Pursuit of terrorists is 'like a tiger hunt', said British general

Army commander's choice of words at a sensitive time provoked protest from his colleagues

The campaign against terrorists was described as "like a tiger hunt" by Britain's top military officer in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.

Lieutenant General Sir John Waters urged Army commanders in the province in June 1989 to view terrorists like the quarry in "an old-fashioned tiger hunt". His directive declared that police and army units should work together like beaters and experienced hunters to drive targets "on to the guns".

His words, at a time when the British military were accused of operating a shoot-to-kill policy, provoked protests from his colleagues. Major General Charles Guthrie, now a peer, complained that "the references in the letter to tiger hunting and killing are ill-advised".

Full details of the document, which became known as the "Tiger in the Jungle" paper, emerged amid renewed criticism of the Army's role during the Troubles, as SAS officers faced questioning over the deaths of two IRA men in Loughgall in 1990. However, the special forces officer in charge of the operation that ended with the deaths of Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew said his men opened fire only if life was endangered.

Lt-Gen Waters, who was General Officer Commanding the British Army in Northern Ireland from 1988 to 1990, sent all his commanders a "concept of operations" paper detailing what was expected from them during their time in Ulster. The paper dealt with the issue of "police primacy" – which had become a bone of contention between the security forces at the time – stating that "wherever possible, the maintenance of public order and anti-terrorism are conducted by the police".

But the seventh of his 17 points caused consternation among his superiors. "The way that the standard units and the specialist units should work together to get success can be compared with an old-fashioned tiger hunt," Lt-Gen Waters declared in the document, released by the Ministry of Defence under Freedom of Information legislation. "The most experienced hunters are placed in what is judged to be the very best position from which to get a shot.

"The beaters surround the area of the jungle where the tigers are expected to be and drive them on to the guns. Beating requires great skill and coordination to prevent the tigers breaking out of the cordon, or killing some of the beaters.

"Frequently the tigers break back, make a mistake, and expose themselves to the beaters. This is the opportunity for the beaters, who also carry guns, to get a tiger."

Maj-Gen Guthrie asked his colleague to moderate his language. He wrote, in August 1989: "My main worry is that, whatever caveats are attached to the documents, their contents will leak out in a way which will cause embarrassment to you, the Army Department and Ministers. Bitter experience suggests that such quotable phrases become so widely discussed that they are almost bound to reach unauthorised ears sooner or later."

The Labour MP Paul Flynn said: "I am all in favour of letting sleeping dogs lie, but this type of leadership is much worse than I had ever expected."

The Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who served briefly under Waters in Northern Ireland, said his senior was handling the row over the relationship between police and military units.

He said: "It's worth remembering that he wrote this at the height of the disease of political correctness. At that time, military operations would be put off because the police decided that killing terrorists would likely cause more trouble than it solved."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty