Activist Matthew Collins also met loyalist Jim Dowson in a secret pub where he was warned guns were pointing at him throughout as a precaution
Matthew Collins also reveals he met firebrand loyalist Jim Dowson in a secret Co Antrim pub where the hard-line Scotsman warned him guns were pointing at him throughout as a precaution.
The details of the extraordinary meetings the two senior figures in loyalism are revealed in a new book which tells the incredible story of how Collins and a whistleblowing ex-Nazi prevented an MP and a female cop from being hacked to death by far-right terrorists.
The new book, penned by Londoner Collins himself, was written to accompany a major five-part ITV drama series which starts next week where the 50-year-old is played by top movie and TV actor Stephen Graham, recently of Line of Duty fame.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World, the Head-of-Intelligence at campaign group Hope Not Hate reveals how he was sent to live in Belfast in 2009 with the express aim of smashing the British National Party’s secret fundraising base, which had set-up in a non-descript office in a non-descript industrial estate in Dundonald.
But given the nature of his business and the fact he was going to be dealing mainly in loyalist areas Collins, who describes himself to us as a ‘fat James Bond’, felt he’d better get the OK from senior loyalists first.
“I wanted to meet with UDA leader Jackie McDonald to make sure there was no issue with me working there and doing what I was going to do,” says Collins.
“It was exciting living in Belfast for three days of every week but I knew with the paramilitaries still very much in operation I thought I’d better make sure I wasn’t going to end up getting shot – after all Jim Dowson was the man running the BNP’s fundraising base and he had links with paramilitaries.
“My plan was to recruit someone working in Dowson’s BNP office without getting taken down some dark alley.
“So I fixed up a meeting with Jackie McDonald where we had a chat over a cup of tea.”
In the book Collins describes the incredible meeting which took place in a UDA run advice centre in Sandy Row.
Collins says, “The internet threw up all kinds of interesting and horror stories about him, but for a Loyalist paramilitary leader, so I was told, he was ‘reasonable’. He’d even sent one of his men to drive me…
“When he spoke, he spoke with enthusiasm and authority. He was imminently persuasive. There was actually so much more than just the poxy BNP I wanted to talk to McDonald about. Did he know or care the head of his English (UDA) gang believed I’d betrayed them (I hadn’t)? Did he know I had an Irish father? Did it matter?...”
Collins said having explained what he was going to do, McDonald gave him his blessing.
“He (McDonald) complained the BNP were taking advantage of Ulster and a low wage economy. He protested that he liked Indian food and that he was annoyed by allegations that unionism and loyalism were dominated by racists. ‘There’s no longer work for our people, nothing for the young people,’ he moaned.
“Even on Sandy Row, where desperate looking people queued for an audience with him like something out of the Godfather, he quipped King Billy himself could be mugged riding down there on his horse.”
And as if things couldn’t get more bizarre the leader of the UDA chased Collins to ask him if he wanted to have his photo taken with him.
“McDonald came bounding down the stairs from his office after me. ‘Did you not want a photo?’ he asked squinting under the glare of the sun. Ah yes, I had. I fumbled for the camera and the next thing I knew, he and I were being photographed standing in front of a mural celebrating the murder gang. F**k me, this would be a story to tell the relatives in Cork!”
Collins, a former National Front member back in the day, set about infiltrating the BNP office in the Carrowreagh Industrial Estate and his undercover work was pivotal in the party’s disastrous election result in Dagenham in 2010.
Within a few months Collins had four BNP staff working in the Dundonald office passing him secret information and with a plethora of media exposure - often in this paper - Dowson soon gave-up and closed the office and moved it to Budapest where, the book explains, Collins turned up again to make life impossible for the far right fundraising operation.
Collins tells us he once received an out-of-the-blue phone-call one day from former loyalist paramilitary-turned-politician Ken Wilkinson.
He explained, “I’d never spoken to him before in my life and don’t know how he got my phone number, but he rang me up and said, ‘Mr Collins I just wanted to let you know Nick Griffin was here with his Nazi friends giving out leaflets at a band parade but they were ordered to leave’.
“It was like some bizarre courtesy this man was giving me. I’d never spoken to him before and I never spoke to him again.”
Collins describes a meeting with Jim Dowson in a Co Antrim pub in 2014 as slightly less friendly which perhaps wasn’t a surprise given the fact Collins had been instrumental in chasing Dowson’s BNP cash machine out of Belfast a few years earlier.
But by then Dowson had fallen out with his BNP pals and claimed he was fed up with the Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding Britain First circus and was seemingly ready to dish some dirt on his past comrades.
“An intermediary set-up the meeting in a pub in some picturesque town in Co Antrim which I can’t remember,” Collins told the Sunday World.
“I’d brought my boss Nick Lowles from Hope Not Hate with me and Dowson told me later he had guns pointed at both of us throughout the meeting but I’m pretty sure he was bulls****ing.
“He ranted at us for about ten minutes because we’d cost him money back in Belfast. He called me a traitor but admitted we had ‘balls’.”
In the book Collins says Dowson shouted at them: “You’ve got some bollocks. The pair of you; you have some bollocks. Wee little bollocks, no doubt. But you have bollocks.”
But the main attraction in The Walk In and the central theme of the ITV drama due to start on October 3, is the foiling of the plot to kill an MP.
The Walk In is the true story of how despite being threatened with prosecution themselves, Collins, whistle-blower Robbie Mullen and campaign group Hope Not Hate, not only literally saved the day but helped put 19 members of hate group National Action, behind bars.
In 2017 Mullen had become disillusioned with the white supremacist terror cell and made contact with Collins to inform him about a meeting in a Warrington pub he had attended where National Action leader Jack Renshaw had plotted to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper and a cop.
He revealed how baby-faced Nazi Renshaw had even bought a special machete designed for cutting up pigs – because he said pig flesh was the closest to human.
Hope Not Hate refused to hand Mullen over to the police until he had been promised immunity and for around a week they had flown Mullen to Dublin to hideout from British Counter-terrorism police – as a result the police, embarrassed by the fact they had absolutely no idea of the MP-murder plot, threatened to prosecute Collins.
“In 2017 counter-terrorism police told the Home Secretary that National Action were finished but I told them they were wrong,” he told us.
“Three days later members of National Action met in a pub and plotted to kill Rosie Cooper MP with a particular machete knife designed for cutting pig flesh.
“We told them about our mole but because we refused to name him the police turned on us and threatened to charge me. They threatened to send me to jail.
“They targeted us because they were embarrassed, they had believed National Action were finished and they had no idea about the terror plot until we told them about it.”
Over two trials at the Old Bailey and subsequent prosecutions 19 members of National Action were jailed despite the attempts of the defence to discredit Collins.
“They tried to discredit me with my past in the far right but their problem was everything they tried to expose about me I had already gone public about,” he says.
“It was my finest moment, it was the pinnacle, to see so many fascists put behind bars. I was getting called kinds of names afterwards but I think a ‘fat James Bond’ is my favourite!”
But how did he get on with Liverpool actor Stephen Graham, the man tasked with playing him in the drama series.
“We have never met!” reveals Collins. “I wasn’t allowed to meet him because he didn’t want it to affect how he played me.”
The book ‘The Walk-In Fascists, Spies and Lies’ is published by Partisan Books and is available from October 4 – the morning after the TV drama airs for the first time on ITV 1