Monday 20 November 2017

Review: Duplicity and Deception by Alan Simpson

(Brandon €24.70 )

This is the story of an honest cop trying to do a decent job and maintain professional standards and ethics in the middle of a very dirty war. The police are engaged on two fronts with republican and loyalist paramilitaries carrying on parallel campaigns of terror side by side with criminals who have simply found a flag of convenience for career intimidation, self-aggrandisement and personal enrichment.

It offers an interesting insight into the problems faced by those charged with the task of solving crimes and bringing criminals to justice -- not least the constant threat to policemen and their families and the stress of working in a situation where one was never off the job, and where 307 of their colleagues had been murdered both on and off duty.

Alan Simpson joined the RUC in 1970 and retired early on health grounds in 1993. He served as a detective through the worst of the troubles and in the most difficult areas of north and west Belfast, where he was involved in the investigation of some of the most violent incidents and the most sadistic murders of the period, ending as deputy head of CID in Belfast with the rank of detective superintendent.

There is a gripping, if ghoulish account of a case which he made his own, culminating in the recovery of the body of a German industrialist, Thomas Niedermayer who was kidnapped by the IRA. The victim was killed in a struggle by a blow meant to quieten him, and his body was hurriedly disposed of in a secluded glen on the edge of West Belfast. Over the years the site became a rubbish tip and the body was covered by thousands of tonnes of assorted debris. Led to the spot by an informant, Simpson arranged a cunning scheme by which the site was cleared and the body recovered.

Another section of the book recounts the murderous career of a UDA killer whom Simpson holds responsible for more than 20 murders. He lays bare the criminal activities of loyalist groups on the Shankill Road, how paramilitary leaderships provided mutual reinsurance across the divide, and how information was exchanged and murder sub-contracted in order to protect turf or to remove competitors in intimidation and protection rackets.

Simpson spends some time describing the recruitment and running of informants and justifying their use. This is the duplicity and deception of the title. He has little time for the gentle souls who hold up their hands in horror at the idea that police should make use of informants or should seek to encourage members of criminal gangs or subversive organisations to provide intelligence.

In the real world of policing, criminals do not give themselves up, and crimes are generally solved because somebody gave information which put the investigators on the right track, or by inducing some of those who were engaged in a criminal conspiracy to break ranks and sing.

There is, of course a clear line to be drawn between using informants and collusion in crime -- and Simpson very clearly tries to hold to that. It is also clear that he does not regard Special Branch as always having done so, much less a shadowy element of military intelligence called FRU. He displays the tension that existed between uniformed RUC officers and CID and Special Branch, who were seen to be (and too often were) a force within the force, playing by their own rules, and with the power to blight the careers of those who crossed them.

The most chilling episode in the book concerns the murder of a solicitor, Pat Finucane, by loyalist gunmen, but involving a degree of collusion which, 20 years later, has never been properly inquired into. Simpson, the first detective on the scene, recounts how he was taken aside by an assistant chief constable (since deceased) and told not to try too hard to find the killers.

The story is told with a remarkable lack of rancour or bitterness, and the author, now living in France, preserves a benign interest in his native place and an optimistic outlook on the future. His is a story, seldom told, that deserves to be heard.

Irish Independent

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