State Violence and Collusion Timeline 1988

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Events related to state violence and collusion in Northern Ireland in 1988.


  • 5 - Brian Nelson reported to the FRU that Tommy Lyttle had allocated the targeting of T/27 to loyalist L/22. This was particularly significant given the role that L/22 had in the attempted murder in 1985. A MISR dated 5 January was produced as a result of this information.[1]
  • 8 - The RUC stopped and searched two cars in Portadown and recovered the bulk of the UDA's share of the arms shipments organised by Ulster Resistance. Davy Payne, a senior UDA figure, was arrested.[2]
  • 27 - An FRU contact form notes that Nelson had unsuccessfully tried to contact a UDA 'Brigadier', L/10, "to pass some vehicle registration numbers for checking". A/13, Nelson's handler at the time, annotated the CF as follows: " [Nelson] was given a list of five vehicle registration numbers (see attached) by handler and was told to tell Lyttle that he had obtained them on a drive past of Conway St Mill. The priority was put on [VRN given] with [Nelson] telling Lyttle that he had seen [T/26]talking to the owner." The car with the 'priority' VRN belonged to Brendan Hughes, a well-known member of PIRA.[3]


  • 4 - An FRU contact form (CF) notes that Brian Nelson and L/28 had carried out a 'recce' of several premises in North Belfast, including Declan McDaid's house on Oceanic Avenue. The CF recorded that:"[L/28] and 6137 were discussing the fact the [sic] nothing had been done with regard to these personalities. 6137 said that more personnel were required in the Int Team to carry out targeting."[3]
  • 11 - An RUC paper on agent-handling prepared for submission to the NIO states: "major problems do arise when it comes to the application of the guidelines to the terrorist scene, for here it rapidly becomes apparent that strict adherence to the guidelines would result in a far from comprehensive or effective intelligence network ever being recognised."[4]
  • 24 - A submission to the Minister of State at the NIO, John Stanley MP, attached a paper received from the RUC. The covering minute stated, "[i]t leans rather more towards an analysis of the admitted problems than towards actual proposals".[4]


  • 3 - The NIO wrote to the Home Office on the subject of agent-handling guidelines.[4]
  • 3 - An FRU contact form stated that the stated that Brendan Hughes' car registration was "originally given to [Nelson] by this office in order to trace the origin of the checks if it was RUC".[3]
  • 6 - The SAS shot dead three members of the IRA, Mairead Farrell, Danny McCann and Sean Savage, in Gibraltar.[5]
  • 16 - Three people killed and sixteen wounded by loyalist Michael Stone at Milltown Cemetery funeral of the IRA members killed in Gibraltar.
  • 19 - British Army corporals Derek Wood and David Howes killed by the IRA after driving into the funeral procession of Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, one of Stone's victims from three days earlier.
  • 22 - The NIO again wrote to the Home Office noting that "the sense of the correspondence so far is that neither [the Home Office] nor [the Scottish Home and Health Department] are attracted by mounting a major exercise to produce new guidelines for the UK police force as a whole"[40]and that, accordingly, the NIO would consider how matters could be moved forward.[4]
  • 23 - Nelson provided the vehicle registration given him by the FRU to L/26, a UDA Brigadier, for checking. Later that day L/26 told him that the vehicle did belong to Brendan Hughes, and provided Nelson with Hughes' address. Nelson contacted his handler, A/13, who confirmed the results of the check.[3]
  • 23 - An FRU contact form of this date recorded that L/04, a member of the UVF, asked Brian Nelson if he could provide a photograph of T/24, whom he confirmed the UVF was targeting. He also asked for a selection of photographs of other republicans, mainly from North Belfast. Nelson provided him with approximately 20 photographs but when he met with his handlers could only recall the names of five of the individuals concerned (including T/24).[3]
  • 29 - The office of Attorney-General Christopher Mayhew writes to the NIO: "The Attorney General is most concerned that his Officials should not participate in the drawing up of guidelines which condone the commission of criminal offences."[4]
  • 31 - An FRU contact form records Nelson having been given two vehicle registrationss by the FRU to pass to L/26 for checking, noting that this task was "requested by RUC Source Unit".The VRNs related to cars registered to the wife of Pat McGeown and T/03 ("but driven by [T/06] "). The contact form states that Nelson "was told who used the vehicles to assist in his cover story for where he saw them"[3]


  • 19 - An FRU contact form (CF) records Brian Nelson having prompted L/22 to consider Declan McDaid as a target. The CF noted that: "During the morning of Wed 13 Apr 88 [L/22] was at UDA HQ Shankill and he asked 6137 for targets in North Belfast. 6137 said he would have a look at the card index but suggested [T/04], Declan McDade [sic] and [T/08]. [L/22] asked 6137 to show him where they lived. 6137 took [L/22] and they carried out quick recces …"[3]
  • 22 - A letter from the NIO dated 22 April 1988 indicated that "Ministers are fully seized of the problem" of agent-handling guidelines, but that "the question is what we do about it".[4]
  • 27 NIO officials prepared an agreed note, which was sent to Ministers under a covering submission of this date. The note concluded that "it was … clear that some form of Ministerial intervention is necessary if any progress is to be made" on agent-handling guidelines.[4]


6137 wants the UDA only to attack legitimate targets and not innocent Catholics. Since 6137 took up his position as intelligence officer, the targeting has developed and become more professional.[6]
  • 10 - Terry McDaid shot dead.[7] He died after Nelson sent UFF gunmen to the wrong address. Nelson made four phone calls to the FRU on the night of the murder but when the Stevens Inquiry team sought the transcripts they were missing.[8]
  • 13 - A note from the Prime Minister's Office to the NIO of this date recorded that the Director General of the Security Service had raised with the Prime Minister the issue of the need for agent-handling guidelines.[4]


  • 11 - A memo by a Security Service officer states: "… FRU admitted that 6137 [Nelson] was not completely frank and honest since he takes his UDA intelligence role seriously, does not necessarily pass FRU all details of "justifiable" actions, and to an extent he may attempt to use his agent role to gain intelligence from FRU."[3]
  • 15 - An unmarked military van carrying six British Army soldiers was blown up by the Provisional IRA in Lisburn, after a charity marathon run in which the soldiers had participated.
  • 24 - An FRU contact form records Brian Nelson as having provided copies of 'P cards' relating to 43 individuals to the UDA's North Belfast Brigade at Thomas 'Tucker' Lyttle's request. The CF does not record who those 43 individuals were, nor any request by Nelson's handlers that he provide them with that information.[3]


  • Undated July - Nelson called his handlers to check details of Alex Maskey's car registration on the same day as a planned UDA attack on the Sinn Féin councillor. His handler is alleged to have said: "You're not wrong about the car.[9]
  • 17 - Nelson reports abortive attack on Alex Maskey to FRU handler A/13, who confirms the registration of a car used by Maskey. The De Silva report concludes: "Nelson had identified a car that he believed belonged to the intended victim, but was seeking confirmation of this from his handler. Despite knowing that Nelson had just been "up to his neck" in an attempt to murder Maskey, and that the attempt had apparently been very nearly successful, A/13 confirmed to Nelson that Maskey "probably" used the car in question. The handler appears not to have admonished him for his involvement, other than to say that "if you were caught there was nothing we could have done". Even Nelson's clear signal that there would be a further attempt on Maskey's life the following Sunday elicited no response except "you can tell me on Tuesday "."[3]
  • 27 A contact form notes that loyalist L/28 had asked Nelson to provide "two copies of all recent material on Republicans as soon as possible". Nelson and L/27 spent two hours updating the 'P cards' and photocopying them, and then handed them over to L/28. It seems clear from the attendant circumstances that Nelson understood that the two sets of copies would be provided to L/20 and L/22 respectively. The CF contains no record of the names of the individuals; the only information as to their identity that Nelson could provide was that "at least three INLA/IPLO [Irish National Liberation Army/Irish People's Liberation Organisation, republican paramilitary groups] members were from [an area of Belfast] in the personality cards that he had copied". There is no indication of Nelson's handlers admonishing him for failing to provide that information to them, nor even asking him for it.[3]


  • Undated August - Brian Nelson was subjected to a violent interrogation by the UDA, who suspected that he was passing information to the IRA.[10]
  • Undated August - UDA chairman ousted.[5]
  • 12 - Nelson asks his FRU handler, A/13, to carry out vehicle checks on two cars. Nelson explains that the reason for requesting the checks is "to eliminate" (in the sense of ruling out of consideration) the owners of those vehicles in connection with his targeting of "the taxi driver" (T/02). A/13's response, when Nelson said that he expected the checks to confirm that the cars belonged to friends of T/02, is transcribed "[y]eah, they probably are, looking at where the owners live".[3]
  • 15 At an FRU debriefing "6137 [Nelson] began by saying that he was unhappy with not getting the results of vehicle checks he had asked for from handler … 6137 said that he thought that 'the boss' trusted him and if he did not then it was no good continuing working for this office. Handler explained that it was in 6137's best interests that vehicle checks were not given on the telephone emphasising that if someone was listening they could trace the call and 6137 would be compromised. It was bad security that 6137 stated the vehicle numbers on the telephone, it would be even worse for handler to give the names and addresses of the owners … 6137 has been given results of checks in the past if they affect his own security. On this occasion 6137 was told that both cars were registered to Republicans."[3]
  • 15 - Brian Nelson reports to his handlers that another UDA member has attributed their recent arms shipment to South Africa.[1]
  • 20 - The disagreements between the Army and the RUC were evident when the Prime Minister was being briefed following a Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) bomb attack in County Tyrone which killed eight soldiers. The meeting was attended by Secretary of State for Defence Tom King, the Chief of the General Staff (CGS), the GOC, the Chief Constable and a number of others.[11]
  • 24 - A note from the Prime Minister's Office to the Northern Ireland Office dated 24 August 1988 included the comment that better co-ordination of intelligence "is not an organisational matter, but a question of trust between those concerned, which can only be gained by working together".[11]


  • 1 - An internal note from the Director General of the Security Service of this date noted that, "It looks as if we will have to press the NIO to get to grips with this problem, and they can be very slow moving".[4]
  • 12 - A further note from the MI5 Director General, of this date, stated that he had raised the issue of agent-handling guidelines with the Chief Constable of the RUC and the NIO's Permanent Secretary.[4]
  • 13 - Brian Nelson is asked by a UDA member from South Belfast to provide information on two named individuals and "all Republican activists in South Belfast Bde UDA's area".[3]
  • 20 - Nelson had personally photocopied the 'P cards' of approximately 50 republican activists in that area and left them at UDA HQ for collection.[3]
  • 21 - L/28 had Brian Nelson for "all details on IPLO members". Because he was going away the following day, Nelson and L/28 together collected the relevant 'P cards' from the UDA's Intelligence Cell, which they then dropped off at L/20's house. Knowing that he had some more 'P cards' on IPLO members at home, Nelson collected them and gave them to L/28 later the same day.[3]
  • 21 - Nelson reports his South Belfast contacts to his FRU handlers. Again, no names of the individuals targeted are recorded on the contact form, nor is there any indication of Nelson having been asked to provide them to his handlers.[3]
  • 23 - The UFF shot dead Gerard Slane in his home, claiming he had been involved in an IPLO attack on UDA man William Quee. The RUC denied there was any evidence of this. Nelson had provided the intelligence for the killers. Peter Taylor reports that although Nelson had warned his handlers that Slane was being targeted ten days beforehand, and on the day of the killing itself, no action was taken.[12] Harkin and Ingram report that FRU handlers had actually helped prepare the targeting file.[13]



  • Undated December - Brian Nelson informed his handlers of a threat to the life of solicitor Pat Finucane.[15]
  • 20 - An FRU contact form records Nelson prompting two UDA figures to consider T/06 as a target. He passed them a photograph of T/06 and the details of his vehicle as they had been passed to him by his FRU handler at the request of the RUC.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sir Desmond de Silva, Volume 1 - Chapter 6: The recruitment of Brian Nelson, Pat Finucane Review, 12 December 2012.
  2. Sir Desmond de Silva, Volume 1 - Chapter 5: Agent-handling, Pat Finucane Review, 12 December 2012.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 Sir Desmond de Silva, Volume 1 - Chapter 7: The activities of Brian Nelson 1987- 89, Pat Finucane Review, 12 December 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Sir Desmond de Silva, Volume 1 - Chapter 4: Agent-handling, Pat Finucane Review, 12 December 2012.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sir Desmond de Silva, Volume 1 - Chapter 2: The historical and political context, Pat Finucane Review, 12 December 2012.
  6. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.290.
  7. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, and David McVea, Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.1127.
  8. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  9. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.
  10. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.294-295.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Sir Desmond de Silva, Volume 1 - Chapter 3: Intelligence structures, Pat Finucane Review, 12 December 2012.
  12. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.289.
  13. Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin, Stakeknife, O'Brien Press, 2004, p. 185.
  14. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea, Lost Lives, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p.1149.
  15. Barry McCaffrey, At least 29 killings blamed on actions of double agent;The secrets that died with Brian Nelson THE DEATH OF BRITISH ARMY AGENT 6137, Irish News, 14 April 2003.