McGuinness's link to IRA 'execution' merits attention
Frank Hegarty was murdered in 1986. For weeks beforehand, a presidential candidate befriended his family, writes PETER MURTAGH
TWENTY-FIVE years ago is a long time back. But even now, a few matters stand out. In early June 1986, John Stalker, deputy chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, was removed as head of a two-year-old British government inquiry into an alleged shoot-to-kill policy by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. To say the story was sensational at that time would be seriously to understate its impact. Within weeks of being suspended (and not told why), Stalker was being investigated for allegedly associating with known criminals in muck and brass Manchester.
Stalker was one of England’s best and brightest police stars. During his rise through the ranks, he had been Britain’s youngest detective chief superintendents (at 38), and was a graduate of the Police Staff College at Bramshill and of the Royal College of Defence Studies. It took some months for Stalker to be cleared, although he was not reinstated as head of the shoot-to-kill inquiry. But that’s another story . . .
When all this was going on, I was a reporter with the Guardian which initially had difficulty making headway in getting behind the stated reasons for Stalker’s removal. Because of my background as a former security correspondent with this newspaper, I was sent from London to Northern Ireland to see what I could ferret out.
It took a while before I made much progress but, in the meantime, another story grabbed my attention.
A few days before Stalker’s suspension, a body was found on an isolated Border road near Castlederg in west Tyrone, about 37km south of Derry. It was that of Frank Hegarty, a 45-year-old Derry man with known IRA connections. His eyes had been taped shut and he had bullet holes in his head. His murder had the appearance of an IRA so-called “execution”.
It wasn’t long before the word “informer” was being bandied about to justify the murder. Hegarty was the IRA’s quartermaster in Derry, which meant he was responsible for distributing guns, bullets, bomb-making materials, vehicles and the like to members of the organisation there.
After his murder, the IRA claimed Hegarty had revealed to the authorities the whereabouts of three arms dumps, one in Roscommon (near Croghan) and two in Sligo (at Gurteen and Coolera). In dawn raids on January 26th, gardaí had arrested five men and found thousands of bullets and some 130 guns, 60 of them Kalashnikov assault rifles. If the IRA’s accusation is true, Hegarty probably saved the lives of many people.
The IRA claimed the arms were from Libya. In a characteristically pompous and self-regarding statement, the organisation explained itself thus: “We have now executed Mr Frank Hegarty. Responsibility for the danger in which he finally placed himself rests not with his handler or the British government but with the Dublin government, now a partner with Britain in the recruiting of agents and spies.”
At this time, Martin McGuinness was the senior figure in Derry in both the IRA and Sinn Féin. His precise title is irrelevant: there wasn’t a single person on either side of the sectarian divide in Derry, or among the security forces on either side of the Border, or among the media, who thought McGuinness was anything other than the leading figure
in Sinn Féin and the IRA in Derry at the time.
Soon after Hegarty’s death, word circulated that his family was unhappy, very unhappy, with McGuinness, and blamed him for the killing. Sometime in June 1986, I arrived on the doorstep on their home in Shantallow, a sprawling suburb of north Derry, much of it given over to public housing.
The door was opened; I said who I was, what I was interested in, and asked would they talk to me. I was ushered inside to the sitting room. The atmosphere was fraught.
At this remove, I remember a couple of women and a child or two. A middle-aged woman, as I recall, began to talk. She said Martin McGuinness had things to answer; that he promised Frank would be safe; that Frank had gone to see McGuinness, or had left in his company. Now he was dead, shot through the head. They wanted answers.
There was a knock on the door. Two men came in. One stood directly in front of me, cutting me off from the women. The other engaged the woman who had been talking to me. I was ushered out, out to a waiting car.
Inside the car sat Martin McGuinness. The family is very upset, he said. It wasn’t good to talk to them right now; in fact, they really couldn’t talk right now.
It wasn’t a negotiation. The interview was over. Ended by McGuinness and his two heavies.
After the arms finds in Sligo and Roscommon, Frank Hegarty vanished, apparently to England from where he kept in touch with his family by phone.
In July 2003, Freddie Scappaticci, a British agent inside the IRA, said McGuinness invested a lot of effort ingratiating himself with the Hegarty family after Frank fled to England:
“He ate in the house, meals were prepared by the Hegarty family – basically Martin McGuinness sold himself to the Hegarty family. Martin portrayed himself as a friend: ‘I’m someone who can deliver. Yes, you can trust the IRA, no harm will come to your son. He just has to come back and he just has to talk to a couple of people and he’ll know one of them and everything will be fine.’”
A similar scenario was sketched in the House of Commons by the then DUP leader, Ian Paisley, in December 2001, who said McGuinness groomed Hegarty’s mother
Rose: “Twice a week for 13 weeks, Mr McGuinness dropped by, the family met him and they drank tea together. He assured the mother, Rose, that if Frank came home, he could sort the matter out and all would be well; a firm assurance for a mother’s heart torn about her son. She persuaded her boy to come home.
“A rendezvous was arranged by Mr McGuinness. Afterwards the body was found in a roadway in Tyrone, a bullet through the head.”
Martin McGuinness has a prima faciecase to answer over the murder of Frank Hegarty. I don’t know the extent of his involvement but I do know that McGuinness was unusually interested when I dropped by the Hegarty home in June 1986. Interested in shutting up his family.