30/04/2003

Man questioned over McGuinness bugging allegations

A man has been arrested in connection to alleged transcripts of telephone calls between Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and a number of leading Government ministers including former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam.

The 48-year-old man, believed to be a former Special Branch officer, was arrested after a number of items were seized during a house search. He has been detained for interview.

The allegations relate to an article in today's Times newspaper which carried extracts of the biography, 'Martin McGuinness – From Guns to Government', by Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston which is to be released this week.

In the updated version, abstracts of which featured in Wednesday's issue of the paper, it was revealed that MI5 has been tapping telephone conversations held between Mr McGuinness, who is Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, and government minister and other officials.

The Times says the revelations "are likely to generate interest in the fact that MI5 bugging of Sinn Fein is apparently under way. The book said the bugging started in 1997 and is still going on".

The article claimed that telephone calls were recorded in which the then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam confided in Mr McGuinness at one of the most sensitive moments in the peace process, as well as telling him of her battle to stop the Prime Minister sacking her.

In another transcript, the broadsheet also reveals how Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief-of-staff, refers to an Ulster Unionist MP as "an ass" and agrees with Mr McGuinness that there are quite a lot of Unionists worthy of the insult.

In an interview one of the book's authors, Ms Johnson, claims the only viable reason security forces were bugging Mr McGuinness was because they suspect he "still maintains a military role in the IRA or is still in contact with people who have a military role".

Prime Minister Tony Blair today refused to comment on claims but rejected suggestions he had broken with a policy of not allowing MPs' conversations to be secretly recorded.

However, Mr McGuinness described as the news as "disgraceful, but not surprising" given that he believed information acquired through such activities had been used to target republicans and nationalists in the past as well as being passed on to loyalist paramilitaries.

The Times newspaper reported that the telephone calls were taped by the security services as part of an operation against Mr McGuinness, codenamed 'Narcotic1'.

(MB)

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