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Dial MI5 for Murder


Dame Stella Rimmington has just published another of her bestselling Liz Carlyle spy yarns The Moscow Sleepers in time for the Christmas market. In it, the redoubtable Liz is set against some  very nasty men from Russia. This has all been done ten thousand times in one guise or another.

This is all rather a shame because Stella Rimmington, a former Chair of the Judges for the Man Booker Prize, could probably produce a novel of real substance if she really put her mind to it. After all, she was theDirector-General of MI5, December 1991-1994, and spent a career knee deep in all sorts of skulduggery, including snooping on perfectly respectable MPs, trades unionists, civil rights groups and journalists. Since she joined MI5 in the late 1960s and left it in 1996, she must know virtually all of MI5’s most pitch-black secrets, especially those of the Troubles, though you certainly wouldn’t suspect this from her fictional output or her double-whitewashed 2001 memoirs, Open Secret, which may as well be a work of fiction.

Rimmington is a dab hand at transforming fact into fiction; whether at a conscious or sub-conscious level is best left to the experts. Incredibly, she believes no one in MI5 ever lifted a finger to thwart the Labour PM Harold Wilson, seen by some in MI5 as a dastardly KGB stooge and traitor. This, despite the fact back that no less a figure than Lord John Hunt, the mighty and all-powerful Cabinet Secretary, 1973-79, acknowledged that it had indeed happened. In August 1996 Hunt told a Channel 4 documentary that, ‘There is no doubt at all that a few, a very few, malcontents in MI5, people who should not have been there in the first place, a lot of them like Peter Wright who were right-wing, malicious and had serious personal grudges, gave vent to these and spread damaging malicious stories about that Labour government.’


Unless she was sleep-climbing during her ascent to the top of MI5’s blood-soaked pole, Dame Stella must have heard something along the way about:

  • MI5’s collusion with Loyalists hoods in Northern Ireland such as the Glennane Gang;
  • The MI5-RUC shoot-to-kill scandal that John Stalker, the honest, admirable and principled Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, investigated in the 1980s, only to be vilified as he edged closer to the truth about MI5’s complicity in the murder of a string of people including Michael Tighe, a 17 year-old with no links to any paramilitary group;
  • The deeply sinister framing of Colin Wallace by Ian Cameron (Wallace wanted to stop MI5-protected child rape at Kincora Boys Home and other dirty tricks) and the pernicious vilification of Fred Holroyd – again perpetrated by Cameron – (Holroyd didn’t want to murder people for MI5);
  • The brutal assassination of the Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane in 1989 in front of his wife and young children by acknowledged British agents;
  • The setting fire to the offices of that other honest, admirable and principled cop, Sir John Stephens in Belfast in 1990. His office was torched during his investigations of MI5’s exploitation of the UDA as proxy assassins with the aid of Brian Nelson, the Head of the UDA’s Intelligence department;
  • MI5’s network of contacts inside Garda Intelligence;
  • The print journalists in Dublin who were fed stories by HMG’s spooks. Since MI5 co-operated with MI6 in the Republic, Dame Stella must know which journalists had their noses in the trough and who just was rewarded with a pat on the back at meetings of the British-Irish Association or over dinner at the Dublin Embassy;
  • The MI5-Red Hand Commando (RHC) attempt to place a bomb on Charles Haughey’s boat in Dingle harbour in the summer of 1981 when the RHC was led by a serial killing MI5 psychopath called John Dunlop McKeague. Did Stella ever read McKeague’s file?

And while we are at it, what about Haughey’s file? Surely Stella she had read it by the time she became D-G at the end of 1991. Haughey didn’t retire as Taoiseach until 11 February 1992.

Why hasn’t Stella drawn on any of this remarkable source material for her hitherto run-of-the-mill fiction? Has she forgotten everything in the files? In Open Secret, she wrote – merely in passing it must be stressed that – ‘Loyalist terrorists too had developed their operations and were constantly looking to increase and upgrade their arms and equipment.’ (211) That’s all very fine Stella, but please:   what part did Ian Cameron and all the other psychos in MI5 who served in NI play in helping them; in directing them; in covering-up for them?


Regrettably, like that other spook-turned-author, John Le Carre, formerly of MI5 and MI6, Stella steers well clear of what HMG’s real-life spooks got up to in Ireland in both her fictional and factual outpourings. For his part, Le Carre has managed to convince himself that he has attempted to ‘explore’ Britain’s ‘psyche’ and that in so doing, ‘it’s Secret Service [was] not an unreasonable place to look’. Regrettably, he never set any of his – admittedly brilliant – novels in an Irish setting. Does he not believe the Troubles had an effect on the British ‘psyche’ or were the crimes of HMG’s spooks just too much to deal with?

Anthony Cavendish, who served in both MI5 and MI6, certainly wasn’t afraid to confront the truth. He described in his memoirs, Inside Intelligence, how as ‘the years go by, the lies take over from the truth and morality accepts the other demands which are made on an [intelligence] officer to get the job done’ and that ‘theft, deception, lies, mutilation and even murder are considered if and when necessary’.

So, just what is the point of promoting Rimmington on the cover of her Liz Carlyle books as the ‘Former Head of MI5’, if she is not going to write something significant about the gritty reality of working for a criminal outfit like MI5? A novel that explored the corruption of the psyche of a spy working for MI5 at some stage during the last century might merit a Man Book nomination, Stella. That would put manners on the literary snobs who deride your Liz Carlyle thrillers.


John Julius Norwich, the celebrated author and television presenter who died earlier this year, provided another insight into the distorted world into which Stella Rimmington and Le Carré were lured:  the spooks set out to recruit individuals who were already corrupt. When he attended Oxford in the 1950s, Norwich was approached by MI6 recruiters who persuaded him to attend a couple of interviews with them. During the second one, he was asked if he thought he had the capacity to “be very unscrupulous”.

Although MI5 (attached Home Office) sought recruits lower down the social and intellectual ladder than the Oxbridge toffs at MI6 (Foreign Office), they still needed them to be”‘very unscrupulous”, perhaps even more so. MI5 needed an army of brutes who were prepared to direct the torture and murder of natives in HMG’s colonies such as Kenya and Aden.  In 2011 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘rediscovered’ 1,500 previously classified files on the counter-insurgency campaign Britain had waged against the Mau Mau in Kenya from October 1952 to December 1963, at a secret facility at Hanslope Park. The files detailed the way Kenyan prisoners had been beaten to death, burned alive, castrated and kept in manacles for years. In 2013 the British Government paid out Stg£19.9 million in compensation to 5,228 survivors of their counter-insurgency campaign in Kenya.

In Aden, the spooks set up an establishment that became known as the Fingernail Factory. Is it necessary to explain why?

The Hooded Men know what they did in Ireland.

Rimmngton may have simply concluded that MI5’s sordid history is just too hideous a place to draw upon for inspiration and instead prefers daydreaming in her Liz Carlyle jolly hockey sticks alternative; a make-believe world which she can present to her family and friends for admiration. A psychologist would certainly have a field day with her.

Hopefully Stella will be flying  to Ireland soon to promote her latest Liz Carlyle adventure and will grant Village a no-holds-barred interview.  The invitation is hereby tendered.


Another British author, Anthony Horowitz, published a James Bond novel called Trigger Mortis in 2015 to great acclaim and massive international sales. As best we can tell, Horowitz has never murdered or tortured anyone, though you wouldn’t think it after reading Trigger Mortis. He now has a new Bond offering in the shops, Forever and A Day. Like Trigger Mortis, it captures the essence of Ian Fleming’s original character flawlessly. It too has become an international bestseller and should continue to sell well over Christmas.

While Horowitz was writing the scripts for the hit TV series, Foyle’s War, he frequently dropped controversial anti-Establishment WW2 plot lines into his scripts but always with such mischievous deftness that he caused no offence to the usually tetchy buffoons of the British Establishment who want to forget about Oswald Mosley and his rabble; the Brits who fought for Hitler, and all the other embarrassing controversies of that era.

Horowitz has a charming self-deprecating aspect to his character. When he visited Ireland to promote Trigger Mortis, he entertained an audience in Dun Laoghaire library with a story about a lady who had once thanked him for writing the Alex Rider series so beloved of teenage boys. ‘You have opened my boy’s eyes to books’, she gushed. ‘Hopefully, now I will get him to read some real books.’


Ironically, despite the fact the Bond genre couldn’t be more fanciful or far-fetched, Horowitz’s latest offering, Forever and A Day, bears more resemblance to the real spy world than Dame Stella’s whimsies. This is because there is a rather subversive and mischievous edge to his writing. His latest 007 escapade is set primarily in France during the 1950s. Along the way, Bond encounters a female protagonist who worked for a British agent called Henri Dericourt during WW2. She found the experience was so disturbing, she quit British Intelligence.

Henri Dericourt was actually a real person; the last type of a character one would expect to pop up in something as frothy as a James Bond novel; yet Horowitz manages to drop him in unobtrusively as a piece of background scenery. Notoriously, Dericourt is alleged to have betrayed members of the French resistance to the Gestapo during WW2.   After the war, he was put on trial by the French but managed to wriggle off the hook without a scratch due to the evidence of a British intelligence officer, Nicholas Bodington, who claimed he had been given the permission of the UK to talk to the Gestapo.

Despite his acquittal, President Charles de Gaulle remained convinced he had betrayed the Resistance to the Nazis, and had done so on the orders of Sir Claude Dansey, the Assistant Chief of MI6. De Gaulle believed MI6 had first led the French Resistance up the garden path with a false instruction to prepare for an Allied invasion of France scheduled for the summer of 1943. Once word of the apparently imminent invasion percolated through the resistance grapevine, Dericourt stepped in and betrayed it root and branch to the Gestapo. Approximately 400 French and British agents were swept up and tortured hideously before being forced to disclose what they knew, or more accurately, what believed they knew. Their confessions drove Hitler to conclude that an invasion was imminent and he ordered the formidable array of Wehrmacht forces stationed in Western Europe to stay put instead of deploying them to the Eastern Front. In the event, D-Day didn’t take place until 6 June, 1944, thereby allowing the Soviets a free pass to maul the depleted Wehrmacht in the meantime.

It later emerged that in June 1943, Patrick Reilly, an assistant to MI6 Chief Stewart Menzies, was present when Dansey came bounding into to his office clapping his hands.  “Great news Reilly!” he exclaimed. “One of the big SOE networks in France has just blown up!”.  One of Dansey’s colleagues claimed “Dansey was the only truly evil man I met”.

President De Gaulle was so convinced of British treachery over the Dericourt affair, he thwarted the UK’s attempts to join the EEC (the forerunner of the European Union) for years.

While he was tapping away at the keyboard, the rebel in Horowitz must have anticipated that at least some of his more curious readers would be tempted to find out a little more about Dericourt, even if just by a quick dash to his Wikipedia entry. Tut-tut, would Messrs Rees-Mogg, Farage, Bojo and the other merry Brexiteers permit their children to read such unpatriotic filth if they knew what was between the covers?


To make matters worse, Horowitz provides a continental backdrop for Bond in Forever and A Day with the CIA licking its wounds after a disastrous partnership with the French mafia involving heroin smuggling. Again, the existence of this partnership is now an accepted fact among serious academics, although not something the ordinary British or US thriller fan is likely familiar with; well, at least not until now. Since Trigger Mortis and Forever and A Day have become international bestsellers, it is likely a few of Her Majesty subjects  –  not to mention those of The Donald  – have had their eyes opened a smidgen to the origin of the drug and crime apocalypse that has plagued Europe and the US ever since.

If Dame Stella was still running MI5, the subversive Horowitz would probably be under lock-step surveillance 24/7.

Village readers interested in reading some non-fiction about the real spy world over Christmas might pick up any copies still left on the bookshelves of A State in Denial by Margaret Urwin;  Bombs, Bullets and the Border by Patrick Mulroe; The McGurk’s Bar Bombing by Ciaran MacAirt; and Lethal Allies by Anne Cadwallader. Although Stakeknife by Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin about MI5’s mole in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci, was published way back in 2004, it is now worth reading again in light of the very recent revelations about Scappaticci.

Regrettably, the fictional character Liz Carlyle has never been deployed as a springboard by her creator Dame Stella Rimington, the former Head of MI5, to depict the real MI5. Instead, she portrays a jolly hockey sticks version of it.

Another great read is Stalin’s Englishman by Andrew Lownie which was favourably reviewed by Village during the year.