'Protected species': Alleged victims of British agent undercover in IRA speak out

Peter Keeley was a soldier who was planted within the South Down IRA.

The double-agent penned a book in which he details his involvement in multiple incidents, boasting about how he infiltrated the organisation, worked his way up, and tipped off his handlers to save some lives.

But, he also spelled out how he worked to innovate new and more deadly methods of bomb-making which would go on to claim the lives of innocent people.

Keeley wrote a book about his side of the story. He initially called it Unsung Hero, but then republished it with the new title, Double Agent.

Now, almost 30 people who say his actions or inactions have caused them harm are suing him and his superiors, and it is their turn to tell their stories.

Tales of their suffering, hurt, loss and anger are among those told in Up Close: Protected Species. 

They are taking action against Mr Keeley, the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI.

Patsy Quinn from Newry served years in jail for being branded the ringleader of a hijacking plot that he claims Keeley caused him to get involved in. He says he never fully recovered from being branded a 'jail-bird' for something he didn't do. 

Jeanitta McCabe's father Peter was shot in the leg by a unit which Keeley was a part of in a shooting detailed in the book. The family spent years on the run, never escaping the terror of what happened to them that night. In the book, Keeley says the shooting was because of a "personal vendetta" another IRA man had. Jeanitta says her father is a "gentle giant" without a "bad bone in his body".

Cyril Smith's son, Ranger Smith, was a soldier from Carrick with only weeks left to spend in South Down, when he was killed in a bomb blast killed him instantly at an army checkpoint.

"Thirty cases. That's all we know about so far. I have no doubt but that was probably at least another 30 cases," said human rights solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law about the allegations concerning Keeley.

He explained how the civil action started with one case in particular.

"All of this litigation started about 12, 13 years ago in the case of Eoin Morley. Eoin was a 23-year-old republican who was shot dead by the IRA. It is alleged that Peter Keeley was part of a four man unit which took part in the killing.

"And indeed he writes about it in his own book, Unsung Hero, and in which he explains his role.

"I have no doubt that, like a lot of things in his book he has downsized his role in a lot of incidents, including the killing of Eoin Morley and at times I think that the book would be very much self-serving", Mr Winters said. 

"He did pen that book and indeed he was arrested in connection with the killing of Eoin Morley, and a number of other incidents in which he admitted taking part.

"And the police released him without charge because they said that there was insufficient evidence to confirm that he was the author of the book.

Mr Winters goes on to allege: "Now, leaving aside that extraordinary assessment, many years later, we, in fact, obtained the evidence to link Peter Keeley to authorship of that book - his own signature on fingerprint handwriting and a stamp was put on a book personally signed by him, and indeed, police confirmed to me that it was his signature in the book, but yet as we’ve now come to expect nothing ever happened."

Mr Winters alleges that "to date, Peter Keeley remains unaccountable for his crimes, not just in relation to the killing of Eoin Morley, but literally dozens of other incidents."

Aside from the ongoing civil action, Mr Winters has been calling for a more thematic look into the role of agents within the IRA. If the controversial Troubles Legacy Bill receives Royal Assent, this would be unlikely to ever happen.

"Looking back on the stunning impact from everything that we know about agents and informants within the Republican movement, the obvious candidate for the lead candidate in all of this is the high profile case of Fred Scappaticci.

"And of course, we have a report due out any time soon, which is supposed to tell us an awful lot about his activities, the state's activities in overseeing the killing of many, many people.

"But there is a distinction on two basis between the Scappaticci case and the Keeley case. In the Scappaticci case, it's a case of IRA killing IRA," he said.

'Scap' worked in the IRA's internal security unit - its job was to weed out informants from within the ranks of the IRA.

"In Keeley's case," Winters goes on to say, " he was involved and allegedly implicated in the killing of members of the security forces in addition to civilians such as Eoin Morley.

"Now, that is a real difficulty politically and on all sorts of other levels.

"But right across the board, it is uncomfortable for Republicans because it points to the level of penetration by the British state inside the IRA it's deeply uncomfortable for Unionists because when you examine Peter Keeley on the allegations that he's involved in killing members of the security forces, that in effect, is the state killing its own.

"Now, that's a really uncomfortable narrative for a traditional mindset, which points to the ira on one side, and the security forces on the other side in a very simplistic black and white format.

"The Peter Keeley narrative and what we know about it to date, it completely opens and upsets that cosy narrative."

We approached Mr Keeley for comment but he said that "unfortunately", he was unable to comment.

Up Close: Protected Species, airs on Thursday, August 3 on UTV at 10.45pm. You can catch up with the programme after here.

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