On 1 December 1972 a car bomb exploded beside Liberty Hall in Dublin. Fortunately no one died but George Bradshaw, a CIE bus driver, and Thomas Duffy, a bus conductor, perished in a second explosion at Sackville Place. No one has ever been charged with these crimes. The UVF belatedly claimed sole responsibility for them but there are legitimate doubts about the veracity of this claim. These bombings were part of four bombings in Dublin’s north city centre at the end of 1972 and beginning of 1973 and are to be distinguished from the even more horrific bombings in the same general area in 1974.
A State In Denial
Margaret Urwin has just published ‘A State in Denial’ which unravels a web of intrigue connecting the British Secret State (BSS) to loyalist paramilitaries at a variety of levels. No objective reader of this impressive work could doubt that London focused the might of its counter-insurgency arsenal against Republicans while turning a knowing blind eye at loyalist wrongdoing and also arming and colluding with them. Irwin’s book is fascinating for its dissection of official papers to discern what was going on behind closed doors.
The Man with the English-Belfast Accent
The publication of ‘A State in Denial’ is timely as yet another anniversary of the 1972 Dublin bombings comes around. On that fateful evening a man with a mixed English-Belfast accent parked a car bomb beside Liberty Hall. After he alighted, he asked someone who had just left the building when it was likely to empty out for the night. One of the cars used by the bombers to get to Dublin was a Ford Zephyr which had been stolen in Antrim from an Englishman called Joseph Fleming the previous August, along with Fleming’s driver’s licence. Fleming’s licence was put to use on two occasions in November 1972 by an imposter posing as Fleming, to hire cars in Belfast. The imposter was either extraordinarily reckless or had good reason to believe Fleming’s licence was not detailed on the lists circulated by the RUC to carrental companies. He obtained a number of cars over the space of a week, a timespan which underlines his confidence about the use of a stolen licence; and all this at a time when an epidemic of car bombings was bringing Belfast to a standstill. In addition, he left his fingerprints and handwriting on the forms he completed. Another significant fact was that he spoke with a mixture of a Belfast and English accent.
Kitson’s Military Reaction Force
The UVF would have us believe that its volunteers:
• Stole Fleming’s car in August 1972 and hid it for three months, and;
• Drove it across the Border with its original registration plates on display, and;
• Proceeded to Dublin at the same time – and possibly as part of a convoy of cars, parked it with explosives, and
• Faced an extremely high risk of detection because the rental cars had been acquired using a stolen licence which the gang must have believed was on an RUC watchlist;
• Yet all the while possessed the confidence to proceed without any high-level protection from the BSS.
It is unlikely this is what happened.
On the other hand, the highly secretive Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF) of the British Army had the nerve, skill and high-level protection in place to undertake just such an operation. The MRF was literally above the law. It was a sprawling organisation established by Brigadier Frank Kitson in 1971 to engage in agent-recruitment; surveillance; drive-by shootings (deploying the type of weapons the IRA were known to carry); laundry collection, to detect the residue of explosives on clothing; and even brothel management, to collect gossip and obtain blackmail material. It had access to loyalist agents recruited by the British Army and M15. Stealing vehicles and hiding them at its Palace Barracks HQ for use later was one of its known practices. The MRF could easily have arranged for the details about Fleming’s vehicle and licence to have been erased from the RUC watch lists. With this backing, the loyalist gang that bombed Dublin (or at least some of them) would have enjoyed the confidence to hire the cars and drive them to Dublin.
Albert Ginger Baker
Albert Ginger Baker, an alleged British Army deserter, who joined the UDA in the early 1970, ticked all the boxes as an MRF agent. His family have claimed that he was involved in the 1972 bombings. In 1976 the Sunday World published an article exposing his links to a ‘Captain Bunty’, a mysterious figure who can only have been his handler. The pair met regularly in a Belfast coffee bar. Baker was involved in a string of gruesome sectarian murders in Belfast. During one of them, James Patrick McCartan, a 22-year-old forklifttruck driver, was stripped naked, hung up by his ankles and punched, kicked and beaten with a pickshaft, while a dagger was used to stab him in the hands and thigh over 200 times. He was threatened with castration and dropped head first from the ceiling. Eventually one of Baker’s UDA superiors gave him a pistol and told him to kill McCartan. Baker put a hood over his head, and blasted into his skull three times. A grenade Baker’s gang used in another attack was standard British Army issue, which raises questions about how they acquired it.
It is doubtful the prospect of bombing Dublin could have troubled the conscience of those in the BSS who ultimately controlled men like Baker.
Baker suffered some sort of a crisis in 1973, and fled to England where he confessed to a string of sectarian murders to the police in Warminster, in Wiltshire. As far as the BSS was concerned, some rather nasty cats were now peeping out of the bag. Damage limitation became the order of the day. Hence, while Baker was convicted and sent to prison in 1973, his secret link to the MRF was kept under wraps. The Baker-MRF connection reared its horrible head again when the Sunday World report appeared. It revealed that Baker had informed members of his family that Belfast UDA men had driven the bomb cars to Dublin and that the explosives used in the attack had been “supplied by a leading member of the UDA in Derry – who also provided weapons and explosives for operations in Monaghan and Donegal”. This man “had a close association with British Intelligence”. According to the article, the planning for the attack took place “in the Rangers Club, Chadolly Street in the Newtownards Road area of Belfast. One of the cars which exploded in Dublin had been rented from a Belfast car firm by a “welldressed Englishman”… The “well-dressed Englishman” was a member of the UDA Inner Council. At least two others have since gone to jail in Belfast for other offences, while a third has been shot dead”.
The suspect the Gardai ignored
The report caused a stir at Garda HQ. According to the Barron Report, on 19 January 1976 a memo emanating from Parkgate St requested that inquiries be made with Frank Doherty, the author of the piece. Decades later Doherty told the Barron Inquiry that no one in authority had ever approached him. He revealed that his information had come “from members of Baker’s family, whom he had traced and interviewed” in the North of England. He identified “the welldressed Englishman” to Barron as a senior member of the UDA who hailed from England but was living in East Belfast in 1972 and was an associate of Baker. Barron did not name the man in his report.
In 1976 neither Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey nor the head of Garda Intelligence, Larry Wren, nor any of their subordinates, bothered to pick up the phone to call anyone at the Sunday World to get the imposter’s name despite the facts:
• They had the fingerprints of the Fleming imposter on file, and attempts could have been made to obtain the suspect’s fingerprints to see if they were a match.
• They also had samples of his handwriting.
• They could also have checked to see if the suspect looked anything like the photofit they had made up (but which Wren never circulated to the media).
The suspect’s fingerprints have since vanished from Garda files.
The Offence Against the State Act
Throughout 1972 the British Government had lobbied the Irish Government to enact anti-paramilitary legislation. The bombs exploded on the very night the controversial Offences Against the State Bill was limping through the Dáil towards its certain doom. The bombs shocked and transformed opinion inside Leinster House and it was passed into law. If the MRF was truly involved in the attack, Liberty Hall must have been targeted to rock Labour Party TDs who were opposing the Bill. Suffice it to say the M16 station at the British Embassy in Dublin had the political sophistication to pinpoint such a target.
An Act of State?
Combined, all of the available evidence points to the likelihood that the 1972 attacks were carried out by Loyalist puppets to ensure the passage of the Bill but that ultimate responsibility lies with their BSS puppet-masters. Indeed, the claim made by the UVF that it acted alone may have been designed to distract attention from the involvement of Baker and his UDA associates; moreover and most especially, ‘Captain Bunty’ and the ‘well-dressed Englishman’.
Frank Kitson is still alive. Although he left Belfast months before the attack, there is much he could tell the world about Baker, the MRF and the manipulation of Loyalist paramilitaries.
Albert Baker is also believed to be alive and living in Belfast. His MRF codename may have been ‘Broccoli’, a moniker inspired by another Albert, Albert Broccoli, then a famous movie producer responsible for making films about a British agent with a licence to kill. According to official British papers, someone codenamed ‘Broccoli’ became an issue of concern at the highest ranks of the British Army at the time Baker was falling apart.
No one in authority in the Republic seems interested in talking to either Kitson or Baker. Baker could yet clarify whether:
• He was an MRF agent and, if he was:
• If he warned his handlers that the UDA was planning to bomb Dublin, or alternatively;
• If the BSS manipulated the entire operation from start to finish;
• If anyone from the UVF assisted at any stage during the Dublin bomb operation?
• What the level of UDA-UVF co-operation, generally during his time as a paramilitary, was.
As the creator of the MRF, Kitson could reveal a lot more. While he has written extensively about his counter-insurgency experiences in Malaya, Cyprus and Oman, he has had very little to say about Ireland. It is doubtful this is merely because he is ashamed of what he did did: more likely it is because he fears facing criminal charges or at the very least severe opprobrium. He is currently being sued by relatives of some of his Irish victims.
Once Kitson and Baker have died, it may prove impossible to establish the full truth about the 1972 attack. In the meantime, Margaret Urwin’s book provides many insights into a nasty subterranean world where collusion with paramilitary killers became an acceptable, albeit clandestine, technique of government.