Bill Lowry

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Bill Lowry is a former senior officer in RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch.

William Stobie

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Lowry opposed the prosecution of William Stobie, the former RUC Special Branch agent and quartermaster of the UDA (Ulster Defence Association, a loyalist Protestant paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland):

Mr Lowry had previously clashed with Hugh Orde before he became Chief Constable over the prosecution of UDA informant William Stobie. Special Branch sources say he told the Stevens team they wouldn't achieve a conviction, but could be signing Stobie's death warrant by bringing him to trial.
Stobie was murdered by the UDA a year ago, just weeks after he was acquitted on charges brought by the Stevens team, which Mr Orde was in charge of in Belfast.[1]

Castlereagh Raid

The Castlereagh break-in at PSNI headquarters took place on 17 March 2002. Lowry was present at a retirement event for Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, hosted by Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid just over a week later, on 25 March, according to Brian Rowan:

In the grand setting of the Throne Room at Hillsborough Castle, Reid heaped praise on Flanagan. They were all there to hear his words: the most senior army officer in Northern Ireland at that time, Lieutenant General Alistair Irwin; the British Security Minister Jane Kennedy; Flanagan's deputy, Colin Cramphorn; the Head of Special Branch in Belfast Bill Lowry; and the tall chap in the grey suit, MI5's main man in Northern Ireland, its director and coordinator of intelligence, the man who had called [John Reid in] New York those few days earlier with the news of the break-in.[2]

Operation Torsion

Shortly after the raid, according to Rowan, a Special Branch source provided information that the IRA was gathering intelligence from inside the Northern Ireland Office, which led to a police bugging operation entitled Operation Torsion:

initially, knowledge of this alleged republican intelligence-gathering operation inside the NIO was restricted to a small number of Special Branch officers in Belfast: to Bill Lowry and to those who were handling the informer. Lowry didn't tell the British Security Service MI5 immediately, but they were brought into the loop at an early stage and their resources were used alongside those of the Special Branch during Operation Torsion.[3]

The bugging was authorised by John Reid, and a number of top police officers were informed of the operation in the following months, including Colin Cramphorn, Chris Albiston, Alan McQuillan, Phil Wright and senior Special Branch officers.[4]

Brian Rowan recounts that Reid called on the IRA to end intelligence-gathering and targeting in July 2002:

Lowry - who as head of the Special Branch in Belfast was in a position to monitor the IRA, and who was still seeing it operate while on ceasefire - believed the organisation had been given enough warnings and as Reid spoke in the House of Commons, the Branch man swore at his television.[5]

According to Rowan, Lowry delayed seizing the documents in the hope that the IRA's Director of Intelligence would walk into the surveillance net.[6] He would later blame MI5 for seeking to avoid arrests.

"I felt during the whole operation that I was running, constant pressure from the security services, that it would be better if we didn't take skulls, if we just took papers.
"It would leave Sinn Fein/Provisional IRA a chance of denying they were involved in it."[7]

Departure

The Belfast Telegraph described Lowry's departure from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI – formerly known as the RUC) as follows:

A former RUC divisional commander in west Belfast, Mr Lowry headed the intelligence operation that led to the recent raid on Sinn Fein's Stormont offices.
It is understood Chief Superintendent Lowry was escorted to his office to clear his desk, after being served with a disciplinary charge by Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland - a charge that was withdrawn 48 hours later.
It is understood that, two days earlier on October 13, he had a bust-up with the man responsible for Special Branch operations, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Albiston, over the briefing.
Mr Lowry's lawyers are now finalising severance terms with the PSNI.
But colleagues and friends say they are alarmed at what they regard as the unexplained "scapegoating" of the top policeman.
"Bill agreed to conduct a briefing for Brian Rowan of the BBC.
"It was approved by Alan McQuillan, the ACC for Belfast, and the head of the press office was present to take notes.
"Bill answered questions put to him by Rowan and didn't tell any lies, but after the BBC ran a report, the hierarchy launched into him.
"There was nothing that we can establish in the report that wasn't already in the public domain, so colleagues are at a loss to know why Bill was carpeted," one Special Branch source said.
"The fact he was escorted to his desk was incredible. After 30 years' service, to treat a senior officer like this was disgraceful," one senior colleague said.[8]

US conference

The Andersonstown News reported that a year after the PSNI raids, Lowry lectured on counterterrorism in the USA:

Four days ago, exactly one year after the PSNI raids on local homes that precipitated the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, the Special Branch's former Belfast commander, Bill Lowry, addressed a conference in Washington.
The specific topic of the lecture was 'Terrorism Intelligence Analysis and Counter-Terrorism Operations'.
Lowry was joined in presenting a case study of 'intelligence analysis techniques used against the IRA' by the PSNI's current Head of Special Branch Operations, Superintendent John Short.
The conference in question was the annual Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security Conference and Expo, held at the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel. Although still serving as a high-grade 'Branch-man', Short has joined Lowry as partner in a Stateside lecturing consultancy that provides 'paid-for presentations' to private and public agencies concerned with intelligence and law-enforcement issues throughout the United States.
It is understood that Short has the approval of the PSNI in his lecturing venture. Lowry left the PSNI in November last year - just weeks after he masterminded a high-profile Special Branch operation, codenamed Torsion.[9]

Dean Godson book launch

In June 2004, Lowry attended the launch of Dean Godson's book on Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, at which Melanie Phillips was the main speaker. Lowry's presence is notable, given his role in Stormontgate. Both Godson and Phillips are strong critics of the Irish peace process, and this is arguably reflected in the tone of the event as described by Liam Clarke:

Melanie Phillips, the columnist, was the star turn at the launch of Dean Godson's biography of David Trimble last week. In a speech she suggested the British government had hung the leader of the Ulster Unionists [Trimble] out to dry, a betrayal he should have expected given its failure to defeat the IRA.
The launch drew an eclectic crowd and I was able to compare notes with Bill Lowry, former head of Special Branch in Belfast, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA H-Block prisoner turned academic. In fact, the general consensus was that the British government had imposed something close to a military defeat on the IRA.[10]

Notes

  1. Orde faces quiz over top cop, by Alan Murray, belfasttelegraph.co.uk, 1 December 2002.
  2. Brian Rowan, The Armed Peace, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.17.
  3. Brian Rowan, The Armed Peace, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.20.
  4. Brian Rowan, The Armed Peace, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.21.
  5. Brian Rowan, The Armed Peace, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.21.
  6. Brian Rowan, The Armed Peace, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.21.
  7. Officer 'forced out' by MI5, BBC News, 13 January 2003.
  8. Orde faces quiz over top cop, by Alan Murray, belfasttelegraph.co.uk, 1 December 2002.
  9. Jarleth Kearney, THE WRIGHT REMIT FOR SPECIAL BRANCH, Andersonstown News, 6 October 2003, version placed in web archive 24 October 2004, accessed in web archive 12 July 2009.
  10. Liam Clarke, DUP needs to keep the ball firmly in Sinn Fein's court, Sunday Times, 27 June 2004, accessed 12 July 2009
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