A FORMER Blanketman who spent 14 years in the H Blocks has described how M15 agents approached him while he was on holiday with his family in Portugal.

Alex McCrory, from the Sliabh Dubh area of West Belfast, was holidaying with his wife, their two young children and another family when two agents twice called at their holiday accommodation seeking to speak to him.

Alex, who is a prominent activist in the campaign group Family & Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry, said this is the fourth such approach made to him by M15 and he believes that both his home landline and car are bugged.

The former republican prisoner has now begun legal proceedings against the British security service based on his right to life and non-interference as set out under European law.

Alex said his privately-rented holiday accommodation was approached by MI5 just three hours after his family arrived there.

“The other family who were with us had left to go to a shop five minutes away so they left the secure gates open,” he said.

“They (the MI5 agents) must have been sitting somewhere very close to the property as they nipped in while the other family were away and came to our door.

“I was in bed at the time after a long day’s travelling, so my wife answered and saw two men who asked for me by name.

“My wife asked them who they were and one of them said his name was Pete.

“My wife then said that I wasn’t there and ‘Pete’ said that he knew I was there and that he needed to speak to me.  She then told them to go away.”

The following day the agents returned when the families were away.

“They left an envelope addressed to me at the gate which contained a note asking me to get in touch,” he said.

“The note was signed by the name ‘Harry’. This is the fourth time that this guy Harry has attempted to approach me.  Two years ago he called the landline at my family home twice and he also approached me in Grosvenor barracks last year when I was arrested after a family dispute. There he introduced himself as an agent to me. He has also stopped friends of mine at airports, introduced himself and asked questions about me.”

Alex said such an approach made while he was holidaying with friends and family was “quite blatant”.

“It’s quite unnerving that it happened and it had a very unnerving affect on my wife as she then thought for the rest of the week that we were being watched and followed,” he said.

“We had two young children with us and the other family had two young children. We obviously had to tell the other family what had happened too. Everybody was on edge for the rest of the holiday. I expected to be stopped coming through the airport on the way home but I wasn’t. I have no doubt that my phones are being monitored, and it’s quite possible that my car is bugged and tracked too. I run on the assumption that that is the case.”

Alex added that he is just one of several people in the Family & Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry group, along with other like-minded republicans, who have been approached by MI5 agents in such a manner.

“Last year a man from Tyrone was approached in Dubai. A friend of mine was approached in Australia and recently two friends were approached in Spain and Portugal,” he said.

“It’s common place and unfortunately for people like us the law permits them (MI5) to trawl for human resources, so legally they are covered to do this sort of thing. But given the history of informers and agents there’s clearly a real and present threat to people’s lives and wellbeing as a result of this sort of behaviour.”

Alex was advised by his solicitor Kevin Winters to go public about the holiday approach.

“The more they are exposed the better,” he said.

“It’s the dark side of policing that most people do not see and it gives lie to the claim that policing has changed here to such an extent that this sort of thing doesn’t take place anymore.”

Kevin Winters, who has already lodged a compliant on behalf of Alex in reference to previous MI5 approaches, said the latest contact was “equally, if not more, sinister” than previous occasions.

“We have launched an updated complaint to the relevant authorities, including the Police Ombudsman and the tribunal that deals with undercover approaches of this nature,” he said.

“This type of approach is all too prevalent and can threaten a person’s life. I have been, and continue to be, deeply concerned about the escalation of this type of approach to policing and intelligence-gathering.”

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office said it did not comment on matter of national security of any other such operations.