The 'murder and mayhem' squad: Shocking new revelations by former undercover soldier who carried out 'shoot first, ask questions later' attacks on IRA terrorists for the British Army
Former British soldier says unit carried out secret campaign against the IRASays controversial shootings were carried out by the Military Reaction ForceHis accounts are being studied by Historical Enquiries Team
22:27 GMT, 22 December 2012
A former British soldier who belonged to an undercover unit in Northern Ireland has claimed he and his colleagues resorted to ‘murder and mayhem’ during a secret campaign against the IRA.
Simon Cursey was a member of a 30-man team which would ‘shoot first and ask questions later’. They shot at least 20 terrorist suspects and breached the British Army’s rules of war.
In support of his allegations, he has provided The Mail on Sunday with detailed descriptions of some of the most controversial killings in Northern Ireland’s recent history.
A former British soldier claims he was part of an undercover unit which carried out a secret campaign against the IRA. Pictured is a soldier in Belfast during The Troubles
Cursey says these shootings were carried out by the Military Reaction Force (MRF), a clandestine Army team sent into Republican neighbourhoods to eliminate IRA gunmen.
His accounts are being studied by detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which was set up to re-examine suspicious deaths over the course of ‘The Troubles’. More than 2,260 cases are on its books.
Cursey’s devastating disclosures include the claim that he never once cautioned a terror suspect or fired a warning shot before himself engaging with lethal force. He said he and his colleagues shot at least 20 men, though he could not say how many died.
The revelations come a week after a damning report into the 1989 death of pro-Republican lawyer Pat Finucane that revealed shocking levels of collusion between British agents and Protestant paramilitaries.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Cursey defended the MRF’s tactics, insisting they were necessary given the dangers he and others faced. Even so, his recollections, revealed here for the first time, are likely to increase calls for a public inquiry into the actions of British Forces in Northern Ireland.
He said: ‘We were mostly working alone or in pairs on the dim streets of Belfast. If I had given a warning I would have been as good as dead myself. The MRF was a counter-terrorist unit. How do you counter the terrorists /12/22/article-2252237-1678A782000005DC-341_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”The revelations come a week after a report into the death of pro-Republican lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 ” class=”blkBorder” />
The revelations come a week after a report into the death of pro-Republican lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989
‘I have nothing to hide and no element of the MRF’s activities troubled me from a moral perspective. I’m aware the HET is looking into some of these incidents. But challenging them [the terrorists] was a luxury they were simply not entitled to.’
Cursey returns to the subject in a draft of new book based on his experiences. He writes: ‘If the IRA believed they could get away with murder and mayhem, it was the MRF’s job to make them see how they liked a taste of their own medicine.’
Cursey told The Mail on Sunday how the MRF operated. He said: ‘At night we would patrol the streets looking for our special bad boys – they were wanted for terrorist activities or murder.
'We simply dealt with them, very severely, and then dropped them off at the roadside for the uniformed forces to pick up later. We never discussed these few incidents outside our sections and we never asked what other MRF sections were up to.
‘What does “dealt with” mean What do you think it means I am not going to tell you, so don’t even ask. But occasionally people turned up with broken arms and broken legs.’
One of the cases Cursey will discuss is the killing of Patrick McVeigh. On May 12, 1972, a two-vehicle MRF patrol approached a roadblock set up illegally by residents in Belfast’s Andersonstown area.
Cursey was monitoring the MRF’s radio frequency when he heard voices and the crackle of gunfire – his colleagues were engaging the roadblock it with a sub-machine gun from an unmarked car.
McVeigh was shot dead and four others were wounded. A coroner later heard that none of those men had fired weapons at MRF personnel.
Cursey said: ‘I don’t know for sure if McVeigh and the others were armed but I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t. At the time they were manning a barricade because they wanted to control movement in their area. Occasionally we had these incidents when people on barricades – which were illegal in the first place – were shot at.
Bullet holes marked on a Hillman Hunter belonging to the MRF after an IRA shootout
‘But we’re talking about a ghetto of Belfast at two or three o’clock in the morning. People on the street said, “Oh, they were innocent,” but this was a very hostile environment, like Afghanistan or Syria.
‘I don’t know if there will be an outcry now, I am just giving my assessment based on close contact information. I was only listening on the radio that night so I don’t think they [the HET detectives] can do me for that.’
His account also includes incidents when he and his colleagues visited notorious IRA pubs in the Crumlin Road and Falls Road areas of Belfast.
On both occasions, he says members of Provisional IRA active service units were eliminated. Cursey said MRF soldiers adjusted their ‘standard operating procedures’ based on their experiences in Republican neighbourhoods, and in variance to the Rules of Engagement that British Army personnel were supposed to follow.
'I would say that we operated on the
edge of the law, and only because we had to, because the situations we
found ourselves in required us to act quickly and lethally'
He said: ‘The Rules of Engagement in Northern Ireland were very clear: you were only allowed to open fire at a person actively shooting at you or someone you are with. Also, you could open fire at someone aiming a weapon but who hadn’t fired yet. We had our own slight variation on these rules. We opened fire at any small group in hard areas, neighbourhoods that even looked suspicious, armed or not – it didn’t matter. We targeted specific groups that were always up to no good. These types were sympathisers and supporters, assisting the IRA movement.
‘As far as we were concerned they were guilty by association and party to terrorist activities, leaving themselves wide open to the ultimate punishment from us. If someone was picked up and it was discovered that they were illegally armed, or that they were on our “special” wanted list of IRA killers, they could be dealt with right there in the countryside: neutralised.
‘That said, I don’t believe we ever targeted innocent civilians. I would say that we operated on the edge of the law, and only because we had to, because the situations we found ourselves in required us to act quickly and lethally. We were hunting down hardcore terrorists.’
Cursey left the MRF in 1974, the same year the unit was disbanded and replaced by the larger 14 Intelligence Company, also called ‘The Det’.
A masked member of the IRA, which Cursey claims was targeted by the undercover unit
According to military sources, the MRF had been at a disadvantage because only as many as nine soldiers could deploy at any one time, with nine more on standby and the others resting.
The sections were commanded by sergeants or sergeant-majors who had previously served in elite units such as the SAS, SBS, the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines. The MRF was based at Belfast’s Palace Barracks.
Cursey, now in his early 60s, spent four years back with his parent regiment before leaving the Army.
He says that in spite of the unit’s tactics being adopted by 14 Int and the SAS, the MRF has been denied the public recognition it deserves.
‘What about the SAS team that went into the Iranian Embassy, or the SAS team that took out the terrorists in Gibraltar They were only doing what we were doing ten to 15 years earlier,’ he said.
Cursey uses a pseudonym for security. His real identity is known to The Mail on Sunday and he provided this newspaper with his military identification number and a service history.
The Ministry of Defence has attacked his plans to publish a book next year. After reading the draft of MRF Shadow Troop, civil servants called for changes, including removal of the ‘mayhem and murder’ reference.
Cursey has agreed to do so but maintains the MRF operated on the edge of the law.
The MoD report read: ‘To suggest lethal purpose [on the part of the MRF] implies a criminal intent. For operational security reasons we do not confirm the role and function of special duties units. The MRF was bound by Rules of Engagement, the same as other units.’
A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it did not comment on individual cases.
The MoD said: ‘Armed Forces have always served in Northern Ireland in accordance with the strict rules of engagement and subject to UK and international humanitarian law.
‘Soldiers were fully aware of the rules governing the use of force and these were reiterated in training and before operations. Specific instruction was given on the circumstances in which it was permitted to open fire. We will continue to co-operate with any investigations initiated by the Historical Enquiries Team.’
THE 'UNARMED' MAN SHOT DEAD BY THE MRF
Patrick McVeigh was killed on May 12, 1972. He was said to belong to the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association, whose members claimed not to take part in terrorist activities. But according to intelligence, CESA members were actively supporting the IRA.
The CESA had set up illegal barricades on the outskirts of Catholic areas in Belfast and were checking everyone who approached. An MRF convoy approached and an MRF soldier fired a Thompson sub-machine gun, killing McVeigh, 44, and wounding four others.
At an inquest, an MRF soldier said the convoy had been engaged and had returned fire. Civilian eyewitnesses suggested that McVeigh and the other CESA members had been unarmed.
Though Simon Cursey and other MRF soldiers were questioned by police over the McVeigh shooting, none has ever been prosecuted.