Northern Ireland

MI5 says it has no intelligence on Sean Brown murder despite spy operation

Security Service launched intelligence gathering operation against Mid Ulster loyalist leaders a year before GAA man was murdered

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

MI5 claims it has “no record of any intelligence” relating to the murder of GAA official Sean Brown despite launching a spy operation against senior loyalists in Mid Ulster a year before he was killed.

Details emerged at an inquest review hearing into the 61-year-old’s murder last week.

During the hearing, counsel for coroner Patrick Kinney read a ‘gist’ provided to the court by the Security Service – also known as MI5 – relating to two documents handed over to the inquest as part of its sensitive disclosure.

It also emerged that a witness statement had been provided to the corner by a “Security Service officer A”.

Joe Aiken KC later told the court that in excess of 25 people, including state agents, have been linked by intelligence to Mr Brown’s murder.

Murdered GAA official Sean Brown
Murdered GAA official Sean Brown Murdered GAA official Sean Brown

A father-of-six, Mr Brown was attacked, beaten and abducted by an LVF gang as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC, Co Derry, in May 1997.

After being put in the boot of his own car, he was taken to a country lane outside Randalstown, Co Antrim, where he was shot six times.

Collusion has always been suspected in the brutal murder and no-one has ever been charged.

During last week’s hearing some details of the MI5 operation, which was launched before May 1996, were revealed.

“Well over a year before the murder of Sean Brown the Security Service, at the request of, and in support of the RUC, commenced an intelligence gathering operation in the Mid Ulster area,” the coroner was told.

“The aim of the operation was to collect intelligence for the RUC on the activities, intentions and associations of senior loyalist paramilitary figures in the area.”

MI5 says it has no record of intelligence relating to the killing of Mr Brown as a result of its intelligence operation.

“The operation was not specifically focused on investigating the murder of Sean Brown and the security service has no record of any intelligence relating to the murder being generated by it,” the coroner was told.

“The references to Sean Brown in documents 14 and 15 of the security service disclosure bundle are coincidental and do not form the main subject matter of the documents.”

It is not known when the MI5 operation ended.

A previous inquest hearing heard that a suspect in the murder was believed to be a serving member of the Royal Irish Regiment.

It has also emerged that another suspect held a personal protection weapon and was regularly visited by a police officer at his home.

The shocking revelations have prompted the Brown family and their legal team to call for a full public inquiry.

Key suspects include former senior members of the LVF, including Mark Swinger Fulton, who is said to have taken his own life in Maghaberry Prison in 2002.

Billy Wright
Billy Wright Billy Wright

The breakaway LVF was established by notorious loyalist Billy Wright in August 1996 – the same year the MI5 intelligence gathering operation was launched.

The operation was set up before the bitter Drumcree parading dispute in Portadown erupted into violence in the summer of that year.

As tensions mounted UVF members, under the command of Wright, brought a bulldozer to Drumcree, which it is believed was to be used to smash through RUC lines.

At the height of the stand-off, Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick (31) was shot dead outside Lurgan by UVF members aligned to Wright.

The brutal killing, which came almost two years after 1994 loyalist ceasefires, led to Wright’s expulsion from the UVF and the establishment of the LVF a short time later.

It is not known if MI5 holds any intelligence about the murder of Mr McGoldrick.