The plot to kill Adams by sniper and limpet mine

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams

British Military Intelligence signed off two UDA murder bids on Gerry Adams.

The Sinn Fein chief escaped three assassination attempts during the Troubles – two of them set up and orchestrated by British ‘superspy’ Brian Nelson.

In a spine-chilling account, Nelson reveals just how close they came to taking Adams out.

And he reveals his military spymasters were fully briefed in advance about two murder plots – one by sniper and one by magnetic car bomb.

Adams had already survived an assassination attempt by UDA brigadier John ‘Grug’ Gregg in 1984, when three years later Nelson had him in his sights.

 John 'Grug' Gregg

The Nelson files reveal Adams’s movements had been monitored as he visited offices in the Murray Street, a cul-de-sac close to top school Royal Belfast Academical Institution in Belfast city centre.

He had been elected West Belfast MP and had been due to attend to a meeting to discuss housing concerns.

A mole inside the Housing Executive offices fed details of regular visits – Adams was a sitting duck.

The plan, drawn up by UDA bosses on the Shankill – some of whom remain involved in the organisation to this day – involved a sniper placed on scaffolding overlooking Murray Street.

Crucially, Nelson’s military handlers were made fully aware of the murder bid – and did nothing to stop it.

Their only concern was to distance their priceless agent from the incident.

All three UDA murder attempts on Adams were planned for the same location – close to the ‘Black Man’ statue outside the entrance gates to Inst.

Nelson’s double life found him ensnared in two murder plots in May 1987. His meticulously handwritten files finger a West Belfast UDA Brigadier – still alive – for spawning the Adams operations.

And he says the same Brigadier used him, with the cognisance of a British Military Intelligence (BMI) ‘handler’ who Nelson names, to scout out and assess both assassination strategies.

He also names another UDA ‘military commander’ as being a co-pilot in the ‘kill Adams’ plot. Nelson planned the hits in meticulous detail – nothing could go wrong – except it did. Adams miraculously escaped with his life, but the plots detailed in Nelson’s handwriting prove beyond doubt Britain’s spymasters gave the green light for Adams’ death.

Had Nelson’s plan worked it would almost certainly sparked a wave of paramilitary violence, inevitably provoking the IRA into revenge.

The first plan was to plug Adams with sniper’s rifle from scaffolding on a building overlooking Murray Street in downtown Belfast.

A ‘mole’ had informed the UDA’s Woodvale godfathers that Adams attended a meeting with the Housing Executive divisional office in Murray Street every Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Nelson notes in his files: “As an MP housing would be an important part of his constituency duties and as I had discovered, Murray House covered his area.”

Nelson says he “could have kicked myself” for not reasoning that earlier in his role as top UDA ‘Intelligence Officer’.

However, when the information was fed through, Nelson says he even posed as a building inspector with ‘mill board’ in hand, strolling across the manicured lawn in front of Inst, as if he was checking the scaffolding and work in progress on the side of the old Belfast Tech building.

Instead, he was checking out the “verocity” (sic) of the UDA mole’s information.

A trained soldier, Nelson even noted the range a bullet from the rifle of a UDA sniper on the scaffolding would have to travel to kill the intended target.

His records state: “I reckoned the distance from the firing point to the target area as fifty yards.”

His files record he then went home and drew a “scaled diagramme” (sic) in relation to the firing distance.

He said he made two copies of “this diagramme”, one for the UDA hit team – but, crucially, “the other for BMI”.

Even more crucially, in terms of collusion, Nelson says he went to a pre-arranged “debrief”, and reported what was happening to his British intelligence handler, who he names as ‘Ronnie’.

He wrote of the debrief: “I gave Ronnie the other copy of the diagramme and explained to him how the operation would go down.

“I was told by Ronnie that the Boss (sic) wanted me to drop everything to do with it.”

However, Nelson argued that it would “look bad on my part” with the UDA if “I were to opt out”.

He says Ronnie put that point to “the Boss”, and Nelson stayed in the loop.

Adams would almost certainly have died that spring day 28 years ago had he not inexplicably cancelled his meeting at the last moment.

The Nelson memorandum says a top UDA man was waiting in the wings for a phone call. Eventually, it came.

The UDA heavy put down the phone. “That’s it then, he’s not coming,” he said. Seemingly, the call came from the mole who informed the UDA of Adams Housing Executive office visits in the first place. But then comes another powderkeg revelation. Nelson writes: “A short time later Ken Barrett, who I didn’t know at this time, arrived and said word to the effect, that it’s off.”

Ken Barrett might not have been known to Nelson at that time.

But he was to become infamous later, convicted for his part in the murder of Jack Kielty, the father of comedian Patrick.

He was also later named as the shooter in the murder of lawyer  Pat Finucane in 1989 – another killing carried out in collusion with British military handlers.

So the sniper attack on Adams – to be carried out by a two-man UDA hit team wearing builders’ overalls with their gun a holdall – was aborted.

But Nelson says that just a few days later loyalist terror chiefs hatched a fresh plan to take out Adams – and his minders.