Scarred visitor claimed he was quizzed by IRA’s McGuinness but was it a big story? Now we know

Martin McGuinness joined the IRA as a teenager


The most intriguing and somewhat chilling Reception encounter I ever had came when I was working for the Sunday Mirror in the 1980s.

The Newsdesk said there was a man with an interesting story looking for a few quid.

"See what he wants," was the order delivered without much enthusiasm.

Downstairs a burly chap, probably in his mid-forties with an ugly scar across one cheek, greeted me and explained he had a great yarn that I might not believe.

Well, I thought, that's probably about right.

We moved to a quiet corner where he told me he was a former soldier — special forces. Aren't you all, I thought cynically.

Not only that, he claimed he had been working undercover in Northern Ireland, for the intelligence services.

I inwardly swore. Another fantasy fan.

"Obviously I can't reveal a lot of detail but I can tell you this," he said quietly. "I was picked-up by the IRA and interrogated by Martin McGuinness."

He paused to allow the dust from this little bombshell to settle.

"Martin McGuinness the Sinn Fein boss?" I asked, thinking there could be no other.

He nodded and continued.

"I was being held in a house in Belfast by the Provos who were convinced I was a spy. McGuinness questioned me then left. Another guy came in with a gun so I knew what was coming. He didn't say anything but just fired. I half-ducked and the bullet caught my face." He traced the jagged red line on his cheek.

"The only way out was through a window, so I smashed through it, hit the deck outside and ran for my life.

"I had to stay out of the way for a few days until I eventually got out of the province."

He related the details calmly without any dramatics or hyperbole.

It was a tantalising story. At that time there were obviously rumours about McGuinness being an active Provo as opposed to a Sinn Fein 'politician' but  as far as I knew no one had the evidence to prove it. Since then of course his true role has been exposed, most recently in the BBC documentary,The Secret Army.

I stared at the 'spy' who gazed back.

"What's your name?" I asked.

He told me. 

"Is that your real name?"

He paused and nodded unconvincingly.

"So, what is it you want?"

"Just £500 to see me straight for a while. I've been cut loose by Intelligence and have nowhere to stay."

"Shall we go and have a drink?" I suggested.

"No," he said firmly. "I need to get going. Can you get me the money?"

I told him I'd speak to the newsdesk but warned that without some form of verification it was unlikely they'd go for it.

"Ask the MoD,”  he suggested.

"Even if you've given me your real name they won't discuss secret operations," I said.

"Well, I'm telling you the truth," he replied.

I rang the newsroom and briefly outlined what I'd been told.

"He's just a chancer. Anyone can make that up," was the understandable response.

I passed on the news that we couldn't dish out £500 for something we had little chance of standing-up. He didn't get annoyed or agitated as many con artists do when they know the cash is not coming.

"Do you fancy a drink?" I asked. An hour in the bar would help me ascertain if he really was a friend of Walter Mitty.

"No thanks. I understand your situation but I just wanted someone to know," he replied.

"Give me a number and I'll call you if my boss changes his mind," I said.

He smiled and shook his head.

"Think I'll leave it at that," he said and was gone.

As I went back to the newsroom I couldn't decide if we had missed out on a great story or the mystery man was indeed just another chancer.

Now we know.

17 June 2024