The Research Unit of the Government Information Service: Undermining the Eyewitness to the McGurk’s Bar Attack.
In a Judicial Review today (Friday 24th October 2014), our families and legal representatives, KRW Law, will challenge the irrational findings of what is the 4th Historical Enquiries Team report that we have seen. This latest report is completely at odds with the contemporary evidence, the corroborating archives which we had to find for ourselves and, of course, the published report by the office of the Police Ombudsman.
The former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Matt Baggott, created a constitutional crisis when he denied the central findings of the Police Ombudsman report. This report highlighted the grave failings and bias of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in investigating the murder of our loved ones by pro-State extremists.
The Historical Enquiries Team reported to the Chief Constable and their top teams were staffed by former members of the RUC.
We now know the HET is a failed entity and Matt Baggott has skulked home to Britain but our campaigning families still have to face police intransigence and State cover-up in court nearly 43 years after the massacre.
To underscore this political policing and the collective failure of the State to deal with the past, and to coincide with the court case, I am releasing secret British documents on our campaign website. These prove that a Stormont information agency sought to undermine the key eyewitness to the McGurk’s Bar bombing days after the attack, and peddle lies for weeks afterwards. These also prove that the HET and PSNI have failed yet again to find invaluable information and that their so-called investigations into the death of our loved ones fails even basic Article 2 compliance.
How the British and Northern Irish state and its Security Forces created, managed and disseminated the disinformation regarding the murder of our loved ones in the McGurk’s Bar massacre will feature in many more historic court cases soon. I have tracked many of the state’s information streams and its heinous lies which criminalized the innocent civilians in the bar that night and allowed the real perpetrators – pro-state Protestant extremists – go free. These historic finds featured in my book, The McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Collusion, Cover-Up and a Campaign for Truth.
Government Information Service
One important information agency which reported to government ministers, high-ranking civil servants, Whitehall departments and information posts abroad had eluded me at the time of writing my book. Since then, though, I can report that I have discovered startling information regarding this Government Information Service and, in particular, its Research Unit which was formed in September 1970. Read the secret archives (PDF 4MB) In the Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONI) I found an important document which maps the main responsibilities of the Research Unit (pp 1 – 2 pdf) and the offices to which it circulated its work (section 6 page 1 pdf). This work included compiling “a comprehensive Weekly News Summary containing reports of significant happenings and utterances and editorial comment.” Significantly, a subsequent document (page 3 pdf) in the same file records: “One use of the research unit is to ensure that information is available which can be used for immediate reaction to or background information on specific events or situations. An example of this which has already emerged was the preparation of notes on press reactions to the McGurk [sic] bar explosion. Research in this case revealed major inconsistencies in the reported evidence of the eight-year-old eye witness.”
The 8 year-old, Joseph McClory, actually saw the bomber plant the bomb and ignite its fuse in the hallway of McGurk’s Bar before running to a waiting car. Joseph then watched this car speed of down Great George’s Street. He even saved the life of a customer who was about to go into the bar when he shouted “Mister, don’t go into that bar, there’s a bomb there” .
So Joseph’s witness testimony was absolutely crucial to the police investigation because he witnessed the bar being attacked.
Nevertheless, the Royal Ulster Constabulary completely ignored his eyewitness testimony which was subsequently supported by the confession of the only bomber prosecuted a few years later. In my book I examine the reasons why he RUC would have done this, as well as publishing a document which proved that the RUC created the lie that the McGurk’s Bar bombing was an Irish Republican Army own-goal hours after the explosion:
“At 8.45 p.m. on Saturday, 4th December, 1971, an explosion occurred at McGurk’s Licensed Premises, 83 Great George’s Street. The charge was estimated at 50 lbs completely demolished the two storey building. Just before the explosion a man entered the licensed premises and left down a suitcase, presumably to be picked up by a known member of the Provisional I.R.A. The bomb was intended for use on other premises. Before the ‘pick-up’ was made the bomb exploded.”
The previously unpublished documents now prove that the Government Information Service also attempted to undermine the testimony of the first-hand witness of the attack on McGurk’s Bar.
Cycle of Disinformation
The only “evidence” which the Research Unit used was second-hand commentary and press reactions which, of course, had been coloured by the disinformation which the police and the state had released to the press.
This vicious cycle of disinformation began with the creation of black propaganda by the RUC and stands as an horrific study of disinformation management and the use of words as weapons in war by the British state.
It was obviously essential that I accessed the records prepared by the Research Unit on the week of the McGurk’s Bar bombing.
In Kew National Archives, London, I targeted the Northern Ireland Weekly News Summaries, issued September 1971 to February 1972 for these files but, suspiciously, of all of the summaries, the week of the McGurk’s Bar bombing was absent. There was no covering document to say that it had been retained or destroyed, never mind by whom, so I am concerned that it has been weeded for unofficial reasons.
Thankfully, though, I was only cross-referencing this file in the hope of additional information as I had already discovered the summaries regarding McGurk’s Bar in PRONI. I publish them here for the first time (pages 4 – 9 pdf) and they will indeed prove significant for our future litigation.
The commentary which the Research Unit of the Government Information Service collated and disseminated to government ministers, civil servants and officials in Whitehall weighed heavily towards the pretext that the bomb was a Republican own-goal. As discussed above, this was created by the RUC.
At no point does the Research Unit record commentary or press reports extant at that time which questioned whether the bomb was the result of an attack by Protestant extremists.
The Research Unit’s own commentary records (page 5 pdf): “Preliminary investigations by Army experts indicated that the bomb was detonated inside the pub…” I proved in 2009 that a British Army expert who happened to be one of two Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) at the scene reported to the General Officer Commanding no such opinion:
“A bomb believed to have been planted outside the bar was estimated by the A.T.O. to be 30/50lb of HE [High Explosive]”
The Research Unit then goes on to record:
“One theory was that the bomb was left in the building by IRA men without the knowledge of the owner or occupants, to be collected later and planted in some other premises that night. The collector had, however, failed to collect the package and it had exploded”
This parrots the lie created by the RUC hours after the explosion. The first-hand witness testimony of 8 year-old Joseph McClory is not recorded in this or subsequent Weekly News Summaries. What are recorded are comments and press clippings which are completely inconsistent with what he witnessed.
In the summary for 20th December 1971 to the 2nd January 1972 though, the Research Unit records a “Sequel to bar explosion” (page 10 pdf):
“In relation to the explosion at McGurk’s public house, North Queen Street, Belfast, in which 15 civilians were killed… it was reported that there was evidence that five of the dead had been standing around the bomb when it exploded. One of the five was said to have been identified as a senior IRA man who was an expert in explosives and on the security forces’ wanted list. The security forces were reported to be now convinced that the bar was a transfer point in the IRA chain between the makers and the planters of bombs”
There was no such evidence, of course. This simply peddled two chunks of disinformation disseminated by the British Ministry of Defence.
The first, which I discovered and published in 2010, was recorded on 9th December 1971 in a Headquarters Northern Ireland Intelligence Summary. The unit which compiled it was under the control of an MI5 Director of Intelligence and staffed by MI5 and Military Intelligence Officers. It recorded the lie:
“Forensic and EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] reports tend to indicate that the explosion was caused accidentally inside the public house by premature detonation amongst a group which contained an identified IRA victim”
The second was a found in a British MoD Current Situation Report dated 14th December 1971 which recorded:
“The forensic evidence now available shows quite clearly that five of the victims were killed by blast – indicating that the explosion must have been inside the bar and raising the very strong presumption that it was caused by the accidental detonation of a bomb being carried by one of the customers – as has seemed likely all along.”
Christmas Eve Disinformation
On the day before Christmas 1971, the Guardian reported the disinformation thus:
“The security men are now convinced that the bar was a transfer point in the IRA chain between the makers and the planters of the bomb.”
It was then reported unreferenced as an update to the ministers, civil servants and Whitehall officials in the Weekly News Summary recorded above whilst the genesis of the lies are found in British MoD papers.
In yet another horrific cycle of disinformation, black propaganda created by the state is disseminated and reported back as fact, even though these lies were without substance and have never been substantiated.
There was hard evidence, of course. That included the first-hand witness testimony of young Joseph McClory which was ignored by the police and the Research Unit of the Government Information Service. The end result was that innocent civilians were criminalized by those who should have been defending their basic human rights, whilst pro-state mass-murderers were allowed to go free and kill many times thereafter.
Ciarán MacAirt is an Irish writer and author of The McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Collusion, Cover-Up and a Campaign for Truth.
He also manages Paper Trail, an innovative charity and social enterprise which offers legacy archive research services and helps families unearth the truth hidden in public records.