A documentary about former British army intelligence officer Colin Wallace premiered at the end of September. The film, entitled The Man Who Knew Too Much, detailed his time in the north during the early 1970s, and his subsequent conviction for manslaughter – a conviction that was later overturned.
Wallace was forced out of the army at the end of 1974 and sentenced to 10 years in 1981 for the manslaughter of a man who it was subsequently found did not die in the circumstances that were used to find Wallace guilty. He served over six years of his sentence but was later cleared and awarded compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
Wallace, and another officer Fred Holroyd, were separately the focus of allegations in the 1980s regarding undercover British intelligence operations which involved collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Holroyd likewise claimed to have been forced out of MI6 and placed against his will in a psychiatric institution.
As it transpires, much of what Wallace and Holroyd claimed has been subsequently confirmed as part of the ongoing investigations into the Glenanne Gang, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the Miami showband murders and other events which took place at the time they were both stationed in the north.
Wallace and Holroyd were not in the north during the endgame that led to the IRA ceasefires and Sinn Féin’s participation in running Northern Ireland as part of the Stormont Assembly and Executive. So they can shed no light on that intelligence context particularly as it involved high level informers and agents within the IRA and Sinn Féin.
Several high-ranking informers including Denis Donaldson have been revealed. As was Roy McShane who worked as a driver for Gerry Adams. Another alleged associated of McShane was Freddie Scappaticci who is also widely believed to have been an informer while responsible for internal security within the IRA.
The film itself probably dwells overlong on the allegations of Satanism in apparent “ritual murders” that took place in the early 1970s. Wallace implies that much of this concerned incidents being exaggerated for propaganda purposes – by himself mainly. He does strike a note of sincerity in his belief that perhaps the Satanist spectre might have brought people to ponder the horrors that had been released from the Pandora’s Box of inter communal hatred.
Truth to tell, much of the hands-on savagery was a symptom of the fact that some of those involved in paramilitary groups like the UVF Shankill Butchers were given an excuse to do horrific things they would possibly never have done had they not been provided with a tenuous “political” excuse to torture and murder.
Part of the reason they were allowed to do so undoubtedly had to do with the fact that elements in RUC Special Branch and in British intelligence protected loyalist killers either because they regarded their terror against Catholics as a positive factor, or that they were being protected as agents. The same of course would appear to apply to certain people in prominent positions within the IRA who were allegedly allowed to torture and murder for similar reasons.
One of the most interesting aspects of Wallace’s story is that his being forced out of the army and his subsequent unsafe conviction for killing another man, had almost nothing to do with the conflict it in the north. Rather, it revolved around what has become known as Operation Clockwork Orange which was an alleged plot by former and serving British intelligence personnel to influence the government of the United Kingdom itself.
The veracity of Wallace and other’s claims seem to have been supported by former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson who is said to have stated after his resignation that he was the target of what he described as two attempted coup d’etats. Wilson’s relative friendliness towards the Soviet Union and the fact that his party did contain Communist agents had wrongly convinced paranoid intelligence personnel that he might have been a Soviet asset himself. He wasn’t.
The existence of something called Clockwork Orange was admitted by a British minister Archie Hamilton in 1990, but its influence seems to have been greatly exaggerated, by both those who were involved in it and by those like Wallace who sought to expose it. Where the north seems to have been indirectly involved was through the alleged compromising of certain people through the Kincora boys home where residents were raped by men including, some claim, prominent politicians and others on the unionist side. It was claimed that the exposure of what had happened in Kincora in 1980 directly led to the alleged framing of Wallace.
The film is interesting, but for the reasons above is now mostly of historic value. Wallace was substantially correct in what he claimed all those years ago. One of the central arguments he made – that much of the skulduggery that took place was part of a feud between MI5 and MI6 – perhaps warrants greater attention now than it did when Wallace first went public.
MI5 favoured a more violent counter insurgency approach whereas it seemed that MI6 even as far back as the early 1970s was trying to engineer a political settlement which would have involved a compromise with, and perhaps even a compromising of, elements within the republican movement.
Even from our limited perspective – and without any of the internal information of the type supplied for the earlier period – it would seem that the latter approach gained precedence. Or rather that the eventual neutralising of the IRA may have been the fruit of a combination of infiltration and disruption along with the enticements of the “benign corruption” of ordinary politics.