Kenneth Littlejohn (aka Kenneth Austen; born c. 1941) is a convicted armed robber and gaol-breaker who claimed to be a Secret Intelligence Service/Official IRA double agent. The Littlejohn affair concerned allegations of British espionage and use of agent provocateurs in the Republic of Ireland during the Troubles.
In 1970 the Midland Motor Cylinder Company in Smethwick, Birmingham was robbed of £38,000. The wages clerk, Brian Perks, claimed to have been overpowered by an Indian man who then took the money. Perks was Littlejohn's brother-in-law and the police suspected a staged incident involving the two men.
Littlejohn claims he went on the run, first to London, where he made contact with a police officer who showed him his arrest warrant and advised him to move to Dublin. In December 1970, in Dublin, he set up a company, Whizz Kids (Ireland) Ltd. He moved to Cahersiveen seeking a potential development site for a factory. As a flash potential investor who bought drinks for all in the local pubs, he became well known and popular in the area. In Kerry Littlejohn claimed he was shown a Kalashnikov supposedly smuggled in by Russian sailors. Littlejohn turned down several potential development sites and left unpaid debts when he returned to Dublin.
The British Government and the Official IRA
Lady Onslow was an aristocratic divorcee who occupied part of her time with the ex-Borstal organisation '’Teamwork Associates'’ in London. Littlejohn's brother, Keith, had spent time in Borstal and was known to Lady Onslow through the organisation. Lady Onslow was made aware of information in Kenneth's possession and contacted her friend, Lord Carrington. On 22 November 1971 a meeting was arranged at Onslow's London flat between Kenneth and British minister Geoffrey Johnson Smith. It was at this time that the official Wanted status in respect of the Smethwick robbery was downgraded to Desired to Interview.
On 18 September 1972, Edmund Woolsey, 32, was killed by booby trap attached to his car. Two of his friends were injured. The car had been stolen a week earlier. The police informed Woolsey that the car had been found abandoned  at Glassdrumman, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh. The bomb exploded as they went to retrieve their vehicle. While not a member of the Officials, Woolsey was known to the Littlejohns and socialised in similar circles. The Official IRA decided that Woolsey had been lured to his death by the army who had set up the booby trap based on information supplied by the Littlejohns.
Bank Robbery and Trial
In October 1972 the Allied Irish Banks branch in Grafton Street, Dublin was robbed of £67,000; at the time the largest haul in Ireland. Three men had turned up at the home of the manager, who was then driven to the bank while his family was held hostage. A further three gang members locked the staff in the vault before escaping with the money. The Ulster Volunteer Force was initially reported as responsible following comments made by the robbers.
Kenneth and Keith were arrested in London the week following the issue of an extradition warrant from Dublin. Following an instruction from the Attorney General, the extradition proceedings were held in camera on the grounds of national security.
At the extradition proceedings the brothers tried but failed to prevent a prosecution by the Special Criminal Court under the Offences against the State Acts 1939. The Irish Attorney General had given assurances that they would not be charged with political offences under the Act.
In March 1974 they both escaped from Mountjoy Prison. Toothpaste had been used to cover up saw marks in the cream coloured bars of the cell window. Having escaped the wing the brothers got over the wall using planks being used for building work.
Kenneth Littlejohn escaped to England, where he was harboured in the Birmingham home of Thomas Watt, a future Prosecution witness in the Birmingham Six Trial. While on the run Littlejohn gave several press interviews and enrolled for touch-typing lessons to help him write his memoirs. Kenneth was staying with Watt on the night, in November 1974, of the Birmingham Pub bombings, and made tea when detectives came to interview Watt.
Littlejohn was recaptured, in his underpants at gunpoint, by West Midlands Police detectives at Watt's home on 11 December 1974. Watt himself was arrested later that afternoon, but claimed he was released, on Detective Superintendent Pat Cooney's orders, as he could not be prosecuted as Littlejohn's crime was committed outside of the UK.
The brothers were released early in 1981 on condition they leave Ireland.
The following year Nottingham Crown Court jailed Kenneth for six years for his part in a £1,300 armed robbery at the Old Manor House, North Wingfield, Chesterfield, England. Keith was cleared of a similar offence.
- The Dirty War By Martin Dillon; ISBN 0-415-92281-X
- Danger to brothers' lives in jail increased ; The Times, 8 August 1973; pg2; col C )
- MP to question Mr Heath…The Times 6 August 1973; pg 1; col D
- 'Wanted' replaced by 'interview desired'; The Times, 9 August 1973; pg2 col C
- CAIN: Northern Ireland Conflict; Database of Deaths
- "Walter Mitty" life of Littlejohn brothers; The Times, 9 August 1973; pg1; col F.
- History repeats itself; An Phoblacht; 20 January 2005
- '’Cowardly and Despicable'’…; The Times 13, Oct 1972; p2; col A
- Englishman says he was attacked in Irish jail ;The Times, 6 August 1973; pg. 2; col C
- Dublin and Monaghan Bombs – Chronology of Events CAIN
- Oireachtas 1 Feb 2005
- Toothpaste helped in jail escape; The Times, 20 July 1976; pg2 col D
- Chris Mullin Error of Judgement
- p229 Chris Mullin Error of Judgement
- BBC News Report Accessed 19 November 2007
- Six-year armed robbery sentence on Littlejohn The Times, Saturday, 17 July 1982; pg3; col A
- Robber clears his brother; The Times, 17 March 1983; pg2 col A