Brian Nelson (Northern Irish loyalist)
|Born||30 September 1947
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
|Died||11 April 2003
Ulster Defence Association
UDA West Belfast Brigade
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (December 2012)|
Brian Nelson (30 September 1947– 11 April 2003) was a Northern Ireland British Army Intelligence Corps agent who also operated as the intelligence chief of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) paramilitary organisation.
Early life 
Nelson, a Protestant from the Shankill Road, Belfast, served with the Black Watch regiment before joining the Ulster Defence Association in the early 1970s, where he was a low-level informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 1974 he was jailed for seven years for the kidnap and torture of a Catholic man, Gerald Higgins, who died several weeks later from his injuries. Nelson served three years. He left for a construction job in West Germany, but in 1985 the Intelligence Corps asked him to rejoin and infiltrate the UDA. He became the organisation's senior intelligence officer where he received assistance from his handlers who, in one instance, organised, streamlined and returned to Nelson a suitcase full of disorganised UDA intelligence.
Stevens Inquiry 
In the early 1990s, following the shooting death of Loughlin Maginn, John Stevens was named to investigate allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Stevens was able to use advanced fingerprint technology, then unavailable to the RUC. The Inquiry team uncovered Nelson's fingerprints on some security force documents. The team began an investigation that, despite the obstructions encountered, would lead to Nelson's arrest.
When the Stevens Inquiry Team arrested Nelson, he immediately told them that he had been acting on behalf on the British government. Stevens spoke to John Deverell, head of MI5 in Belfast, who confirmed that Nelson had worked for the British Army and not the RUC. Sharp disagreements developed between the two security branches as the extent of Nelson's illegal activities within the Force Research Unit (FRU) was uncovered.
Over a period of two months Nelson dictated a police statement covering 650 pages. He revealed that he had been tasked by both the British Army and the Protestant paramilitaries to make the UDA a more effective killing machine. Using information that should have been confidential to the army he produced dossiers or "Intelligence Packages" including backgrounds, addresses, photos and movements on proposed targets, which were passed on to potential assassins.
Blue card index system 
Nelson had a blue card index system whereby he would pick out information on individuals from the mass of information reaching him. The selection of names for the index was Nelson's alone and Stevens concluded that Nelson was actually choosing the people who were going to be shot - if an Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) killer had a vague notion of targeting someone in a particular area, Nelson would pass over a card, relevant or otherwise. In one instance the paramilitaries requested information on 14 prospective Sinn Féin councillors.
Nelson passed on the names of only ten people to his FRU handlers, claiming he could not remember the others. Those ten were never targeted. Four others, including solicitor Pat Finucane, were all shot dead. In Stevens' words "the FRU had been inexcusably careless in failing to protect the four who lost their lives". Nelson handed out his blue cards, between twenty and fifty at a time, to members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The FRU had no agents within the UVF and these people were consequently unprotected. Many loyalists never bothered to destroy their blue cards, however, and the Stevens team was able to obtain fingerprint evidence.
At his trial in 1992, the prosecution alleged that he failed to alert his handlers to all the assassination plans of which he was aware. Gordon Kerr ('Colonel J'), a senior officer who has since himself been investigated, testified on Nelson's behalf; claiming he had warned them of UDA targeting of more than 200 people, including the head of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams. The early warning meant only three had been subsequently killed. Nelson claimed he had warned Military Intelligence of UFF plans to kill solicitor Pat Finucane, but Finucane had not been given any warning. Eventually Nelson pleaded guilty to 20 charges, including five of conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to 10 years. A number of charges against Nelson, including two murders, were dropped as part of his plea agreement.
Further allegations 
Following Nelson's conviction, the BBC Panorama programme Dirty War, broadcast on 8 June 1992, made new claims about Nelson's involvement in further murders and conspiracies. One allegation was that, following a tip off from Nelson, army intelligence kept secret a plot to murder Paddy McGrory, a solicitor representing the families of the Gibraltar Three.
In January 1993, Adams claimed the British government was fully aware of Nelson's involvement in the January 1988 import of weapons from South Africa including 200 AK47 rifles; 90 Browning pistols; 500 fragmentation grenades and 12 RPG 7 rocket launchers. This, together with the reliance by loyalists on leaked, although often outdated, intelligence files on potential targets, meant that by 1992, loyalists were killing more than the republicans, a situation not seen since 1975.
Sir Patrick Mayhew, Northern Ireland Secretary, declared the Nelson affair was dead and buried. However, in May 1993, a San Francisco judge, in the extradition case of Maze prisoner escapee, James Joseph "Jimmy" Smyth, using the alias "Jimmy Lynch", demanded disclosure in court of suppressed reports, including documents on Nelson, or risk having the case dismissed. The papers were not produced but Smyth was eventually deported back to Northern Ireland on 17 August 1996.
Francisco Notarantonio 
Nelson was accused of setting up the killing of an Irish republican, Francisco Notarantonio, to divert the UDA/UFF from targeting Frederico Scappatici. Loyalist Sam McCrory shot Notarantonio, aged 66, who had been interned in 1971, but not active for many years, dead at his home in Ballymurphy, West Belfast on 9 October 1987.
- RUC report re Brian Nelson, 11 July 1990, accessed 12 December 2012
- The Independent obituary for Brian Nelson, 14 April 2003
- John Stevens Not for the Faint-Hearted, Weidenfield & Nicholson; 2005 ISBN 978-0-297-84842-4; p. 157
- Collusion: British Military Intelligence and Brian Nelson, Sinn Féin website
- Not for the Faint-Hearted, p. 156
- Not for the Faint-Hearted, pp. 161-64
- The Guardian, Jail move "step to freedom", 28 December 1992
- "Army faces legal case over killing", The Guardian, 17 August 1993
- The Times, "Tory asks Major to protect agent", 9 June 1992
- Spy "rearmed loyalists", The Guardian, 8 January 1993
- Ken Livingstone editorial, The Guardian, 8 March 1993
- "US judge asks for secret British papers in IRA case", The Guardian, 5 May 1993
- Jimmy Smyth deportation
- Crimes of loyalty: a history of the UDA; Ian S. Wood; Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p. 125
- "Army faces legal case over killing", The Guardian, 17 August 1993
- Paul Foot (17 April 2003). "Brian Nelson". Obituary. The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-07-23.
- "Former British agent Brian Nelson dies" RTE News, 13 April 2003. Retrieved 8 May 2012