IRA mole saved 50 ‘dead men walking’ and survived hit attempt ‘by headhunters’

On June 17, 1999, Martin McGartland was shot six times at close range, suffering serious wounds to his chest, stomach, side, upper leg and hand as he tried to wrestle the gun from the shooter.

The two men who carried out the ambush at Marty's supposed 'safe house' in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, were, alleged by him, to be members of the IRA's 'headhunters' or 'nutting squad'.

Astonishingly, Marty survived the assassination attempt thanks largely to the quick actions of neighbours who stemmed the bleeding and got him to hospital.

But in reality, the wounds run much deeper and he will never stop looking over his shoulder.

After all, Marty had already cheated death once, jumping from a third floor window to avoid being executed by the Provos (Provisional Irish Republican Army).

He says the "scale of the damage" he caused the IRA cannot, as far as they're concerned, go "unpunished".

What, then, did he do exactly to bring the wrath of one of the most brutal and unforgiving paramilitary organisations of recent times?

Born and raised in Belfast, Marty, along with his brother and two sisters, was forced to grow up quickly as the IRA, seeking to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland, carried out bombings and shootings.

One of his sisters, who had joined the IRA's youth movement, died in an accident at school where she fell through a skylight.

He first came to the attention of the local police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, after he became involved in petty crime.

The IRA noticed him too and he only narrowly avoided action by their disciplinary squads, who dished out beatings with iron bars and baseball bats, and carried out 'kneecappings' on young Catholic petty lawbreakers.

It was this run-in with the Provos that turned him against them.

Sickened by their violent ways, he agreed to pass information to the RUC about local IRA members, stopping them from carrying out as attacks against the security forces.

He was persuaded by the British Security Services to infiltrate the IRA at the height of the 'Troubles'.

He was seen as a trusted Intelligence Officer and has since told how he had fully infiltrated the IRA by 1989. Earning the rank of lieutenant in the IRA Belfast Intelligence Unit, he was known as Agent Carol by the RUC.

But his cover was blown in 1991 when he tipped off cops about a planned attack on a pub in Bangor, County Down.

Kidnapped by the IRA, he narrowly escaped with his life, avoiding his execution only by jumping out of a third-floor window at the flat where he was set to be interrogated, and possibly tortured, before being killed.

Marty was subsequently given a new identity, Martin Ashe, and moved to Whitley Bay. He was also given £100,000 to buy a house and start a new life.

Three years after moving to England, he says the IRA sent his mum a Catholic mass card with his name on it – a token of sympathy to bereaved families when a family member has died.

Despite the problems that persisted back home, Marty settled into his new life.

Speaking to the Newcastle Chronicle in 2019, he said: "At that stage I was in the best position of my life.

"I made lots of good friends in Whitley Bay. I had been working for the security services in Northern Ireland since I was 16. This was my first taste of a normal life and a normal social life.

"It was my first real taste of having a life with people who weren't trying to kill me or trying to kill other people. For the first time in my life I felt safe."

Sadly, that feeling didn't last.

In 1997, Marty published his autobiography, Fifty Dead Men Walking, named after he was credited with saving the lives of 50 people through his informant work. It was made into a 2009 film starring Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley.

The same year the book was released, in a stroke of awful luck, his real identity was made public.

He was caught breaking the speed limit and prosecuted for holding driving licenses in different names. He explained the reason for his two names and was cleared of perverting the course of justice but seemingly the damage was done.

Two years later, the two men appeared at his home and tried to kill him in brutal fashion. No one has ever been charged with the attempted murder and neither police or the then Government confirmed the IRA were responsible.

Now, he's been forced to move again and lives in a secret location with his partner.

In 2017, he was told there were new threats to his life.

He told the Chronicle: "The fact that I'm still getting death threats goes to show how much of a target I still am to the IRA.

"I'm not a threat to them. But the scale of the damage I caused them can't go unpunished."

In the press, Marty, now 52, has been hailed a hero and was even described as a "real-life James Bond".

But he says he still suffers nightmares and flashbacks from the shooting and doesn't "live any sort of normal life".

He added: "They are never ever going to stop targeting people like me. I'm still with my partner. She is the only person I can 100% trust.

"If I didn't have her I couldn't have coped. I'm just so grateful, I couldn't be more grateful."

On looking over his shoulder, he continued: "I'm so used to it now.

"I'm hoping that the IRA don't know where I live now. But I don't really have a daily life now.

"I can never ever have any kind of routine. If I was leaving the house and going to a place of work at the same time everyday I would be a sitting duck.

"Most of the people who have been targeted by any terrorist organisation are targeted as a result of having a routine. It's become routine to me to not have a routine.

"Paranoia is my best friend and my worst enemy. But paranoia has probably kept me alive."

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