In the autumn of 1982 three policemen in Northern Ireland were killed by a landmine planted by the IRA. At once, the Royal Ulster Constabulary plotted their revenge. Acting on information provided by one of their informers in the IRA – who has been paid many, many thousands of pounds – they identified five Republicans who were said to have been responsible for the landmine, and a hay shed which was, according to the informer, used by the IRA to hoard weapons. There is a lot of evidence that the informer’s information was incorrect, and that he himself ‘set up’ the shed as a possible arms store by planting in it two old rifles, without ammunition.
Vol. 10 No. 7 · 31 March 1988
SIR: You may have done a disservice to a proper understanding of the Stalker affair by counterpoising the Cox and Foot reviews as though in some way they contradicted each other (LRB, 3 March). They do not do so, in any important sense. Whether the Establishment drive to blacken Stalker’s name stemmed from a calculated conspiracy by the security services and the RUC (Stalker and Foot), or a convenient – for MI5 – chapter of accidental gossip emanating from police informers (Taylor and Cox), seems the least interesting aspect of the affair. While Gabrielle Cox is quite right to remind us of Stalker’s complicity in both the ‘Battle of Brittan’ cover-up in particular and the chronic rejection of democratic accountability by the Anderton-led Manchester Police in general, she fails to provide any plausible explanation of Stalker’s civil libertarian Damascus Road in Ulster and his terrier-like perseverance with RUC malpractice. It may have been, as Hermon seems to have suspected and feared, subliminal, ancestral, Catholic thirst for vengeance. Or perhaps it was simply a matter of police folklore: pious denials of roughing-up of students in Manchester were par for the policeman’s course, while the murder of Ulster innocents was another matter entirely. But Paul Foot is also crucially right to notice that what now makes Stalker some sort of folk hero is the way he matched blow for blow the devious ruthlessness of the English Establishment in his use of the media – to win game set and match in the end. Folk heroes are seldom saints but they sometimes grow wise in their old age. Now that John Stalker can see with crystal clarity the vicious and disloyal nature of the Establishment he served so long, it would be nice if he could, in his next book, track back to his earlier career and give us a really candid account of brutality, cover-ups and illegal telephone-tapping by the police in Greater Manchester. That would really worry the Establishment.
Vol. 10 No. 8 · 21 April 1988
SIR: Your issue of 3 March has the neatest face-off I have come across in years of attention to your lively journal: Cox, page 20, Foot page 21, of course. I vote, hands down, for Cox, in good part because Foot’s pieces in your review are always sure that the only hypocrites are on the other side. Cox does have the advantage in her direct sense of Stalker. It was more than a coincidence that he became the policeperson that he did.