Mercer’s interest in the ‘dirty war’…

AFTER last night’s claim by Cryptome that Tory MP Patrick Mercer was a FRU officer and his own claim that he was a founding member of a Northern Ireland ‘Ceasefire Committee’ in 1992, it makes some of his statements in the House of Commons look even more interesting…For example, when Kevin McNamara secured a Westminster debate centring on collusion and the Stevens’ Inquiry last year, Mercer is quick to correct him on his use of the names of undercover military organisations.

McNamara was saying:

“At the centre of Stevens’s investigation and allegations of dirty tricks and unlawful activities carried out by the British Army are the members and officers of the force research unit—the FRU—previously known as the forward reconnaissance unit, and before that the 14 Intelligence Company. The unit is now known as the

14 May 2003 : Column 71WH

joint services group and, according to Brigadier Arundell David Leahy, its methods of operation have not changed to any significant extent.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): The hon. Gentleman should get his facts straight. He has confused a series of wholly discrete organisations and has misused their titles. It would be a service to the debate if he got his facts straight.”

* * *

Touchy.

Mercer goes on to recount some of his experiences, one with a ‘tout’. I have highlighted some sections of interest, in which Mercer implies that the security forces were not afraid to get their hands dirty:

“My own involvement started in the early 1970s as a platoon commander with the Sherwood Foresters and culminated some 20-odd years later in another capacity. As a fresh-faced individual out of university I did not really understand what this was about. I can give a couple of quick illustrations. In Dungiven in County Londonderry in the 1970s I was told to respond to a tout who was on the run. I did not know what a tout was but our dogs eventually picked up the blood trail and found a 14-year-old boy who was bleeding not because of the beatings that he had received from the Provisional IRA, but because of the deep gashes that he had inflicted on himself while crossing barbed-wire fences.

The following year in Crossmaglen I had the dubious privilege of clearing a corpse of explosive that was left with its hands and ankles bound with wire and naked feet—the ultimate indignity. I remember watching a wife receive a telephone call to fetch her husband who had had an accident. The accident involved 77 rounds of Armalite ammunition being pumped through his body. Again, he was a tout. His wife was told to go and find the body as a warning to the rest of the community about touting.

The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the people who were asked to counter this style of war were policemen and soldiers. The policemen could possibly have been expected to handle this in a slightly different fashion. I fully endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about police primacy. As a former practitioner in the field, I know that it was difficult for soldiers to understand precisely what was required. I was told at one stage to lift—to arrest—32 terrorists in the West Belfast sector who were on the run and who would be indicted once they had been captured. I could not understand why those people had not fled from the Belfast area, but they had stayed—I use the phrase carefully—within their ghettos. The fact that they did not wish to leave the water in which they swam made it extraordinarily difficult for either a born and bred policeman or someone like myself from the mainland to penetrate those deeply violent, thug-like organisations where an outsider, even an outsider from a different housing estate, stood no chance of survival. That is why we used agents.

The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that those agents were not plaster saints. I do not have time to go into any more detail than that. It was made very clear to us—visitors to that particularly ugly campaign—that we acted at all times within the law, because not to do so made us criminals and terrorists in our own right. That is why soldiers were arrested by policemen, and policemen were arrested by soldiers, when they overstepped the mark. It was not an easy line to understand, and I have no doubt that it was stepped over from time to time.

14 May 2003 : Column 82WH

However, I draw hon. Members’ attention to names such as Private Thane, Corporal Clegg, and Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. I am deliberately not talking about policemen. They were soldiers who were asked to be involved in that sort of campaign and who overstepped the mark. They were all prosecuted, and dealt with in what to my mind was a thoroughly unsatisfactory fashion because they were being asked to carry out duties where the line is blurred.

Someone must defend the people who defend our democracy. Clearly, things have gone wrong. Policemen, soldiers and Ministers have got it wrong; they must be accountable. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that the peace process is not where it is today because of some benign intent, some benign understanding by thugs and terrorists, some conversion, some sudden ray of light falling into their lives revealing to them that they are wrong and evil. The peace process is where it is today because the IRA and Protestant paramilitary organisations have been shown that they will be militarily defeated if they continue down the road on which they are travelling. Let us be in no doubt about that. There has been a campaign, and a campaign is about killing people if necessary and deterring people because it has to be done. That is not the sort of campaign that we have just seen in Iraq; it is by definition a dirty campaign.

In conclusion, let us remember those men and women who have brought the campaign as far as it has come. As we hear the confused exposition from the hon. Member for Hull, North, let us remember how many gallantry decorations those organisations have won; how many lives those brave men and women have saved; how much violence they have deterred. Let us pay tribute to them, and hope that common sense will prevail and that public interest will dictate that no prosecution takes place.

* * *

Mercer remains protective of the intelligence services in Questions to the Security Minister on the Stevens’ Report in May 2003:

Patrick Mercer (Newark): “I am sure that the Minister will join me in admiring the work of the policemen, policewomen, soldiers and women soldiers who have worked in the various intelligence agencies in Northern Ireland. Will she confirm that the allegations about the identity of the so-called agent Stakeknife will not imperil continuing intelligence operations in the Province?

While none of this is evidence of anything untoward on Mercer’s part, it clearly demonstrates Mercer’s strong interest in and knowledge of the intelligence services in Northern Ireland. Whether in FRU or merely associated with them, no-one has ever discussed any ‘Ceasefire Committee’ publicly before now.

Mercer’s website also states that he negotiated the British Presence in Uganda post Civil War (1986) – surely a good qualification for working in Northern Ireland at a time of transition?

He has been given the MBE, Northern Ireland 1992; Gallantry commendation, Northern Ireland 1990 and Mentioned in Despatches, Northern Ireland 1983. Clearly, he has been in and out of Northern Ireland on several occasions from the early Eighties until 1992 or so.