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BLACK MAGIC... OR ARMY'S BLACK OPS; Superstition was used to undermine the paramilitaries as Troubles raged.

Byline: VICTORIA McMAHON

"BLACK magic fear in two border towns" -- that was the screamer headline about dead sheep and devil worship that set one man off on a 40-year hunt for the truth.

And along the way he unearthed links to security forces' "black operations" and a child murder that shocked the country.

After reading that local newspaper front page in 1973, sceptical Queen's University student Richard Jenkins started to f investigate strange stories of Satanism, black magic and child sacrifice.

And his research was to form the nucleus of his new book Black Magic And Bogeymen, published 40 years later by Cork University Press.

Richard explained: "It seemed that a group of Satanists had sailed to an island at the dead of night to conjure up a demon and perform sexual rituals. Four dead sheep were the evidence of the sinister sacrifice."

It might have been forgotten but for the horrific murder of Brian McDermott, 10, in Belfast. The schoolboy's mutilated and burnt body was found in the River Lagan, sparking further occult rumours.

The retired professor of sociology added: "Even in a society that was increasingly hardened to murder and mayhem, this was a terrible crime. Within days, rumours of a black magic killing appeared in local newspapers."

Fascinated, the Larne man started writing down what family and friends were saying. And his enquiries uncovered how the Army's "black ops" department deliberately circulated sinister stories about black magic and set up mock devil worship sites in a bid to keep public support for paramilitaries at a minimum.

He explained: "They wanted to draw on people's existing beliefs of the supernatural and the idea the violence had opened the gate to this evil, that the violence had encouraged this black magic.

"It wasn't that paramilitaries were carrying it out. It was all about alienating the public from the paramilitaries. It was a ns a time of paranoia. You took notice of it but did not necessarily believe it."

Colin Wallace, the ex-head of the Army's "black ops" in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, confirmed to the author he had been involved in "psychological operations" to exploit superstitions.

Mr Jenkins said: "The Army's secret 'black propaganda' unit, based in Lisburn, tried to put the fear of God into people by mocking up at least ApLf b two 'black mass' sites, in Newry and in North Belfast.

"So why did it stop? One reason was the absence of evidence.

"More important, there were other, more urgent problems in the run-up to the Ulster Workers' strike of May 1974."

Mr Jenkins hopes his book gives an insight into "a weird world of folk belief, religion, fear and manipulation".

victoria.mcmahon@trinitymirror.com

"They wanted to draw on people's existing beliefs of the supernatural RICHARD JENKINS ON ARMY'S RUMOUR MILL

CAPTION(S):

Shocking: murder victim Brian McDerrmott, left, newspaper article and author Richard Jenkins

Horror: Old Bailey bombing in 1973, one of the worst years of Troubles

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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 2, 2014
Words:495
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