Ian Withers. former WAPI Chairman and the Associations founder, today has his memoirs published with some interesting excerpts here:
SUNDAY LIFE – BELFAST:
HE spent the hedonistic ’80s living a real-life version of a John le Carré espionage novel – foiling coups and assassinations as the Seychelles government’s chief spy.
Despite carrying out his surveillance from one of the world’s most glamorous sun-soaked paradises, retired private detective Ian Withers describes it as part of a career spent in the “darkest of shadows”.
The bleakness didn’t end after he retired.
Ulster-based pensioner Ian made global headlines in 2018 when he was arrested by the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism command over the 1985 murder of exiled Seychelles politician and “dissident” revolutionary Gérard Hoarau – a man Ian had spent years monitoring and sabotaging.
The ex-PI (80) had electrical equipment including computers seized and was flown from his Co Antrim home to London for questioning about the daylight sub-machine gun assassination of Hoarau, before being released without charge.
Three years on, Ian says he’s still stunned he was questioned about the murder decades after he left his role as National Security Advisor to the Republic of Seychelles.
He says everything he knows about the case – as well as the secrets behind his years as a Seychelles spy – is finally revealed in his upcoming memoir.
Sunday Life has seen an advance copy of Private Eye, Secret Spy: My Life As Britain’s Most Controversial PI, due out in May.
It tells how military-trained Ian, along with his brother Stuart, spent years building a lucrative international private detective agency after he left the Territorial Army and a joinery business to get it off the ground in the 1960s.
The investigator crossed the world to recover abducted children, bug millionaires, guard politicians, track VIPs, locate terrorists and flush out fraudsters.
Then a mysterious job in 1979 propelled him and the business into a different league.
Ian was asked on the phone by a mysterious Italian woman to gather intelligence on four men with links to the Seychelles – including Gérard Hoarau.
His work was so painstakingly thorough he was asked in 1980 if he wanted the position of National Security Advisor for the Seychelles under its socialist president Albert René.
Ian insists in his autobiography: “There was nothing unethical here, nothing illegal,” adding: “The USA has the CIA, the UK has MI6, and now Seychelles would have me.”
For the next 11 years, Ian clocked up countless air miles tracking president René’s enemies.
He says: “Gérard Hoarau led a hardcore dissident faction. It hired mercenaries over and over to oust the left-wing government and seize power. My job was to derail his efforts and I did so. Over and over.”
René had seized control in a coup in 1977 and led the country for almost three decades before stepping down in April 2004.
Ian focused on tracking and foiling coup attempts he says were led by Hoarau and the playboy ousted by René, Sir James Mancham.
He details how Hoarau and Mancham headed the anti-Seychelles government organisation MPR – Mouvement Pour La Résistance.
Ian said it was largely headquartered in London and had £1million in funding from Saudi oil and arms billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, who went on to work with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Using “the highest quality tradecraft”, Ian speaks of his pride in infiltrating the MPR ranks.
Among the agents used was fellow PI Barry Trigwell, who went undercover using the name Jim O’Boyle and a backstory he was a mercenary.
Barry survived the years of dangerous spying only to be found bludgeoned to death aged 44 in 1995 at his home in Birmingham after his ‘Black Widow’ wife Anne hired two South Africans to carry out the murder.
Ian’s book details how he and Barry prepared to pounce on the MPR ahead of their failed Operation Angela mercenary coup that aimed to return Mancham to power.
In the years after the botched takeover, Ian says carried a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver in a waist holster on protection detail for Seychelles officials while enduring death threats from the MPR.
“There was a very real possibility that an experienced hitman could move in at any time, anywhere, and I spent those days in a state of readiness, ready to do whatever it took, handgun at my side,” Ian says.
“My sleeping became shallow, more a case of power down than power off. I would wake in the night at the tiniest sound.”
The Seychelles has been branded a ‘gangsters’ paradise’ and haven for mafia money launderers, gun runners and tax dodgers – leading it to previously being named one of the world’s most corrupt spots.
Ian says Hoarau’s life was as compromised as the island’s history.
Pointing the blame at mercenaries, South African oil dealers and even the CIA, Ian says: “The manner of his murder was as ruthless and as public as it could be.
“It has been said Hoarau owed money to a number of very serious men in South Africa and was, by order of its own government, not going back there.
“He had more dealings with cash-hungry mercenaries of all kinds of mindsets than anyone I ever came across.
“A US link to the murder should not be ruled it. It was no secret that America had an interest in not just toppling René but in maintaining full control of its strategically invaluable mountain top space tracking station on Mahé. The killing took place, after all, during the closing days of the Cold War, a time when American might and pride was on show like never before via NASA’s space shuttle missions.”
In 2019 Ian told the BBC he felt stranded in “legal limbo” by the Met, who said that year: “A 77-year-old man remains released under investigation.”
Ian says the phrase “under investigation” was ambiguous, placed him under a cloud and demanded cops make it clear he is no longer a suspect.
Dad-of-four to daughter Debbie and sons Andy, Johnnie and Jamie, London-born Ian has lived in Antrim since the 1990s.
He was widowed in 2016 when his wife Phyl died in 2016 from a stomach artery blood clot.
Ian says: “I’ve negotiated paths through war zones, set national news agendas, helped seal an international treaty, prevented murder and witnessed murder, but I’ve never had any involvement in any murder.”
* NEXT WEEK: PART 2 OF THE SEYCHELLES’ SPY’S SECRETS
– How Ian Was Jailed With IRA Chiefs, Linked To An Infamous Political Coup, Did Time In Argentina Jail Hellhole & Spied On One Of Hollywood’s Most Famous Actresses
The Sun (Irish Edition)
A PRIVATE eye who spied on terror suspects across the globe has told how he tracked Britain’s most wanted IRA suspect with a single phone call.
Ian Withers was secretly tasked via UK government officials with locating alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey after the horrific attack in 1982.
Three Household Cavalry soldiers and seven horses were killed in one of two horrific Provo attacks in London that day.
Despite requests from the UK, Irish authorities told the British they could not locate key suspect Downey, from Co Donegal.
Two years later, after the IRA’s 1984 Brighton Bomb, the pressure was mounting.
It was then that PI Ian Withers was asked to find one of Britain’s most wanted men.
In upcoming memoir Private Eye, Secret Spy, Withers reveals the request began with the UK’s Attorney General.
It was passed to him via Sunday Times and BBC journalist Barrie Penrose, who died last year.
The investigator agreed to launch a hunt for Downey – and had his details within an hour.
Withers writes that over “fish and chips in Belfast” Penrose told him of the request from Sir Michael Havers, the UK’s then Attorney General.
He told of British frustrations that the Irish authorities were not helping after IRA suspects crossed into the Republic.
Withers said: “The issue of the mysteriously unlocatable IRA suspects had been discussed.
“Barrie told me Sir Michael Havers had said, ‘You know your people in Ireland? I’d like to see if they can find this
John Downey individual.’
“Barrie said the Attorney General, and therefore the UK government, were seeking to embarrass the Irish government by finding on-the-run Downey without any Irish participation.
“There were many constraints on any official parties becoming involved in the search but, as Sir Michael had said, none at all on private citizens playing a part. I said I’d begin immediately.”
Withers called the Pay Related Social Insurance HQ in Ireland, the equivalent of the UK’s National Insurance scheme, telling them he worked for the “Department of Health and Social Security.”
He writes: “I recall being slightly nervous as I picked up the phone. This was an important case. I didn’t want to bugger it up. I wanted to find John Downey. A man answered at the Dublin office and I introduced myself with a made up name.
“‘We are having trouble getting in touch with a claimant who has returned to Ireland,’ I said in my best London accent. ‘To Donegal, I believe. We have a final cheque for him and have no idea where to send it.’”
He said that “a minute later and I was in luck. Lots of it.
Withers writes: “‘I have him,’ the man said. He read out the address in Donegal and, even better, told me Downey was unemployed and signing on for benefits every two weeks. And, better still, he said he would be signing on at the Ballyshannon benefits office this Thursday, October 18, 1984. That was in two days’ time.
“This was an incredible information haul. With one phone call I had all I needed to know about the whereabouts of Britain’s most wanted terrorist bomber. I’d only left Barrie an hour before.”
The Attorney General was told, Downey was photographed on the day and, amid uproar in Britain, his image was carried in newspapers around the world.
Said Withers: “The fact that I had located Mr Downey so fast spoke very clearly of the Irish government’s unwillingness to track him down. It was clear that something needed to change.”
Withers believes the resulting fallout led directly to increased efforts in Dublin and London to get the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement over the line.
It boosted co-operation between Britain and Ireland at the height of the Troubles although attempts to extradite Downey failed.
He would not be charged over the Hyde Park bombing until 2013.
Yet that case collapsed after it emerged that in 2007 he had been given assurances from former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government he was not being sought by UK authorities.
However in December 2020, after a civil case, the High Court in London ruled Downey must compensate family members of 19-year-old Hyde Park bomb victim Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young. The Donegal man was ordered to pay £715,000.
The 80-year-old PI, who co-founded the World Association of Professional Investigators, tells how he faced a number of IRA death threats during his career and how in the Seventies his Belfast office was gutted in a firebombing.
Ironically, after buying a courier firm, Withers was later hired to ferry copies of pro-IRA newspaper An Phoblacht to England after British Airways temporarily refused to carry it.
Over 60 years, the Antrim-based PI established and ran a global investigations operation.
He tells of his secret dealings with British and South African intelligence agents and reveals his key role in derailing attempts to overthrow the socialist government of Seychelles.
Three years ago the father-of-four was arrested and released without charge by the Metropolitan Police over the brutal unsolved 1985 London murder of high-profile Seychelles dissident Gerard Hoarau.
Central to the PI’s work since the Seventies has been the controversial recovery worldwide of children abducted by a parent in tug-of-love cases.
And while based in Dublin in the Nineties he tracked down vanished investment broker Tony Taylor to an address in England.
Taylor, whose firm collapsed in 1996, was returned to Ireland and jailed for five years after admitting defrauding investors of over £363,000.
In the book Withers spells out how he located him after a ploy which involved anonymously motivating Taylor’s US-based son to call his father – and then securing and tracing the phone number.
Twenty years ago Withers led the successful Europe-wide search for notorious Limerick paedophile priest Fr Oliver O’Grady, who was being sought amid fresh legal action in America.
O’Grady had already been jailed for 14 years in California for abusing two young brothers.
Last year the former priest, 75, was in the headlines again after he was sentenced to 22 months in jail in Co Waterford after being caught with child porn for a second time.
Withers writes: “I am a determined man. I am not easily fooled, intimidated or otherwise pushed off course.
“And, during my career, the more successful I was at getting what I wanted to get, the more success I continued to seek. “Perhaps I pushed a little hard in some places at some times, but I never did so for any other reason than a strong desire to do the right thing.”
Private Eye, Secret Spy: My Life as Britain’s Most Controversial PI is due for publication at the end of April.
You can read more at www.idwitherspi.com