Investigating the murder of Rev Robert Bradford – Lyra McKee wants your vote

Rev Robert Bradford was a Methodist minister and then a unionist MP (formerly Vanguard, latterly Official/Ulster Unionist). He was shot dead by the IRA in November 1981 while conducting a constituency surgery in Finaghy. Ken Campbell, the caretaker of the community centre was also killed in the attack. Those responsible for the murders have not yet been caught.

Lyra McKeeLyra McKee, a young freelance investigative journalist in Belfast, is writing a book about Rev Robert Bradford. Thirty two years after his death, Lyra says “questions remain unanswered”. Were RUC officers aware of the planned attempt on his life? Why was his bodyguard left unharmed? (The HET are reviewing the original RUC investigation.)

For the last 11 months, I’ve been asking questions about Reverend Bradford’s murder and the last months of his life. I’ve interviewed dozens of his friends, colleagues and acquaintances as well as ex-security officials, seeking answers

While Reverend Bradford’s wife wrote a fantastic biography on him, the facts around his death have yet to be established. As one former intelligence official remarked to me, Bradford’s killing was one of a number that didn’t have any “logic”. This book is the first attempt to answer the questions surrounding his murder and to trace the last months of his life.

To finance the latter stages of her project – and to fund travel to follow-up sources and documents – Lyra has applied for a grant from the recently-launched Arthur Guinness Projects that seeks “to invest in Ireland’s creators, visionaries and innovators across four areas of creativity and culture; Music, Sport, Arts and Food” … as well as advertising a brand of dry stout!

Inevitably there’s a public vote. The top 10% of projects in each category will be reviewed by the expert panel who will choose the winning projects, along with up to four wild-card winners from the discarded 90%.

Lyra would like your vote. [Given the nature of Guinness’ rules for the contest, she’d love your vote once a day until the polling ends on the 23 August!]

It will take just five minutes for you to vote – yet it could help me find the truth out and publish this story. Newspapers in Northern Ireland don’t have the money to fund this kind of work so to date, I’ve funded The Muckraker [an online investigative blog and magazine] myself. But now I need your help.

In light of the slow progress of HET investigations and the absence of other formal truth recovery frameworks, perhaps journalism is left as one of the few other ways of trying to resolve the unanswered questions that surround many deaths and incidents during the Troubles?

Lyra answers the Arthur Guinness Projects’ question “Why it’ll make Ireland a better place to be” saying:

“The truth will set you free.” I don’t think Northern Ireland can move on and become a “shared society” until we have answers – answers about why law abiding citizens like Robert Bradford were murdered. As one Catholic who worked with him commented, “Robert gave his life [for Northern Ireland].” We must not forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live in peace.

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  • Brian Walker

    I have no solution to the “mystery” if there is one but I can say from my direct experience of him that Robert Bradford was terrified at the prospect of attack for weeks before his murder. I recall him insisting at being smuggled out of the BBC after an interview on the floor of a taxi. He wouldn’t say why he was so fearful . It might also be remembered that his surgery was very near the Lenadoon interface , always a troubled area since a short lived truce broke down there in 1972. Ignored prior knowledge of the murder and Greg Harkin’s report of alleged special branch cover up to protect sources deserves an answer but I don’t believe that confidence in peace today depends on knowing the truth about this or any other appalling murder.

    Collusion and targeting were of course accessory acts to murder but we cannot be held hostage by them today. .

    .

  • Am I right in saying that his Church was nearer to the Lenadoon interface.? The surgery was I think on Finaghy Road South and yes a comparatively short journey up Finaghy Road North to Lenadoon and Andersonstown.

  • michael-mcivor

    It was that disgraced FRU officer ‘Martin ingram’ who first came out with those claims 5 or 6 years ago-and the ghost writer is looking for us to vote just to hear those claims made again-

    RUC special branch officers took their pay-offs but still want to pretend that they knew all what was going on in the past-they will be telling us next that Canary Warf was a cunning RUC plan-

  • paulG

    What of the suggestions that he was killed to cover up or tie up loose ends on the Kincora Boys Home scandal, either that he was involved or knew enough to expose others ?

  • Harry Flashman

    PaulG

    I too vaguely recall some connection, not of involvement I hasten to add quite the opposite. I remember Bradford being interviewed several years earlier about a consignment of pederastic porn that had been intercepted in Belfast. He alleged that the stuff was coming in from Amsterdam and was easily available in Belfast and called on the RUC to step up action against the distributors. So if anything he might have been on receiving end of information about those circles and perhaps knew too much for his own good.

    If we’re looking at suspiciously convenient political assassinations around that time we might also want to have a look at the Airey Neave murder, another man who was no friend of the rogue “high contracting parties” and who made it clear he would be cleaning house after Maggie appointed him SoSNI.

    In a remarkable coup a hitherto largely unknown Republican splinter group, one which had recently had its entire high command eliminated by remarkably professional loyalist assassins (at a time when the loyalists could barely run a decent shebeen) managed to get access to the House of Commons car park and plant an extremely hi-tech bomb on Neave’s car and then get away scot-free. How convenient for someone.

    The more you learn about the Troubles the more you realise you haven’t a clue what was going on.

  • @Flashman,

    Conspiracy theories are a violation of Occam’s razor; they are the balm of the ignorant and uninfluential because it makes them feel that they are in the know.

    Actually the Kincora Boy’s Home scandal involved the period of roughly 1965-70–long before Bradford was assassinated. He was killed because he was considered to be one of the brains of the UUP, which the IRA wanted to eliminate. The Republican Movement thought that its intellectuals should be untouchable while it was entitled to murder everyone else’s.

  • tmitch,

    You have got me thinking – who are or were the intellectuals (not necessarily leaders) of the Northern Ireland wing of the Provos?

  • Dec

    ‘In a remarkable coup a hitherto largely unknown Republican splinter group, one which had recently had its entire high command eliminated by remarkably professional loyalist assassins (at a time when the loyalists could barely run a decent shebeen) managed…’

    Harry

    you’re getting your Chronology mixed up – Neave’s assassination came first, then the assassinations of leading INLA/IRSP figures (Bunting, Daly etc). AFAIK the Neave attack was a case of gift horse and mouth, given that the HOC carpark was then unguarded.

  • tacapall

    Bradford was vocal in his calls for the return of the death penalty and he advocated shooting dead any republican in possession of firearms, he likely signed his own death warrant, but as always the truth is starting to emerge about the real killers. Not only did RUC special branch know three days in advance that a murder attempt was about to take place yet never warned Mr Bradford nor attempted to thwart the murderers, the murder weapon was also used in another controversial killing, that of Mary Travers, whose father Tom also alleged RUC special branch had prior knowledge. Did Peter Robinson not predict war would break out to the NIO who were in talks with the Irish Government after his death, did the UUP leader at the same time not threaten the emergence of a third force to deal with republicans the old fashioned unionist way, and all this during the time when the first seeds of the Anglo Irish Agreement were being sowed. Yep Bradford was another one of those sacrificial lambs for those who dabbled in the art of taking life to supposedly save life, he wont be the first shocking revelation to emerge from the past and he wont be the last.

  • I honestly dont buy the conspiracy theories.
    I tend to think that IRA shot him because he was a comparatively soft target. I dont think it was anything more than that.
    Bradford emerged as a consequence of the Troubles. And was essentially two different people…the Politician and the Minister.
    He attracted a lot of venom from nationalists…
    Its always been the case that nationalists and unionists are often admiring of individual politicians on the other side …while the mere sight of some politicians on TV is enough to provoke a rage.

    There was also some tension between him and his (Methodist) Church. A lot of mainstream Methodists did not seem to like him.

  • Reader

    fitzjameshorse1745: There was also some tension between him and his (Methodist) Church. A lot of mainstream Methodists did not seem to like him.
    I get the impression that the Methodists were the first ones round to the garden centre when the balloon went up (I married one). Do you suppose that might have been the reason for the tension?

  • No. That would be unfair. The 1970s were a very difficult time and there were people from all churches and none who tried to make Norn Iron a better (or worse) place.
    To pick out two Methodists. Rev Sidney Callaghan was the guiding force in Belfast Samaritans and Basil Glass was a prominent member of the Alliance Party. neither were the type to run off to a garden centre.
    As I understand it Bradford was a Methodist minister and his Church was uneasy at some of his more outspoken comments. Did he actually leave the Methodist Church and become Independent?
    My recollection…and its a long time ago ..was that he believed Norn Irons Protestants were the lost tribe of Israel.

    His untimely death made him effectively a 1970s person. ..a time when so much was happening.

  • @Mister_Joe,

    This would be Adams and his circle–Danny Morrison, et al.

  • Harry Flashman

    “you’re getting your Chronology mixed up – Neave’s assassination came first, then the assassinations of leading INLA/IRSP figures (Bunting, Daly etc).”

    I stand corrected Dec, thank you. I still think the Neave assassination stinks to high heavens.

    The INLA’s major achievement up to that date was burning down a drinks warehouse. Yet they were able to lay on quite an impressive surveillance operation which allowed them to identify Neave’s car, his times of coming and going to the Commons, and where he parked, all in the heart of Westminster.

    They then got their hands on a sophisticated bomb type that was beyond the capabilities of the Provos, no slouches when it came to bomb-making, and were able to wipe out Maggie Thatcher’s key ally three weeks before she came to power.

    It’s possible I suppose, but it seems rather more likely that someone else, much closer to the British political establishment, for whatever reason, decided that Airey Neave having a role in government would not be in their interests.

  • Another possibility was that it was one of the INLA’s spectaculars, as this was the period when the INLA was at the peak of their operational capacity before they dissolved into feuding factions. But most of their assassinations were of loyalist leaders, like the RHC’s first leader and Billy Wright, not mainstream unionists. And if this had been an INLA “spectacular” they would have claimed credit for it–which makes it likely that it was the IRA as Trimble believed.

  • Harry Flashman

    The INLA did claim the attack, indeed they managed to get the member who did it on TV to be interviewed by the BBC Tonight programme. Amazingly resourceful bunch, given that far from being at the peak of their capabilities and carrying off spectaculars they were a nickel-and-dime operation who, up to that time, hardly anyone had ever heard of.

    Yes, the shooting of Billy Wright almost twenty years later, another politically convenient assassination carried out with ruthless efficiency inside a supposedly high-security area. Again carried out by the INLA. Hmmm, anyone else smell something dodgy here?

    By the way, regarding the peace-loving Methodists mentioned above, I take it the people who almost rioted at Rev Bradford’s funeral were Shi’ite Muslims then.

  • South Belfast Hack

    To the Methodist Church’s shame I believe Rev. Bradford had been removed from post a few years before his death. A row about wearing a dog collar at a political meeting. You’ll probably not find many senior Methodists willing to talk about it.

  • Lyra

    Brian (Walker), could you send me an email please? Lyra@muckraker.me

  • Gopher

    Can’t say I’m much of an expert on paramilitaries but I imagine (sorry for the tangent but Harry started it) that at the height of the cold war and in the end of the golden age of international terrorism I’m sure there was plenty of expertise floating around for a quasi Marxist terror group. A quick wiki interestingly shows that the INLA even bombed a radar station in Cork around that time because it was alledged to have been used by NATO. It basically sounds like kudos operations to impress people before Clausewitz’s law of diminishing return kicks in.

    Airey Neave’s assassination to me given the all the factors around at the time in hindsight was logical for INLA. The only level of curiosity to me is what level of intelligence and who provided it for the assassination.

  • Harry Flashman

    Leaving an over-sized fire cracker to explode harmlessly at night against a large civil air-traffic control (not NATO) facility in the middle of the Irish countryside, in a quixotic gesture of “right on-ness”, hardly compares to spending weeks infiltrating the heart of the palace of Westminster and then bringing in an extremely sophisticated bomb, hitherto not used by Irish paramilitaries, to take out an ally of Margaret Thatcher just weeks before he joined the government.

    The two events, three years apart, bear no relation. Anyone who examines the Neave murder with any sense of cynicism and knowledge about the capabilities of knuckle-dragging republican splinter groups in the 1970’s and the nature and deviousness of the British secret services can hazard a guess as to which of them played the bigger role in the taking out of Airey Neave.

  • paulG

    Harry,

    It seems likely the INLA got some help with Billy Wright and there did seem to some tying up of loose ends with a number of loyalist hitmen said to be working for State Agencies, meeting their end once the ceasefires started.

    There’s a good case there in relation to Neave, but it’s harder to see the motive. Why would British Intelligence agencies be so concerned about him, as to have him bumped off?

    Sounds a bit like the theory that MI6 downed the Mull of Kintyre helicopter which was jammed with anti-Agreement Securocrats, to spike MI5’s security alternative.

  • tacapall

    Harry in relation to the execution of Billy Wright, the INLA simply took advantage of a number of factors like human error, like putting opposing tribes in a shared space, a relaxation in security, the economic factors that enabled that relaxation of security. It didn’t have to be a complex plan carried out with the help of British intelligence, sure didn’t Johnny Adair even smuggle in a bullstaff puppy into the jail at that time, shows you how lackadaisical security really was in long kesh during that period and the idea that opposing forces could share a means of transport to move form one part of the prison to the other with a single unarmed prison officer as a deterrent or some sort of buffer was another human error, a series blunders that invariable led to Billy Wright losing his life.

  • @Harry,

    “The INLA did claim the attack, indeed they managed to get the member who did it on TV to be interviewed by the BBC Tonight programme.”

    Which attack? The Bradford assassination or the Neave assassination? You’re like my mother, using pronouns and references that are vague and expecting people to know what they refer to.

  • Gopher

    Harry I think there was more card carrying Communists in Westminster at the end of the seventies than Red Square.

    I get the feeling terrorists are going to start complaining one day that state forces are taking credit for all their ingenuity.

    Cant say I’ve studied it in detail but the historical narrative sound pretty plausible

  • Harry Flashman

    @paulG

    “Why would British Intelligence agencies be so concerned about him, as to have him bumped off?”

    If I was privy to that sort of info Paul I certainly wouldn’t be making it public.

    Who knows? Any number of reasons, western intelligence agencies were running rogue in Europe by the 1970’s, there were all sorts of extremely dodgy goings on involving fascists and communists who were up to all sorts of tricks. Operation Gladio, the Wilson plot, P2, Kincora, Aldo Moro, the Red Brigades and GAM, so much weird shit that if only a tenth of it were true it still adds up to some very dangerous activities among the “high contracting parties” as Enoch Powell referred to them.

    Neave was privy to a lot of information, he didn’t like a lot of the stuff that was going on (from a political rather than a moral viewpoint I should stress). Before his killing he is reported to have said over a few drinks how he was going to clear up a lot of old grudges when he finally got into government.

    Three weeks before he got into government a hitherto unheard of Irish splinter group managed to set up a complex spying operation on him, build a highly sophisticated bomb and breach security in the House of Commons and kill Neave.

    What are the odds, eh?

  • Harry Flashman

    @tmitch57

    “Which attack? The Bradford assassination or the Neave assassination? You’re like my mother, using pronouns and references that are vague and expecting people to know what they refer to.”

    Let me help you out tmitch, I specifically discussed the Neave assassination carried out by the INLA, (just in case you’re in doubt the IRA assassinated Bradford).

    You followed up by stating;

    “And if this had been an INLA “spectacular” they would have claimed credit for it”

    Now I ask you, who appears to be confused or confusing the issue? I assumed you were referring to the Neave murder because no one has ever suggested the INLA murdered Bradford.

    If you were actually referring to the Bradford murder then I have to tell ya buddy you’ve inherited your mother’s genes in spades.

  • paulG

    Harry,

    “so much weird shit that if only a tenth of it were true it still adds up to some very dangerous activities among the “high contracting parties”

    Following tmitch57’s denigration of conspiracy theories I considered what proportion of them might have been the work of agengies who’s function is to make assasinations etc. appear as accidents or the work of ‘terrorists and madmen’. Initially one tenth felt about right, but the more I think about it, the bigger that number gets!

  • Harry Flashman

    This is where I indulge myself a little bit.

    In a very simplified way the Second World War in Europe for the main part involved three sides; the Fascists, the Communists and the Anglo-Americans, all of whom fought not just big conventional battles but countless proxy partisan/guerrilla campaigns.

    Initially the Fascists and Communists were allied until Hitler invaded Russia then the Communists and the Anglo-Americans combined, until the Berlin blockade after the war when the former Fascists and the Anglo-Americans joined together to face the Communists.

    That situation prevailed for the best part of the next three decades in Europe (and of course in Latin America). Cliques, cabals, businessmen, politicians, terrorist groups, secret societies, churches, journalists, crime gangs, trades unions, you name it, took sides as they fought each other for power and control.

    Although the western former Fascists (now supposedly respectable people) and the Anglo-Americans were nominally allied in actual fact it was a marriage of convenience against a common Communist enemy, they actually loathed each other and regarded the other with contempt.

    By the turbulent days of the 1970’s this infighting frequently amounted to outright warfare. Horrific terrorist outrages occurred, prime ministers left office in mysterious circumstances, some were killed, bankers and businessmen were regularly assassinated, a pope with leftist connections dies immediately after his election to be replaced by a hardline anti-Communist from behind the Iron Curtain. All dodgy stuff.

    Most of the actual fighting and bloodshed happened in places like Greece, Belgium and of course Italy where an all-out civil war was almost raging. However even peaceful old Blighty was not immune to political turmoil and shenanigans.

    One has only to read about the machinations of the secret services in the early 1970s to know that some seriously sinister people were up to no good in high places in Britain, and where could they try out their dirty tricks now that there was no empire left? Well none other than our own dear wee province.

    Have a gander at Clockwork Orange, Colin Wallace, Kincora, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, Robert Nairac, the Glennane gang and tell me that the situation in Northern Ireland was just a simple black-and-white case of protestant paddies and catholic paddies shooting at each other for some obscure historical reason.

    And Airey Neave, a man who was up to his eyeballs in the security services knew all about it and in the weeks prior to his death was angry about something that he found out was going on.

    But yeah, those strategic geniuses in the INLA were entirely responsible for Neave’s murder.

  • Gopher

    Harry, Trumpton had more security than Westminster at the end of the seventies and a sieve had less security leaks.

    Authors need to sell books I suppose.

  • Harry Flashman

    Actually I visited the Palace of Westminster in 1978 on a school trip and I well recall the security arrangements, so similar to what we knew from Northern Ireland and so different from the rest of London at the time. I don’t imagine it was fool-proof but the idea that it was wide open is wrong.

    Now I grant you that the car park might have been neglected a bit but I simply refuse to believe that in the years following the Old Bailey bombing and the Balcombe Street gang not to mention the Birmingham and Guildford pub attacks, when Irish people in Britain were viewed with suspicion, that a couple of likely looking young Irishmen could simply hang out in the underground car park of the House of Commons for weeks casing the joint and watching Neave’s activities while waiting to plant a bomb without anyone noticing a damn thing.

    Funny how no one ever came near to being caught too isn’t it? Given the slipshod nature and internal rivalries of the INLA one would have thought it would have been a doddle, especially after the “bomber” was so helpful as to give an interview to the BBC a couple of months later. When an even more sophisticated bomb took out the Tory conference in Brighton five years later, planted by a much more security-conscious IRA, the Special Branch, through meticulous detective work, caught the bombers within a year.

    But hey, I’m just a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist and the hands of MI5 are completely clean of any misdeeds or dirty tricks in the 1970s and the Irish Troubles were just that, problems caused by the the thick Irish, and nothing to do with the machinations of the British establishment.

  • @Harry,

    “Now I ask you, who appears to be confused or confusing the issue? I assumed you were referring to the Neave murder because no one has ever suggested the INLA murdered Bradford.

    If you were actually referring to the Bradford murder then I have to tell ya buddy you’ve inherited your mother’s genes in spades.”

    I was actually sticking to the topic of the thread and discussing other logical possibilities in terms of other groups with a logical motive and how it fits with their modus operandi.

    ” Anyone who examines the Neave murder with any sense of cynicism and knowledge about the capabilities of knuckle-dragging republican splinter groups in the 1970′s and the nature and deviousness of the British secret services can hazard a guess as to which of them played the bigger role in the taking out of Airey Neave.”

    It is this same chauvinist thinking that passes as analysis on the part of nationalists who argue that the UVF could not possibly have carried out the Dublin-Monaghan bombings on their own in 1974.

    While the INLA wasn’t an overt group in 1979, it wasn’t necessarily secret. The IRSP held a press conference to announce its formation in November 1974. The reason for the IRSP’s formation–split from the Stickies–was that it wanted to continue the armed struggle. Logically, that would require an armed wing–and this was the pattern in republican history. So it was just a matter of its being able to acquire enough weapons before it i.e. the INLA could emerge openly. Using Occam’s razor it is more logical to assume as related by journalist Henry McDonald in his book on the organization that it was an INLA terrorist with a chemistry background who designed the mercury-switch bomb than all kinds of conspiracy theories. It just is not as fun is it?

  • Gopher

    Harry, only Moslem suicide terrorist groups have a higher mortality percentage than the INLA had. That is liably the fundamental reason why no one was ever brought to book for the assassination, they are already six feet under.

  • paulG

    tmitch5

    “It is this same chauvinist thinking that passes as analysis on the part of nationalists who argue that the UVF could not possibly have carried out the Dublin-Monaghan bombings on their own in 1974.”

    Apart from the fact that the Garda and Irish Army have assessed those attacks, as having been organised by a strand of British Intelligence, the dual membership of UVF and Security Forces – particularly in Armagh, and the fact that almost all Loyalist paramilitaries were found to have been working (supposedly as informers) for one or other branch of the Security Services, means there was no such thing as “the UVF on their own”.

  • @PaulG,

    “almost all Loyalist paramilitaries were found to have been working (supposedly as informers) for one or other branch of the Security Services,”

    So, how many loyalist paramilitary informers can you (or anyone else) name? Then compare this number with the estimates for the memberships of the UVF and UDA at anyone time. I think you’ll find quite a gap. Someone could just as easily make the same claim about the IRA in the last decade before it went on ceasefire permanently.

    As for the Garda and Army assessments–how much actual knowledge did they have of the loyalists? All of their targeted intelligence sourcing seems to have been directed against republicans. So, you have two organizations speaking from ignorance and subject to political influence.

  • paulG

    tmitch57,

    I think the figures were 98 out of 102 Loyalist paramilitaries interviewed in the Finucane inquiry admitted to being working for RUC Special Branch, the British Army or British Intelligence, during the Troubles.

    That’s about 96 %. Naming them wouldn’t make that percentage any less.

    Re: Dublin & Monaghan, You can be sure that the last thing the Garda or Irish Army wanted to do was to find that the British Secret Service were pulling the strings, that goes for all of the politicians (bar SF) as well.

    Thankfully, there’s enough integrity within the Garda to call it as it is, even when it doesn’t suit them.

  • @paulg,

    I’ve read the accounts of both J. Bowyer Bell and Henry McDonald on the bombings. I respect both of them as researchers. Bowyer Bell’s argument came down to the same as Flashman’s i.e. the loyalists just weren’t up to it on their own–couldn’t possibly have set three bombs to go off nearly simultaneously. This is a matter basically of a single bomb maker getting a hold of a batch of timers–such as alarm clocks–manufactured at the same time, preferably in the same batch and setting them so that the bombs would go off at the same time. McDonald had no problem believing that the UVF was capable of doing it on their own. The UVF didn’t have as many bombmakers as did the republicans, but they had some including David Ervine.

    Regarding the Garda, the republicans were much more of a threat over the years than loyalists. Saor Eire, the Provos, and the INLA were all involved in robberies, kidnappings and murders inside the Republic starting in 1969-70 and continuing into the mid-1990s. There was one attack carried out by loyalists, presumably by the UVF, in Dec. 1972 when the Dail was debating security legislation. Then there were the Monaghan-Dublin bombings in May 1974, and afterwards a few murders in Cavan and Monaghan at very irregular intervals. As the Garda lacked personnel who had grown up in loyalist communities in NI, it did not have the capability of infiltrating the loyalist paramilitaries like it did for the republicans. If loyalists had regrets about their actions or were compromised they would turn to the RUC or the British army. Thus there was no potential for a loyalist O’Callaghan working for the Garda. Maybe the Garda leadership figured that if they said that British intelligence was responsible they would not be required to do anything about it–it would then be up to DFA and the taoiseach to decide what to do.

  • Barnshee

    ” a couple of likely looking young Irishmen could simply hang out in the underground car park of the House of Commons for weeks casing the joint and watching Neave’s activities while waiting to plant a bomb without anyone noticing a damn thing.”

    It was clearly an inside job A search of the people all with legal access to the area will highlight the Irish natives and connections it was one or pore of them