Johnston Brown: the discomfort of the whistleblower

At last, the BBC have made available Johnston Brown’ s absorbing interview on the Taking A Stand programme, first broadcast on Radio 4 on Monday.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Macroberts

    After listening to this interview I can`t help feeling sorry for Mr Brown`s predicament .He is obviously a cops cop totally unsuited for the mechinations and subterfuge of Special Branch and their hired killers of which he is still under threat .In a normal police force he would be hailed as a hero and not villified for trying to put the murderers behind bars .It`s all symptomatic of how sick the Sick Counties really are .The sooner Patton is implemented in full the better .

  • Alexander Bowman


    Not only does it show exactly how sick the sick counties are, it illustrates how low – even still – on the ladder of media attention (to mangle a metaphor) the affairs of that benighted little place are.

    This is the kind of nightmare of institutional chicanery and corruption the great U.S film director Sid Lumet used to make movies about -‘Serpico,’ ‘Prince of the City.’

    Jonty Brown, by any reckoning, is a hero (and, generally, just seeing a polis brings this boy down.) And yet this radio programme about him comes in a series which has had a life-long Man. United supporter confronting the, no doubt painful but hardly life-endangering, dilemma of whether or not to continuing to support the team he and his ancestors supported post-Glazer!

    Not only tht, Fergal’s show normally goes out twice – once in the morning and, then again, in the evening. On this occasion the evening broadcast (it was Tuesday not monday) was replaced by something which could have gone out any hour of any day of this week, this month, this year.

    ‘Absorbing?’ The programme was INCENDIARY! Did the Beeb, as Slug implies, actually try to suppress it?

  • wild turkey


    for us primitives who have a bust sound card, does anyone know if a transcript of the interview is available?

    if so where?

    in advance, thanks

  • harpo

    I really don’t find it surprising that folks who come at the issue from one side of the tribal fence (the references to the ‘sick counties’) would see Mr. Brown as a hero for telling his story.

    What I would like an explanation of is how some people with similar tribal views reacted when another famous whistleblower – Sean O’Callaghan – told his story.

    The circumstances are remarkably similar – a book authored by the whistleblower appears, followed by media interviews etc.

    In the case of O’Callaghan he was denounced as a traitor, a liar, only doing it for the money his book would raise, etc etc etc. It was pointed out that he willingly carried out the activities mentioned, presumably to make out that the whistleblower was as bad as the rest of his colleagues. And that it was in his interest to tell lies about all sorts of people, such as Pat Finucane, Gerry Adams etc.

    Isn’t it odd then that none of the same acusations are being leveled at Mr. Brown? Wouldn’t it be consistent to do so?

    Why is he brave, and not a traitor to his side? Telling the truth as opposed to being a liar? Doing it to bring truth and justice instead of only doing it for the money his book would raise? Why isn’t it pointed out that he recruited informers as part of the system – ie that he willingly did the things that he describes? And why is there no discussion of the point that it might be in his interest to tell lies about certain people?

    Face it. Brown represents to ‘sick countyers’ what O’Callaghan represented to ‘Northern Irelanders’. Each author describes what a certain audience wants to hear. And that audience won’t question the contents if it reinforces their beliefs. While they would question a book by a whistleblower from their side.

    I’m all for whistleblowing. I just find it strange when there is a book deal attached to it. If the objective is to help stop bad things from happening, why not just whislteblow instead of doing a book about it?

  • Macroberts

    I agree that Mr Brown might have more credibility if he had spoken up sooner about the RUC/Special Branch collusion with Loyalist murder gangs but in the interview he does come across as very sincere and credible.

  • elfinto


    Are you seriously trying to equate Jonty Brown with Sean O’Callaghan?

  • “Are you seriously trying to equate Jonty Brown with Sean O’Callaghan?”

    No, it would seem that in his own foolish way he is equating Special Branch with the IRA… speaks volumes.

  • Alexander Bowman


    I remember seeing a tv programme on the same subject at least six years ago with an extended interview with Brown (more


    My Da was in the R.u.c. (knew the man at the cente of this); two uncles in the B. Specials; another in the Royal Navy: two in the R.a.f.

  • harpo


    Are you seriously trying to equate Jonty Brown with Sean O’Callaghan?

    No. I am comparing, not equating them. Both are whistleblowers who have written books. They can thus be compared on that basis.

    I never understand this ‘equating’ question. Of course they are not equal. For a start one is called Brown and one is called O’Callaghan.

    But they do share the characteristics mentioned, so I don’t see why they can’t be compared.


    ‘No, it would seem that in his own foolish way he is equating Special Branch with the IRA’

    Not at all. I am not comparing the organizations that these men were in, never mind equating them. I would thank you to not misrepresent what I am doing.

    I am comparing the two men, not equating them and not saying anything about their organizations.

    Alexander Bowman:

    ‘How the fuck dare you to sectarianise this issue!’

    Where have I done that? I’m simply pointing out the inconsistency in treatment of these two men who are in the same basic situation. Pointing out that they will be approached by many on a sectarian basis isn’t the same as being sectarian.

    We already see that it is being approached in such a manner. One of the posters above thinks Brown is a hero while O’Callaghan is a piece of pooh. Why do you think that is?

    ‘My Da was in the R.u.c. (knew the man at the cente of this); two uncles in the B. Specials; another in the Royal Navy: two in the R.a.f.’

    This information is all very nice but what has it got to do with anything? I too have relatives who were in various wings of the British forces. I haven’t done a count but it’s roughly the same. Does a dead grandfather from WW1 trump your list? What’s the point? Is this some sort of pissing match? Mine’s bigger than yours?

    I see you don’t mention your service, so like me I assume you never did serve in NI or anywhere else. On that basis we have one guy with folks in the security forces upset at another guy with folks in the security forces.

    Are you taking the hump on their behalf and if so why?

    I didn’t say anything about the security forces.

  • topdeckomnibus

    I have to disagree with the idea than in any other force this man would be a hero.


    Special Branch monitoring police inquiries into Sue Ryder and leonard Cheshire Homes. Orders to destroy forensic, targetting of the young officer who refused. Threats to a Regional Crime Squad sergeant who ends up with a suicide verdict when he escalates his inquiry in defiance of the threats. A “medical accident” nearly kills the young constable who refused to destroy forensic.

    Two witnesses die when Barbara Castle raises a Commons question seeking full public inquiry.

    An MP discovers (1989 90) that his letters to Attorney General and Policing minister appear to have been edited before the ministers saw them !

    The MP dies before he can raise inquiry.

    A pathologist, a GP and a solicitor all with knowledge of the 1972 case all die suddenly in retirement in the week after a need to re-interview them is identified.

    The Chief constable of Gwent allows MI5 men to trawl the RCS archive when the cases are being questioned in public domain. All Newport Gwent births marriages and deaths records stolen 1994.

    A sueviving RCS man is threatened and document burgled twenty years after the case.

    Leonard Cheshire dies four years ahead of his prognosis.

    And as the pressure is brought on by the former young constable and a newly elected barrister MP DI Lewis Gwent Special Branch makes an embarrased exit from his police career ?

    Strange the goings on around a charity whose founding trustees included Airey Neave.

  • topdeckomnibus

    Oh and perhaps he should unswear his oath as a constable before publishing unless he can show that his actions are consistent with the use of all skill to discharge duty faithfully unto law.

    (I have found this a useful thought at times when various parties have contemplated nailing me with the Official Secrets Act)

  • andy

    no offence but your comparison is rubbish – it is flawed in the most basic way.
    Sean O’Callaghan gave information to the unequivocal enemies of the organisation he was supposed to be working for (both the British and Irish security forces).

    Jonty simply put information in the public domain.
    If he had regularly (or indeed on even one occasion) handed sensitive information to the Provos then you would be on the right route.


  • Mick Fealty

    Alex and mcroberts:

    Do you really think that is playing the ball?

    If you feel like venting spleen, do it somewhere else. This space is for those who want to argue.

    I’ve removed the objectionable parts and left in the politics of your comments. Compliance with the Slugger rules of engagement in future would be appreciated.