Death of a tartan terrorist
The Sunday Times, October 8, 2006
Two years ago this weekend Andrew McIntosh was arrested as he sped towards Holyrood. Days later he was dead. Kenny Farquharson reveals the truth behind his terror plot
The soldiers lining the length of the Royal Mile, standing stiffly to attention in the autumn sun, were not just there for ceremonial purposes. They carried SA80 rifles with bayonets fixed, and each soldier had been briefed to watch for suspicious activity in the crowd.
It was Saturday October 9, 2004, the morning the Queen was to open the new Holyrood parliament building, and the centre of Edinburgh was in the grip of the biggest security operation Scotland had ever seen.
Those responsible for protecting the lives of the royal family dreaded this kind of public event. The date and location had been known many months in advance, giving ample time for anyone with a gripe — be they anti-monarchist protesters or Al-Qaeda — to lay plans.
Police spotters and snipers were positioned on Old Town roofs and the nearby heights of Salisbury Crags. Officers carrying automatic weapons were positioned around Holyrood, with further armed rapid-action response units ready nearby.
By mid-morning the crowds had begun to gather. The entertainment was being provided by military bands and a variety of street performers. These included a hairy bunch of Braveheart-style battle re-enactment enthusiasts, faces daubed with woad, brandishing claymores and bellowing blood-curdling battle cries.
Twelve miles to the north near the Forth Road bridge, a would-be modern Braveheart was being trailed by unmarked police cars containing Special Branch detectives from two forces, Grampian and Lothian & Borders.
The big day would indeed have its big security alert, and a known terrorist would end up behind bars. The detectives involved in the operation would be in no doubt that they had stopped a man who was heading to Holyrood with menace in mind.
Yet this was no jihadist or Al-Qaeda operative. Andrew “Tosh” McIntosh was a home-grown terror threat, a Scot who saw his home nation weighed down by the chains of English oppression, and who had pledged to shake them free “by any means at our disposal”.
McIntosh was no mere dreamer. The 49-year-old had served a 12-year prison sentence for a hate campaign of letter-bombs against English targets, and the illegal possession of a Walther .22 pistol and a Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifle — the weapon of choice for terrorists around the globe.
McIntosh had told friends he was heading for a demonstration on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, organised as a republican alternative to the royal pageantry down the road at Holyrood. A few days before he had posted a note on an internet chatroom frequented by ultra-nationalist groups, promising to meet up and distribute leaflets.
The posting — names have been omitted for legal reasons — read: “Mysel, X, and big Y will meet youse there. (Keep hold o the ‘Pravda’ copy will ya, ta!)” But Special Branch officers had obtained intelligence that handing out leaflets was not McIntosh’s only plan for the day.
On the approaches to the Forth Road bridge the police made their move. McIntosh’s car was pulled over to the side of the road and he was arrested.
Officers dressed in protective clothing searched the car and McIntosh’s high-rise flat in the Seaton area of Aberdeen. Sniffer dogs and a police helicopter were called in to scour an area along the banks of the River Don leading to the seafront.
Guns and bomb-making materials were discovered by the Aberdeen search team and McIntosh was charged under the Firearms Act 1968 and the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
No weapons were found in the car itself, just a marine flare, but McIntosh may have planned to pick up equipment on arrival in Edinburgh.
Exact details of the Aberdeen arms cache were never made public because McIntosh’s case was never tried in court. Nine days after his arrest he was dead, strangled by a noose made from a duvet cover in his cell in Craiginches prison, Aberdeen. A fatal accident inquiry concluded it was suicide, but the conspiracy theorists on ultra-nationalist websites whispered “state murder”.
Of the other two men arrested with McIntosh near the Forth Bridge, one was released without charge and the other recently had the charges against him dropped by the Crown Office. This allowed legal restrictions to be lifted on the reporting of McIntosh’s final tilt at the hated “Brits”.
With the help of his own writings and the recollections of friends and comrades, the full story can now be told of the life and death of a tartan terrorist.
ANDREW McINTOSH was born in Aberdeen in 1955, the son of a fish worker. From an early age he was fervently patriotic about his Scottishness and he devoured books on the great Scottish heroes. There were the obvious figures such as Bruce and Wallace from the wars of independence, but the boy also developed an interest in less well-known episodes in Scottish history, particularly the attempt by the United Scotsmen to emulate the French revolution, and the failed uprising against the Act of Union in 1820.
The romantic rebelliousness of these stories fired his imagination. As a young man he once claimed to a friend that he was a direct descendant of James McPherson, the famed Aberdeenshire outlaw and poet, who was hanged by the sheriff of Banff in 1700 and is the inspiration for traditional folk songs such as McPherson’s Farewell and McPherson’s Rant.
The young man’s other enthusiasm was guns. McIntosh became a member of an Aberdeen gun club and held a firearms certificate covering the possession of a pump-action shotgun, a rifle, a .22 pistol, a 9mm Browning and a revolver — in addition to the illegally held Kalashnikov and Walther.
McIntosh found work in the oil industry, holding down a job as a courier for the Wood Group, one of Aberdeen’s biggest oil-industry supply firms. Fellow workers knew he had extreme views — he was known for upsetting employees from south of the border by calling them “English bastards” to their faces. His co-workers tolerated this, believing that although irritating, he was essentially harmless. They were to be proved wrong.
On March 23, 1993, a 19-year-old clerk called Angela Whitcomb was opening mail at the offices of Anglian Water in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, a company that had been the focus of intense political speculation about the privatisation of the Scottish water industry.
“I opened the package and I could see white tissue and a card,” she later told a court. “I was holding it in my left hand and pulling the card out with my right. It went bang in my hand.” Although terrified by the noise and blast of the letter bomb, her injuries were limited to bruising of the hand.
It was one of a number of explosive devices sent to targets around the UK, including the Scottish Office in Edinburgh and Dounreay nuclear power station. At around the same time, four unarmed improvised mortar devices were found aimed at oil company headquarters in Aberdeen, and telephoned bomb threats brought the city centres of Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh to a halt.
McIntosh had been careful. He had made a study of the methods of paramilitary groups around the world — in Germany and Ireland in particular.
When the police did eventually catch up with him, it was through pure luck. McIntosh was caught after he lent his red Vauxhall Nova to two female friends. They wanted a car to drive around rural Aberdeenshire, putting up posters for a racist anti-English group called Settler Watch. An 11-year-old saw the women putting up posters in Banchory and his parents passed the registration number to the police.
When detectives raided McIntosh’s bedsit in Aberdeen’s George Street, expecting to find little more than a box of Settler Watch posters, they found the flat was like an army base for a Scottish nationalist uprising. They discovered a bombing timetable, CS gas canisters and a cache of ammunition and illegally held firearms.
Interviewed by the police, McIntosh adopted a paramilitary persona. “I am a volunteer soldier with the SNLA (Scottish National Liberation Army ),” he said. “I am a cell commander. The actions we have taken are directed at those people who are actively working against the interests of Scotland. Whatever I did, I did in the line of duty.” The judge at his trial was unimpressed, and sentenced him to 12 years in jail.
The phrase “tartan terrorism” is often used with a hint of sarcasm. Given the incompetence of many ultra-nationalist attempts to bring down the British state this is hardly surprising. But it would be wrong to dismiss it as nothing more than a joke.
In 1990 a book called Britain’s Secret War calculated that in the preceding two decades, Scottish nationalist extremists had been responsible for 79 bombing incidents, 40 “political” bank raids and numerous hoaxes and bomb scares. In 18 terror trials, jail sentences totalling 286 years had been handed down to 52 Scottish nationalist freedom fighters. Last month the SNLA warned it was planning attacks on the water supplies of a major English city.
On his release in 1999, McIntosh went to stay in a grim block of flats in Aulton Court, in the Seaton area of Aberdeen. Within Aulton Court he would often be seen helping elderly residents carry their shopping, and he would do joinery odd-jobs for his neighbours.
Under this veneer of normality, however, McIntosh was still committed to his cause. In 2003, he set up his own organisation, Scottish Patriots, dedicated to “reinstatement of a sovereign government of Scotland”.
In conversation with friends he talked about politics, history, art and relationships. However, there was always one subject to which McIntosh would return, and he would quieten and grow thoughtful. The subject was life in jail. A neighbour he had confided in about his criminal past recalls: “Jail terrified him. For as long as I knew him he told me he could never go back there. I don’t know why it made him so scared but I think he had some pretty bad experiences during his sentence.”
After the Forth Road bridge arrest, back in Craiginches and facing trial on serious charges, these forebodings would almost certainly have returned. The prospect of another long prison stretch seems to have consumed him, convincing him he had run out of options.
At 7.30am on the Monday, October 18, 2004, just a few hours before McIntosh was due in court, a prison officer called Angus Drummond found he could not open his cell door because of an obstruction.
“When I looked in I saw him in a sitting position with his bum off the ground. A ligature was around his neck, attached to the sink tap,” he later recalled.
McIntosh had improvised a noose from a strip of duvet cover. He had placed it around his neck and tied it to the tap, and twisted himself around repeatedly until the noose was tight around his neck. Then he had allowed the weight of his body to drop, which slowly strangled him.
The friend to whom McIntosh once boasted about his supposed kinship with the 17th-century McPherson is a fellow nationalist called Louis Mair, once a leading light in Settler Watch. A few days after his friend’s death, Mair, in an internet chatroom, lamented his friend’s death and recalled the words of McPherson’s Rant: “I’ve lived a life o’ sturt an’ strife; I die by treachery . . .”