A Sordid Tale Of British Gunmen, Bombers And Policemen

Tommy Lyttle, a senior leader of the British terror faction known as the UDA-UFF
Tommy Lyttle, a senior leader of the British terror faction known as the UDA-UFF, pictured in 1981 (Íomhá: BBC)

In his final exploration of the evidence sourced for the RTÉ television documentary “Collusion”, a feature-length programme examining the links between the UK military and intelligence services garrisoned in the north-east of Ireland during the period of the “Long War” and their allies in the so-called “Loyalist” terrorist gangs, veteran Irish journalist Ed Moloney begins with a story that coincidentally illustrates the easy relationship that existed between the RUC – the British paramilitary police force – and the UDA-UFF – the largest (and semi-legal) pro-UK terror faction. In the 1980s Tommy “Tucker” Lyttle, a senior UDA-UFF boss, helped the RUC’s Special Branch – a detective unit dedicated to counter-insurgency operations – to recover weapons and files lost during an embarrassing security lapse:

“The documents had been stolen by an ordinary criminal from an unmarked police car along with a Special Branch handgun and two radio sets of the sort used in covert surveillance. The car had been parked outside the Stormont Hotel in East Belfast, a favourite watering hole for branchmen.

A desperate Special Branch proposed a deal with the UDA: if the Loyalists could recover the guns and radios from the guys who stole them, then they could keep the intel on the IRA; the guns & radios mattered but not the documents.

It was a great deal which Tommy Lyttle accepted; within days the haul was retrieved by the UDA in East Belfast which initially refused to return it until two of their men were also released from police custody. The Branch agreed, got their stuff back and the UDA was allowed to keep the documents.”

Moloney goes on to detail Lyttle’s relationship with a senior, partly London-based RUC officer initially known by the nom de guerre “Bertie Scott”, later changed to “Harry”. The latter codename seems to have been in reference to a fellow RUC man, a chief inspector or superintendent, who facilitated the first contacts between “Bertie Scott” and the UDA-UFF via Alan Snoddy, a leading terror chief and mentor of Lyttle who died of cancer in September 1988.

“Tommy Lyttle inherited ‘Bertie Scott’ from a man called Alan Snoddy, the UDA commander or Brigadier in South-East Antrim, a figure who kept a very low public profile. Snoddy was dying of cancer when he came to Tommy Lyttle to tell him about ‘Bertie Scott’ and to say that when he died then ‘Bertie Scott’ wanted Tommy Lyttle to replace him as the contact man with the UDA.

When Alan Snoddy died, ‘Bertie Scott’ made himself known to Tommy Lyttle, introducing himself at a public event attended by other UDA chiefs, as if to assure Lyttle that no-one else would mind that the baton was being passed on in such an obvious way.

In his conversations with myself, Tommy Lyttle opened up slowly about ‘Bertie Scott’. He was, he told me, “…a local man, tallish, fair and wears glasses”, who sometimes worked out of England and sometimes Belfast. ‘Scott’ had been introduced to the UDA, to Alan Snoddy, by another Special Branch man, a long-time friend of the UDA who had died recently and whose first name was ‘Harry’. This SB officer, he said, was wither a Chief Inspector or Superintendent in the Branch.”

In relation to the original “Harry”, who acted as the conduit for “Bertie Scott”, Ed Moloney goes on to explain that:

“Many republican readers will automatically think of Harry Taylor, a famous Special Branch officer active in the 1950’s and 1970’s. But I suspect he was dead or long retired by 1988. Tommy Lyttle mentioned another Harry who was a senior SB officer, either a Chief Inspector or Superintendent who was also a friend of the UDA and who had died around the time of his interaction with Alan Snoddy. I suspect, but cannot confirm, that this is the ‘Harry’ he was referring to. But until more concrete evidence becomes available to support this allegation I will withhold his surname.”

RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, killed in a 1989 ambush by the South Armagh Brigade of the Irish Republican Army
RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, killed in a 1989 ambush by the South Armagh Brigade of the Irish Republican Army

Readers of An Sionnach Fionn might be reminded of another “Harry”, in this case Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, the Divisional Commander of the RUC’s “H” Division from 1988 until his death on the 2oth of March 1989, when he and his colleague, Superintendent Bob Buchanan, were killed in an ambush at Jonesborough by the South Armagh Brigade of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. A subsequent 2013 judicial inquiry ordered by the government of Ireland into allegations of Garda co-operation with the ambushers led to valedictory descriptions of the two slain officers in the Irish and British press. However as ASF pointed out, Harry Breen was widely alleged to have been associated with several British militant gangs since the 1970s, as detailed in a witness statement given by John Weir, a former RUC officer-and-terrorist convicted of murder in 1980. In the case of RUC man Harry Breen the co-operation seems to have been principally with the “Loyalist” gunmen and bombers of the UVF rather than the UDA-UFF, notably the death squads of the infamous “Glenanne Gang”; a loose alliance of terrorists and serving or former policemen and soldiers operating in the “Murder Triangle” of counties Armagh and Tyrone.

John Weir’s testimony, of course, formed part of the evidence used for the RTÉ documentary “Collusion” and was referenced throughout the programme.

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4 comments

  1. nice pulling together of some loose ends Sèamas – is there going to be a part II to the collusion documentary? if so any news on when it might be broadcast?

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