Sunday, 5 October 2008

Queen's University Law Lecturer, Revolutionary Communist and IRA helpmate

A blitz of spectacular attacks in and around Belfast's Queen's University convinced the police a terrorist mole had penetrated the campus.

No one suspected that the quiet, bespectacled law lecturer and Englishman David Ewins might be behind the murder and mayhem.

But Ewins's mild-mannered middle-class exterior – and the Paddington Bear on his mantelpiece – hid his fanatical dedication to the ideals of Communist revolution.

His hero was the notorious English traitor and Soviet spy Kim Philby.

One of Surrey-born Ewins's former students – the IRA intelligence officer and future supergrass Eamon Collins – had seduced him into crossing the line dividing revolutionary rhetoric from terrorist murder.

Mick McGovern, who co-wrote Collins's autobiography Killing Rage, tells the extraordinary story that Ewins fought for years to suppress. It is based on the bestselling book's unpublished chapter.

Collins paid for the book with his life. The IRA murdered him in January 1999.

The Lord Chief Justice stepped from the safety of his armour-plated Rover and walked towards the law lecturers waiting to greet him.

His armed police bodyguards scanned the tree-lined street for danger. All seemed quiet near the Staff Common Room of Belfast's Queen's University - the venue for Lord Lowry's secretly-planned lunch with law faculty staff.

But as the distinguished lord walked the few paces to his waiting hosts, a fusillade of shots whizzed past him, slamming into a tree - and the buttocks of a passing professor - but just missing Lowry himself.

Gun-toting policemen pushed Northern Ireland's most senior legal figure to safety, scattering the waiting lecturers. Soldiers and police soon swamped the campus and stormed the house from where the terrorists had fired the shots. Unsurprisingly, the Provisional IRA team had long fled.

Only one academic seemed unfazed by the deadly drama. The bespectacled Englishman David Ewins, a shy intellectual with no Irish forbears, impressed his colleagues with the stiffness of his upper-lip.

Even botched, this IRA attack on March 3 1982 gave the terrorists a major propaganda coup. How had the IRA got wind of Lowry's planned visit? What - or who - had caused the security lapse?

Only a handful of trusted people had known of the unadvertised lunch. Detectives called on each of that trusted handful, including the mild-mannered David Ewins, lecturer in Criminology and Legal Philosophy, whose well-spoken English accent suggested the prosperous middle-class Surrey background into which he had been born.

They told him they suspected a lecturer might unknowingly have let slip details to an IRA-sympathising student. They asked him if he knew any students who were 'not loyal'.
The otherwise serious-minded Ewins, not known among his colleagues for his sense of humour, had laughed heartily at the officer's 'colonial phraseology' when he later told this story to one of his former law students, Eamon Collins.

For Collins, despite his job working for the British Crown as a customs officer, was an IRA member - and the man who had over several years slowly seduced Ewins into the service of the Provos.

For eight years Ewins fought a legal battle to prevent this story being told. His writs stopped it appearing in Collins's autobiography Killing Rage.

But - ten years after the book's publication and eight years after Collins's own murder by IRA members enraged by the book - a legal ruling has opened the way to telling one of the most remarkable stories of the Troubles.

The story told here, and the quotes from Eamon Collins, are taken from the chapter of Killing Rage that remained unpublished because of Ewins's legal threats.

The attack on Lord Lowry was only the first of several IRA operations made possible by Ewins. His information led to at least two other ruthless, headline-grabbing attacks in and around the campus of Queen's University.

And the law lecturer also came within striking distance of what would have been one of the IRA's most spectacular attacks ever - the assassination of Britain's Chief Security Co-ordinator for Northern Ireland, the former top spymaster Sir Maurice Oldfield, one-time head of M16.

Collins first met Ewins as a law student at Queen's University in 1974, the year Ewins joined the staff. In 1978, several years after Collins had dropped out of his course, he met up with Ewins by chance at a march for republican prisoners. At that time Collins was not an IRA member, but was considering joining.

Collins said: 'David was of average height with frizzy ginger hair. He had a baby face and always looked much younger than his years. He was no more than 30 when I met him again in 1978. His black-framed glasses made him look a bit like Woody Allen, though he lacked Allen's sense of humour.'

Ewins seemed to be wearing the same clothes he had worn when Collins had first attended his lectures three years earlier - black trousers, black shoes and an open-necked shirt. Functional, if not fashionable. Only his duffle coat might once have been regarded as vaguely modish.

Ewins was selling the magazine Hands Off Ireland!, a publication of the tiny ultra-left Revolutionary Communist Group - one of the few British groups to give unconditional support to the IRA. Ewins told Collins he wrote for that magazine and its equally unambiguous,
exclamation-marked sister publication, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

Collins was impressed by his former lecturer's radicalism. They arranged to meet again and, over the following months, became close, spending countless hours discussing revolutionary politics.

Indeed, they discussed little else. Outwardly unexcitable, Ewins's only passion was revolution. Collins said: 'I would never dare to ask him about his private life: there was an almost asexual air about him......

'All I came to know about his background was that he came from Richmond in Surrey, the son of an English father who was an executive in the electricity industry and of a Welsh mother who worked in the health service. He had taken a first-class honours degree in law at Edinburgh University.'

They often met in Ewins's one-bed university flat, which was stuffed with revolutionary books, magazines and papers. The only frivolous object was a Paddington Bear. It sat forlornly on the mantelpiece. Collins thought the previous tenant had probably left it behind.

Collins admired Ewins's intellect, but despaired of his social skills. Collins said: 'One night early on in our friendship as we sat in a south Armagh pub with a group of republicans, I had to point out to David that, when sitting in a group, you were expected to buy a round if other people were buying you drinks.

'He was certainly not miserly - in fact he was very generous - it was just that he had not been aware of this social convention. At that time the thought did cross my mind: "Where has he been all his life?"'

He felt at times that Ewins was merely an observer watching the working class at play.

Collins confided in Ewins that he was thinking of joining the IRA, but had political and moral reservations about taking such a step.

Ewins supported his former student's drift towards the Provos with intellectual justification for the IRA's campaign.

He told him that Communists would always support revolutionary groups like the IRA, because revolutions were an important stage in the development towards a Communist society. He regarded the Provos as a force that might help spread revolution throughout western Europe.

Ewins felt the conflict had to be spread to working-class people in the south of Ireland to get them to seize the North. The people would then create a Socialist state like Nicaragua under the revolutionary Sandinistas which would have to be armed to the teeth by Russia in order to prevent an American intervention.

Collins said: 'I was already moving firmly towards joining the Provos, but David's moral support bolstered my resolve by helping me overcome the reservations I still had.....

'I was grateful to him: his analysis meant that when I looked at the breadman and the postman and the customs officer who worked part-time for the Crown forces I did not see ordinary working people, I saw agents of imperialism, class enemies upholding a corrupt system. Marxism helped me to remove their apparent ordinariness and turn them into what I then regarded as legitimate targets.....

'He said the enemies of revolution were capable of killing hundreds of thousands - even millions - in defence of capitalism, yet through their control of the media and the churches they were able to purvey a morality which left some people feeling guilty if they killed a mere handful of civilians by mistake.

'His words were what I needed to hear. My Catholic morality had prevented me for years from joining the IRA by imbuing me with a horror of killing. David helped me overcome the moral strictures of my upbringing.'

Collins joined the IRA in early 1979 - around the time he became a British customs officer in the Newry area, near the border with the Irish Republic.

Collins's position gave him access to invaluable intelligence. His IRA unit began operating with murderous effectiveness. He even organised the murder of his own boss in the customs, a part-time major in the Ulster Defence Regiment.

But Collins was also targeting Ewins as a possible IRA recruit. He felt that far-left English volunteers, practically invisible to the police, could help the IRA bring havoc to England.
They could provide safe-houses, and their English accents would be useful for hiring cars and carrying out other important logistical tasks.

Already Ewins would, from time to time, point Collins in the direction of specialist electronic magazines and obscure academic publications on counter-terrorism that he felt would be of interest to the IRA.

Collins eventually asked Ewins if he could persuade the Revolutionary Communist Group to help with a military campaign. Ewins flew to England and met with senior RCG members, but returned to Ireland disappointed. His RCG comrades refused to help the IRA in military rather than literary ways. Their unconditional support for the IRA came with the condition that their role remained as cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Ewins told Collins he felt their response was typical of the 'spineless' British Left.
Collins used Ewins's embarrassment to set him thinking about his own revolutionary credentials. He wanted Ewins to look in the mirror and see another armchair revolutionary, hot on rhetoric, cold on action.

The strategy worked. Ewins resolved his personal doubts in a decisive way.

At Collins's wedding in 1982 Ewins told him about Lord Lowry's planned secret visit - and agreed to help the Belfast IRA set up an attack.

Collins, about to set off on honeymoon, used a messenger to pass the urgent information to senior IRA commanders. The messenger, a wedding guest, had been drunk when Collins instructed him. The messenger subsequently garbled the message and gave the intended target as 'Lord Gowrie', rather than 'Lord Lowry'.

Lord Gowrie was then the Deputy Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He later became Minister for the Arts before retiring from the Cabinet in 1985 on the grounds that he could not live on his 33,000 pounds ministerial salary.

For some reason the IRA leadership regarded Lord Gowrie as 'not a bad old skin' - and declined to sanction his killing. The misunderstanding was not discovered until Collins returned from honeymoon. By then it seemed too late to mount an operation.

However, Ewins saved the day for the IRA. He discovered that Lord Lowry's visit had been cancelled at short notice and re-arranged for a later date. The attack went ahead.

Collins later discovered another embarrassing postscript to the story. On the night of the wedding he had arranged a bed for Ewins in an IRA man's house. Ewins had gone to bed early.
Collins heard that the drunken messenger had fancied his chances with one of the bridesmaids and woken up Ewins to ask him to vacate his bed for an hour to facilitate the liaison. Ewins had refused.

Before staggering off, the frustrated messenger had called him 'a cunt'.

Collins took great pride in his new recruit. He knew he had delivered to the IRA someone with the potential for bringing mayhem into the vulnerable heart of what he saw as 'the Establishment'.

The IRA regarded Ewins as so important that they appointed a high-ranking Belfast Provisional as his 'handler'. This man, a member of the IRA's so-called Army Council, told Collins delightedly: 'I would like to wrap this man up in cotton wool.'

Even before Ewins helped the Provos target Lord Lowry, he had spotted an even bigger target - the former head of Britain's foreign intelligence service MI6, spymaster Sir Maurice Oldfield. He had followed Sir Maurice- then the Chief Security Co-ordinator for Northern Ireland - as he walked unprotected along a beach in the supposedly safe seaside town of Bangor.
However, he could not provide enough information for the IRA to launch an attack which would have dealt a severe blow to the security forces.

He made up for his failure by helping the IRA assassinate one of his fellow law lecturers, the barrister and high-flying unionist politician, Edgar Graham.

Graham, only 29, was shot in the head at close range on December 7 1983 as he chatted to a friend in University Square on his way to give a lecture. Many, including the former Official Unionist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble, felt the party had been robbed of a future leader.

But Ewins's most ruthless act was to target one of his part-time Criminology students, William Fulton, then an inspector in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Fulton was attacked on May 26 1982 as he entered the exam hall to take the last paper of his law finals in Ewins's subject, Criminology. A gunman came up behind him and shot him in the back of the head.

Amazingly, the bullet went around his brain and exited without causing him to lose consciousness. The gunman then fired a second bullet into his back. Fulton fell to the floor but managed to spin around and hurl a chair at his attacker. The chair deflected the third bullet,
which exited through a window.

The gunman ran off and Fulton crawled to the front of the exam hall where the invigilator was standing. It was David Ewins.

'Ewins did nothing. He just stood there,' said Fulton, who miraculously survived. 'I crawled towards him because he was the authority figure in the hall, but in fact it was other students who came to my aid. Someone stuck their finger in the hole in the back of my head to staunch the blood flow.'

Fulton received a lot of get-well cards after the event, but none from David Ewins: 'I thought that was a bit strange at the time, but I suppose he can't be all bad, because he later gave me a very high mark when I retook the paper after my recovery.'

Fulton, who retired as a superintendent more than a decade after the attack, remembers Ewins as a man 'without character'. He said: 'He was completely nondescript. He would never talk to you about anything other than the subject. He never expressed any emotion whatsoever.'

After these attacks Ewins and Collins even went on holiday together to Soviet Russia, travelling separately in July 1984.

Ewins admired the Soviet Union and revered Lenin. He countered Collins's reservations about the purges and the gulags by saying they had been necessary to defend the 1917 revolution.
The trip was not entirely pleasurable - at least not for Collins and his wife. Collins said: 'We saw Lenin's tomb, Lenin's train, Lenin's house, even Lenin's car. My wife soon became bored with the unchanging focus of our days. She wanted to see more of Russia than dark museums and monuments to Communism. She also became resentful of the way in which David would not leave our side.

'In Leningrad she had wanted to see the Natural History Museum which contained a long-tusked woolly mammoth which had been dug out of the ice in Siberia - discovered fortuitously by gulag prisoners digging for minerals. David was not keen on adding this visit to our itinerary, and somehow we managed not to find the museum, ending up instead at yet another series of monuments to Lenin.'

Collins was also not impressed by the Soviet system. He felt it had turned people into frightened, sombre, grey creatures.

He said: 'The obvious repression that these people lived under did not bother David. He said that everyone had to make sacrifices for the revolution in the short-term: he felt that in the long-term little details like personal freedom would be sorted out. However, he said at one point: "I couldn't live here. I'm too used to a privileged life."'

Ewins always refused to be officially inducted into the IRA (which would have involved taking an oath of allegiance). Collins suspected Ewins secretly looked down on the Provos, having an allegiance to something greater.

One of his revolutionary heroes was the upper middle class English traitor Kim Philby, who had spied for Soviet Russia. Collins came to feel that Ewins to some extent modelled himself on Philby. He had several books on the Cambridge spies and seemed to know everything about them.

Ewins told him that as a student he had spent so much time in Communist East Germany that once on his return to the West he had been taken in for questioning by the security services.
Ewins so enjoyed his two-week tour of Russia that he soon developed plans to visit another Communist paradise - Vietnam. Collins and his wife could not afford the trip, so Ewins lent them money for the tickets. The planned departure date was March 29 1985.

Collins said: 'I met him towards the end of February. He said he planned to return to London at the end of his contract in September: he wanted me to have all of his left-wing books and papers, which included a full collection of Republican News.

'I knew he was still in touch with his IRA handler: it was almost as if he was following orders, creating a new "clean" identity for himself before he returned home to England for who knew what.'

Collins suspected Ewins was being groomed by the IRA to supply the intelligence background for a spectacular IRA mainland campaign of high-profile bombings and assassinations.

But Ewins never got to Vietnam - or England. With a spectacular act of betrayal Collins brought his own IRA career - and Ewins's potential helpfulness to the Provos - to a dramatic end.

The police swooped on Collins after the IRA's most devastating attack ever on the RUC when they killed nine officers in a mortar attack on Newry Police Station on February 28 1985. It was the RUC's single biggest loss of life during the Troubles.

After five days of intense interrogation Collins cracked. He told the police almost everything he knew, including the extraordinary story of David Ewins. He even agreed to become a supergrass. This would have involved his testifying in court against his former comrades.
Ewins fled before the police had a chance to arrest him. Republican sources had tipped him off that Collins was 'talking'. He went to the Republic of Ireland, where he is believed to have remained ever since.

Collins later retracted his evidence, but, based on his own admissions, was charged with five murders and 45 other serious terrorist offences. Astonishingly - though everything he had told
the police was true - he walked free from court after a judge accepted his claim that he had been mistreated in custody.

I first met Eamon Collins in 1994 as part of a Carlton Television team making a documentary about his life for ITV. At that time I spoke to several of Ewins's former colleagues at Queen's University. Most of them did not want to be named.

Ewins had told Collins he regarded almost all his colleagues as 'careerists' and 'Establishment fools'. Not surprisingly, no one described Ewins as popular. Quiet and intense, he hardly ever mixed socially with his fellow lecturers.

No one knew anything about his private life, and he was not known to have any friends - male or female. He did not encourage small-talk on any subject, and neither disclosed nor solicited private confidences. One lecturer said: 'It took us five years to find out he was a Chelsea supporter.'

Another woman who knew him remembered sharing with him a coach journey of several hours in which he did not emit more than a handful of words, despite her frequent attempts to engage him in conversation.

Another colleague, an Englishman who spent some time in the law faculty before Ewins began helping the IRA, had felt sorry for what he perceived as his countryman's social isolation. He tried to befriend Ewins and invited him to a number of social events.

The former lecturer said: 'Nothing seemed to fizz with Dave. He was very even-tempered - never high, never low, always the same. You could have let off a grenade in Dave's company and he would not have twitched.

'He was in many ways an independent and resourceful character but in other ways, particularly socially, he was inadequate and lacked confidence. The only times we had an even vaguely personal conversation would be when he would talk about suicide. He was fascinated by the subject. He was not interested in suicide as an act you commit when you are depressed but rather as a legitimate individual act in response to the meaningless of life.'

He thought that Ewins's involvement in republican politics was part of his search for meaning in what he saw as a meaningless existence. He remembered how once at a party a woman had launched a furious tirade at Ewins when she heard him support the occasional IRA tactic of planting no-warning bombs on public transport. Ewins did not flinch as she unleashed her fury.

At the time, this man wondered what Ewins was doing in the law faculty of Queen's (which he described as being then a 'very reactionary part of a very conservative society'), particularly given Ewins's left-wing views.

Ewins did not involve himself in academic research. Over time this man suspected that Ewins had been attracted to Northern Ireland because of the 'revolutionary situation.'

Everyone agrees that Ewins was gifted intellectually. He fulfilled his academic tasks with thoroughness and application. His courses were popular with students, if only because he took great pains to spoonfeed them, providing them with reams of his own notes.

Although Ewins was known to hold political views which put him on the far left, no one could believe that his republican sympathies had led him to become involved in political violence.

Former Official Unionist Party leader David Trimble, who was also a lecturer in the law faculty at the same time as Ewins, said: 'We all knew that he was somewhere on the far left, but we just thought he was a slightly silly Englishman with potty views living in a fantasy world.

'At the time of the incidents, there were fingers pointed at him, but everyone said, "Surely it can't be him? Surely he wouldn't have been so stupid as to set up operations for times when he would be at the scene?"'

Rumours began circulating around Queen's University after Ewins failed to turn up for the summer term in 1985.

The consensus was that Ewins might have become inadvertently caught up with republicans who had used him. The feeling was that he had panicked and fled once he knew he had blundered naively into a dangerous situation.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland refused to talk about David Ewins, but unofficial police sources have confirmed he was a suspect after the Lord Lowry attack. However, the extent of Ewins's involvement came as a surprise to one of the investigating officers for the university attacks.

The officer, who did not want to be named, said: 'It is one thing to suspect someone. It is another thing entirely to prove someone's involvement. If we had ever had a case against Ewins, we would have charged him.'

However, one group which had suspected Ewins of involvement with the IRA prior to the attacks on the university campus was the now-banned loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association. The then leader of the UDA, Andy Tyrie, approached a senior worker at the
university to tell him that the UDA had spotted a lecturer called David Ewins meeting senior republicans in Belfast.

The university worker passed on this information to the highest levels of Queen's University, but, so far as he knew, Ewins was never asked to explain his actions.

For the 1995 Carlton Television documentary I tracked Ewins down to his workplace in Dublin's Upper Mount Street, where the headquarters of Ireland's two major political parties were based.

He was running a small private college which offered tuition to people seeking British law qualifications. Ewins was asked to comment on Collins's allegations. He said nothing, then walked briskly out of the room, followed by our camera crew. He ran down several flights of stairs before hiding in a downstairs office we were not allowed to enter. He later had us ejected from the building.

In the subsequent documentary about Eamon Collins, broadcast by ITV in April 1995, we did not go into the Ewins story in detail. That did not stop Ewins suing for libel - but only in the Irish Republic. His fear of immediate arrest had possibly stopped him suing in the United Kingdom. He also sued - again only in Ireland - several newspapers that had reported the Carlton Television story.

However, we guessed that, even in Ireland, he had no intention of rushing into the witness box. We suspected his only plan was to stop the full story being published in Eamon's autobiography, Killing Rage, which the programme advertised as a book in the pipeline.
In this, Ewins succeeded. The publisher decided the Ewins story was a risk too far for an already risky book. The chapter was cut.

Over the next eight years Ewins appeared in no hurry to defend his reputation in court. Then the Irish Supreme Court struck out one of Ewins's libel writs on the grounds of his 'inordinate and inexcusable' delay in bringing the matter to court.

Ewins subsequently reached a settlement with Carlton Television and the other newspapers, the details of which are confidential.

Some of us were disappointed that Ewins had not managed to find his way into the witness box. He would have had a little difficulty in giving an innocent explanation for a lot of our unbroadcast evidence against him.

Ewins would also finally have discovered Collins's last, and secret, betrayal.

In a solicitor's letter before the documentary was broadcast Ewins claimed he had 'not met or talked to Mr Collins since 1984'. But in 1988 Collins had met him in Dublin, ostensibly to apologise for forcing him to go on the run.

Unknown to Ewins, the meeting was being secretly filmed, with Collins's connivance, by the producer who subsequently made the Carlton Television film.

Collins had been planning to make a documentary at that time, but pulled out through fears for his life. He felt he could only make a documentary and write a book once an IRA ceasefire was in place. And he had to wait until 1994 for that.

In January 1999 the IRA, on ceasefire, murdered him anyway.

A few years ago I spoke to a BBC journalist who'd met a member of the IRA team that had carried out the attack on Lord Lowry.

Only one person had been slightly wounded in that attack – Robert Perks, an openly gay Englishman who worked as a business studies professor at Queen's University. A stray bullet had hit him in the buttocks, a fact which, he told me himself, had been viewed by some of his more strait-laced Presbyterian colleagues as a divine punishment for his lifestyle.

The journalist told me the IRA man had boasted mockingly of the botched operation's one success: 'Well,' said the Provo, 'at least we got a Brit.'

Sunday, 7 September 2008

IRA Man Killed on Bloody Sunday?

Was at least one IRA man killed by British troops on Bloody Sunday and secretly buried in the Irish Republic?

Mick McGovern, who co-wrote Killing Rage, the autobiography of IRA supergrass Eamon Collins, tells a story that was left out of the bestselling book in 1997.
Collins feared he might be killed for telling it.
In January 1999 the IRA murdered him anyway.

Mick McGovern was born in London and studied Politics at Leicester University. As co-author, his credits include Killing Rage, Soldier of the Queen, The Dream Solution and Hateland. He's worked as a reporter on regional and national newspapers, helped produce documentaries for ITV, Channel Four and the BBC, and written features for The Observer and New Statesman. He lives in Berlin, where he works as a translator.

Praise for Killing Rage:

'This work is the most convincingly honest book ever written about the IRA.....One of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, books of the Troubles.' Irish Times

'Collins was a republican heretic. He was a former IRA killer who was tearing away at republican myths from within, exposing the tawdry workings of the IRA's killing machine.....and the IRA killed him for it.' The Guardian

'Where Killing Rage succeeds - and it often does - is as an eyewitness account. Collins wanted to show the true horror of his experiences. He does.' New York Times Book Review

'...... by quite a long chalk the best inside account of the IRA we have read, starkly honest, balanced, and absolutely unputdownable......It's worth twenty other "true confessions" and fifty thrillers.' Books Ireland

'Eamon Collins's book is the most devastating account we have of what actually went on within the IRA during its years of “armed struggle”. Collins revealed the banality, the ignorance and psychotic inhumanity of little men pumped up into village Napoleons by the Troubles.' Fintan O'Toole, Independent on Sunday

When I sat down to help Eamon Collins write his autobiography Killing Rage I knew that as a former officer of both IRA intelligence and British Customs (simultaneously), an ex-member of the Provos' feared internal security unit (the so-called 'Nutting Squad') and, for a short time, a would-be supergrass, he would have many extraordinary tales to tell.

But he warned me from the outset there were several stories which for various reasons, personal and legal, he wouldn't be putting in the book. And he added there were others he'd be excluding for the simple reason he didn't want to get killed for telling them.

He didn't think these gaps really mattered. He felt he could still write about his experiences in a way which might help contribute towards a deeper process of reflection about the causes, and nature, of political violence in Northern Ireland, while at the same time explaining his past to his four children and, it has to be said, settling a few scores with some of what he described as the republican movement’s ‘boneheaded bogtrotters’.

He also felt that - despite inevitable republican displeasure - he could, in the wake of the ceasefires, tell his story and live. He was wrong. In January 1999, less than two years after the
book's publication, his former IRA comrades murdered him in a bestial fashion in a country lane near his Newry home.

In 1995 during the writing of the book, a process which took place partly in County Kerry, not far from Banna Strand, where the Irish rebel Sir Roger Casement disembarked from a German submarine during the First World War to be captured by the Royal Irish Constabulary and later executed by the British for high treason, Eamon told me several stories which astonished me. Most of them ended up in the book.

However, there was one in particular which I wanted to use, but which Eamon wouldn't allow into print. It was so potentially incendiary, he said, he'd almost certainly be signing his own death warrant if he wrote about it. The Provos would murder him, he said. And he wanted to avoid that fate, if at all possible.

The story concerned Bloody Sunday, that day in January 1972 when paratroopers shot dead 13 people in Derry's Bogside. As almost everyone knows, the shootings occurred during an illegal march organised by the Derry Civil Rights Association and, as almost everyone also knows, they were instrumental in boosting support for the fledgeling Provisional IRA.

The British Army has always claimed that their troops came under fire first. For nationalists, Bloody Sunday's enduring importance as a symbol of British misrule - and as a reason why some might turn to violence to oppose it - has depended in part on categorical assurances from republicans that they weren't involved in aggressive military action on that day.

However, Eamon Collins told me a story that raises questions about the course of events. Most interestingly, he claimed he was only passing on information told to him while on remand in Belfast's Crumlin Road Prison by the brother of the Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness, the Provos' commander in Derry at that time.

In the acknowledgements at the back of Killing Rage Eamon thanks the people who helped him rebuild his life. Under the section titled 'Crumlin Road Prison 1985-7' he introduces their names by saying: 'These men treated me as a fellow human being in prison: friendship can transcend politics in a hard place.'

The list contains some of the most notorious terrorists to emerge since 1969, many of them connected to the smaller republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army: Gerard Steenson (known to the tabloids as 'Dr Death'), Jimmy Brown (who helped found the INLA splinter group, the Irish People's Liberation Organisation) - both men subsequently murdered in internecine feuds – and Christopher 'Crip' McWilliams (who went on to shoot dead ultra-loyalist bogeyman and Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison).

Given the bitter history between the Provos and the INLA, Eamon's friendship with senior figures from the rival republican grouping was in part a symptom of his alienation from his own comrades – the alienation that led ultimately to his writing Killing Rage. He felt that many Provos in the Belfast prison - and especially the leadership - despised him and wanted him dead.

He was right. But their attitude was hardly surprising in the light of Collins's spectacular betrayal of the organisation he'd served for more than six years. When he'd been arrested following the IRA's mortar attack on Newry Police Station in 1985 (in which nine police officers died – the Royal Ulster Constabulary's single biggest loss of life) he'd cracked after five days of interrogation. He told the police everything he knew. As he said later: 'I gave them the heap'.

And it was some heap. He'd been involved in countless IRA operations in a key border area, often working with senior terrorists from south Armagh, as well as those on the run in Dundalk. He had also been a member both of Sinn Fein and - of great interest to the RUC - of the Provos' internal security unit dedicated to tracking down informers and agents within the ranks.

This unit, which had given Eamon access to information about IRA units across the North, was known as 'the Nutting Squad' - a grisly reference to the fate of those uncovered as traitors, namely, a bullet in the back of the head, a 'nutting'.

Eamon didn't to live to see the squad's deputy Frederico Scappaticci – named as 'Scap' in the book – uncovered as 'Stakeknife', the fabled high-ranking, long-term agent of British intelligence, with whom Eamon felt a special bond because they both came from families involved in the ice-cream business.

Eamon's maternal family had owned an ice-cream van. Scap's extended family had owned an ice-cream parlour. Eamon told me he had once jokingly in Scap's presence made reference to their shared Cornetto heritage. Scap had looked at him coldly and changed the subject.

Eamon would have been proud to learn that Killing Rage played an important role in leading to the exposure of 'Stakeknife'. The whistleblowing former British intelligence officer and army Force Research Unit handler Martin Ingram first began seriously to question what the FRU did in Northern Ireland after reading the book.

In his own book, Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, co-written with Greg Harkin, the latter describes how Ingram read in Killing Rage about Scap's joking to Eamon about his murder of an informer: 'It left him feeling sick to the pit of his stomach. Ingram knew the 'Scap' referred to was Freddie Scappaticci, but more importantly, that Scappaticci was Stakeknife, an agent run by his former friends in the FRU.'

More than 30 people had been arrested as a result of Eamon's information in 1985. Several of them ended up serving long sentences because of statements they signed in custody. Eamon agreed to become a supergrass, but the IRA got word to him that if he retracted his evidence he would not be harmed: he could come and live with his fellow IRA men in the wings set aside for them in Crumlin Road Prison. All would be forgiven.

Eamon retracted his evidence against others, but he had already signed statements implicating himself. He was charged with five murders and 45 other serious offences. In fact, Eamon told me that, if the truth be known, he could have been charged with at least five other murders.
He said - though not for publication because he feared prosecution - he'd provided the intelligence that enabled the IRA both to shoot dead a customs man (and part-time member of the Crown forces) in Armagh City and - in May 1985 while he was in prison - to blow to pieces four RUC officers at Killeen on the border.

He spent just under two years on remand before his own trial in 1987. Then, in a remarkable twist, he walked free from a looming 30-year sentence after Judge Higgins said he could not be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the admissions Eamon made to the police had not been induced by inhuman or degrading treatment.

Eight years later he could write about his deeds because he couldn't be charged again with crimes of which he'd been acquitted. These included the murder of his boss in the Customs and Excise, a major in the part-time Ulster Defence Regiment. Understandably, Customs had sacked Eamon after his arrest. But following his acquittal he sued for wrongful dismissal at an Industrial Tribunal. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tom King intervened personally to stop the case proceeding.

Eamon's nickname could have been 'chutzpah', the yiddish word for shameless audacity. While in the IRA he'd blown up Newry Customs Station, then as trade union shop steward negotiated a pay bonus and time-off for the customs officers on account of the poor working conditions following the explosion.

He'd also dreamed of blowing up the Royal Albert Hall in London shortly before the annual 'Last Night of the Proms'. As he told me, though not for the book: 'That was going to be one night when they wouldn't be singing “Rule Britannia”.'

Although Eamon never gave evidence in court against his comrades, his admissions had still done a lot of damage, if only by outlining the divisions, frictions and power struggles within the republican movement.

He had been asked by his RUC interrogator what would be the best way to destroy the IRA. He had replied: 'Support, encourage and make possible at every turn the development of Sinn Fein.'

Eamon had seen clearly that, despite the republican movement's so-called 'ballot-box and the Armalite' dual strategy, parliamentarism and armed struggle could not co-exist together indefinitely. The ballot box would in the end decommission the Armalite.

This was not then what the republican ultras, especially those from south Armagh, wanted to hear. So Eamon's two years in Crumlin Road Prison were spent under a cloud of barely-disguised hostility.

Not suprisingly, many of his closest friendships in that environment were with the INLA prisoners. He was more at home with them, both politically and intellectually. With Gerard 'Dr Death' Steenson – his nickname came from an incident in which he'd donned a doctor's white coat to shoot someone in hospital – Eamon would spend hours discussing ninenteeth century English literature.

Eamon's favourite reading was the Bronte sisters, especially Emily's Wuthering Heights. 'Dr Death' was an admirer of the work of Thomas Hardy, especially his later poetry and the novel Jude the Obscure.

Several IRA men in Crumlin Road Prison were, however, kind to Eamon, treating him, as he says in the book's acknowledgements, as 'a fellow human being'. He was gratified, especially, by the friendship of William McGuinness, whom he names.

The fact that William was the brother of the revered, and feared, republican leader, Martin McGuinness, made Eamon feel that true republicans could genuinely forgive him for his act of betrayal. Eamon spoke to me of William with great fondness. He didn't want to write about him in the book's main text: he thought this might cause him embarrassment - something he wished to avoid because of his gratitude for William's earlier kindness and decency towards him.

However, he occasionally talked about William, whom he regarded as a good and honorable man. He said William spoke only with admiration of his brother Martin. William had once said: 'My brother's twice the man I am'. William wouldn't hear a bad word said against him.

Another time Eamon mischievously mentioned some gossip he'd heard about a furniture deal in which Martin had allegedly involved himself some years earlier. There was no evidence of wrongdoing on Martin's part, but William had said angrily: 'Who was the wee bastard who said that?'

William also told Eamon that once Martin rose to prominence in Derry some people started making snide remarks about how well-dressed the McGuinness siblings now were, implying they were benefitting financially from Martin's position in the republican movement. William told Eamon that from then on the siblings had started wearing 'rags'.

Eamon also said that William had joked about his own Christian name, not one usually given to Catholic children in Northern Ireland, where 'William' is the archetypal Protestant forename, passed down the generations in memory of King William of Orange, who defeated the Catholics at the still-celebrated (among Ulster Loyalists, at least) battle of the Boyne in 1690.

William said his mother had so christened him in order to give him a good start in life. She had felt that, in a Protestant-dominated society rife with anti-Catholic discrimination, her little boy would fare best if his name could help him pass as a Protestant. This was because 'McGuinness' was potentially a neutral surname, one shared by Catholics and Protestants. Usually only their forenames marked McGuinnesses unmistakeably out as being from the one or the other tradition.

In writing Killing Rage Eamon was keen to detail everything in his past that had shaped him and led him to join the Provos.

A significant incident happened in 1974 when he and his family, including his father and invalid mother, were brutalised by paratroopers who raided their farm in the mistaken belief that their car had been ferrying explosives.

A paratrooper had stuck the muzzle of his rifle in Eamon's mouth, chipping a tooth, and said: 'I'd blow your brains out for tuppence, you rotten Irish cunt.' Earlier that day a sniffer dog at a checkpoint had detected traces of something in the car's boot. Only later did forensic tests prove the substance was creosote.

Two years earlier, Bloody Sunday had also undermined Eamon's opposition to political violence. He wrote: 'Like almost every other Irish Catholic, I was enraged by Bloody Sunday.'

It was during our conversations about Bloody Sunday, and its aftermath, that Eamon told me what William McGuinness had once said to him in Crumlin Road. He said that one day, while they were discussing the civil rights movement and Bloody Sunday, William had shocked him with something he had mentioned almost in passing.

According to Eamon, William said that, despite denials over the years, IRA men had been wounded by gunfire on Bloody Sunday. He said that the casualties had been taken across the border to the Irish Republic to have their injuries tended. There, one of the wounded IRA men had subsequently died - and been secretly buried.

Eamon said that William had not given him the impression of having been personally involved: he'd simply been telling a story that he'd been told later on good authority. Eamon said that William had also not indicated whether the wounded IRA men had been engaged in exchanges of fire with the army or whether they had been unarmed marchers caught up by chance in the melee.

I asked Eamon if he believed the story to be true. He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know. He had a similar attitude to another story that did end up in the book – the disposal of kidnapped SAS officer Robert Nairac's body through a mincer in a Dundalk meat-processing factory in May 1977.

As reported in Killing Rage, Nairac's supposed fate was little more than gossip and hearsay among Provos, but republicans have never denied Eamon's account. Its untruth could have been demonstrated by their indicating where the remains might be found. Yet they've failed to do this, even as a conciliatory gesture during the 'peace process'.

The fact that the Bloody Sunday story had come from William, whose brother Martin had
been the Provos' commander in Derry at the time, gave it in Eamon's eyes a credibility it would not otherwise have had.

By this stage in Eamon's life he was extremely cynical about the IRA, although they could still do things which surprised him. Of course, when he told me this story in the summer of 1995 the IRA had not yet admitted publicly that they had over the years murdered and secretly buried several people. The so-called 'disappeared' included some of their own members who had been executed as informers or agents.

I asked Eamon if he wanted to put William McGuinness's story in the book. He looked at me as if I were mad. He said that doing the book was risky enough in itself: sticking in that story would definitely get him killed. He said: 'It's not going in any book of mine.' Anyway, he said, it was simply a story told to him second-hand. He had no personal knowledge that could enable him to vouch for its truth.

And he didn't want to get murdered for something like that.