The loudly trumpeted securocrat operation with clear, advance preparation and media notice began on Thursday 6 October when the Six-County Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and the 26-County Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), assisted by Gardaí searched domestic and business premises respectively in Manchester and Dundalk.
CAB raided the offices of several premises, including legal and financial firms in Dundalk and took away documentation. Journalists were told in media briefings that Thomas Murphy was a focus of their inquiries. Pet hacks claimed Murphy was identified to them by ‘security sources’ as IRA Chief of Staff and was at the centre of a ‘multi-million pound exercise’ in cross-border smuggling.
Media reports from Friday 7 October claimed to identify where Thomas Murphy lived and journalists were dispatched to the North Louth area in an unseemly scramble to dig up information on the man and his family.
Security elements in the Six and 26 Counties drip-fed journalists for a week, claiming they had discovered a paper trail of criminal investments leading to Thomas Murphy’s door. However, within days the story began to unravel and when the real facts began to emerge it was clear that the scale and scope of the operation had been greatly exaggerated and there was no evidence of wrongdoing against Thomas Murphy whatsoever.
The raids co-incided with a visit to Downing Street by Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Asked by reporters at Downing Street for his reaction to the operation Gerry Adams said: “I am not going to respond to what are obviously briefings headed up by Alan McQuillan, a former RUC Special Branch officer. This is obviously a political agenda.
By Monday the depth of the hoax had become clear as one of the Manchester-based businessmen Dermot Craven delivered a press conference in which he confidently refuted the allegations against him and held up to public ridicule the entire ARA operation.
On Wednesday 12 October Thomas Murphy issued the following statement through the Belfast-based solicitors firm Madden and Finucane:
“There is absolutely no foundation to allegations which have been carried in the media for some time and repeated at length over the past week. I have never conducted any business with the Craven Property Group, nor have I any link with other businesses run by them.
“It is distressing to myself and my family to see false allegations being made by anonymous staff in the ARA and repeated as fact in the media. I want to categorically state for the record that all these allegations are totally untrue.
“I believe that questions have to be asked as to why these raids were conducted in the full glare of the media and why my name was leaked in connection with this case.
“My name has appeared on no ARA statement that I am aware of and no agency has been in contact with me in relation to any of this.
“My solicitor is in contact with those concerned to ascertain why my name has been falsely linked to this case.
“I do not own any property and in fact had to sell my own home some years ago to cover legal fees following an unsuccessful libel case. Despite losing this case I take an attack on my reputation very seriously.
“The farm depicted in the media is not in fact my home and I do not live at that address. I make a living from farming.
“Those opposed to the Peace Process are obviously hoping that in vilifying me personally and republicanism in general they will scupper attempts to build peace. They will not succeed.
“I have been a republican all my life and fully support the Peace Process. I will continue to play whatever role I can to see it work.”
Also on Wednesday Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy said British Prime Minster Tony Blair must remove anti-Agreement securocrats from positions of influence. “The malign influence of securocrats such as those who were members of the RUC old guard and Special Branch has at every twist and turn of the Peace Process tried to undermine progress and defend unionist interests.
“Sinn Féin supports the pursuit of criminal assets. However in recent days the Assets Recovery Agency has pursued a blatant political agenda that does not stand up to even the most cursory of examinations. Tony Blair has a responsibility to remove anti-agreement securocrats from positions of influence where they can undermine the Peace Process.”