The Brian Nelson Files: Thatcher's role in UDA gunrunning operation
Supertout Nelson was sent by the UDA to South Africa to set up a £100,000 gunrunning operation back to Ulster.
Nelson says in his files that details of the secret arms deal were known only to himself and three other UDA bosses: Tucker Lyttle, John McMichael and another high-ranker who is still alive, and who for legal reasons we will call ‘A’.
Because of that secrecy, he needed a cover story to get out of the country.
*So he used the then budding World Champ Barry McGuigan as his excuse – even to his own UDA boss on the Shankill, dubbed elsewhere on these pages Commander Y.
*He flew to South Africa and set up the deal with an arms dealer who owned his own weapons factory in Durban.
*And, sensationally, he says that when he told his British intelligence handlers what he was at, they had to get permission higher up.
And one told him it had gone right to the top – to the then Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher!
Here, in Nelson’s own handwriting, is the damning indictment that proves undercover tactics used by the British secret service agencies went right to the heart of the political establishment at Westminster – and right in the door at No.10 Downing Street.
The relevant extract reads:
“At my next de-brief, and I still remember to this day the look of disbelief on (his handler) Mick’s face whenever I told him that I had to go to South Africa.
“He really believed, until he realised I was serious, that I was spoofing him and when I related all that had happened [in the run-up to the decision to send him] all he could say was, ‘God you’ve really hit the big-time here Brian’. He was stunned.”
And then comes the clincher concerning Thatcher.
Nelson records: “At the de-brief the following week I was told by Mick that permission for me to go had gone all the way to the top, all the way to Maggie, was (sic) the words he used.”
Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK for 11 years, from 1979 until 1990.
Nelson left Belfast on his gunrunning mission in June 1985.
Just seven months previously, the IRA had tried to murder Thatcher and her Cabinet with the Brighton bomb left by Belfast Provo Patrick Magee.
Still, in his lengthy journals, Nelson makes no mention of why his handlers said they had to take his role in the UDA arms plot “right to the top”.
And to be fair, he himself noted that he doubted that was the case.
As for the Barry McGuigan link, Nelson needed a cover story to keep the whole escapade secret between him and the trio of UDA godfathers listed above.
The Clones Cyclone fought and beat Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza to win his World title at the Loftus Road soccer ground in London on July 8, 1985.
Nelson’s journals reveal: “Barry McGuigan was due to fight Emile (sic) Pedroza for the world title in London.
“Most of the regulars who frequented Shankill’s UDA office knew that I was a keen fight fan and that I had been to all of McGuigan’s fights in Belfast.
“I explained to Tucker, who had voiced the need for me to have a reasonable excuse for my absence to the likes of (he again names Commander Y) and others that I would make it commonly known to all and sundry that I was going to the fight in London.”
He carried out that plan, leaving for London the Friday, flying, as he notes, with “many hundreds” of fight fans from here, but he didn’t go to the world title fight the next night.
Next day, on the Saturday, he flew from London to Johannesburg, and from there to Durban.
There, he met a UDA sympathiser, originally from Northern Ireland, who he names, who was the go-between for meeting the major arms dealer.
Over the next fortnight, the £100,000 deal was sealed, with a container load of weapons to be shipped to Rotterdam, and then on to Northern Ireland.
Nelson even writes that John McMichael had “arranged for me to meet a person he knew who was employed in the Forwarding Dept. at Harland and Wolff who would explain to me the workings of import/export formalities, and a date and time was set for me to meet this person”.
He duly did, with McMichael, in a house in Finaghy, south Belfast.
Nelson took in every detail, went to South Africa, met the arms dealer – who he also names – and stitched up the whole Dirty War gunrunning deal.
But then, when he came back home, the UDA did the dirty on him, and stitched him up when other Brigades – other than West Belfast – wouldn’t stump up the money for their share of the 100 grand.