INTRODUCTION

The piece below is a short chapter from Larry O'Hara's 1994 book 'Turning Up the Heat: MI5 After the Cold War' (p.21-24). That this book is still in print [visit the shop above and click on 'other publications'] indicates it grasped something over and above historical detail--notably the methodology spooks use to infiltrate & entrap targets. Beyond that, in the case of Meibion Glyndwr, there are tantalising issues still unresolved--not least the extent of MI5 involvement in the attempt to suppress MG, and the precise provenance of what can in retrospect be identified as the four phases of MGs campaign. We are aware of Sion Aubrey Roberts' statements after release from jail, and all these (and related matters) will be looked at in Notes From the Borderland magazine.

WELSH NATIONALISM--REPEATING THE IRISH SCENARIO?

The first area of MI5 activity in recent times to be looked at is their operation against Meibion Glyndwr, the Welsh holiday home arsonists [1]. Throughout the course of their campaign, there has been persistent speculation that Meibion Glyndwr (hereafter MG) has been linked to all sorts of people with whom they would have no truck — MI5 themselves and the now-defunct Official National Front. While it is not a subject I will dwell on here, I have little time for that fantasy, which says far more about those propagating it than MG themselves [2].

The whole course of MGs post-1988 campaign deserves analysis at some point, for there does seem to have been a qualitative shift, not least to targets outside Wales, but this is not the time or the place for that. Suffice to say that as far back as 1982 M15 showed a keen interest in Welsh Nationalists presumed to be associated with MG [3].

In a trial of alleged MG activists, that lasted from January to March 1993 one of the defendants, twenty year old Sion Roberts was found guilty of sending four incendiary devices to prominent Tories and police officers. It was revealed, thanks to the refusal of the trial judge to be intimidated into suppressing it, that starting in September 1991 as many as 38 MI5 operatives had placed him and two others under surveillance .The defence argument was that he and the others had been framed by MI5; planting bomb-making equipment in his flat, and themselves sending the devices through the post that Roberts was blamed for [4]. During the trial (rumoured to have cost £7 million although the official figure given was £1 million [5]) the jury was vetted, the first time this has been acknowledged as occurring since 1978 [6]. There was no evidence put forward by the prosecution to indicate any of the three were members of Meibion Glyndwr, an organisation that has thus successfully eluded state attention since 1979. Not only was Roberts not initially charged with posting the explosives, he was only found guilty after a police witness had stated on oath in court that he had allegedly seen Roberts delivering the devices to the home of another defendant. The political implications of the case for Wales have been adequately dwelt on elsewhere [7]. Roberts' appeal against his conviction, heard in late July 1994 at the Old Bailey, failed, as one might have expected given the extraordinary lengths gone to in order to secure a conviction in the first place.

The case was important for a number of reasons. For a start, the fact that even a jury picked to be unsympathetic should acquit all three defendants of the charge of 'conspiracy', with its political overtones, shows how much work MI5 still have to do to convince a broader public of the sinister nature of militant Welsh nationalism. Also, as Lustgarten & Leigh point out, without the burglary by MI5 to ostensibly plant bugs, which led to the finding (or in my view planting) of material evidence, the police wouldn't have been able to bring charges. Had the police broken in, any evidence obtained would have been ruled inadmissible in court. A strange state of affairs then, when the prime contribution of MI5, taking things at face-value, was to use methods to obtain evidence that only an unaccountable supralegal body like MI5 can hope to get away with [8]. A more general point is that from an MI5 point of view, framing an innocent young man (Roberts) was highly effective. By 'criminalising' a strand of militant Welsh nationalism this rank injustice will have heightened opposition, amongst those already politicised, to English rule, thus leading to increased 'subversion' to monitor. According to an acute observer from the Celtic League, the "parallel with the North of Ireland is an almost perfect match. In the early 1970's MI5 personnel were seconded into the province to deal with the alleged inadequacies of the 'native' police. Their remit to gather intelligence on paramilitary bodies gained a momentum which was to lead to allegations (many subsequently substantiated) of involvement between recruited criminals and MI5 officers in an orgy of deceit, robbery and murder" [9].

Since that trial, Welsh nationalists have been subject to further unwelcome state attention. In the first such prosecution since 1974 (of alleged IRA members for wearing 'political uniforms' at a funeral), seven Welsh militants were arrested in July 1993 under the same section of the 1936 Public Order Act for their part in the annual Abergele parade to commemorate the deaths of Alwyn Jones/George Taylor [10]. The seven called themselves the Meibion Glyndwr colour party, and the prosecution argued they were thereby associated with the illegal MG group. When the case came to trial in April 1994, the court found them guilty, despite a statement by a police Inspector that he had "no idea" who MG are [11]. Despite being found guilty, the seven were given conditional discharges — a 'leniency' which cleverly denied them further publicity and kept the threat of further state action hanging over them, in order to hinder any protests they might (hypothetically) have been planning to celebrate in appropriate style the 25th anniversary of Charles' Investiture. The guilty verdict will also serve to legitimise further interference by the state in the personal lives of the defendants and their associates — thus widening the 'shooting gallery' of MI5 targets and clearing the way for further framings [12]. The use of legislation last applied against Irish Republicans is a chilling pointer to the future tactics and strategy MI5 are considering in Wales — we shall see [13].

For the moment, there seems to have been a marked downturn in MG activity, notwithstanding the call in December 1993 by Cayo Evans (formerly of the 1960's outfit the Free Welsh Army) for more actions including violence [14]. The downturn is quite likely to have been due to the marked decline in holiday homes in Wales, itself partly due to the success of MGs earlier campaign as well as the recession [15]. It is reasonable to anticipate that if and when there is an upturn in MG activity, MI5 operatives will be to the fore, whether entrapping, fitting people up again or maybe even carrying out actions is something that time will reveal.

FOOTNOTES

1) The words mean 'Sons of Glyndwr', Owain Glyndwr being a fifteenth century prince who rebelled against English rule. The name is particularly apt because although Glyndwr's revolt was ultimately unsuccessful, he was never captured.
2) See for example John Merritt/Tony Heath 'NF linked to Welsh arson campaign' the Observer 9/10/88. A conventional summary of the campaign to date (which in my view correctly rejects the idea of NF-MG 'links') is that by Paul Mercer in the British Directory of Political Organisations Longman 1994.
3) See City Limits (London) 12/2/82.
4) See for example reports of the trial in the Independent (15/1 /93), Western Mail {20/1/93), (Liverpool) Daily Post (21/1/93, 26/1/93, 28/1/93), Caernarfon Herald (29/1 /93). The verdict was covered in the Daily Post, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and Western Mail for 10/3/93. Specific mention must be made of the article by Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian after the trial had ended, which for me crossed the boundary between reportage and disinformation. I object to his retailing the MI5 (for-public-consumption) version of events as though it was fact, ending up by saying "the question remains whether MI5's undercover activities helped to quash a potentially more serious and violent threat, or whether the disclosure of its presence will prove counterproductive in an area of nationalist support" (p.4). 'Counterproductive' for who we might ask — the legitimacy of the English state? Or maybe the public image of MI5? This trial and the MI5 operation that engendered it raises, for those genuinely concerned about the malevolent activities of the secret state, far different and more urgent questions than the ones Norton-Taylor asked. Norton-Taylor himself, as the only full-time 'security service' correspondent on any newspaper, is someone worth talking about. Undoubtedly, his newspaper articles contain a wealth of useful information, of great use to anyone studying the secret state, and he (legitimately) derives a lot of it from close contact with their operatives/spin-doctors. However, this has a price — he works fora paper which rigidly respects the'D' notice system, accepts the rights of the secret state to continue to exist, and always ducks (at best) the key political questions raised by the antics of the secret state. Indicative of both his good and bad points is the (useful) book he wrote for the NCCL (Liberty), In Defence of The Realm? The case for Accountable Secret Services (1990). While it includes a page on journalists subject to hostile MI5 attention, (just like Dorril) there is nothing on them as willing carriers of MI5 disinformation — when even Adams has that. Norton-Taylor's association with/uncritical utilisation ofthe nefarious Searchlight magazine also brings his judgement into question: he was to my knowledge the only journalist to preview the joint World In Action/Searchlight production on Combat 18 of 19/4/93 (see the Guardian 19/4/93).
5) Wales on Sunday 5/6/94.
6) Philip Thomas, 'Secret Police on Trial' Planet 98 April/May 1993 p.7.
7) See Y Faner Goch (Wrecsam) 48 p.1/4 1993, CARN {the splendid and always highly informative journal of the Celtic League) issue 81 (p.23), 82 (p.l 1) and 83 (p.l 1) — all 1993.
6) op. cit. p.384.
9) CARN Winter 1993-4 p.23.
10) These men were killed in 1969 when a bomb they were transporting exploded prematurely, this one the same day as Charles was invested as 'Prince of Wales'.
11) Guardian 8/4/94. In which case, perhaps the Inspector could communicate this to to those responsible for keeping Sion Roberts in prison? And as a matter of interest, two of the defendants are brothers of Roberts.
12) One of the defendants in the earlier trial, David Davies, had been 'fitted up' using as pretext his membership ofthe 1991 MG colour party.
13) The article by Owen Bowcott in the Guardian 7/4/94 (Section 2 p. 10-11) is, despite cynical traces, a good and interesting piece.
14) Wales on Sunday 12/12/93.
15) See Wales on Sunday 24/4/94 p. 1-3 and CARN 86 Summer 1994 p.l 2.

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