Saturday 16 December 2017

BBC programme to unveil secret British army unit in 1970s which carried out shootings on unarmed IRA suspects

An investigation into a secret British army unit operating outside of Belfast in the early 1970s will be broadcast tonight.

 

An investigation into a secret British army unit operating outside of Belfast in the early 1970s will be broadcast tonight.

The BBC’s Panorma programme details the operations of the Military Reactions Force which operated undercover for 18 months, mainly in Belfast to hunt down IRA members.

Some 40 men were handpicked from the British army to serve in the unit.

One soldier who spoke to the BBC programme told said their task was to infiltrate IRA strongholds without being seen.

The soldier said he was told: “The unit doesn’t exist on paper, and if you’re caught you’ll be killed.”

John Ware, a reporter for Panorama told RTE’s Morning Ireland that the unit’s main function was surveillance. The unit operated in Belfast in unmarked cars, and some of these cars were stolen, he said.

The soldiers disguised themselves as roadsweepers, dustmen, “meths drinkers”, or photographers, the programme will reveal.

Panorama spoke to seven of these soldiers.

“[The MRF] shot and wounded a number of people and killed at least two people,” Mr Ware told Morning Ireland.

Some members of the MRF have admitted opening fire on unarmed IRA suspects, he said.

Many innocent people were also caught in the crossfire, the programme will reveal.

Mr Ware said there was on occasion an assumption within the British army unit that there was a weapon in the barricades in Belfast, even if they couldn’t see one.

A review of the unit by headquarters in Northern Ireland found that the force had “no provision for detailed command and control, and a better trained unit set up… to put an end to these ‘nonsenses’,” Mr Ware said.

Tonight’s programme follows a suggestions by Northern Ireland's attorney general, John Larkin, to end any prosecutions over Troubles-related killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The proposal has been criticised by groups representing relatives of victims.

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