A couple of extracts below from my latest subscriber article on British intelligence in Ireland, a profile of MI5 officer Harold Doyne-Ditmas. This is one of a series on the intelligence chiefs, or DCIs, at the Northern Ireland Office, which I hope will show that a deeper analysis of existing sources can advance our understanding of the intelligence dimension of the Troubles.
One such source is evidence submitted to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. As I wrote last year, this shows MI5 running an agent close to paedophile William McGrath at the time when the Kincora scandal emerged in 1980.
Further research shows that this agent was still being run during Doyne-Ditmas's time in Northern Ireland, the same period when Supt George Caskey of the RUC was seeking MI5 co-operation with his investigation into Kincora.
The DCI was present at a meeting with another senior MI5 officer on 1 July 1982 which decided that MI5’s first move should be to seek a meeting with the head of RUC Special Branch. The Assistant DCI was subsequently told that MI5 would have to declare one of its political sources to the RUC.[xxxvii] This was probably ‘Sidney’, who had remained active in unionist politics. (Extract from British Intelligence in Ireland: Harold Doyne-Ditmas).
Doyne-Ditmas' appearances in Northern Ireland Office files would appear to support claims that he was DCI in the early 1980s. The same files also help to pin down his involvement in Northern Ireland matters to a period, from at least early 1981 and early 1984, covering MI5's interaction with the Caskey inquiry.
MI5’s approach to the Caskey investigation received significant criticism in the report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, published in 2017:
"During the Caskey Phase Three investigations MI5 consistently obstructed a proper line of enquiry by their refusal to allow the RUC to interview a retired MI5 officer, and by their refusal to authorise that retired officer to provide a written statement to the RUC answering 30 questions the RUC wished to ask him. We consider these questions were proper and relevant questions to the enquiry being conducted by D/Supt Caskey at that time."[xlvii]
Doyne-Ditmas’s presence in Northern Ireland during this time seems particularly significant given his past role in MI5’s domestic operations. In February 1982, Colin Wallace was interviewed by the Caskey team in Lewes Prison, after being named as a key Kincora witness by Gerry Fitt in the House of Commons.[xlviii] By this time, Wallace had already been the source for stories about MI5 animosity to the previous Labour Government of Harold Wilson.[xlix]
David Leigh’s book, The Wilson Plot, which is largely independent of Wallace’s evidence, suggests that Doyne-Ditmas was himself involved in surveillance of Wilson’s associates, and that he encouraged Peter Wright to take MI5’s dossier on Wilson to the Cabinet Secretary. He was thus one of a group of MI5 officers who might have come under scrutiny if the Kincora investigation drew attention to Wallace’s wider allegations.[l] This can of worms suggests ‘Sidney’ may not have been the only reason for MI5’s obstruction of the Caskey Inquiry. (Extract from British Intelligence in Ireland: Harold Doyne-Ditmas).