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Captain Fred Holroyd

Volume 162: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1989

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Greg Knight.]

10.17 pm

In 27½years in this House, a man develops an instinct that enables him to discriminate between occasions when he is being sold a pup and occasions when one is being told a basic truth. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and Neil Grant—all credit to them—I have done virtually nothing for Fred Holroyd since he and Colin Wallace came to see me for three and a half hours, five years ago. But because I thought that he was telling the truth, I advised him to put it down in book form or at any rate to set out his case in great detail. With help from Nick Burbridge, Colin Challon, Robin Ramsay and Colin Wallace, Captain Fred Holroyd—Major Fred Holroyd in the Rhodesian forces—has done just that.

Early on Friday afternoon, discovering that I had been lucky in your ballot, Mr. Speaker, I telephoned the private secretary to the Secretary of State for Defence to alert him to the book's existence and to ask him, as a matter of courtesy, to let Sir Michael Quinlan know exactly what was happening.

As I have been scrupulously proper, I hope that the Minister may be able to address himself to the questions that I telephoned through to the office of the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday in the same spirit as I conduct this debate—somewhat in contrast, perhaps. to the way in which the Minister of State, Home Office, answered a previous brief debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East.

If what Captain Holroyd writes is true, it raises the gravest questions about the conduct of the British state in Ireland and in this country.

This is the first book which may challenge the spirit of the Official Secrets Act 1989 head on. Do Ministers condone the book or do they believe that it does not break the spirit of the new Act as it will be when it comes into effect? Will it be passed to the leak inquiry which, as those hon. Members from Ulster who have courteously come to the Chamber tonight and whom if I may I will call my hon. Friends, are aware, is being carried out in Belfast at the moment? The issues that arise are nothing less than allegations about the commissioning of crime by the state.

I will now ask my questions and for the sake of coherence I will put them in the seriatim form that they arise in the book.

From the preface, was Captain Holroyd offered £150,000 compensation by the MOD for his lost Army career? Did he turn down that offer on account of the string attached by the MOD that he had to stop campaigning for Colin Wallace?

On page 47 Holroyd states:
"I have my own memories of Captain Robert Nairac and they are mixed. I liked him and saw him as a younger version of myself. He was keen and brave, if a little rash, but totally committed to the war against the terrorists. However there was another side to Robert that I was to learn about. The unit he was involved with, with the cover title '4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers', was involved with the murdering of suspected and known key members of the IRA."
If that is true, who authorised the murdering of suspected IRA members?

Again from page 47, was the SAS operating from Castle Dillon long before the Government of the day were aware of it?

This debate is about accountability. The MOD has admitted that a sub-unit called 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers was based at Castle Dillon in County Armargh in the 1970s. However, it claims that no records are available today to identify its role. In his book, Captain Holroyd identifies the unit as an undercover SAS troop. Sir Michael Quinlan's office has been given notice of my question, as has the office of the Secretary of State for Defence. Will the Minister check the personal records of Captains Robert Nairac and Julian Ball held by the officers record department of the Grenadier Guards and the King's Own Scottish Borderers to ascertain whether those two officers served as OC and 2IC of that unit between 1973 and 1976?

Forgive me, I would rather not at the moment.

At the beginning of chapter 5, on page 70, Captain Holroyd states:
"The label 'dirty tricks' has been used so widely over recent years that it has lost much of its original impact. But to me it remains the best description of what I discovered happening in Ireland during the time I served there."
What is the MOD's reaction to that? After all, that comes from someone who was supposedly serving the MOD. Will it take any action?

Page 73 refers to the 3rd Infantry Brigade. Did it have a kidnapping policy, as Captain Holroyd claims? On page 77, what does the MOD say about Captain Holroyd's account of Robert Nairac's role in the killing John Francis Green? Who authorised such action? My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East has tried as hard as any person can through parliamentary questions to ascertain the truth, but it just shows that parliamentary questioning is very difficult in such a situation. On pages 78 and 79, what does the MOD say about Captain Holroyd's account of the Miami Showband killings?

On page 83, did and does Army intelligence manufacture bogus press cards for undercover work which directly puts journalists' lives at risk? That is a very serious allegation. On page 110, did the RUC nominate Captain Holroyd for an MBE for gallantry?

On page 111, did General McGhie, head of Army psychiatry, visit Captain Holroyd at Netley? Was he justified in telling Captain Holroyd that he was a "political hot potato"?

On page 113, is Captain Holroyd's police notebook, which was returned by the Devon police, still in the possession of the RUC? Page 123 states:
"The Rhodesians were still having trouble with the sanctions that had first been imposed in the sixties when Ian Smith had made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The Rhodesian regime was being helped to circumvent sanctions by powerful friends in England, among them MI5."
I was a Member of the House, as you were, Mr. Speaker, during those years. I care about what happened and what did not happen then. Frankly, I want to know whether MI5 circumvented the policy of the then duly elected Government.

On page 126, can the Minister assure the House that no assurance was given to Bishop Muzorewa or any of his representatives that, if necessary, the election would be rigged to ensure victory? Again, in print, that is a very serious charge indeed.

On page 127, can the Minister assure the House that members of the British Army special forces or any special units of the British Army were in no way involved in the bomb plot targeting Mr. Mugabe during the Rhodesian elections arranged during the Lancaster house talks?

On page 131, was there a meeting in the MOD or in Whitehall, attended by Clive Ponting, at which it was generally conceded that Holroyd's allegations were true and steps to prevent the press taking up the case were discussed?

On page 136, was Kincora used by British Intelligence to blackmail certain key figures in Ulster politics?

Again on page 136, was there a campaign against Harold Wilson of the Labour party which included the dissemination of bogus literature and, if so, who authorised it?

Again on page 136, why was Holroyd, as security manager for Marks and Spencer, told not to turn up during a Prime Minister's visit? Was it anything to do with anybody other than the management of Marks and Spencer?

On page 139, did the British Army, as is suggested, arrange to have Seamus Grew kidnapped in 1974?

With reference to page 142, was the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) authorised to offer a deal to Major Holroyd? I have discussed the matter with the hon. Gentleman, who is aware—

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's courtesy in advising me that he intended to raise this matter tonight. As I have explained the situation in a letter to him, does he accept that that unfortunate person, who came to see me regularly at my surgery, eventually advised me that I had to stop my inquiries because I could be at risk? Some months later, a story appeared in a Sunday newspaper alleging that I had offered him £150,000 from some secret slush fund to keep him quiet. I immediately took up the matter with the Press Council, which found totally in my favour. The Sunday Times had to publish that. When it was referred to later in a television programme called "Channel 4 News", I initiated legal proceedings and had a full and total apology, which was then published in a later edition of "Channel 4 News".

As I have been to court and to the Press Council, and as all the correspondence over that long period is available to anyone who wishes to see it, including the Minister, will the hon. Gentleman at least accept that the story is utter nonsense? On the basis of his long experience in politics, does he accept that the last person that MI5 would use to offer a great deal of money from a slush fund would be the hon. Member for Southend, East?

I had considerable experience of the hon. Gentleman when he represented Glasgow, Cathcart and I always found him a truthful and honourable political opponent. I have a high personal regard for him. I am prepared to accept that anything that he says in this House is sincerely believed.

On page 152, I must ask whether the chronology is accepted as accurate.

One relevant question that does not originate from "War Without Honour", but which I have asked previously, is what event or events have prompted so careful a permanent secretary as Sir Michael Quinlan to ask Sir Robin Butler for a public inquiry into Kincora?

If what Captain Holroyd says is remotely true, what was the ministerial control? More important, what ministerial control is there now?

I care about the so-called Wilson-Callaghan years and what happened in Ireland at that time. I care about accountability—past, present and future. I think that the answer to the debate is of consequence to the future of British policy in Ireland.

I hope that the Minister replies in the spirit in which I have raised the matter.

10.32 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on securing this debate. He is assiduous in championing causes and in seeking justice for the individual. Although I do not share his readiness to believe in all the issues he chooses to pursue, I am impressed by his tenacity and honesty in pursuing them.

On this occasion, the hon. Gentleman has chosen to interest himself in the acount which Mr. Holroyd gives in his recently published book of his life, particularly his Army career, his service in Northern Ireland, and the circumstances of his resignation from the Army. Many of the facts about Mr. Holroyd's Army career are contained in a letter of 21 June last year from the former Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) following a debate in the House the previous day. A copy of that letter is in the Library.

The important phase of Mr. Holroyd's Army career, so far as this debate is concerned, began when he was posted to Northern Ireland to take up an appointment in January 1974 as a military intelligence officer. He arrived in the Province at an early stage in the Army's involvement in the campaign against terrorism there and at a time when there continued to be a very high level of terrorist outrages. Bombings and murder were daily events. There were over 5,000 shooting incidents alone and nearly 1,000 explosions in 1973, and over 3,000 shooting incidents and nearly 700 explosions the following year. Over 500 bombs were neutralised in 1973 and over 400 in 1974. In the same period, ammunition finds exceeded 150,000 rounds a year. Nearly 80 members of the security forces were killed in 1973 and 50 in 1974. The lessons of these experiences were being learned the hard way.

I am proud to say that Army support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the maintenance of law and order in the Province is a duty undertaken in the highest tradition. We owe a debt of thanks to all those who serve there in the most dangerous of circumstances. I know that the hon. Gentleman shares these sentiments.

Mr. Holroyd's job was a demanding one which required long hours of work, often in potentially dangerous situations. Mr Hoiroyd was a dedicated and competent officer but in addition to the inevitable stress of working in such an environment, he also experienced a number of personal problems. His mother died of cancer and his father, who was diagnosed as being terminally ill, also with cancer, spent his last few months with his family in Northern Ireland being nursed by Mr. Holroyd's wife until his death in February 1975. She was also looking after four children, and Mr. Holroyd himself says that the marriage was already under strain for a number of reasons, including the dangers and long hours associated with his responsibilities in Northern Ireland.

I feel great sympathy for the dilemma in which Mr. Holroyd appears to have found himself. It is evident from his book that he was devoted to the Army and single-mindedly dedicated himself to achieving the most effective results from his work in Northern Ireland. His work meant putting himself at great personal risk. At the same time, he had to cope with an unusual combination of distressing domestic difficulties. The sensitive nature of his duties can only have added to the personal stress involved. It is not for me to judge, almost 15 years after the event, Mr. Holroyd's state of mind at that time. What is clear is that his commanding officer was concerned that the strain on Mr. Holroyd was such that it could affect the judgment and reliability which is essential in such a post. Therefore, his commanding officer raised a non-adverse report on Mr. Holroyd mentioning these worries.

Mr. Holroyd was seen by a psychiatrist, who advised that he should be referred to the Queen Victoria hospital at Netley. Mr. Holroyd attended Netley but was unhappy about the reasons for referring him there and appealed to the Army Board against the potential limitations which his attendance might cause to be placed on his career in the Army. He was assured by the Army Board that these events did not reflect adversely on his character or ability. Mr. Holroyd remained unhappy and sought to have all reference to his mental condition at the time expunged from the record. The Army Board agreed that such references should be deleted except from the medical records which expressed the professional views of the doctors who had seen him.

Mr. Holroyd was dissatisfied with that decision and resigned his commission in September 1976. He seems to have concluded by this time that everyone was against him and, since then, he has sought to express his sense of frustration by turning against those with whom he had served, alleging that his removal from Northern Ireland was the result of a conspiracy. It seems to me that, if anyone had wanted to move him from the Province, there would have been much simpler administrative ways to do so than by organising a wide-ranging conspiracy. Hon. Members will clearly wish to form their own opinions as to which is the more likely course of events.

Given his personal commitment to an Army career, Mr. Holroyd's resignation was an irrevocable act, which I suspect must have caused him much subsequent regret. He has sought to pursue his grievance through other channels. Initially, these included seeking assistance from his Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks). It was also during this period that he first made his allegations that the security forces in Northern Ireland had engaged in illegal activities. These allegations were made to both the police and to journalists. His attempts to interest others in pursuing his grievances or his allegations were largely unsuccessful and appear to have ceased when in 1978 Mr. Holroyd joined the Rhodesian army for three years. But, on his return to the United Kingdom, Mr. Holroyd resumed what he apparently sees as a campaign to clear his name.

In July 1982 Mr. Holroyd made a formal statement to Essex police about illegal activities which he alleged had taken place in Northern Ireland. The matter was passed to the Royal Ulster Constabulary to investigate, and it, assisted by the Royal Military Police, conducted a detailed inquiry. The results of that inquiry were reported by the RUC to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland in December 1984 and he concluded that the evidence did not warrant criminal proceedings against any person or any further investigation.

In 1984, Mr. Holroyd persuaded a journalist to take up his case and three articles appeared in the New Statesman in May that year, as well as an item in a television programme on Channel 4. The issues raised were essentially the same as those which Mr. Holroyd records in his book, and which were investigated by the RUC.

Before tonight's debate, the hon. Gentleman paid me the courtesy of giving me advance notice of the more than 20 detailed questions which he has asked. Those questions have been culled from throughout the text of Mr. Holroyd's book. I shall do my best to deal with each of them and I only hope that there will be sufficient time left to address all the questions that he has raised.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Holroyd's claim that he was offered a settlement of £150,000. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has dealt with that in a satisfactory way. The Ministry of Defence never offered such a payment and would not have been able to do so, since Mr. Holroyd had resigned his commission. Therefore, no such settlement would have been appropriate.

The hon. Gentleman has asked about a series of aspersions and allegations in Mr. Holroyd's book relating to the late Captain Robert Nairac. Captain Nairac was a dedicated officer who met his death at the hands of terrorists. Such allegations can only cause distress to Captain Nairac's family and it is irresponsible of Mr. Holroyd to impugn Captain Nairac's character and actions without full justification. I can confirm that the RUC has investigated the allegations that Captain Nairac was involved in the killing of John Francis Green and the results were considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, who found no grounds for further action. I understand that there has also been an investigation by the Garda which produced a similar result. In the case of the Miami Showband killings, two people were convicted—following an RUC investigation —of involvement in that revolting murder. The question of Captain Nairac's involvement was investigated by the RUC and no grounds were found to justify further proceedings.

The hon. Gentleman has asked me yet again to comment on claims that SAS units were present in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. The Government of the day first announced in January 1976 that the SAS Regiment was being sent to Northern Ireland. In making that statement they departed from the more normal practice of making no comment on the activities of the SAS, and I do not intend to follow them down that path by commenting further.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me to say something about a number of other allegations made by Mr. Holroyd concerning dirty tricks and illegal activity by the security forces in Northern Ireland. Those allegations range from kidnapping to assassination. The Government's position on all allegations of illegal activity in Northern Ireland is that, if anyone has any evidence, they should present it to the proper authorities—the police. Mr. Holroyd's allegations appear to be based largely on hearsay and rumour and do not seem to arise from any direct knowledge of the alleged events.

No doubt Mr. Holroyd is disappointed with the responses of the various police forces which he has approached on these matters, but if he continues to believe that he has direct evidence of any significance relating to illegal activities he should present it to the police. I feel sure that they will investigate any substantive evidence that he can provide.

I should make it clear that no such action is needed in the case of the alleged use of bogus press cards by members of the security forces. That did happen and came to light in 1976. The issue was fully aired at the time and, in answer to a parliamentary question from Mrs. Lena Jeger in February that year, the then Secretary of State for Defence gave an assurance that the practice had been discontinued.

The hon. Gentleman has asked me whether the RUC recommended Mr. Holroyd for an MBE. I am afraid that I can only say that it is not the practice to comment on awards which have not been made. He has also asked me whether Major-General McGhie, the then director of army psychiatry, visited Mr. Holroyd at Netley and told him that he was a political "hot potato". I can confirm that the Major-General did visit Mr. Holroyd at Netley but I cannot say what may have passed in conversation between them and I can think of no reason why such a remark would have been made.

Mr. Holroyd records in his book that he left in a telephone booth some notebooks relating to his duties in Northern Ireland, which he had retained after leaving the Army. He says that those notebooks came into the possession of the Devon police, who passed them to the RUC. I understand that the RUC has retained a number of items provided by Mr. Holroyd either because they were official property or because they contained references to security matters or in case they proved relevant to future inquiries. Among this material is a document containing names and other information about individuals which would put them at risk if the material came into the hands of terrorists. I have no doubt in these circumstances that the House will consider it entirely proper that the document should have been retained.

I have also been asked to comment on three allegations which Mr. Holroyd made concerning his time in Rhodesia. These appear to be rather wild assertions and lack any kind of credibility. The position of the Government of the day on the subject of sanctions is well known. There is no foundation for the suggestion that Her Majesty's Government tried to rig the elections in Rhodesia in favour of Bishop Muzorewa. As my right hon. Friend the then Lord Privy Seal said on 13 February 1980, it is quite outrageous to suggest that the Government were partisan. They went to very great lengths to ensure that those elections were free and fair. I am afraid that I cannot treat seriously Mr. Holroyd's speculation about British involvement in an alleged plot to blow up Mr. Robert Mugabe.

The hon. Gentleman has also drawn my attention to a suggestion that, at a meeting attended by Mr. Clive Ponting, it was conceded that Mr. Holroyd's allegations were true. It has never been accepted that Mr. Holroyd has justified his allegations of unjust treatment by the Army or of illegal activities by the security forces.

Turning to Kincora, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, Sir George Terry was appointed to take charge of an investigation into allegations relating to homosexual practices there. He reported in 1983 that he found no evidence of a homosexual "ring" at Kincora, or of any cover-up or concealment of evidence by the RUC.

In his book Mr. Holroyd relates that he was interviewed by the Royal Military Police to establish whether he had any knowledge of the affair. He says that he was surprised by those questions since he had known little about the matter at the time and it was not one which he had sought to raise. He was able only to show the police notes in his notebooks recording rumours of homosexual abuse at Kincora. He does not appear to have viewed such rumours as worthy of any action by him when he was in Northern Ireland. Thus his links with the Kincora affair appear pretty tenuous.

In the same context I do not intend to be drawn into comment on speculative press stories about the content of interdepartmental business among officials. But I will say, flatly, that there is no truth in the suggestion of any Ministry of Defence proposals that Kincora—which is not its business—needed to be specially investigated yet again.

I cannot offer much constructive comment on the chronology of the diverse events recorded on page 152—

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.