|Belfast special branch chief claims MI5 had him ousted
London Guardian 01/14/03: Rosie Cowan
Original Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,2763,874246,00.html
The former head of Belfast special branch claimed yesterday that he had been under pressure from MI5 not to arrest those suspected of spying for the IRA because the political fallout would damage the peace process.
Bill Lowry, who quit his post last year after a row over leaks, also accused the secret service of getting Northern Ireland's chief constable, Hugh Orde, to oust him because of his role in investigating the Castlereagh break-in and espionage at Stormont.
Mr Lowry first wrote to the policing board six weeks ago, urging it to launch an independent inquiry into the matter, but has decided to go public as he believes he was scapegoated to please Sinn Fein.
"I felt during the whole operation [Stormont spy ring] that I was running into constant pressure from the security services that it would be better if we didn't take skulls [make arrests], but we just took papers and gave IRA/Sinn Fein a chance to deny involvement," he said.
"The security services were looking at the wider political picture. I was looking at saving lives. Who runs this organisation [the police service of Northern Ireland], the chief constable or MI5? I have been wronged and someone from outside needs to investigate."
Mr Lowry said Mr Orde had received a mysterious phone call from London, demanding his removal. The next day he was served a disciplinary notice, accusing him of leaking information about the operation.
The former chief superintendent said he had not disclosed anything that was not in the public domain, but agreed to take early retirement and the disciplinary charge was dropped. Mr Orde has previously denied he was subject to any politically motivated interference. The policing board initially passed the complaint to the police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, but she felt it was outside her remit as Mr Lowry was a serving officer and not a member of the public at the time of the alleged leaks.
But an Ulster Unionist, Fred Cobain, said: "If these allegations are true, it has the potential to derail the policing arrangements. Political interference in policing would be the death knell."
High-profile police raids on Stormont and republican homes in October led to the arrests of four people, including the Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson. Hundreds of sensitive documents were recovered, including notes of conversations between Tony Blair and the US president George Bush; meetings between the government and the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, and personal details about prison officers, police and military personnel.
The ensuing row between unionists and republicans led to the collapse of the power-sharing arrangements and talks are under way to try to restore devolution.
Persuading Sinn Fein to join the policing board while convincing unionists that republicans will not leak information to the IRA is a major issue.
There was a slight improvement in the mood when Mr Trimble and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, met at Stormont yesterday. Mr Adams said republicans had told unionists they needed to work together. Mr Trimble said he had stressed the need for the IRA to remove all threat of paramilitary activity, but added that the talks were "frank but not confrontational".