Roy Greenslade wrote 'a dangerous and unwarranted slur' against Liam Clarke
In 1995, Greenslade wrote a piece condemning the Sunday Times for “bias and falsification” in its coverage of Northern Ireland. This was post- the 1994 IRA ceasefire (but before the IRA resumed hostilities with a huge bomb in London’s Docklands in 1996 which killed two ). The Real IRA killed a further 29 in the Omagh bombing in 1998. Greenslade reported anonymous claims that the Sunday Times was “hellbent on derailing the peace process” by publishing “patently false stories”. He noted that Belfast editor Liam Clarke had written about Sinn Fein’s difficulty controlling the IRA post ceasefire. Clarke had written: “Intelligence sources believe the ceasefire will be extended until Easter, when a final decision will be taken.” Greenslade noted a further Clarke piece which said “a hardline faction of more than 50 terrorists is preparing to split from the IRA to begin a bombing campaign”. The Docklands bombing the following year and the Omagh massacre in 1998, suggest Clarke’s reporting was prescient. Greenslade noted that Clarke had attributed stories to “senior security officials” and “senior RUC detectives”. Noting Clarke’s detailed reporting about the IRA’s movement of secret arms caches around Northern Ireland, he said: “How can the writer be so specific unless briefed directly by MI5?” He said: “Another experienced NI correspondent claims the embellishment of ‘germs of truth’ is a classic British intelligence tactic.” The thesis of Greenslade’s piece was The Sunday Times was allowing itself to be a tool of the British establishment: “Alarm about the continuing activities of the IRA and the possibility of the ceasefire breaking maintain fear among Irish readers, particularly among loyalist readers.” Former Sunday Times managing editor Richard Caseby believes this was a dangerous and unwarranted slur and writes about the issue for the first time below. Richard Caseby gives his opinion about Roy Greenslade’s 1995 attack on Liam Clarke Roy Greenslade’s nostalgic musings that for decades he secretly supported the IRA’s murderous campaign hides a far darker and uglier truth, comments Richard Caseby. Greenslade’s reporting put a Sunday Times journalist’s life in danger. He effectively marked him out for any rogue IRA gang seeking revenge on an easy victim. And for that alone, he should never be forgiven. From 1986 to 1990 Greenslade was a Sunday Times news executive and one of the reporters who fell under his command was Liam Clarke, Northern Ireland Editor for two decades. Liam was one of the most formidable and fearless journalists of his generation during the bloody Troubles and throughout the peace process. He delivered scoops so consistently that his life was threatened time and again by the IRA. On one occasion in 1988 he dodged an IRA gang who hatched a plan to meet him in a pub – on the pretext of offering a story – and then abduct him. As his line manager, Greenslade knew that the IRA threats to murder Liam were real. Such was their severity that the Sunday Times paid for elaborate security measures at his home. Liam regularly took refuge in London and Special Branch gave him a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Despite the intrigue and pervasive threat, Liam was a humble and placid man. To the disquiet of colleagues, Liam’s pistol regularly fell out its holster with a thump whenever he bent down to pick up papers he’d dropped on the office floor. In 1987, working on a secret assignment with the Insight team, Liam named Thomas “Slab” Murphy as the IRA’s chief of staff and accused him of being a gun runner and directing an IRA bombing campaign in Britain. Murphy sued the Sunday Times for libel and lost twice. The then editor Andrew Neil bravely defended the story for over a decade at a cost of over a million pounds until the Irish Supreme Court dismissed Murphy’s final appeal in 1998. One of the Sunday Times’s key witnesses during the trial was an ex-IRA member, Eamon Collins. The year after Slab Murphy lost his last appeal (1999), Collins was stabbed in the face and beaten to death by a republican gang while walking his dogs. These were grim and dangerous times – though today forgotten by many. For years on the Belfast beat, Liam was caught in the middle. On one side there was police harassment, on the other he had to defend himself against smears that he colluded with MI5. This was fuelled by Greenslade, who penned a 1,000-word character assassination of Liam in the Guardian which speculated that he “must have been briefed directly by MI5”. “The allegations were wild, wrong and dangerous,” Liam wrote, the year after the IRA murdered his key witness, Collins. “For a journalist living and working in Northern Ireland to be accused of collusion with the security forces is life-threatening. Once a lie is printed, it is repeated with regularity. Greenslade was unrepentant. “The canard of involvement with British intelligence was seized upon by the IRA and Sinn Fein each time I wrote an article that embarrassed them.” As Liam’s former boss, Greenslade knew that Liam was under threat from the IRA. He knew he had special security at his home. And he knew Liam carried a gun for his personal safety. And yet he still chose to undermine a fellow journalist to whom he once owed a duty of care. As managing editor, I authorised new security measures for Liam’s home and Liam himself became more watchful. At times of direct threat he left the province to take cover in London. There was little else anyone could do. Liam was born the son of a Presbyterian minister but when he died from cancer in 2015 he was a Buddhist. At the time of Liam’s passing, Rory Godson, a former Ireland Editor of the paper and now the founder of Powerscourt, the city PR firm, said: “Lest we forget, it was dangerous being Liam Clarke. He moved house because people wanted to kill him. He was denounced by a noxious coalition in liberal London and Dublin…” And at the heart of that noxious coalition in liberal London was Roy Greenslade, who was given free rein to drip his poison from the pages of The Guardian.
Richard Caseby is founder of Caseman Communications (www.casemancomms.com) and a former managing editor of The Sunday Times
Roy Greenslade declined to comment further beyond what he said to Press Gazette earlier this week: “The furore underlines the main point of my article: to have come clean in the 1970s with my beliefs would have rendered me unemployable. “I did nothing more than the scores of journalists who keep their political views to themselves. My opinions did not affect my journalistic work, nor did they affect my university teaching. As many of my more attentive students would surely recall, I was open about being a republican.”