List of Abbreviations

PROLOGUE:   A Brush with the Assassin

ONE:   A Middle-Eastern Experience

TWO:   Teenage Kicks

THREE:   In Training

FOUR:   Armagh – A Rude Awakening

FIVE:   A Baptism Under Fire

SIX:   Hatred and Love in One City

SEVEN:   A Sense of Loss

EIGHT:   Special Branch – A New Career

NINE:   No Justification for Murder

TEN:   Operational Successes and Failures

ELEVEN:   Agent Recruitment

TWELVE:   Recruiting Raymond

THIRTEEN:   Fighting Back Against Terrorism

FOURTEEN:   A Brush with Death – Infiltrating the IRA

FIFTEEN:   The Hunger Strike – No Time to Relax

SIXTEEN:   Agents Are Not Above the Law

SEVENTEEN:   M60 Recovered

EIGHTEEN:   The Supergrass Trial

NINETEEN:   Republican or Loyalist – It Made No Difference

TWENTY:   The Technological War

EPILOGUE:   Loyalty Counts for Nothing

About the Author

Alan Barker was born in Belfast in 1955 and joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1973. After three years as a uniform constable, he transferred into Special Branch, where he remained for twenty-six years until his retirement in 2002. He now lives in the south of England, where he is self-employed.


A Middle-Eastern Experience

In his sea-blue Royal Air Force uniform, my father stood imperious in front of the mirror. Adjusting his hat in the mirror, he said confidently: ‘Maybe you’ll wear one of these some day, son.’ Like many families in Northern Ireland, we were proud to serve the Crown. It was in our blood. And, yes, I too wanted to wear a uniform and serve my country. But instead of joining the RAF, I would eventually don the garb of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

It was 5 a.m. on a cold, bleak December morning and, outside, a thin layer of snow covered the pathway to our house. Inside, my mother had the fire raging in the living room as I stood, a five-year-old boy, watching my father preen himself in front of the large mirror positioned above our fireplace. This tall, thin, handsome man was about to leave his family and I can remember how sad I felt as I begged him not to go. ‘It’s nearly Christmas, Daddy,’ I sobbed.

‘I know, son, but it won’t be long until you and your mum come out to join me.’

Dad was a flight engineer in the Royal Air Force and travelled regularly, but he had never been away over Christmas before.

A few months later, Mum and I boarded a plane at the old Nutts Corner airport near Antrim and flew to London, the first stop on our way to meet up with Dad in Aden, the commercial centre of Yemen. Our flight to Aden was delayed, so we had to remain outside London with the other armed forces families at Hendon, now the Metropolitan Police college, until we boarded our Eagle Airways flight to the Middle East.

My only brother, Trevor, didn’t accompany us, as my parents had decided that, at 13, it would be better for his education if he remained in Belfast and boarded at the Methodist College. With eight years between us, this separation created an even bigger gap and it felt at times as if I was growing up an only child.

The Eagle Airways flight to Aden was a rough journey and I can remember feeling the undulating turbulence and seeing flashes of forked lightning traverse the night sky as I looked out of the window. As a five year old, instead of being scared, I was exhilarated and looked upon this journey as a great adventure.

After a quick stop-off to refuel the plane at Khartoum, we eventually landed at Aden’s airport. Upon entering the terminal, I immediately spotted Dad dressed in a plain khaki shirt and shorts, and ran into his outstretched arms. He was so delighted to see Mum and me, and he told me he had a surprise for me in our car.

‘What car?’ I asked, growing ever more excited.

‘Just wait and see,’ Dad replied.

As we stepped out of the terminal building, I can remember the blanket of heat that enveloped my whole body.

‘There she is,’ he said, pointing to a dark-green, cigar-shaped car. ‘Look in the back seat,’ he added with a smile. I looked in and there, all nicely wrapped up in coloured paper, was a large box. I tore off the paper, lifted the lid and inside was a scale model of the aeroplane in which Mum and I had travelled to Aden. I thought it was magnificent, with its red flashing lights and four rotating propeller engines that made a whirring noise as it travelled along the ground.

‘Let’s go,’ said Dad, and off we went in our motorised dark-green cigar to the home we would be living in for the next two years.

As we travelled from the airport, I just stared out of the car window in amazement at all the strange and wonderful sights around me: the vast expanses of desert just visible in the gathering dusk, the small, corrugated-tin-roofed shacks and the strange, dark-skinned people who lived in them.

‘Those are the Arabs,’ Dad said, pointing to the people outside the tiny shacks. ‘Don’t bother with them and they won’t bother with you.’ But these words of wisdom fell on deaf ears.

We eventually arrived in the area known as Maalla, which was situated midway between Khormaksar, the RAF base where my dad worked, and Steamer Point, the main dockland area of Aden. It is a long time ago, but I can still remember the long thoroughfare in Maalla, with its tall blocks of flats all facing outwards on both sides of the road and the shops at the bottom of these. I think it was Ramadan time when we arrived, the religious festival that saw the Muslim faithful fast each day until sunset, and I could smell the aroma of local cooking wafting through the still night air as they all huddled together and ate their meal.

Our block of flats was called Hungerford House and it backed on to a desolate, sandy, shanty-town-like area where a number of Arabs lived in shelters made out of boxes, wood and corrugated-iron sheets. Our flat was number three on the second floor and as we walked through the door for the very first time I knew I was in for an exciting time.

Aden had all the hallmarks of an exotic location, with its extremely hot temperatures and mile upon mile of sandy beaches, where I learnt to swim and spent many hours sunbathing. The British armed forces also had their own private lido, where friends and I would swim in the afternoon and eat in the restaurant or café. Dad went to work each day at the RAF base, where he was a flight engineer servicing the Shackleton bombers of his squadron. I loved going to work with Dad, especially on those occasions when he would let me climb up into the planes and sit in the cockpit, where I pretended I was a Second World War pilot dropping bombs on the enemy below – an experience straight out of the Victor, Commando and Warlord comics.

Mum worked in the bakery office at the lido complex and I would often visit her there after school. I developed a bad habit of eating all the free sausage rolls, cakes and biscuits that were temptingly available. Having arrived in Aden a very thin, fair-haired child, it didn’t take me long to start piling on the weight. Although this didn’t affect me too much when I was younger, being overweight as I got older led to a chronic lack of self-confidence.

All in all, it was a great life for a young boy, but, unfortunately, I had to attend school as well. Unlike Belfast, where you started at 9 a.m. and finished at 3 p.m., in Aden you started at 7 a.m. and finished at 1 p.m. The early start and finish was to make sure everyone was home before the hottest part of the day, between 1 and 4 p.m., when many people stayed indoors to rest away from the sweltering heat. Out went the customary grey short trousers, socks, pullover and coat, to be replaced by light shorts, white short-sleeved shirt and ankle socks.

I caught the RAF minibus at 6.30 a.m. each day to travel to school, and in the beginning I didn’t pay much attention to the wire grilles on the minibus windows. After a while, however, I soon realised the need for such protection, as our bus came under frequent attack from young Arab stone throwers. It now seems ironically appropriate that this was among my formative experiences. Many years later, I would be behind the protective wire of other vehicles running the gauntlet of hostile locals, but this time it would be at home.

Tensions in the region were rising and the British Forces were starting to come under random attacks from militants within the local Arab population who wanted foreigners out of Yemen. Of course, being so young, I was oblivious to the political situation and, although frightened by the stones thrown at the school bus, I was still unaware of the deep hatred that existed towards us within the Arab population. I was too busy enjoying myself and couldn’t wait to get out of school and back to Maalla to play with my friends. There were two or three of us who lived close by and we would hang about together, but they for the most part shied away from the local Arabs because their parents forbade them to mix. I, on the other hand, being an extremely friendly and sociable little scamp, loved to mix with everyone. So I spent quite a lot of time in a small local shop close to where I lived.

I had no fear of, or prejudice towards, the local Arabs, especially when they would often supply me with free bottles of lemonade, known locally as ‘stims’. I began to spend more and more time with these locals, mainly older men who spoke broken English. Thanks to them, I quickly began to pick up a lot of their language and even progressed on to learning how to write some Arabic words.

My father, however, eventually became aware of this close association and forbade me from going near my new friends. In retrospect, I now realise that, given what was happening in the region at the time, he was concerned for my safety. At the time, though, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about and disobeyed him, often managing to sneak down to see my Arab friends undetected.

One really scary yet thrilling incident stands out above all others from the time I spent in Aden. It was near the time when my father’s career in the RAF was drawing to a close and we were preparing to head home to Belfast. A couple of my friends and I had decided to explore the shanty area at the rear of the apartment blocks where we lived, even though things had got to a stage where even we understood that there was a great deal of hostility towards us. Two British soldiers had been murdered in the Crater district of Aden a short time earlier, but this wasn’t going to deter us. It would turn out to be the first time I ever handled a rifle.

As we moved gingerly through the area, two or three Yemeni boys approached us, muttering something in Arabic that we didn’t understand. All of a sudden, one of them produced a rifle and beckoned for one of us to take hold of it, whilst at the same time holding out the palm of his hand. My heart began beating faster as waves of adrenalin flowed through my body, a feeling I had never experienced before. One of the boys showed me a pellet in his hand and pointed to the other boy who was holding the rifle, whilst reaching out his other hand. I realised that he wanted some money and I was shaking in anticipation as I passed him the few coins I had in my pocket. The other Arab boy put the pellet into the rifle then handed it over to me. As if in slow motion, I took hold of it and almost simultaneously heard a bang. The Arab boys jumped back and one of them shouted and pointed to a hole in his Arab jellaba. I had inadvertently pulled the trigger as the Arab boy had handed me the rifle. I threw the rifle to the ground and my friends and I ran for our lives as other Arabs started to head towards us, shouting and screaming. I ran at full pelt towards my block of flats, not daring to look back. My heart was pounding so fast I thought it would jump out of my chest. I didn’t know where my friends were and at that stage I didn’t care. I just had to get away and didn’t stop until I entered the apartment block, flew up the winding stairs and dashed in through my own front door. To this day, I cannot remember if my father and mother were aware of what happened. I just knew I was safe and didn’t dare venture into that area again, nor did I ever return to the stim bar.


Teenage Kicks

We returned from Aden in 1963, when I was eight years old. By 1966, when I enrolled at Park Parade Secondary School, the first signs of the Troubles were already beginning to appear. Park Parade, close to the River Lagan, was attended almost exclusively by Protestants. The kids came from loyalist redoubts such as the Woodstock and Ravenhill roads. There were also quite a few from my estate, the Cregagh, where George Best also grew up. Before he was whisked off to Manchester and international glory, I can recall watching him play football with my older brother and his friends in a big field in the middle of the estate.

As a young boy, I was fairly oblivious to the emergence of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and later the People’s Democracy (PD), but I do recall watching the scenes on the television news following the L/Derry civil rights march on 5 October 1968 and realising that something major was brewing. Rioting and disorder began to become more and more prevalent in many areas of Belfast and L/Derry, frequently dominating the evening news bulletins and also becoming the topic of conversation in the classroom at school. The name ‘IRA’ was frequently mentioned, but I was more interested in soccer and pop music. ‘IRA, what’s that?’ I remember naively asking one day.

‘It’s the Fenians’ army,’ came the reply.

I knew, or at least I thought I knew, what a Fenian was, but I didn’t know that they had their own army. At the time, I knew of one Catholic family living in my area and they had a son who was a few years older than I was. We didn’t mix as we were growing up, but this was for no other reason than our age difference. There was no sectarian prejudice within my family. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel that one of the main factors that contributed to the widening chasm between the two communities was the segregation of our schools, which denied us the opportunity to get to know kids our own age from the nationalist community and to think of them as ordinary people rather than as the enemy.

My years at Park Parade were fairly uneventful. But as I moved into my early teens, the inevitable teenage hormones kicked in and I began to notice girls. I fell in love regularly at school, but I was extremely shy and lacked the confidence to ask any of the girls out on dates. So weekends tended to be pretty dull affairs – no discos or dances on a Friday or Saturday night for me; instead, I was content to lounge on the settee at home with a couple of bags of crisps and a chocolate bar, watching television: a stark contrast to my life when I joined the Royal Ulster Constbulary.

As I grew older, I gravitated towards rock music. I was really into heavy progressive music like Yes, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Cream, Black Sabbath, Humblepie and the Groundhogs, and would stay up late at night to watch the Old Grey Whistle Test on television and then listen to Radio Luxembourg. Another lad in my class, who was something of a loner and a bit spaced out, got to know of my love for the heavier type of rock music and we struck up a good friendship.

Jim was a tall, very thin lad with long, dark-brown hair down to his shoulders, and he had very deep philosophical views on life and the Troubles. A socialist, he confided in me that he had joined the People’s Democracy but didn’t want me to spread it about, and I can understand why. The PD was looked upon as a nationalist party by the hard men in the class and if they had known Jim was a member, they would have accused him of ‘siding with the Fenians’.

It didn’t bother me one way or the other what Jim was involved with. I wasn’t a bigot and I couldn’t hate someone just because they were of a different religion to me. But when it came to the Provos, that was a different story. They were murdering innocent citizens of Northern Ireland in order to further their political aim of creating a United Ireland, regardless of the democratically expressed wishes of a majority of the population, and they were using the excuse of discrimination against the Catholic population to legitimise their terror campaign.

It is clear that, prior to the emergence of the civil rights campaign, Catholics were discriminated against in terms of employment and housing, and the Stormont government of the day, under Terence O’Neill, attempted to address these issues on 22 November 1968 by introducing a five-point reform programme which dealt with the concerns of the NICRA and the PD. In 1969, however, the Troubles escalated. The Battle of the Bogside erupted on 12 August and British troops were sent in to restore order two days later. On 19 August, the British and Northern Ireland governments issued what came to be known as the first ‘Downing Street Declaration’. This joint policy statement affirmed that there would be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. On 9 October, James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary, and the Northern Ireland government issued another joint communiqué setting out a list of commitments to further reform the police, the legal system and administration. The Northern Ireland government agreed to establish a central housing authority and to re-examine local government reform. This communiqué also accepted the recommendations of the Hunt report, which recommended that the RUC should become an unarmed civilian force and that the B Specials should be replaced by a new RUC Reserve (RUCR) and a locally recruited part-time military force under the control of the British Army (the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR). None of this was enough to placate the men of violence on the republican side, however, and the publication of the Hunt report also inflamed tensions in the loyalist community. In the serious rioting that followed, the first RUC victim of the Troubles, Victor Arbuckle, was killed.

The true colours of the hardliners in the republican movement were exposed in June 1970, when delegates at a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis held in Dublin voted in the majority, though not by the two-thirds required to carry the motion, to end the traditional policy of abstentionism and take up any seats they might win in the Belfast and Dublin parliaments. They wanted to pursue the republican aims through political channels instead of violence. In contrast, the hardline element of the IRA – what was to become the Provisional Army Council – believed the only way forward was to continue the armed struggle and therefore walked out of the Ard Fheis in disgust to set up their own headquarters at Kevin Street, with the Officials maintaining their headquarters at Gardiner Place in Dublin. From that point on, the hostility between the two branches of the republican movement grew. The Officials were to declare a ceasefire in 1972, while the Provos entered a downward spiral of violence that would continue till the mid-1990s.

By early 1971, bombings and shootings were becoming a daily occurrence in the city. While lying in my bed at night, I could hear gun battles across the city. I wasn’t afraid, but curious and excited as the rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire echoed through the still night air. March of that year witnessed the brutal murder by the Provisional IRA (PIRA) of three off-duty Scottish soldiers who were lured from a public bar and shot dead on a mountain road overlooking Belfast. (A fate, of course, that almost befell me a few years later.) Their murders were seen as one of the key points of the Province’s descent into full-scale violence and the events were particularly tragic. Two of the men killed were brothers, John and Joseph McCaig. John was 17 years old and his brother 18, not much older than me, and I wondered what they had done to deserve such a horrendous fate.

As the soldiers were being buried in Scotland, massive crowds of mourners went on to the streets of Belfast and Carrickfergus to attend rallies as a mark of sympathy. Along with thousands of others, I stood near the City Hall when many stopped work as the Rev. Ian Paisley called for a two-minute silence. It was an emotional gathering, with both men and women weeping openly as a hymn was sung, followed by the national anthem.

The Home Secretary at the time, Reginald Maudling, told the Commons that the security forces were having successes against terrorism adding, ‘It is a battle against a small minority of armed, ruthless men, whose strength lies not so much in their numbers as in their wickedness.’

How often were British governments to blurt out similar rhetoric while failing to confront the IRA head on? How often have these same British governments, with their stiff-upper-lipped and holier-than-thou attitudes, consistently failed the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland? They should have confronted the IRA from the outset, and when the IRA killed members of the security forces there should have been immediate retaliatory action taken against their membership. Isn’t this what you do in a war? Had the IRA not declared war on the RUC and British Forces? But no, it seemed somehow to be quite acceptable for RUC and army personnel to be killed, and acceptable for towns and villages across Northern Ireland to be devastated by bombs, as long as the mainland was not affected. Northern Ireland was not top of the British government’s agenda, and when the IRA realised their actions were not having enough impact, they would make the decision to take the war to the mainland.

Following the murders of the three Scottish soldiers, so-called ‘Tartan Gangs’ emerged within Protestant areas. In memory of the three soldiers, each gang had their own particular colour of tartan. Within our school, the Woodstock Tartan Gang was the biggest, closely followed by the Cregagh and Ormeau Tartans. As with all gangs, the bully-boy element was prevalent and for this reason I refused to associate with any of them. A lot of the bullies were classic types, acting hard while in a gang with others, but useless on their own. Others among the gang members were, however, true hard men and many of them were eventually recruited into the ranks of the loyalist paramilitaries.

On 9 August 1971, the policy of internment of terrorist suspects was reintroduced by the government and nearly 350 republican suspects were arrested and held without trial. I had left school by this time and was working as an apprentice hardware salesman in a local shop in Belfast. But this was just a stopgap for me. I had my sights set on a career in the RUC, but I would have to wait until 1973 and my 18th birthday before I could even apply to join.

This was an extremely frustrating time for me, and I guess it was the same for many 16- and 17-year-old boys and girls in the Province. I was angry that the country in which I lived was sinking deeper and deeper into a state of near-anarchy while those in power seemed prepared to sit back and watch events unfold. To be honest, as a young lad I didn’t really give much thought as to why the riots and demonstrations were taking place. All I could see on the television news were groups of Catholics throwing bricks, bottles and other missiles at the police, and as far as I was concerned, they were criminals attacking the police force that I wanted to join.

The same feelings of exasperation and anger were reflected in the voices of friends, family and strangers, who were also outraged by the actions of the IRA and the seeming lack of will among the authorities to deal effectively with the situation. As a result of this frustration, the despairing Protestant people decided that they must defend themselves against the IRA aggressors and so was born the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). In September 1971, over 20,000 men and women crowded into Victoria Park in east Belfast to be addressed by William Craig and the Rev. Ian Paisley. I attended the rally and it was the first time in my life that I had experienced such a sense of community and fellowship. There was also a tremendous feeling of hope that, at last, something positive could be done to rid Northern Ireland of the scourge of the IRA. Back in those idealistic early days, this was an attempt to send a message to the government, which had a responsibility to its people, that the decent citizens of Northern Ireland had had enough and that they must deal with the situation before it got out of control. Little did most of us know that we were about to descend into a vortex of sectarian slaughter. It is ironic that the UDA was founded under the motto ‘Law before Violence’, whereas today it has degenerated into an organisation of ‘Violence before Law’.

This was a major turning point in my life and for the first time I felt a strong sense of purpose. I dedicated myself to losing weight and dieted for months, eating only boiled cabbage and brown bread during the week, with a small treat of my mother’s home-baked bread and cakes at the weekend. This regime, plus daily exercises in yoga I learned from a book, worked wonders and I soon lost three stone. Along with two older friends of my brother, I then joined Buster McShane’s Health Club in Arthur Street in Belfast and enjoyed it so much that I spent four nights a week working out in the gym. I didn’t drink any alcohol in those days and instead I got my buzz from the intense exercise routines. My confidence sky rocketed and I was ready to take on the world.

I left my job as an apprentice hardware salesman and enrolled on an accountancy course at the local College of Business Studies, off Great Victoria Street in Belfast. I had also successfully applied for an office position in a local firm in Belfast city centre as a trainee accountant and they allowed me to continue my course on a day-release basis.

At this time, my father was employed at the Rolls-Royce factory at Dundonald, an area just outside east Belfast. When I accompanied him to the factory one time, he introduced me to one of his co-workers, whom I’ll call Jackie Shaw. The conversation with Jackie eventually got round to the Troubles, as all conversations did at the time, and I listened intently as Jackie expounded his opinions on what was happening. As an impressionable 17 year old, I was fascinated and I could identify with the frustrations he was expressing. Jackie then asked me if I would be interested in joining the Loyalist Association of Workers (LAW), to which I readily agreed. From that point on, I attended the rallies wherever they were held, travelling with arranged bus parties and meeting up with Jackie and others whom I got to know. I carried the LAW banner on several occasions and felt a great sense of belonging, but never once did I break the law. I abhorred violence from whatever quarter it came and I had been raised by my parents to respect the police. The majority of people attending the rallies were decent, law-abiding people, both working and middle class, and they wanted nothing more than to demonstrate their loyalty to, and frustration with, a government that was doing nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people of Northern Ireland.

The longer the dissatisfaction continued to build, the easier it was for the more evil-intentioned and shadowy elements to infiltrate the UDA, LAW and Vanguard (an umbrella organisation for the right wing of Unionism). They preyed on the youthful exuberance and discontent among the younger element and began to draw them into a web of self-destruction. Thank God there were many who saw through these predators and quickly distanced themselves from what were once honourable organisations.

My own moment of stark realisation came after a rally that had broken up in the Newtownards Road area of east Belfast. As I stood waiting for a lift home, one of the regular attendees I had got to know tapped me on the shoulder and told me that a man wanted to talk to me. I asked him what it was about and he pointed to the corner. I looked over and there stood a tall, heavyset man with long hair and a thick moustache. I went over and he said quietly: ‘I’ve seen you at a lot of the rallies, would you be interested in taking it further?’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked nervously, but I knew what he meant, his whole demeanour was menacing.

‘Look, I’ll speak to you at next week’s rally, are you going?’ he asked.

I said that I was, just to placate him, but I instinctively knew that this was a crossroads and there was no way that I was willing to travel the road that this man would inevitably lead me down. I was shaking with fear when I got home and from that day on I never went to another rally or had contact with Jackie or the other members of LAW or Vanguard. They asked my father where I had gone, but he just told them that I was very busy with work and studying for business exams. I was one of the lucky ones: my upbringing, personality and hatred of violence had stood me in good stead. But the ‘talent spotters’ inevitably recruited weaker-willed individuals to do their bidding and, in doing so, created another blight against the people of Northern Ireland – loyalist terrorism.

The year 1972 was to become a particularly notorious landmark in the history of the Troubles, as the death toll rose to nearly 500. Fourteen people were killed while taking part in a peaceful civil rights march on 30 January, the day that became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. The imposition of Direct Rule in March that year only exacerbated the situation in Ulster, leading to an escalation in violence on both sides. On 21 July, ‘Bloody Friday’, the IRA detonated twenty bombs in Belfast, including one at Oxford Street bus station, killing nine people and injuring one hundred and thirty. Due to the carnage, it was initially thought that eleven people had died. A friend of mine had just joined the fire brigade and was on duty when the bombs went off. The scenes he relayed to me of that day were horrific. He told me that, such was the mutilation of the bodies, he and others had to sweep bits of bone and flesh up into plastic bags.

Ten days later, the British government’s response to Bloody Friday was to send in 12,000 troops with bulldozers to end the no-go areas in Belfast and L/Derry. These areas had been controlled by the IRA, with little resistance from the armed forces. On the same day, the IRA planted three car bombs in Claudy, a small village outside L/Derry, killing six people immediately and three more who later died of their injuries. One of the most shocking facts to come to light about this atrocity was that the IRA unit responsible for carrying out this bombing was led by a Catholic priest, Father Chesney, who was Officer Commanding (OC) an IRA unit in Bellaghy. Thanks to IRA informers, the details of his involvement in this massacre were made known to me soon after joining the RUC Special Branch in 1976, but the truth about Father Chesney only entered the public domain in 2002, when the civil rights leader Ivan Cooper confirmed that the priest was responsible. It is a matter of regret that it took 26 years for the facts to finally emerge, and for those of us who knew the full story about Claudy it is to this day deeply frustrating.


In Training

When I turned 18, I finally had the chance to apply for a career in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I saw this, naively perhaps, as a way of doing something positive for the people of Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Catholic. It was also a legitimate way of doing something to combat and confront those in the PIRA and other terrorist organisations. So, on 6 May 1973, a Sunday, I arrived at the gates of the RUC depot at Enniskillen, which, as well as being the training centre, was the local police station for Enniskillen and the outlying areas. It was a formidable complex, bearing a fair resemblance to a fortress or castle.

It was quite a culture shock as I lined up on the parade ground on a cold wet night with my fellow squad members. We were then ushered inside, into an equally cold drill room, and shown how to make up our beds. As far as our instructors were concerned, there was one way and one way only that this was to be done. After some practice, we were assigned to dormitories, with five or six men to a dorm. With our beds made to regulation standard, we settled down to our first night as police recruits.

The next day, we were supplied with our black uniform (the new dark-green uniform would be issued to the next intake and the black was then phased out), of which we were all immensely proud, and then it was down to the small shop in the complex to purchase our boots, clothes brush and boot polish – the three most important bits of kit. We were told by our instructors that they wanted to see us on parade the following morning with the toecaps on our boots ‘bulled up’ so that we could see our faces in them – and they weren’t joking.

That night, we all spent hours carefully polishing the toecaps of our boots, all part of the strict discipline we were to become accustomed to. Cookie, who was a good bit older than myself and had served a number of years in the British Army, was my saviour when it came to the boots. He showed me how to spit on the polish, rub it on to a cloth duster and apply it to the boot in a circular motion. It took some time, but eventually the shine started to appear as the layers of polish were applied and more spit added. Finally, just before bedtime, I could see my reflection in the toecap and I can still remember the great sense of satisfaction I felt as a result of completing such a simple task.

The next morning, we were all up bright and early. After breakfast, we assembled outside the main building in three rows to the rear of the senior squad and followed them on to the parade ground for inspection. In the early days, our marching left a lot to be desired. In drilling, coordination is a necessity and – as I’m sure was frequently the case in other squads – there were one or two who needed a lot of work in that department. In our squad, we had one man who was a complete disaster: Alastair Jarvis, a tall, broad, extremely well-to-do chap who had given up a career as a solicitor to join the RUC. When it came to parade-ground drilling, he had a complete lack of synchronisation, swinging both arms at the same time or being constantly out of step with the rest of the squad, much to the consternation of the drill sergeant, Jimmy Carroll.

Jimmy was a seasoned member of the RUC: of average height and thin build, he walked with the erect poise befitting a drill sergeant. Although he could bellow out the drill orders on the parade ground, Jimmy was, in fact, a quietly spoken, sincere and deeply religious man, whose son, also a member of the RUC, had been murdered some 17 months previously by the IRA as he worked on a car at a filling station on the Old Park Road in Belfast.

There was a second drill officer, Jock. As the name would suggest, he was a Scotsman and typical of how one would envisage a drill instructor: tall, robust, intimidating, ex-army and loud, very loud. When Jock issued a command on the parade ground, even the birds in the trees stood to attention.

The discipline during training was intense. The day began with a swim in an outdoor pool at 6.30 a.m., then back for breakfast, bed to be made up to regulation standards, room to be dust free, floor polished, uniform on, then form up and parade to the drill square for morning inspection. During inspection, each man was scanned for any signs of dust on the cap or uniform and a perfect crease was expected in the trousers. Whilst this inspection was continuing on the parade ground, our rooms were being inspected. Any failure to meet the required standard resulted in show parades. If you failed the uniform inspection in the morning, you had to parade on to the drill square for a second inspection in the afternoon by the Commandant or his deputy. Three showings and you were up in front of the Commandant or his deputy to explain yourself. I was lucky to have only had one room showing throughout my time in the training centre. The discipline may have been strict, but it was character building and is something that many of today’s youth could well do with experiencing.

The squad had quite a few characters: there was Cookie, of course, who was like an older brother to us younger lads. With his infectious, slightly high-pitched laugh, he had a heart of gold when it came to helping anybody out. Like so many others, the Troubles inevitably came to his door when in 1987 he lost his brother, a police sergeant with three children.

Then there was Brian Mulgrew, who was obviously a man of courage. Brian was a Catholic from the republican stronghold of Andersonstown in Belfast. In 1973, joining the RUC was brave enough. To be a Catholic from a predominantly republican area joining a police force deemed by republicans as ‘the enemy’ was particularly courageous and many might have said insane. Brian, like many other Catholic men and women who joined the RUC during the Troubles, was isolated from his community and unable to return home for fear of retribution. Despite the enormous strain he and his family must have been under, Brian was an extremely likeable, jovial character with a dry sense of humour. He was constantly telling jokes and raising our spirits when times were hard.

As the squad in front of us passed out of the training centre, we became the senior squad. Another junior squad moved in that week to take over our dormitories while we moved into single rooms of our own. Final exams were fast approaching and we were working hard on our passing-out drill display, which was fairly arduous. The whole routine was done without any commands being issued by the instructors, so we had to change direction and split formations just by inwardly counting. Apart from all of this, we also had to prepare an end-of-training party routine for our passing-out dinner. Some of us decided to imitate the instructors and other officers, and I was picked to imitate the Commandant.

The Commandant had carried out the majority of daily morning inspections of the squad on the parade ground, looking for individual hairs or traces of dust and so on, on our uniforms. It had become a bit of a standing joke, however, that whenever he inspected us we could usually see specks of dandruff or dust on the shoulders of his uniform. So, I had to imitate the Commandant on the night of the dinner, using talcum powder sprinkled on the shoulders of my uniform. At the time, he appeared to take it in good heart, although my subsequent first posting to Armagh city did often make me wonder if he got his own back.

The squad passed out on 8 August 1973. Former full- or part-time members of the RUC Reserve now went straight to their stations, while the rest of us went for a further two weeks’ first aid and weapons training. After those two weeks were up, those who had already passed their driving test went on to their stations, while the rest of us had to complete the four-week driving course.

Weapons training was first, at the Sprucefield complex near Lisburn. I was shaking with a mixture of fear, adrenalin and anticipation as I gently squeezed the trigger of the heavy .38 revolver, aiming at a target some seven metres away. I closed my eyes and fired; a loud bang echoed in my ears and my hands shook with the force of the round of ammunition leaving the six-shot chamber barrel and imbedding itself in the sandbag at the rear of the target. I opened my eyes and continued to fire the revolver at the target until the remaining five rounds had been emptied from the chamber.

I had never fired a gun before – well, apart from that small mishap in Aden – and it was a heady experience. You could feel the power in your hands as the recoil from the weapon reverberated along your arm, but, naively, at this point the thought of having to use this weapon in anger never entered my head.

The next day, we had to train with the Sterling sub-machine gun, which was capable of discharging long bursts of rounds from its 30-round magazines. We were banned from firing the weapon on fully automatic mode during training and instead had to use single-shot action on the given targets at various distances. I think the reason for this was to protect the firearms instructor from a squad of impetuous youths, who were dying to flick the weapon on to fully automatic and let loose some of their pent-up frustrations on the targets.

The instructors were adamant about the necessity for careful handling of the weapons we used. Such was their concern that they placed greater importance on a student’s safe handling of the weapons than on his ability to score highly on the target. I can remember the first evening we all received our personal revolvers: I placed it in a black cloth shoulder holster and walked proudly to my family home to show my parents. I often wonder if others were as out of touch with reality as myself in those days.

Once weapons training and first aid were out of the way, the remaining four weeks at Castlereagh were dedicated to driving instruction, and we were split into units of three men to one instructor. These instructors would sometimes alternate and we had two: one was Ciaran Duffy and the other Gerry Murdock. Duffy was a no-nonsense, sharp-tongued individual who expected us to become, within a short space of time, confident road users and capable drivers. As far as I was concerned, his handling of men left a lot to be desired, but he was the instructor and the discipline installed in our training had equipped us to deal with such people. Gerry, on the other hand, was a gentleman, and understood the pressures on learner drivers, especially when two of your colleagues were sitting in the back seat of the vehicle. I learned considerably more from Gerry with his laid-back manner than from Duffy with his sharp tongue and constant swearing.

Each morning, prior to leaving the driving school, all of the learner drivers had to inspect their vehicles: make sure the tyres were the right pressure, dip for oil, fill with petrol, check windscreen-washer levels, and ensure lights and indicators were in full working order. We were then able, under instruction, to proceed out of the driving school for the day and travelled all over the Province, taking it in turns to receive lessons. On our return to the driving school at the end of the day, it was the trainees’ responsibility before leaving for home to have the cars washed.

The instruction continued for four weeks until the day of our driving test arrived. Two colleagues and I paraded as usual at the driving school, completed the pre-checks on the vehicle and paraded in the Portakabin in preparation for our test. My stomach was churning as it was announced by Duffy that I was to be tested first. Off I went and climbed into the vehicle, going over and over in my head the correct procedure to be followed. ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre,’ I kept repeating to myself. ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre.’ I drove the vehicle out of the driving-school yard with Duffy by my side, his very presence making me more nervous. We went through the Castlereagh station gates and out onto the main road. It was a bright sunny day and I began to gain confidence as the test progressed, performing the right manoeuvres at the correct time and making sure to check the rear-view mirror regularly. Everything was going according to plan, but catastrophe was looming just a few minutes away.

As I drove up to the top of the Ormeau Road and the busy roundabout which intersected with the Ravenhill Road, the bright autumn sun suddenly flashed in my eyes. All at once, I became disorientated as I entered the roundabout and observed the outline of a bus moving to my right and then, crash! My vehicle mounted the roundabout. Well, the tirade of expletives that began to emanate from Duffy’s mouth showed he was at least a bit upset and at worst about to commit murder. We got out and I stared at the punctured front tyre, before sheepishly and with considerable embarrassment raising my eyes to look at Duffy. There he stood with his hands on hips. ‘Drive it round the corner,’ he shouted, followed by another blast of oaths. I changed the wheel and he drove the vehicle back to the driving school. I quickly gauged that I hadn’t passed the test and was glad when Duffy just walked off into the sunset without a word of comment. I waited for a year or so before applying to resit the driving test, as it took that length of time for me to muster up the confidence to face Duffy again.

As I prepared to take up my first regular post as an RUC officer, I was full of excitement about the future and gave no thought to the inevitability that one or more of us would eventually have to give our lives in the service of the public. The reality was, however, that two squad members did lose their lives at the hands of terrorists, with the first family to suffer being that of William (Billy) McDonald on 4 November 1983. Billy, like myself, was 18 years old when he joined the RUC. He was from Newtownards, a town just outside Belfast, and had been promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1979. I hadn’t seen Billy since we parted company on the day we passed out from Enniskillen. I always remember him as a shy, intelligent and handsome lad, who kept himself very much to himself during our time in the depot. Billy and a number of other police officers and civilians had been attending a criminology lecture at the Ulster Polytechnic at Jordanstown when a bomb, packed with shrapnel and concealed in a ceiling panel in the lecture room, suddenly and without warning exploded. An inspector, John Martin, who was married and had two young children, was killed instantly and his colleague Sergeant Stephen Fyffe, who was married with one young child, died later that day.

Poor Billy lay in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for the next nine months before he died without ever having regained consciousness. It must have been devastating for his family as they watched and waited, hoping for some sign of recovery. Like so many such horrific incidents, the public interest waned after a short time and the media attention switched to another atrocity, leaving the family with their grief.

Another squad member killed was Derek Patterson, who was shot dead by the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation (IPLO) on 10 November 1986 as he left a female friend’s flat in Fitzroy Avenue, just off the Ormeau Road in Belfast.


Armagh – A Rude Awakening

In October 1973, with my training complete, it was time to put all that I had learned into practice. The grey police minibus dropped me off at the gates of Armagh RUC station. The building itself, which resembled a three-storey glass-fronted school, was surrounded by wire mesh and had a concrete lookout post at the side of the front gate. Out from this bunker stepped a police officer with a Sterling sub-machine gun strapped around his neck, and he ambled nonchalantly towards me. This was my first greeting on the first day of my official career in the RUC.

‘New recruit for the station,’ the transport driver mumbled.

‘What’s your name?’ the small, slight, red-faced reserve constable asked.

‘Barker,’ I replied enthusiastically.

‘Aye, you’re for our section,’ he said, with a grin. ‘Go on up through that door,’ and he pointed to the front of the building.

I gathered up all my equipment, uniforms, boots, civilian clothes and bedding, ably assisted by the transport driver, and made my way up and through the front doors of the station, stepping into the enquiry office, which dealt with any members of the public looking for help or advice. It was here that I first encountered the station sergeant and introduced myself to him.

Every station had a station sergeant, whose job it was to look after the day-to-day running of the place, and in the early 1970s he or she was responsible for making out the duty rosters for each section, of which there were generally four: an early section, a late section, a night section and a floating section that would supplement the early and late shifts or perform miscellaneous duties. Armagh’s station sergeant was Eric Platt, a 6 ft tall robust man who looked me up and down and grinned, something he did quite a lot from what I can remember of him.

‘You’re in B section, Sergeant Millar’s outfit. Go and put your kit in the dormitory, upstairs on the next floor, and I’ll get him to come up and meet you. They’re on early turn today.’

‘Thank you, Sergeant,’ I retorted smartly, just like any naive, fresh-faced recruit just out of nappies and soaking wet behind the ears. Eric Platt just grinned and I can imagine he was thinking to himself, ‘That young fella is in for a rude awakening.’

It was the early afternoon when I found the dorm and stumbled through the doorway, laden down as I was with kit and bedding. There, standing in the middle of the dorm, was a man adjusting his uniform and fixing his tie in front of a small mirror affixed to one of the pillars that bedecked the room. He swung around as I entered. ‘Jesus, you scared me,’ he said. He moved towards me, hand outstretched, and welcomed me to the station. I immediately noticed that he had a wonky eye, which inadvertently threw me for a second.

‘Thanks,’ I replied.