RUC informer beaten by IRA sues for pounds 10,000

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The Independent Online
The future of undercover police operations against the IRA is in jeopardy due to a hearing that will take place in a closed court in Northern Ireland tomorrow.

At the hearing, Martin McGartland, a former RUC Special Branch informer, will sue the Northern Ireland office for injuries suffered during two years of undercover work inside the IRA.

Mr McGartland, 26, who is now living under a new identity, claims that he saved up to 50 lives by passing information to his police handlers about the planned activities of his IRA unit. He has spent the last five years in hiding, and has suffered flashbacks of his experiences.

The Northern Ireland office is contesting Mr McGartland's claim, apparently on the grounds that he was an informer who belonged to an outlawed terrorist organisation.

Mr McGartland has prepared statements, seen by this newspaper, which will outline the undercover role he played.

He writes: "I was instructed by the Special Branch to infiltrate the senior echelon of the IRA command in Belfast. I was principally involved in gaining intelligence from IRA sources and passing on this intelligence to the Special Branch. As a result, the lives of many people were saved, people who had been targeted by the IRA and whom they intended to murder."

He will argue in court that he was recruited by the RUC as a teenage petty criminal living in west Belfast.

Mr McGartland will say that he was actively encouraged to join the Provisionals so that he could provide his handlers with high-grade intelligence.

He has subpoenaed RUC Special Branch officers to appear and give evidence at the hearing.

His criticisms of the RUC's treatment of its informers will alarm those still working undercover for special branch and is likely to deter future recruits.

Mr McGartland nearly died when his role as a police agent was discovered by the IRA in August 1991.

He was taken by two senior Sinn Fein officials to an isolated block of flats in the Twinbrook area of Belfast, where he was interrogated for eight hours.

Fearing execution, he threw himself through a third-floor window, suffering horrific head injuries. He lost consciousness but was rescued by local people who called an ambulance.

His Special Branch handlers tracked him down and had him transferred to the the Musgrave Park military hospital before moving him to a new home outside Northern Ireland.

For the past five years he has lived a fraught existence trying to keep ahead of the IRA which he believes is still committed to executing him. He has had to move several times and personal relationships have collapsed under the pressure of the constant threat. He is believed to be seeking more than pounds 10,000 compensation from the court case.

Mr McGartland, furious that the Northern Ireland office is contesting his claim and forcing him to risk appearing in court, has demanded high levels of security for the case. After initial resistance, the RUC acquiesced and has assigned him a team of police bodyguards.

Mr McGartland has raised his fears with Harry Barnes, the Labour MP, who has passed details of the case and its likely repercussions to Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland secretary. Nevertheless, the case threatens to deeply undermine the Special Branch informant network.

Mr McGartland is threatening publicly to vilify the RUC by holding a press conference to accuse them of betrayal.

In his statement he says: "It seems to me extraordinary that the British government should be treating a former agent in this way, someone who risked his life for a number of years working for British intelligence."

Mr McGartland claims he still suffers regular nightmares with flashbacks of the moment when he threw himself through the window.

In court, he will produce medical reports showing that he suffers from depression and anxiety attacks, as well as his mainly superficial physical injuries.

Earlier this year, Mr McGartland's younger brother, Joseph, was kidnapped by the IRA in west Belfast and severely beaten. Martin McGartland believes his brother, who can now barely walk unaided, was attacked because of his family name.