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Collateral Damage - Transcript

(A Prelude)



A transcript of Australian television company Channel 7 film Collateral Damage follows. It relates to the 27 May I990 murder of Nick Spanos and Stephan Melrose in Roermond, Holland, and was filmed in Europe, England, and Northern Ireland over two months in the summer of 2010, and screened in Australia on 5 September 2010.


Apart from the documentary receiving advance newspaper publicity in Ireland, the first report not initially seen by me, through the northern editor of the now defunct Dublin based Sunday Tribune, the online reports would surely have come to my attention via the use of the unrelated search word Stakeknife, a matter of interest to me then and now.


On securing both Irish newspaper reports and written to the involved journalist, Suzanne Breen, and then to the Australian Channel 7 film producer Ross Coulthart without return, I would in the early months of 2011 look more closely at the film. The fruits of that effort are contained in the coming two presentations.


Part one is a transcript of the film broken into numbered sections. Working within the numbered sections, part two lends context to the transcript.


Emphasis, where used, is mine.


Paragraph three of transcript has these words: “And to this day what’s never been revealed is that British spies could have stopped this attack.”


From a reading of my letters to Australian prime ministers’ Rudd and Gillard, you will realise this is not a factual statement. Two of the three letters pre-date the Collateral Damage filming and the underlined sentence, even if only narrowly in respect of the second letter. My understanding of this position is likely to have preceded despatch of letters by years.


The letters informed Prime Ministers’ Rudd and Gillard the lives of Nick Spanos and Stephan Melrose, and others, were capriciously sacrificed on the high altar of intelligence agency modus operandi, namely in the promotion and the protection of IRA informers.


If the chief player in that cooperative intelligence process was Britain’s Security Service (MI5), there is a shared culpability for the deaths with the national agencies of a number of continental countries whose facilitation made possible MI5’s overarching control. The collective silence is also fraternal.


In short, the “spies” of a number of nations “could have stopped this [and other] attack[s].”


The youngest victim of the IRA in their continental actions was six month old Nivruti Islania. A name surely unheard in Australia.


Few at this end of the world would be aware that Nivruti and her Royal Air Force corporal father Maheshkumar “Mick” Islania were shot in Wildenrath, Germany on 26 October 1989. Had natural life prevailed, Nivruti would now be a young woman in her early twenties, likely entertaining  the uncertain aspirations and joys that abound in life at such an age.


The IRA unit responsible for the deaths of Mick and Nivruti Islania was also responsible for shooting dead Nick Spanos and Stephan Melrose, even if there was a shuffling of pack with actions spread over two instalments.




Family members of Stephan Melrose depicted in the film are father, mother and sisters, Roy and Beverley Melrose, Susy Fraser, Helen Jackson; and brother-in-law Ian Fraser.


The family member of Nick Spanos depicted in film is Greg Vaurdalis – a cousin.



Collateral Damage



(Broadcast 5 September 2010)


“Clip: Stakeknife-Collateral Damage-By Ross Coulthart. Collateral Damage – The Murder of Australian Lawyers Stephan Melrose (24) and Nick Spanos (28).”


1) “[Voiceover] For four young Australians it began as a happy few days enjoying Holland’s historic sights. ‘[Ross Coulthart] What sort of a bloke was Stephan?’ ‘[Susy Fraser, Stephan’s sister] He was always happy. And just the fact that he lived life to the full, I’m really proud of him.’ ‘[Roy Melrose, Stephan’s father] We felt we were ah… We done really well and then all this happened.’


2) “[Voiceover] Twenty years ago a hit team of Irish Republican Army terrorists cut a murderous swathe across Europe. Two young Australians murdered by the IRA. Innocent victims of a dirty war. To this day the killers still walk free. And to this day what’s never been revealed is that British spies could have stopped this attack.


“‘[Ross Coulthart] British intelligence knew that the IRA had sent this team to Europe?’ ’[Kevin Fulton] They would have been… I am positive [MI5] would have known there was an IRA hit team in Europe.’


3) “[Voiceover] Stephan Melrose was from Brisbane and had only married his wife Lyndal nine months earlier. The newly weds took time off from their jobs in London to join Nick Spanos and his girlfriend Vicki for a weekend in the Netherlands. ‘[Ross Coulthart] What sort of a bloke was Stephan?’ ‘[Susy Fraser, Stephan’s sister] Oh... He was always happy. And just the fact that he lived life to the full, I’m really proud of him.’ ‘[Roy Melrose] I used to call him a loveable larriker.’


“[Voiceover] Stephan’s father Roy was very proud his son had become a lawyer and was now working in London. ‘[Roy Melrose] And we are glad he followed the path to be educated. And ah… and ah… we felt we were, ah, we had done really well to educate him.’


“[Voiceover] Nick Spanos too was the apple of his family’s eye. ‘[Greg Vaurdalis, Nick’s cousin] He was handsome. He had everything. Love. He was a god to his people or to his parents or to everybody who knew him.’


“[Voiceover] It was a spur of the moment decision to stop at the Dutch town of Roermond for a quick meal on their way home.


“‘[Ross Coulthart] Have you found any meaning behind what happened to Stephan?’ ‘[Roy Melrose] No meaning. No meaning whatsoever. He seemed to be the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.’


4) “[Voiceover] Roermond was a favourite haunt for off-duty British troops visiting from nearby bases in West Germany. Stephan and Nick had no reason to know that their short haircuts and the British number plate on their car, marked them as targets for an Irish hit team hunting British soldiers.


“’[Ian Fraser, Stephan’s brother-in-law] Something has always annoyed me is the IRA – they call it an army. It is not an army when you go around killing innocent people.’


5) “[Voiceover] We know now that these four people [a montage of four photographs], Gerard Harte, Donna Maguire, Seán Hick and Paul Hughes were members of an IRA terrorist cell hiding in the area, preparing for an attack. As the couples’ crossed the square after their dinner they had no idea they were being watched. They got to their car. Stephan decided to take one more photo to remember the night. Then horror. ‘[Vicki Coss, Nick Spanos’ girlfriend, speaking in contemporary footage] We were just sitting ducks. I mean, we were there… and we didn’t have any forewarning of what was going on’. ‘[Lyndal Melrose, wife of Stephan, also speaking in contemporary footage] When the window smashed and the shooting was still going on, my door was open and I sort of felt I was waiting for them to come at me but… but they didn’t.’


“[Voiceover] Nick and Stephan had no chance. Both men were dead within seconds.


“’[Susy Fraser, Stephan’s sister] It was very cruel the way they did it. The fact that they, even after Stephan would have been dead, they shot him again, both of them, a couple of times.’


“’[Ross Coulthart speaking to Jos Heitzer, an eye-witness] So you are absolutely sure that the man you saw that night was Gerard Harte?’ ‘[Heitzer] Yes, absolutely sure.’ [Voiceover] Watching from his first floor window on the road out of the square was Jos Heitzer. He got a very clear look at the face of one of the gunmen, Gerard Harte. ‘[Coulthart] How long did you get a look at the face?’ ‘[Heitzer] I think about 5 to 6 seconds. That’s enough for me to recognise a face.’ ‘[Coulthart] So you got a good look?’ ‘[Heitzer] I have a good look.’


“[Voiceover] Fleeing town and heading south the killers absurdly got lost, stopping at a petrol station for directions. Jon Luthan [manager of the petrol station] later identified the woman as Donna Maguire. ‘[Ross Coulthart, speaking to Jon Luthan] And what did Donna ask you?’ ‘[Jon Luthan, in translation] She just asked for the shortest way to Belgium.’


“[Voiceover] Donna Maguire is the so-called Angel of Death. One of the IRA’s most notorious female terrorists. Luthan also identified the get-away car, later found burnt out nearby. The next day, the killers still on the run, the IRA acknowledged its mistaken killing of the two Australians.


6) “[Contemporary report on British TV] Today in London, Gerry Adams president of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, said the attack was inexcusable. ‘[Gerry Adams] I can understand absolutely the outrage that was felt in Australia because these people were innocent victims.’


7) “[Voiceover] The killers disappeared… But then three weeks later, land owner Jean Voortman heard gunshots near his country house just over the border in Belgium. By the time he and his sons reached the scene, Donna Maguire and Seán Hick were posing as picnicers, their weapons nowhere to be seen. ‘[Jean Voortman] Two people came out of the woods… was the girl and a boy.’ [Voiceover] As the couple walked away, Voortman, suspicious, noticed freshly dug earth and soon uncovered their weapons. ‘[Jean Voortman] The Kalashnikov and two revolvers.’


“[Voiceover] Voortman left one son, Felipe, to guard the guns, while he called the police. When Gerard Harte returned to recover the weapons, Felipe fired over his head. ‘[Ross Coulthart, speaking to Jean Voortman.] So your son fired a shot to keep them away?’ ‘[Jean Voortman] Yes.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] He’s a brave lad.’ ‘[Jean Voortman] In they are… because he was here at fifty metres he is… [language difficulties].’


8) “[Voiceover] All four of the terrorists were soon captured. Two of the recovered guns were quickly tied to the murder of Stephan and Nick. ‘[Ross Coulthart] The evidence of a terrorist conspiracy was overwhelming. Dutch police soon found this safe house in The Hague [depiction of the property]. Fingerprints found inside linked the IRA suspects to fake i/d’s and passports they made here to hide their trail.’ ‘[Jo Lauman] If I was a judge in that time, with that evidence, I should have convicted them.’


“[Voiceover] Prosecutor Jo Lauman said there was overwhelming evidence to convict the team for membership of a criminal organisation and he is convinced of their guilt for the murder. ’[Ross Coulthart] Can I ask you this, sir. Is there any doubt in your mind that Gerard Harte was one of the killers?’ ‘[Jo Lauman] No, I have never doubted.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Is there any doubt in your mind that Donna Maguire and Hick were also involved?’ ‘[Jo Lauman] That they were involved – yes, yes, yes.’


“[Voiceover] Initially Gerard Harte was found guilty of murder but within months he was out of jail. The investigators bungled [in that] they prematurely released photographs identifying the IRA team before eye witnesses were interviewed. So Harte, Maguire, Hick and Hughes all walked free on appeal.


“’[Ian Fraser, Stephan’s brother-in-law] The evidence was overwhelming. But for three judges on an appeal, no. Something just doesn’t add up.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Why doesn’t it add up?’ ‘[Ian Fraser] The evidence was there.’ ‘[Coulthart] What do you think Stephan would say?’ ‘[Susy Fraser, Stephan’s sister] Ohh. Being a lawyer I think he’d be horrified, particularly with the court case and the appeal. And not getting justice.’


9) “[Voiceover] Twenty years after Stephan’s death his family is seeing for the first time the quiet Dutch square where he and Nick were murdered. ‘[Ross Coulthart, speaking to Roy Melrose and family] Stephan was, would be about here, and one of them got out, walked up, shot Stephan… Sorry, Roy… [Roy Melrose withdraws from Coulthart’s consoling hand] and then the car drove up, came very close, here – and then, ah, shot Nick. [Coulthart then verbally retraces to when the four Australians left the restaurant after their meal] They walked back to the car here and as you know they all hopped into the car and Stephan was just taking one last photograph.’


“’[Susy Fraser, Stephan’s sister] If, you know, you just had that feeling that it was very final, very shocking… with the, em, violence of it all. Ohhh. I just didn’t like to think that he may have suffered or known what was coming.’ ‘[Roy Melrose] How could you do such a thing… to just to… just to, just to go up behind somebody and shoot them?’ ‘[Helen Jackson, Stephan’s sister] It does bring up that anger that the killer… you know, I would think the killer should be sitting in a jail.’


10) “[Voiceover] One explanation for why so many such murders may have gone unpunished comes from the shadowy world of espionage. This man who goes by the name Kevin Fulton was a secret British agent inside the IRA. He admits he committed terrible crimes as a supposed IRA terrorist, all the while reporting them to his British handler, a man who is now at the highest echelon of MI5. [Footage of Coulthart and Fulton meeting in London.]


“’[Kevin Fulton] I made bombs in the Irish republic with the full knowledge of my handlers. I would go out with IRA operations with other IRA men.’


“’[Ross Coulthart] Would it have been known to British intelligence that there was an IRA hit team in Europe?’


“’[Kevin Fulton] It would have been… I am positive [MI5] would have known there was an IRA hit team in Europe.’


“[Voiceover] Fulton knew well some of the terrorists involved in the murder of Stephan Melrose and Nick Spanos. ‘[Coulthart] What sort of person was Gerard Harte?’ ‘[Kevin Fulton] No doubt he’s well capable of killing.’


11) “[Voiceover] But it is what Fulton can now reveal about this man, Desmond Grew, that is especially interesting. Grew helped plot the IRA’s European attacks, including Roermond, and he visited the hit team shortly before the killings. ‘[Fulton] Grew had been sent out to the continent to them because they were actually doing nothing, they were pissing it up as someone actually, as he’d said, they were able to, thought they were on holidays. So Grew actually went out and chastised them and put the thing up and running again.’


“‘[Ross Coulthart] A British agent, you believe, knew that Desmond Grew was going to Europe?’ ‘[Kevin Fulton] Yes.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Is that something that you believe British intelligence would admit now?’ ‘[Kevin Fulton] No, they would never admit it. You see, this is what your viewers, people, would have to understand. This is a covert war. This is Dirty Joe actions everywhere.’


“‘[Ross Coulthart] But if they knew that there was an IRA hit team in Europe, why didn’t they go and arrest them and stop them?’ ‘[Kevin Fulton] But see sometimes to protect an agent, you’ve got to let, you call it a firebreak, you let things happen.’ ‘[Coulthart] So the protection of a source was more important than the protection of innocent civilians?’ ‘[Kevin Fulton] Sometimes.’


“’[Susy Fraser, Stephan Melrose’s sister] Why didn’t they do something? They are as responsible.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Because if the British did have somebody inside the IRA who were telling them about operations – and they did!’ ‘[Susy Fraser] A conflict of interest, maybe?’


12) “[Voiceover] But the blood on Desmond Grew’s hands didn’t stop Gerry Adams from giving the oration at his funeral less than a year later. [Contemporary funeral film shown.] Adams described the Roermond mastermind as a decent upstanding Irish citizen.


“Today Gerry Adams has carved a role for himself as the very model of decency. A family man and an MP in the Northern Ireland parliament. But twenty years ago he was secretly on the terrorist front line.


“‘[Ross Coulthart, door-stepping Gerry Adams at a Northern Ireland event.] Did you have any role in ordering the operation that killed the two Australians?’ ‘[Gerry Adams] None whatsoever.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] You were on the IRA Army Council at the period, though, weren’t you?’ ‘[Gerry Adams] Now… first of all, I wasn’t. But you shouldn’t be coming here, you know, presuming to make assertions or allegations like that.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Why do so many of your former colleagues in the IRA say that you were a very senior IRA member?’ ‘[Gerry Adams] You’ll have to ask them that.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Brendan Hughes – one of your closest mates.’ ‘[Gerry Adams] Brendan is dead now.’


“[Voiceover] But the voice of Gerry Adams’ closest IRA comrade is now speaking from the grave. ‘[Taped voice of the deceased Brendan Hughes relating on Gerry Adams] He could have stopped every bullet from being fired.’ [Voiceover] Here in the vaults of Boston College are the secret tapes of IRA fighters, not to be released until their deaths. ‘[Brendan Hughes] Throughout [?] this war, Gerry was a major, major player in the war, not just…’ [Voiceover speaking on the book] Voices from the Grave records the allegations of Brendan Hughes who died two years ago. ‘[Brendan Hughes] I never carried out a major operation without the okay or the order from Gerry. And for him to sit in his plush office in Westminster or Stormont or whatever and deny it, I mean it is like Hitler denying there was ever a Holocaust. I don’t know where…’ [Voiceover] Gerry Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA. But on the tapes his dead friend tells a very different story. ‘[Brendan Hughes] It is totally disgusting and a disgrace to all the people who have died.’


“’[Ross Coulthart, talking to writer Ed Moloney] If Brendan Hughes is telling the truth it means, doesn’t it, that Gerry Adams had foreknowledge of major operations like Roermond?’ ‘[Ed Moloney, author of book, Voices From the Grave.] Yes, he would have known about it and authorised and approved it. It was IRA military policy and he was involved in making IRA military policy.’


“‘[Ross Coulthart] So he’s just lying through his teeth when he denies a role?’ ‘[Ed Moloney] Absolutely. Yes, there is no other way you can say it.’


“‘[Gerry Adams, further responding to Ross Coulthart at the Stormont event] Let me tell you this. The IRA is off the stage now. Now, clearly, a lot of people have suffered, and I make the case again, particularly civilians and those who lost loved ones as a result of the conflict.’


13) “[Voiceover] Stephan’s family recently went to Belfast searching for answers. In smart suburbs, in good streets, in comfortable homes, surrounded by their own families, live the terrorists who took the lives of two innocent Australians.


“‘[Ross Coulthart, speaking to Roy Melrose] Somewhere near where we are at the moment, Roy, there’s the man who killed Stephan. How do you feel towards that person?’ ‘[Roy Melrose] Ohh, just complete hatred.’ ‘[Coulthart visits Gerard Harte’s house.] (I’m calling for?) Gerard, Gerard Harte.’ ‘[An unidentified female householder answering] He’s not here.’


“[Voiceover] There’s a wall of silence. ‘[Ross Coulthart] Do you think that you’d ever be able to forgive the people that killed Stephan?’ ‘[Ian Fraser, Stephan’s brother in law] No.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] Not at all?’ ‘[Ian Fraser] Emm, I think if I’d my heart I’d take his throat out.’


“’[Ross Coulthart, moving to Donna Maguire who is at the steering wheel of a car. A tap on the driver’s window.] Hello, Donna Maguire. Ross Coulthart. Australian TV. It’s twenty years, Donna. Twenty years. Do you have anything to say to the Australian family? Do you have anything to say to that family you caused so much heartbreak to? Why can’t you say something, Donna? Why not a simple sorry? Why not say sorry? [Maguire gives no oral response.]’


“‘[Ross Coulthart to Roy Melrose] If they truthfully and honestly opened up to you and said, “Mr. Melrose, I know this won’t bring your son back but we are so sorry.”’ ‘[Roy Melrose] I wouldn’t believe them.’ ‘[Ross Coulthart] You wouldn’t believe them?’ ‘[Roy Melrose] No way in the world. No.’


“‘[Film returns to clip of Coulthart door-stepping Donna Maguire] Spare a thought for the family. Twenty years ago you helped to murder a young Australian. How do you feel about that? Did you never expect that your past would catch up with you? His name was Stephan. Stephan Melrose, Donna.’ [Film ends with Donna Maguire still trying to extricate car and self from scene.]”





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