This post was originally posted on 17th September 2017
In an exclusive extract from his new book ‘Crossing the Line’, Martin Dillon explains how a leading terrorist – he exposed as a double agent – still went to his grave a hero
I had written that Brendan ‘Ruby’ Davidson, an IRA commander and hero in the Markets, had been a double agent for British Intelligence. I unmasked him after he had been murdered by a Loyalist hit squad and honoured by the IRA as a hero.
Ruby’s funeral had all the trappings given to a senior terrorist, and to ensure his legacy he was buried in the IRA’s special plot in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery. It is easy to understand why so much anger flowed in my direction after his demise, since a wall mural commemorated him as an IRA martyr.
His reputation was jealously guarded in the years after his death by supporters and later by his nephew, Gerard ‘Jock’ Davidson, who also became the IRA’s commander in the Markets.
He spread a tissue of lies throughout Belfast to discredit my revelations about his uncle Ruby. Jock, like many of Ruby’s admirers, denied Ruby had a secret sex life. Jock suffered his uncle’s fate when he was shot dead in the Markets in 2015.
My friend, Peter ‘A’, who was a police constable in the Markets, remembered it was ‘a wonderful neighbourhood of friendly people until the young became radicalised by the IRA’.
The Markets, traditionally an Official IRA stronghold, was gradually taken over by the Provisionals. Peter told me he never felt ill at ease patrolling the area even though he was Protestant. He developed important relationships with locals and, as a consequence, he built up his own small network of informants.
The majority of them were grandmothers angered by the way the Provisionals sucked young people into their violent world.
Yet, for all Peter’s confidence in the relationships he developed with locals, he risked being ambushed or kidnapped at any moment. He credited his survival to Brendan ‘Ruby’ Davidson, convinced Ruby kept him off the local IRA’s target list.
In Ruby’s case, blackmail was the main factor in his recruitment. A police Special Branch file on him noted he was a secret homosexual who visited public toilets and had sex with men in a massage centre.
Had either his sexual preferences for young men or some of his bizarre sexual behaviour been exposed, he would have been equally at risk for retaliation from the religiously conservative Provisional IRA.
I am convinced his sexual choices made him vulnerable to recruitment by British Intelligence. At some point, probably at the start of the Troubles, his first recruiter lost control of him to more senior RUC figures, but they later handed him over to Special Branch, which subsequently shared him with British Intelligence. Eventually, he became the exclusive property of MI5.
Peter ‘A’, my constable friend, told me money hadn’t motivated Ruby’s betrayal of the IRA, even though £12,000 was found in his home, along with a loaded gun, on the day he was shot dead.
According to witnesses, ‘funny guys in suits’ seized the items. Ruby had assured Peter that he had never been ‘financially driven’ to become an agent, and that everything he had earned as a terrorist agent had gone to a ‘worthy charitable cause’.
Peter first encountered Ruby when he searched his family home and flat. Ruby may have begun feeding information to the police in his teens.
He was notably respectful to uniformed police in the area, a trait not often seen in his contemporaries.
There are residents of the Markets who never shared Peter’s admiration for him. On the contrary, many people feared him. He was muscular, six feet two inches tall, and he had acquired a reputation for being able to ‘handle himself’ in a fight.
Locals said he took offence easily and became difficult to control when drunk. He was typical of many of the young men who filed into the ranks of the Provisional IRA after January 1970.
He had the physical stature to impose his will on others and possessed a native cunning. His artfulness served him in his double life as he rose rapidly in the IRA, displaying talents for planning terror and finding new recruits.
In the early 1970s, with the Provisional IRA at the height of its power, Special Branch and British Intelligence had an urgent need to recruit spies within the IRA. The fact that Ruby had a history as a common police ‘tout’ and that he was suddenly rising through IRA ranks must have brought him to the attention of Special Branch.
That is how he would have begun transitioning from a run-of-the-mill police informer to one of the most significant terrorist agents in Belfast.
His meteoric rise through the ranks of the IRA marked him as a precious asset for those leading the counter-terrorism war. By some accounts, he began feeling invincible when he became the IRA’s commander in the Markets.
He treated the area like his personal fiefdom, knowing the IRA and British Intelligence protected him. He confidently pursued his secret sex life, unaware Special Branch had video of him having sex with young men in a sports centre.
I contend Special Branch wanted to be able to blackmail him should he ever stray from his agent role. I doubt Special Branch knew how he was treating young criminals, some of them boys, arrested by the IRA in the Markets.
They were brought to his flat where he made them drop their trousers and underpants. Then he told them to bend over while he spanked them with a wire brush. He may have abused some of them in other ways.
He would not have been the only abuser in IRA ranks. In 2006, a man originally from West Belfast told me he was one of several boys in the Beechmount district of West Belfast who were forced to give a young man oral sex. The abuse began in the late 1950s, and the abuser subsequently became a leading Provisional.
Haunted by the experience, the victim said it was more than likely his abuser exploited his terrorist role to select new victims in subsequent decades.
Ruby was a complex figure. Aside from his commander role in the Markets, he was prominent in the Provisionals’ Internal Security apparatus. He was privy to the outcomes of the interrogations of IRA members suspected of betrayal or of ordinary people believed to have passed information to soldiers patrolling neighbourhoods.
In this position, he had access to what the IRA knew about British Intelligence at any given time.
For example, if a terrorist agent was captured, Ruby learned what the agent, under torture, had divulged about his British Intelligence links and the identities and tactics of his Intelligence handlers.
Ruby’s IRA rank also enabled him to acquire considerable intelligence on the IRA’s most senior figures.
He might have known the identities of senior Belfast Brigade staff. He had a seat on the IRA’s General Headquarters Staff in Belfast, a role that brought him into contact with operational planners across the city.
There was another reason the ‘men in suits’ wanted me to expose Ruby as a British agent. It helped shift the spotlight away from ‘Stakeknife’, the code name for Freddie Scappaticci, one of the most prominent British agents inside the IRA. He and Ruby shared a survival instinct that would cost others their lives.
Freddie Scappaticci also hailed from the Markets but lived in West Belfast. He enjoyed his reputation for ruthlessness.
When I met him in the 1980s, his professed his love for Italian ice cream and his Italian heritage amused me. I developed an instant fear of him. He had cold eyes and a hair-trigger personality.
Running the IRA’s Internal Security structure in Belfast meant he had a close working relationship with members of the Provisional IRA Army Council, and in particular a member of the council living in the Lower Falls.
Scap, as he was sometimes called, had a lot of contact with Ruby, but I doubt either of them knew of the other’s secret affiliations to British Intelligence.
A secret and constant concern for both was maintaining the cover of their double lives. They tried to make sure they did not fall under suspicion during investigations into blown IRA operations.
Ruby was ruthless when it came to insulating his agent role. We may never know how many people he ordered to be killed to divert attention from himself.
I suspect Scappaticci killed many more in the same pursuit. The more successful Ruby became as an agent, the greater impact he had in helping the security forces interdict IRA shootings and bombings. His success in providing information that led to the arrests of IRA operatives, generated paranoia in IRA ranks.
The organisation’s spy hunters concluded that there was a mole in their midst with access to insider info. They launched a determined effort to ferret out the traitor, and no one, including Ruby, escaped scrutiny.
Ruby or Scappaticci and his handlers designed a cynical, murderous strategy to ensure suspicion fell on someone else. One of them likely chose a patsy to be offered up as the mole.
The fall guy was Anthony ‘The Monkey’ McKiernan, a happily married man from West Belfast. He worked in a large bakery, mixing dough.
He acquired his moniker because he had been an expert climber of backyard walls in his youth. He was a funny, talkative individual.
Some said he had a loose tongue after drinking heavily in ‘sheebeens’ – illegal drinking clubs. When he joined the IRA, he adapted his bakery skills to mixing large quantities of fertiliser for making bombs and, by all accounts, he became an expert bomb maker.
While I have never been able to confirm it, I was told by a source that McKiernan suspected Ruby was a ‘tout’ and threatened to out Ruby as a paedophile.
Had any of this reached Ruby’s ears or MI5, it would have been enough for Ruby and his handlers to mark The Monkey for death. IRA operatives seized The Monkey and detained him in a house in West Belfast.
IRA interrogations were often tape-recorded and made available to a member of the IRA’s Army Council in the Falls area of the city. It took only one member of the council to pass a sentence of death, sometimes making the time between a death sentence and execution a matter of 30 minutes.
In The Monkey’s case, operatives attempted to disguise the manner of his death. They held him over a bathtub and ‘waterboarded’ him with alcohol until he admitted he was a mole.
Once he confessed, his interrogators poured a very large quantity of alcohol down his throat, effectively ending his life.
A source told me that Ruby attended the interrogation, and that he later played a taped confession to a select number of Provisionals.
The Monkey was such a popular operative the IRA leadership did not wish to publicly brand him a traitor, believing some in its ranks would dispute the claim.
The bottom line, however, was that the IRA, always conscious of its public image, did not wish to announce that it had killed a mole in its ranks, especially when it was the organisation’s leading bomb maker in Belfast.
Portraying his death as suicide, caused by over drinking, was the preferred storyline circulated throughout West Belfast.
With many thanks to the: Sunday Independent and Martin Dillon (MI5 codename) for the original story