, J. (2005) Not for the Faint-Hearted, London (Weidenfield and Nicholson).
Urban, M. (1992) Big Boys’ Rules, London (Faber and Faber).
I must confess also, another interest. I was born to my unmarried mother in the Salvation Army home on the Antrim Road in Belfast in 1947. As so often happened in good old Protestant Ulster in the 1940s and 1950s and beyond, my birth mother was on her own with no family support, and was compelled by circumstances to put me up for adoption. I count myself lucky every day of my life that I was taken in by two parents who provided me with love, and guided me to education and encouraged me every step of the way to develop what talents I have. And that luck, which plucked me out of a room full of squalling infants to my family home, rescued me from the prospect of ending up somewhere like Kincora Boys Home in Belfast, or shipped off to Australia as happened to so many infants between 1946 and 1951.
When I hear of the suffering of the victims of paedophiles, for me it really is a case of ‘There, but for the grace of God…’ But the words I’ve put into Tommy Carver’s mouth came from a conversation many years ago with an actual victim of sexual abuse in a home, which started when he was seven and only ended when he was fostered at age fourteen.
So I make no apology for drawing on the despicable crimes of those who preyed – and still do – on innocence as a central theme of this tale. One has only to read some of the (redacted) witness statements to the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (http://www.hiainquiry.org/ – as of 01/01/17) to be forcibly reminded of how the trust that any child should expect as a basic human right was betrayed by the very persons charged with maintaining it.
At the time of finishing this tale in December 2016, there is an ongoing investigation of historical crimes against children, as well as calls for investigation of the other historical crimes committed against society by all sides in our conflict.
But the shredders, physical and institutional, will have been whirring away, so that what will emerge as ‘truth’ will be the history written by the system’s survivors!
Brian G. Scott
For the victims
From a village to a city.
From the heartland to the sea.
You can go in search of pity,
but then all you’ll find is me.
I’m the marble face of money.
I’ve got petrol in my veins.
And I sometimes find it funny
when some of you complain,
that the job for which you pay me well,
in tribute and in kind
is not quite what you thought it was,
not what you had in mind.
But the motor keeps on turning,
churning reason into dreams,
While mechanics like me oil the wheels
of the killing machine.
from the song Killing Machine
© Brian G. Scott 2001 (www.bgscott.com/music.html)
* * * * *
It was cold. Middle of the night February cold. Really fucking cold. He could see his breath softening the street light as he watched the priest kneel beside the body of a petite blonde woman, his head bowed in prayer, her hair slightly ruffled by the lightest of breezes. The priest had said his name was McNally, hadn’t vouchsafed any other information before going over the road.
“Sooner the fucker’s done with the fenian mumbo-jumbo, sooner we can clear up.” The grizzled police sergeant, whose demeanour indicated that he’d been around since pussy was a cat, sucked morosely on his cigarette and shifted his weight from foot to foot. He was bored, as were the British squaddies manning the moonlit roadblock around the scene. There were too many like this for them to be interested in the detail any more. There had been four hundred and ninety-seven violent deaths in the Province in the previous year. Bombs in pubs and shops and clubs and city streets, bullets in back alleys and country lanes and pubs and… Too many to care too much about each tiny tragedy. So they stood guard on yet another and didn’t bother to care, except for the fact that it wasn’t one of them.
He knew there were eyes watching from behind curtains. But there was none of the usual aggravation. No groups of youths turfing bottles and bricks at the Brits and black bastards. Silence. And that was worrying. This wasn’t normal. And this was no crime scene. The woman had been shot elsewhere and dumped here, out in the open. Just like the anonymous call to Tennent Street RUC station with a recognised Republican code word, it was a message. But to whom and saying what… There had been one drunk leaning against a wall a bit further down the road, but he stumbled off as soon as the group of vehicles arrived.
Detective Constable George Devenney didn’t want to be there. In Catholic Andersonstown in west Belfast. Anywhere with a body with a hole in its head. But he’d been caught as the emergency duty officer, because his colleague had called in sick. He watched as the priest gently made the sign of the cross over the fallen figure. Compassion in a time of…
He still felt slightly nauseous from the first close-up sight of the corpse. The open staring eyes – light grey as far as he could judge – the hands by her sides and one leg crossed over the other. She could have just fallen a moment or two ago. No coat or anorak, just a sweater, jeans and trainers. But…
They’d warned him in the Enniskillen training depot that you can’t look at violent death unmoved for too long, and he knew that the instructors had been right. He’d seen several close up when he was in uniform. And he’d seen a fair number at this distance since he passed his exams and became a detective. But he knew it was always too soon after your last one to have to look at another body. But to the old sergeant, she was just like a rubbish bag, waiting to go into the bin. So he stood and watched as…
“Finally!” the sergeant growled. “Don’t know why the fuckers bother. She’s in hell along with all the rest of the popeheads.” He dropped the glowing butt of his cigarette and mashed it under his boot. “Let’s get it over with then.” He gestured to the ambulance men and the doctor. They came out of their tobacco huddle and set about their task.
Devenney went over to the priest who had risen from his knees and now stood erect beside the corpse. He was staring past Devenney, to a horizon of his own. It was the eyes that Devenney remembered. Red-rimmed as if from lack of sleep, but without a shred of emotion inside. Looking to a country somewhere else.
“Can you tell me Father what it was that you saw and heard?”
The priest was standing stock still, frozen almost, looking down the road. He turned his head briefly to watch the doctor pronounce death officially, and the paramedics fold the corpse into a body bag.
“Nothing much to tell, really.” His had the softness of an accent from somewhere around County Londonderry, cultured too. Near from where Devenney came from in Limavady. The priest smiled faintly. “I was visiting my young brother down the road there. Someone called the house. They must have known I was there. My sister-in-law took the call and said that a man told her a priest was needed in the road. And when I went out I saw you people coming.”
“You didn’t hear any shots?” An unlikely question, he knew.
“No, but we were all asleep when the phone went.” The priest shrugged apologetically. “I’m afraid that when I get over, I’m out like a light for all of the hours that the Lord allows me. You can ask the brother and his wife, but I doubt if they heard anything either.”
And right enough, next morning the brother and his wife, a couple in the mid-twenties, were like the wise monkeys, not seeing or hearing or saying. But that was always the way of it. As his boss said, you could walk in and shoot half a dozen in any crowded bar in Belfast, and if you were one of the boys, every single last sinner in the place would claim to have been in the toilet having a piss, just at the time it happened. So he’d expected nothing, and he got nothing.
“If there’s nothing further…” The priest was a big man, a good six footer at least and with broad shoulders. So the hand gesture, almost delicate, seemed out of place.
“No, Father. You’ve done all you can here. But we’ll need a contact address and number.”
“I’m only going to be here until tomorrow. But you can get me at the parochial house. It’s in the other jurisdiction, I’m afraid, in Donegal. Just outside Carrigans, over the border from Derry.” He handed over a slip of card. Father Jerome McNally S.J., Parochial House, it read, and there was a County Donegal phone number.
Devenney just didn’t need the complication. “Thanks Father. I doubt if you’ll be needed, but if you are, we can get the Derry boys to get in touch with your local Garda station to ask you for a formal statement. But there’s not really much to say, is there?”
The priest nodded. Devenney shook his hand before the big man walked slowly down to where the light was shining through the one open door on the street. The ambulance had gone and the squaddies were climbing back into their Humber Pigs. He joined the sergeant and the two uniformed constables in the back of the Land Rover for the trip back to base.
There wasn’t really any blood on the ground. Just a couple of vague stains on the ground that might have come from the ketchup off a discarded burger wrapper. Nothing for anyone really to notice in the morning. Nothing except for the whispers.
They never did find out her name back then. Or why she ended up half on the pavement, half in the gutter. No-one ever claimed her and so she went into an anonymous grave. Soon forgotten on the street, sooner forgotten by those who’d been the guardians of her last journey.
Devenney was transferred two days later, down the country for a spell. Two years investigating burglaries in Ballymena. Not wildly exciting, but at least the body count there was lower than a lot of places at that time.
After the statutory wait as is the law on dealing with unknown corpses, she was buried in an unmarked grave. When he got back to Belfast, Devenney paid for a simple flower holder and, when he could, had flowers placed on it. The years passed and she was forgotten. Forgotten in Belfast by all but a peeler for whom she’d been his only anonymous corpse.
* * * * *
Prologue 2 – Seanie McDevitt remembers…
Belfast – Wednesday 14th February 1973
So how did I manage to get tangled up in this story and get to be the scribe who recorded it? Well, if you know my background, you’ll know that George Devenney and I have a long history (see The Eejit's Tale and Trouble with a Capital ‘T’). Oh he’s now an Assistant Chief Constable, retiring shortly, but when I first came across him he was an Inspector in RUC Special Branch, and our paths have sort of been intertwined ever since.
The killing of the lassie in Andersonstown made the early morning and lunchtime news bulletins briefly, a wee bit more at teatime and on the late-night news, none the next day. It was submerged under the latest tide of events where you might be able to put a face or a name to one or more of the victims of the day’s tragedies. She was soon forgotten, and if I’d actually taken any notice of the news I’d have forgotten too. But it became stuck in my mind because of a slightly drunken conversation after a gig in the west of the city.
I’d recently joined a band that played nice blues and rock, and was starting to pay my dues as a guitar player, while being the student at Queen’s University. The venue was a wee hole-in-the-wall club in West Belfast, fuelled by bootleg booze and fags, paying its whack to the boys, and so protected by them. We’d done a good journeyman gig – good enough at least to ensure we got paid! With the gear packed away, it was time to settle down for a couple of pints while we waited for our loot. Then one of the locals sat down with us.
Gussie McBride did turn out to be one of those sad types who fancied the idea of being close to the big boys, so that he could impress people with what he ‘knew’. In other words, he was treated by the serious players as a sort of useful big toe-rag who could run the odd errand, smack the odd head, but on no account could be trusted to keep his yap shut or do anything more complicated than fart and walk at the same time. He was about as bright as a broken light bulb, and so he drifted around the fringes, occasionally doing wee bits of this and that, sometimes bouncer at one or other of the clubs in the neighbourhood. He’d had a few pints, and started to lay it out about how this and that was going down.
“I’ll tell yez one thing lads,” he began, in that conspiratorial tone of voice the likes of him use to show what a cute hoor he is. “There was something not right about that lassie getting done the other night.”
You have to remember that this was one of the worst years of the Troubles. And one of the problems in a situation like that was that you were never totally sure whether you were dealing with someone ‘in-the-know’, a player who might take grievous bodily offence at being disrespected, or just some mouthy bollockbrain. So we all smiled vaguely. Alex the keyboard player drew the short straw and had to ask who was the lassie he was referring to.
“The one who got done the other night up in Andersonstown. I was up there.” He actually tapped the side of his nose with his finger, then looked at us, expecting a response.
I’ll say one thing for Alex – he knew how to be diplomatic. “So what was so odd then?” he enquired in tones that suggested he might even be interested.
“What was so odd? I’ll tell yez.” He leaned back in his chair, happy that he had an audience, stringing us along – keeping us in suspense as he thought.
“What was really fuckin’ weird was that O’Sullivan didn’t know! He was fuckin’ ripping, so he was. Here last night and ye could see he was lookin’ to find out who the fuck did it and pull the bollocks off them.”
Back in those days, Gerard ‘Ger’ O’Sullivan was a local middle-ranker in the Provisional IRA, a face on the street. Someone you should tip your hat to and then get the fuck off-side from before he decided that he didn’t like your face, or your jeans or the way you looked at him or… He’d a growing reputation as a hard man, as well as a bit of a one for the ladies – one bit in particular! In other words, he was someone to politely avoid! Unhappily as I was beginning to find out, boys like this quite often turned up at gigs – sometimes to make sure their cut of the action was being looked after, sometimes actually to listen to the music.
Gussie went on. “I mean like a priest who just happened to be at his brother’s? That was what they was sayin’ next day. Except like the guy who lives two doors down on the other side is a mate of mine and says them’uns don’t have a dirty beast in the family, so they don’t.”
There wasn’t a lot we could say, especially as none of those details, except for the phone call with the code word, had been in the news, according to Alex later on. So we sort of smiled and said things like ‘Aye, yer right. That’s really strange.’ and ‘There’s some strange shit happening.’
Gussie leaned across the table, looked around for a moment – as we thought at the time, for effect – and said in a low voice “Y’see I reckon she was dumped out of an unmarked car, so I do. I was walking up to the mate’s house and I saw a car take off. Like it had no plates on the back. Then the peelers and the Brits turned up, so I got into the mate’s place and crashed.”
He leaned back again in his chair, a boozy sort of satisfied grin moulding his face. We all looked at each other and came to an unspoken consensus that it was time to get the fuck away home out of that. This sort of shit we did not want to hear. Except that as we hoisted ourselves onto our feet the consensus was broken by our drummer who, like all good drummers, was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.
“So what did yer man O’Sullivan make of that, eh?” he enquired.
Gussie looked at him as if this wasn’t the question he wanted to be asked. A sort of sulky look appeared. “He just told me I’d been pissed, couldn’t see straight. But I know.” He sort of squinted over my shoulder, and all of a sudden the sulk was replaced by apprehension.
“Ach, he was probably right. Nothing in it really.” Now there was a hint of panic in his voice.
I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned round to find myself looking into the face of Ger O’Sullivan. I’d only seen him once before, but once seen not forgotten. Dapper, neatly dressed with short, sandy hair. Unobtrusive, inoffensive even. Lose him in a crowd of four. Unless, of course, you knew.
“Evenin’ lads.” He leaned past me and handed an envelope to Charlie, the lead singer. “That was a nice bit of playin’.”
O’Sullivan was smiling. That sort of smile where the lips move but the eyes aren’t involved. He looked across at Gussie, and the smile faded.
“Our Gussie been talkin’ shite again?” The tone was on the unfriendly side of neutral. Gussie was looking seriously unhappy.
“Just talkin’ music, Mr. O’Sullivan. Just…”
O’Sullivan cut him short with a wave of the hand. “Not important, son. Are ye not going to count it?” This last to Charlie, who still had the envelope in his hand. He looked embarrassed.
“No need. I’m sure it’s all ok.”
“But ye’ll count it anyway.” The tone hardened. “Don’t want a repeat of a wee while ago when some lads claimed they’d been short-changed. Don’t want that unpleasantness, like.”
As Charlie took the money from the envelope, Gussie tried to ingratiate himself, saying “We sure sorted them cunts out, didn’t we, Mr. O’Sullivan?” O’Sullivan looked at him for a moment, then started slowly to move round the table.
He sort of looked over his shoulder and in our general direction said “Our Gussie’s got a serious problem, boys. Doesn’t know when to shut his bake.”
We’d all seen fights in bars before – handbags-at-ten-paces sort of events. But what happened next was as truly shocking as it was scary.
O’Sullivan was quite a short man, muscled, but not overly so. He was about half the size of Gussie, but when he walked round the table he seemed to get bigger. He pushed Charlie out of the road and stood facing Gussie, who’d stumbled to his feet and now looked as if he was shitting himself. Without warning, O’Sullivan scooped up a pint glass from the table and smashed it across Gussie’s face. As the big man reeled back, O’Sullivan punched him again and again, finally forcing him back onto a table. Then he kept hitting and hitting until Gussie stopped moving. Stepping back he let him slide to the floor where he lay still.
None of us had ever seen anything like that sudden violent fury. Nowadays you’d think Joe Peschi in Casino or Goodfellas, but then… None of the bar staff or the last of the punters drinking up made a move to help Gussie, whose face was a mask of blood.
O’Sullivan strolled back towards us as if nothing had happened. He had a handkerchief out and was wiping blood off his hand. “Is the money right?” The tone was back to almost friendly conversational. Needless to say Charlie couldn’t wait to tell him that it was just as agreed. All grand. Thanks all round.
“In that case I’ll love yez and leave yez” The cold smile, a casual glance over at his victim, and he strode off out the door. It was a couple of minutes before anyone went over to Gussie, and by that time Charlie had divvied up the money and we were heading out the door and in the general direction of ‘away’
I never played that venue again although later, when I had my own band, I did play a few places where O’Sullivan had an interest. By this time he’d moved away from the hands-on nastiness and was into the politics, getting himself a seat on Belfast City Council. He seemed to like my playing, so never hassled me, and on the odd occasion when he made any sort of conversation, the incident with Gussie was never mentioned.
I did my damn’dest to forget it, and nearly succeeded until it surfaced years later on account of my brother Jackie. But that’s for later.
* * * * *
The George Devenney I’ve known could always be a right scary sod if he wanted. In terms of the average peeler, he was a right hard case, smart as a whip and with the drive and nerve to more than hold his own. But under a fairly thick skin there has always been a bog-basic, decent man. And unlike so many, there’s a solid core of desire – no, of need – to see things right! I’ll not say that he was averse to clouting the odd suspect, or boosting the evidence a wee bit from time to time, or blackmailing the fuck out of the likes of me. But in a perverse sort of way he was always ‘fair’, if you see what I mean. And he introduced me a good while back to Mickey Morrison who’s become a really good mate.
The first part of the story George told me a number of years ago, when the kids were young. It was out on Shark Island, the Caribbean retreat, over a year after the affair in Prague and Afghanistan. We’d had a quiet day, nothing special, just two friends sitting and relaxing while the wives were down in the garden sunning their buns and the wee’uns were in bed. Talking about the old days in Belfast. Having a quiet jar or two. We’d been discussing how lucky I was to have got out of Belfast when I did, and how what had happened in Norn Iron over all these years could have happened.
“I used to think it was possible to control evil,” he said, quietly. “I was brought up to believe in good and evil. And you do see it. But all you can really do is keep the lid on the box shut for a wee while. Then it opens again.”
I can’t now remember what started this particular train of thought, but it came round to the first time he’d had to conduct a murder enquiry on his own. George took a long pull at his glass, looking into the distance of years ago. “I’ll always remember that girl. She looked so tranquil in the morgue. And she looked almost peaceful lying there in the street. I can still see her, even now.”
“The girl who was tied in to Jackie’s first Crown case?”
He nodded, his eyes fixed somewhere in the distance. “I learned how to shut that sort of thing out over the years. You see the bodies and the bits and pieces. There are the wives and the kids and the bystanders and all of the shit-story folk. So you grow a shell, otherwise you’d go buck mad. But her… Maybe it was because she was the first case I investigated where it was an anonymous corpse that it hit me so hard.”
I’d been reminded because of my brother Jackie and the first prosecution case that he’d been involved in as a newly qualified barrister. The girl in Andersonstown had been sort of on the edge of that. But we’ll get to that later.
“But did you ever find out who she was? What she doing when…?” I asked.
“Not then, not for a fair few years.” Devenney leaned back in his chair. The soft Caribbean evening was beginning to wash over and enfold us.
He was looking into the distance. Not in miles, but in years. “There was nothing to give us a clue at that time. Her clothes were off-the-peg Marks and Sparks types that you’d get anywhere. No tattoos, no makeup, nails neat but not manicured. Hair neat, no more. Of course there was nothing in her pockets. She’d been sanitised as it were, although forensic picked up some stray hairs from her sweater. And in those days we didn’t have the computers to trace fingerprints. Certainly none of the DNA technology that we have now. We put her picture and prints out to Interpol, but nobody responded, so she went into the dead cases archive. Just another body amongst all the others. And then years later I had a visitor. I tell you Seanie, it was a bombshell and…”
Just then Jana came out with our daughter, Ellen Michaela, roaring fit to burst with her eighteen-month-old lungs. Teething again was the general verdict. So things got kind of shunted sideways as we all acted the maggot to get the wee’un settled and quiet.
Later that evening, when herself had drifted off to sleep, we had a few glasses of Marie’s special rum punch.
“So what about this visitor, then?” I asked.
“Well,” he paused, “this was, let me see, yes 1983 and I’d been sort of promoted sideways into a branch that didn’t really exist if you see what I mean. I had operational duties and just answered to my boss, a superintendent. No, don’t ask.” He held his hand up to stop the inevitable question. “Just suffice it to say that in my particular section of E4 we had a number of young lads who’d been SAS trained and went out on the streets undercover – surveillance and intelligence gathering mostly, but sometimes getting a bit more involved, but you didn’t hear that.”
I just nodded.
“Anyway, we were based in a wee block inside the compound at North Queen Street, really it was a wooden shack while we waited for the money for bricks and mortar. There were a lot of the funnies about, hidden away in offices at the rear of the compound. Military intelligence. That gave us a right few laughs I can tell you when we saw some of the fuck-ups they made at the start. Occasionally bumped into one or two in the canteen but that was about the limit.”
“But there was one army intelligence chap from an offshoot of a wee group called ‘The Det’, 14 Intelligence Company,” he went on, “who was a total pain in the hole. A captain by the name of Spencer Mathers. Refined Glasgow Gorbals – lace curtains, fake Oxbridge accent and a cutthroat razor down the sock. Him I did see a lot of. Always ‘just popping round for a quick chat’, and usually dropping some shit or other on my desk. His brother,” he grimaced, “was the Right Honourable also-pain-in-the-hole Winston Mathers MP.”
That name rang a bell. “You mean that twat who…”
George nodded. “The very same junior minister, part of the team sent over by Ted Heath in 1972 to run Ulster, after they junked Stormont.” He was referring to the British government proroguing the old Northern Ireland parliament because of its inability to stop the conflict between our two communities.
“You remember the scandal?” I nodded. “Mathers was a gospel hall man, but not with Paisley’s lot as I found out later. But the difference between him and the brother was something too. You remember the Glesga ehkksent ye cud cut wi’ a hatchet?”
George’s imitation was spot on, and I laughed as I remembered the jokes about how even Mathers’ wife probably needed an interpreter to find out whether he wanted a shag or his dinner.
“He was one right wee turd, I can tell you. Hated us provincials, as if Scotland wasn’t another wee outpost of England. And the brother Spencer was one of those Anglo-Scots who sounded straight out of Oxbridge and Sandhurst. Made Ted Heath sound Cockney. Typical hee-haw Brit upper class, except he was a working class Scots toe-rag who’d worked hard to live down his background. Arse creeper, though, just like his slimy brother. And he was dangerous. He was a part of the Military Reaction Force in ’72 and ’73, right up to when they disbanded them.”