Get McGuinness: British handlers gave 'all-clear' to take out Deputy First Minister
Brian Nelson’s military handlers gave the go-ahead for an assassination attempt on Martin McGuinness.
Superspy Nelson briefed spymasters on a UDA plot to target McGuinness – believed at the time to be the IRA’s chief military strategist.
The plot was the brainchild of west Belfast brigadier Tommy ‘Tucker’ Lyttle and he wanted Nelson to monitor McGuinness’s movements with the intention of launching an assassination bid.
The plan was backed by the UDA’s John McMichael, founder of the organisation’s so-called ‘armed wing’, the Ulster Freedom Fighters.
McMichael was adamant a high-profile republican be taken out in retaliation for the Poppy Day slaughter in Enniskillen in 1987.
Eleven people – 10 civilians and one police officer – died when the IRA detonated a bomb during a Remembrance Day service at Enniskillen’s cenotaph. More than 60 people suffered injuries – many of them serious.
The Nelson files tell of Tucker calling the double agent to Lyttle’s office at UDA HQ on the Shankill.
He says Lyttle had found out there was a meeting of senior Sinn Fein personnel every Thursday morning at the Conway Mill on the Falls Road in Belfast.
It’s perched on the peace line between the Shankill and the Falls.
“I was given, by him, a slip of paper, as I read it Tucker said to me that they had it on good authority that he [McGuinness], attended a weekly meeting every Thursday along with other well-known Sinn Fein members at Conway St Mill.”
He said the meetings generally started at 11am, with McGuinness arriving by car 15 minutes earlier.
“He went on by saying that it would be well worth checking out and if it was true we could get something arranged.”
Lyttle already had the make, colour and registration number of the car McGuinness used. He also had the private address of the man destined to become Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister.
“I answered Tucker by saying he would be quite a big fish to get especially if we could tie him down to the mill.
“Tucker replied that he was indeed a big fish and claimed that he was the Provisionals’ Chief of Staff.
“I was then treated to a lecture from Tucker on the power struggle that was going on within Sinn Fein, who were the Hawks and who were the Dove’s (sic) and so on.
“On one aspect was Tucker convinced.”
He said Lyttle was convinced McGuinness was the man behind the IRA’s military campaign “and if an opportunity arose to take him out it should be taken”.
McGuinness has, of course, admitted publicly that at one stage he was the second Officer Commanding of the Derry Brigade of the IRA.
He has never admitted that, at any time, he was PIRA’s Chief of Staff.
The view inside the UDA in 1987 was that it was time to “get that bastard”.
Nelson was ordered to scout Conway Mill on the following Thursday morning.
At the first opportunity he briefed his then handler ‘Mags’.
He says the only concern they raised was for his (Nelson’s) own safety.
He says he was told by both ‘Mags’ and another handler present, Dave, “that I would be in serious trouble if I was ‘clocked’ hanging about in that area”.
“Dave went on to say that they [the army] wouldn’t even think of entering the Mill with less than company strength.”
Nelson says Tucker still insisted the observation on Conway Mill went on.
His files show that Nelson himself, accompanied by someone close to Lyttle (whom he names), continued to note vehicle registration numbers, and that an RUC officer reporting to another UDA commander, Eddie Sayers in Mid-Ulster, was able to access the security system and put names to who owned those vehicles which were delivered “on a computer printout”.
At one stage, according to Nelson, John McMichael again became involved. He wanted to bomb Conway Mill.
He wanted to send ‘a fella and girl’ into the mill to scout out the place during a political meeting taking place on a Saturday night.
Nelson writes that the following Monday morning, he again met Tucker Lyttle at his office.
“He told me that the couple McMichael had sent to the mill must have aroused some suspicion and had literally to take to their heels and run for their lives.”
Nelson was ordered to continue scouting the mill but at night only.
For this he was supplied a standard-issue British army nightscope, but in an almost comedic series of errors the operation began to unravel and McGuinness slipped through their grasp.
The nightscope was defective. After a month the job was aborted.
Brian Nelson is handed a letter from Tucker Lyttle in which it says that Martin McGuinness is the chief of staff of the IRA
Despite failure, the plot to kill McGuinness involved the British army, military handlers and a mole inside the RUC.
Nelson records that the assassination plot literally focusing on McGuinness was called off after weeks of painstaking spying.
But there was one other sting in this intriguing tale of subterfuge and set-ups.
The Nelson files state: “The nightsight was uncovered over a year later during a search of a flat in Rathcoole by the RUC.”