MI6 and the Littlejohns
So far this series has dealt with the activities of the Ministry of Defence and the various security services of the RUC, the British Army and MI5. This article looks at the role of the British State’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, now known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).
MI6 acted within the Irish Republic under the command of John Wyman, who also operated under the names of Douglas Smythe and Michael Teviott. The Irish police, the Gardai, was infiltrated by Wyman’s network during the 1960s. The most important of those recruited by Wyman was the Gardai detective Patrick Crinnion.
Crinnion acted as private secretary to the head of the Gardai Special Branch, John Fleming from 1969, and so had access to top secret files. In return for large amounts of money, he supplied photocopies of many files on republican activists.
Wyman also recruited the Littlejohn brothers, Kenneth and Keith. These were British criminals who had engaged in a series of bank robberies in England. Kenneth, the eldest, was an ex-member of a British parachute regiment. He was wanted for a wages robbery in Birmingham in 1965.
The Littlejohns were recruited to Wyman’s network. They were sent to the border country between the Republic and Northern Ireland and infiltrated into the Official IRA. Kenneth Littlejohn later claimed that Wyman told he and his brother to attack Gardai stations in Castlebellingham and Louth with petrol bombs and to incite a riot in Dundalk, as well as supplying them with arms.
By engaging in these activities, it was hoped that the Irish government would then proscribe republican organisations and introduce internment. The tactic of internment had been used successfully on both sides of the border during the IRA’s border campaign of 1956 to 1962. It was enforced in Northern Ireland in 1971 but as the Republic had refused to do the same on the other side of the border, it was proving to be ineffective. The Littlejohns were employed as agents provocateurs to put pressure on the Irish government.
On 18th September1972, the republican Edmund Woolsey was killed by a booby trap attached to his car in County Armagh. The Official IRA were later to state that Woolsey had been assassinated by the British Army, having been fingered by the Littlejohns.
The Littlejohns then engaged in a bank robbery in Dublin, on 11th October, 1972, which netted them £67,000. Warrants were issued for their arrests. Both the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA had meanwhile issued statements that they were not involved in this robbery.
On 1st December, 1972, two car bombs went off in central Dublin, killing two people and seriously injuring 127 others. This happened whilst the Irish parliament, the Dail, was debating the Offences against the State (Amendment) Bill. This Bill had been introduced by the Minister of Justice in the right wing Fianna Fail government, Desmond O’Malley. It had been thought that it was unlikely to pass in the Dail because of its draconian measures. However, after the bomb blasts and an hour’s recess, the Bill was voted through. Wyman’s network was very likely behind this, and it quickly became widespread amongst the public of Eire that British intelligence services were responsible.
The Littlejohns were arrested in London. Unusually, extradition proceedings were held in camera, on the instructions of the Attorney General on the grounds of national security. Kenneth Littlejohn then began making statements that he and his brother were MI6 agents On 19th December, Wyman and Crinnion were arrested in Dublin for possession of State secrets. This was brought about by the arrest of a third man, Alexander Forsey, another of Wyman’s agents who had infiltrated the Provisional IRA, and who subsequently betrayed Wyman. Crinnion had ten top secret files in his possession when arrested.
The Irish ambassador approached Edward Heath, then head of the Tory government, via his private secretary, Robert Armstrong, to tell him of concerns over the theft of Irish state secrets. By 3rd January, the British government admitted privately that the Littlejohns were their agents. This was tremendously worrying for the Fianna Fail government. A Bill meant to suppress violence had been assisted onto the statute book by the very thing it was meant to defeat.
On 27th February Crinnion and Wyman were sentenced to three years imprisonment. Desmond O’Malley withheld evidence on more serious charges. Having served two months on remand, Wyman and Crinnion were released and vanished. Forsey received a three year suspended sentence and like Wyman, also fled to England and vanished.
The day after Crinnion and Wyman disappeared from view, the Littlejohns were extradited to Dublin. Kenneth Littlejohn testified that Wyman had been his handler.
In August 1973, Kenneth Littlejohn received a sentence of twenty years and Keith, one of fifteen years. The head of the Fianna Fail government, Jack Lynch, now in opposition, stated that he had no idea that the Littlejohns were linked to British intelligence, but was forced to immediately retract.
The Littlejohns escaped from prison in March 1974. Keith was soon re-arrested but Kenneth Littlejohn evaded arrest for nine months.
He was arrested in Birmingham on 11th December, at the home of Thomas Watt, a police informer and member of the far right National Front. Both Littlejohns were released from prison in the Irish Republic in 1981. The following year Kenneth received another six year sentence at a court in Notttingham for another armed robbery.
One final thing, Kenneth Littlejohn was arrested in Birmingham on the day of the horrendous pub bombings there. Watt, who was sheltering him, was an informer for the Special Branch. He was to be a prosecution witness against the Birmingham Six, who were falsely accused of the bombings and sentenced to life, only having their convictions quashed in 1991. What was Littlejohn doing in Birmingham that day?