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An Honest English Cop Blows the Whistle : THE STALKER AFFAIR by John Stalker (Viking: $19.95; 288 pp.)

May 22, 1988|Kevin E. Gallagher | Gallagher is a trial attorney and writer who has often visited Ireland

"I have been a hard-nosed copper all my life, but I draw the line at murder."

This is the judgment of a former ranking English police administrator regarding the Royal Ulster Constabulary's "assassination squad" tactics in Northern Ireland. John Stalker, deputy chief constable of the Manchester Police, was appointed as outside investigator to look into the 1982 shooting deaths of reportedly unarmed civilians by the RUC.

Stalker set out to find out whether and, if so, why RUC officers had ambushed five men and a boy in three separate incidents.

"I knew from the start that criticism would eventually be leveled at me, unless I totally exonerated all policemen from all wrongdoing." So begins Stalker's trek through the morass of intrigue and paranoia that is Northern Ireland today. The bitter depths of hatred there, even among fellow professionals, shocked Stalker.

Back in England, a defense solicitor (attorney) would perhaps be treated coolly by the prosecution but with acknowledgement of his doing his proper job.

Northern Ireland was different. During the course of his investigation, Stalker had occasion to speak with a solicitor who had represented an accused IRA member. Afterward, Stalker was confronted by an RUC official who stated: "Anyone who represents an IRA man is worse than the IRA. You have disgraced all members of the RUC, and I shall report you for having spoken to the solicitor."

In the first shooting incident, as Stalker tells it, the RUC fired 108 bullets from ambush at a moving car. "All the men (in the car) died instantly; none was armed. I was astonished to learn that all the policemen involved had been instructed to leave the scene immediately, with their car and weapons, and return to their base for a debriefing by senior Special Branch (intelligence) officers."

In the second incident, Stalker says, an RUC officer, Constable Robinson, pulled two men over, got out of his car, emptied his revolver into them, reloaded, and fired more shots. Both men died instantly, he reports; both were unarmed; and the special branch inspector (RUC), who had seen everything, drove off. This evidence, Stalker says, was kept secret from the director of public prosecutions and from the courts.

In Stalker's account of the third incident, RUC members had staked out a hay shed. A young man and a boy of 17 came to check on it for its owner while she was away. Another fusillade of gunfire: two dead; both unarmed; neither with terrorist or criminal convictions.

The last incident was captured on audiotape by the British Army MI5 branch. Deputy Chief Stalker tried to obtain copies of the tape to discover the truth of what actually happened. "If a police force of the United Kingdom could, in cold blood, kill a 17-year-old youth with no terrorist or criminal convictions, and plot to hide the evidence from a senior policeman deputed to investigate it, then the shame belongs to us all. This is the act of a Central American assassination squad; truly of a police force out of control." But, not long after asking Sir John Hermon, chief constable of the RUC, for the tape, Stalker was put on extended leave and then suspended from his position back in Manchester. Stalker later learned that "coordinated Masonic influences in the RUC, Orange Order and the Greater Manchester Police were at the heart of my troubles."

These "troubles" continued for the next 18 months as Stalker was accused of wrongdoing that reached preposterous proportions. He was faulted, for example, for giving a ride in his police car, without detouring, to an "unauthorised passenger"; the passenger was his wife. In the end, nothing actionable was found. He was reinstated to duty in Manchester. And yet for no reason that has ever been named, he was not allowed to return to the investigation in Northern Ireland. Stalker tells us that the same senior police officials involved in the formulation of the deliberate shoot-to-kill policy were determined to thwart his investigation.

In so doing, he says, they have forfeited the public trust. "Confidence in the RUC by the Catholic population," Stalker writes, "lies at the very heart of a successful campaign against the IRA and INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) on both sides of the border. The RUC must be seen as honest and neutral in its relationships with all the people of Northern Ireland. The Catholic primate of all Ireland (Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic), Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich, said in his Christmas message (1987) that Catholics could not be encouraged to join the RUC. 'We still believe,' he said, 'that John Stalker has been suspended from duty because of an alleged shoot-to-kill policy toward suspects.' "

Stalker discovered that mercenaries were regularly being used as agents provocateurs for the RUC. An agent, simply to establish his terrorist credentials, might have to commit serious crimes, even murder; only then, says Stalker, would he become trusted and make progress within the terrorist organization.

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