THE IRA murder of a 27-year-old undercover soldier during an Easter march in Londonderry in 1974, is referenced in a new report on counter-insurgency tactics in Northern Ireland in the early to mid 1970s.
Captain Anthony Pollen was shot dead on April 14, 1974 when he was confronted by marchers taking part in the annual republican Easter commemoration in the city, which was that year attended by IRA leader Dáithí Ó Conaill.
In the report Wexford-native Margaret Urwin describes Captain Pollen “as an undercover soldier” who was “killed by the IRA in Derry.”
She disputes, however, BBC correspondent and author Mark Urban’s claim that Captain Pollen was the “first member of 14th intelligence to be killed.”
Ms Urwin claims the “name 14th intelligence had not yet been given to these units and Pollen would actually have been a member of the Special Reconnaissance Unit.”
“There would be several incidents involving 14th intelligence in Derry in the years from 1977 to 1984,” she adds.
14th intelligence was an undercover Army unit that operated from a number of bases in Northern Ireland including from Ballykelly in County Londonderry.
It evolved from the undercover Military Reaction Forces (MRF) for which Brigadier Frank Kitson was credited with introducing to Northern Ireland after he was posted to Belfast as commander of 39 Brigade.
According to Ms Urwin, Kitson had already introduced the “pseudo-gang technique into Kenya, using defectors to great advantage” to help put down the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s.
“By 1970, when Kitson was posted to Northern Ireland as commander of 39 Brigade in Belfast, Britain had accumulated significant experience and had developed methods and tactics that they were able to bring to their new theatre of conflict,” she claims.
Ms Urwin also quotes a “military appreciation document prepared by Army General Staff in October 1971, under the heading: ‘Tougher Military Measures and their implications’.”
It states: “More aggressive tactics against gunmen such as the formation of Q squads in special areas, to mystify, mislead and destroy the terrorists.”
‘Q squads’ were the mobile undercover units of the Palestine Police prior to the creation of the state of Israel whilst ‘Q patrols’ were used in the Cyprus conflict to hunt down Ethnikí Orgánosis Kipriakoú Agónos (EOKA) members.
A report in the Glasgow Herald at the time of the Captain Pollen murder described him as a single man who was a member of the Coldstream Guards and whose mother lived at Sonning, Berkshire.
He was reportedly cornered by a crowd at the Easter Sunday parade. Another soldier was beaten with sticks and shot at but escaped after drawng his pistol, an Army spokesperson said at the time.
“Local people said the two soldiers had been taking photographs of marchers and last night the Army agreed they might have been carrying cameras,” the paper reported.
The Army denied IRA claims that the soldiers were members of the Special Air Services (SAS).
Ms Urwin’s report refers to another shooting incident in the Bogside a year earlier in the early hours of March 5, 1973.
She quotes John Hume who said at the time: “Now we have a clear case in which armed plain-clothes members of the British Army are clearly admitted to have been travelling within the Bogside area in a car, and to have attempted to assassinate one of our civilians.
“Surely it is time the public, not only here but in Britain as well, were made aware of the full facts. Are these groups official, or are they undisciplined revenge groups?”
According to Ms Urwin the “Army admitted that a number of shots were fired by a member of the security forces ‘in what appeared to be unauthorised circumstances.’”
She also refers to Army intelligence handler Ian Hurst’s (Martin Ingram) admission to the Saville Inquiry that he wasn’t sure if the MRF was operating in Londonderry during Bloody Sunday but that “a unit that had a similar capability undoubtedly was.”
Ms Urwin writes: “One of their activities was to drive ‘defectors’ from nationalist areas around their districts so that individuals they believed to be members of the IRA could be pointed out.”
She suggests Army undercover units operating in Londonderry in the 1970s were informed by Kitson’s counter-insurgency bible ‘Low intensity operations: subversion, insurgency, peacekeeping’ and that similar tactics have recently been used by the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, in Iraq and Afghanistan over recent years.