Article looking at the conviction of a Welsh nationalist over a letter-bombing campaign, following MI5 surveillance.
At the end of the a two month trial in Caernarfon, Wales, two men were acquitted of charges of conspiracy to cause explosions while a third, Sion Roberts was jailed for 12 years for possessing explosives and sending letter bombs. The Gwynedd 3 conspiracy trial was the outcome of the latest unsuccessful attempt by the British state to catch members of the Welsh nationalist Meibion Glyndwr. The trial was also significant in that it brought to light some of the activities of the MI5 secret service. For the first time, MI5 agents gave evidence in open court about their operations, which included bugging, burgling, and following suspects.
Since 1979 Meibion Glyndwr have set alight to more than 150 second homes in Wales, causing around £1 million of damage. There are as many 20,000 second homes in Wales, and in some villages less than half of the houses are lived for six months a year. As middle class English people buy up homes for holidays, house prices are inflated making it difficult for local people to afford a first home, let alone a second one. In addition the arrogant colonialist attitudes of some white settlers has further angered Welsh people. For instance there have been cases of English-owned shops refusing to display posters in Welsh, the language spoken by many local people. It is not surprising that a poll carried out by HTV (a Welsh television station) found that 85% of people in the Dwyfor district supported the arson campaign.
Faced with this level of community support for the campaign, the police have failed to secure any major convictions, despite talk of immunity for informers and a £50,000 reward. In 1991, MI5 stepped up their activities in north-west Wales, with a massive operation. Having failed to catch Meibion Glyndwr, they decided to target members of another group, Y Cyfamodwyr, which campaigns openly and legally for Welsh independence.
During the trial it emerged that MI5 agents broke into Sion Roberts' flat on November 8 1991 to plant a bugging device, and the following day 38 MI5 agents followed Sion on a small demonstration in Caernarfon. In December, MI5 broke into his flat again and claimed to have "found" letter bombs and bomb making equipment. According to the defence, this equipment was planted by MI5 frustrated at the failure of the surveillance operation to produce any results.
At the end of the trial in March, two men were found not guilty of conspiracy, while 21 year old Sion Roberts was jailed for sending letter bombs to prominent Tories and senior police officers.
Following the end of the Cold War, during which it was responsible for tracking down Soviet spies, MI5 has been trying to expand its role. Countering "domestic subversion" has always been part of its remit, with its surveillance activities covering strikers, anti-nuclear activists, the peace movement and just about anything that moves. According to the Guardian (May 21 1992), MI5 has records on over a million individuals considered to be subversive or a potential threat to "national security". It now seems to want to play a more direct secret policing role. In April 1992, MI5 took over control of anti-IRA operations in England from the police. The Welsh conspiracy trial demonstrates the lengths MI5 is prepared to go to in an attempt to secure convictions.
European Counter Network, April 1993. Taken from the Practical History website.