Northern Ireland news

British government faces calls to confirm if MI5 agents carry out crimes like torture and murder

MI5 Headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood, County Down
Connla Young

Civil liberties groups have called on the British government to confirm if it allows MI5 agents to carry out crimes like torture and murder.

The call came after the intelligence agency confirmed that it can authorise agents to break the law.

Details emerged after it was forced to make public its 'guidelines on the use of agents who participate in criminality’ after the Committee for the Administration of Justice, Pat Finucane Centre and civil liberties group Reprieve took a case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

Many nationalists believe MI5 colluded with loyalist murder squads to kill Catholics during the Troubles.

The agency is also believed to have handled republican agents.

The organisation, sometimes referred to as the Security Service, has a large base in Holywood Co Down and is currently involved in monitoring and infiltrating paramilitary groups in the north.

In a section of the headed ‘agent handler’, the covert organisation states: “No member of the service shall encourage, counsel or procure the commission by an agent of a criminal offence, save and to the extent that the offence is covered by an authorisation issued under these guidelines.”

Large sections of the guidelines have been heavily redacted.

It is believed the policy has been in existence since the early 1990s and has been reported that it was so secret that judicial oversight, introduced in 2012, was not initially acknowledged.

A 2012 letter from former British Prime Minister David Cameron to Sir Mark Waller, a retired judge appointed to oversee the policy, reveals he knew about it.

He said “the Security Service has a long-standing policy for their agent handlers to agree to agents participating in crime, in circumstances where it is considered such involvement is necessary and proportionate in providing or maintaining access to intelligence that would allow the disruption of more serious crimes or threats to national security.”

Reprieve’s Director Maya Foa last night said: “We want to know if it’s government policy to let MI5 agents get away with serious crimes such as torture and murder.

“While our intelligence agencies have an important role in keeping this country safe, it does not follow that agents can be permitted to break the law without limits.”

Brian Gormally, Director on the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said MI5 is estimated to have more than 500 officers in the north.

“If these state agents are 'authorised' to commit serious crimes that constitute human rights violations that would be unlawful and potentially involve collusion with illegal armed groups,” he said.

“We have had enough of such behaviour by the secret state – the nature and extent of these “authorisations” should be made public.”

Paul O’Connor, Director of the Pat Finucane Centre said: “It can be no coincidence that Prime Minister David Cameron issued new guidelines, however flawed, on oversight of MI5 just two weeks before publication of the De Silva report into the murder of Pat Finucane. "

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