Police to probe British Army’s ‘Dirty War’ death squad – the MRF

Police to probe British Army’s ‘Dirty War’ death squad – the MRF

MRF – British Army death squad

THE Military Reaction Force – a covert death squad run by the high command by British Army Military Intelligence and under the control of General Sir Harry Tuzo – is being investigated by the PSNI. Police have appealed for information about the activities of the unit in the early 1970s.

The British Army unit – using non-regulation weapons and disguises, including dressing in plainclothes and driving civilian cars – was involved in at least 18 shootings in which nationalist civilians were killed or wounded, some in random attacks. The intention was to goad republicans into a sectarian war by pretending loyalists were behind the attacks.

MRF MoD file

An Phoblacht and Republican News publicised the activities of the MRF at the time in the 1970s but it wasn’t until a BBC TV Panorama exposé in 2013 that the mainstream media took an interest. A police investigation was launched after former soldiers who had served with the MRF told the BBC that they had killed unarmed civilians.

The incidents under investigation are:

  • The fatal shooting of 44-year-old Patrick McVeigh and shootings of four other men in Riverdale Park, west Belfast, on 12 May 1972;
  • The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rooney and shooting of a 18-year-old man in St James’s Crescent, west Belfast, on 26 September 1972;
  • The shooting of two brothers, aged 19 and 30, in Whiterock Road, west Belfast, on 15 April 1972;
  • The shooting of an 18-year-old man in Glen Road, west Belfast, on 6 May 1972;
  • The shooting of a 15-year-old boy outside a school disco on Glen Road, west Belfast, on 7 May 1972;
  • The shooting of an 18-year-old man in the Slievegallion area of west Belfast on 12 May 1972;
  • The shooting at a 34-year-old man in Silvio Street, north Belfast, on 26 May 1972;
  • The shooting of four men in Glen Road, west Belfast, on 22 June 1972;
  • An incident during which a white Austin Morris vehicle was shot at in Kashmir Road, west Belfast, on 9 May 1972.

The new PSNI investigation is based on the BBC programme broadcast in November 2013, Britain’s Secret Terror Force. Even though members of the unit confessed they were responsible for firing on and killing unarmed civilians, senior PSNI officer Drew Harris, now Assistant Chief Constable, maintained there was no evidence of a crime.

In June of last year, however, just as the families were about to mount a legal challenge and force the PSNI to investigate the claims aired in the programme, it was announced that a senior officer was to review the case.

Now Detective Chief Inspector Peter Montgomery of the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) is saying his probe is “part of a wider investigation into the activities of the MRF”.

Last year, in the wake of the BBC programme, the North’s Attorney General granted fresh inquests into the killings of father of six Patrick McVeigh (44), who was shot from a passing car at Riverdale in West Belfast in May 1972, and 18-year-old Patrick Rooney, shot in September the same year as he walked through the St James’s area of the city.

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Gerry Kelly said:

“The activities of the MRF were part of Britain’s so-called ‘Dirty War’ in the North so I welcome the investigation but, in the long run, all these legacy issues need to be resolved under a comprehensive agreement.”

Dec 2013 front

‘MRF operatives uncovered and executed’ – From An Phoblacht/Republican News Archives

PLAINCLOTHES British Army undercover units known as the Military Reaction Force (MRF) began operating in Belfast in 1972.

The main work of the MRF spy network – under the control of General
 Sir Harry Tuzo and consisting of
 British soldiers from the Military 
Intelligence Corps and the SAS – was to gather, collate and analyse intelligence
 on the Republican Movement and the 
IRA in particular.

The most spectacular example of an
 MRF undercover operation was the 
Four Square Laundry.

The Four Square 
did business as a real laundry.
 Laundry vans are usually big so there 
was a good excuse to have a vehicle
 capable of holding several men and their equipment. The van toured
 nationalist areas of Belfast, soliciting
 custom and making collections and
 deliveries. The washing was sent out to 
another laundry on contract.

Intelligence was collected in many 
ways. The ‘laundry people’ would chat 
with women and obtain apparently 
insignificant bits of information which
 could be of great importance when
 pieced together. Meanwhile, the two agents hidden under the roof
 of the van photographed the houses, occupants,
 streets and vehicles.

Once back from their tour, laundry 
lists were compared with previous
 ones concerning a given family. A 
difference in the size of a man’s shirt
 could indicate the presence of a second man; a woman whose 
husband was in jail or had been killed 
who gave men’s clothes for laundering 
could inadvertently give away the 
presence of an IRA Volunteer ‘on the 
run’. The clothes were also
 scientifically analysed for traces of 
blood, gun oil and gunpowder.

The Four Square Laundry was
 highly sophisticated and it took 
several months for the IRA’s
 Intelligence Department to unmask it.

On the morning of 2 October 1972, a 
laundry van bearing in large green 
letters the words “Four Square” was 
driving on its usual round in the
 Twinbrook area in Belfast. As it drove through Juniper Park, two Volunteers
 of a special IRA Intelligence unit
 sprang from a car and machine-gunned 
the van, killed two British Intelligence 
officers who were lying under the roof 
in a compartment specially designed as 
an observation post. The driver, Sapper
 Stuart, was also killed.

The IRA had killed three MRF 
members whose intelligence mission was to collect as much 
information as possible on republicans
 and republican sympathisers.

Within hours of the attack on the 
laundry van, the IRA shot dead two
 more MRF members who were 
operating one of a series of massage
 parlours, the Gemini Health Studios,
 on the Antrim Road.

The following
 day, 3 October, the British, realising 
that their undercover operations were
 blown, admitted to the death of the van driver and the aim of the 
operation. They failed, however, to
 disclose that not one but five MRF 
soldiers were executed by the IRA on
 this October day in Belfast.