Beyond the Fringe

Larry O'Hara and Steve Booth. At War With the Universe. Notes from the Borderland Pamphlet No.1.
Having to review this pamphlet was a sad and poignant occasion because it reminded us here in Magonia how much we miss Roger Sandell, who would have been the only person with the combined political and ufological knowledge who could have made sense of a lot of this for us all. In the circumstances one does ones best.

The proven facts in all of this are that ufologist Tim Matthews of Southport, was once named Tim Hepple, and said HeppIe has had a chequered,  to put it mildly,  past. By his own admission, (or claim) he was a football hooligan, member of the neo-Nazi British National Party, later became involved with a group called the Green Anarchists, while rejoining the BNP to spy for the antifascist magazine Searchlight. Also apparently fairly well established is that he edited, or helped edit a magazine called White Resistance, the house journal of a neo-Nazi group called the Church of the Creator. All this seems clear, and there are documents reproduced to back up the claims.

The authors go on to claim that in these course of most or all of these memberships HeppIe was in the habit of urging other people to more extreme action than they would have otherwise have contemplated, but when the going got really tough Hepple was nowhere to be seen. But the police were, and on several occasions other people were charged, but Hepple seemed curiously immune from prosecution. In particular, it is argued that Hepple was in the van of urging the Green Anarchists to develop a cell-like structure, and ally themselves with the Animal Liberation Front (to our American readers: think of abortion clinic bombers, but substitute animals for fetuses), which led several of those involved being convicted for conspiracy, but not Hepple, or an individual who was going to call Hepple as a hostile witness for the defence.

On this basis, and on Hepple's on-and-off claim to have been in army intelligence, the authors claim that he is an agent of a monolithic abstract metaphysical entity called 'The British State'. There is to date, however, no independent evidence that Hepple was in the army, or if he was, he was not kicked out pretty quickly as he has claimed on one occasion, either because of his membership of the BNP, or perhaps a more or less mutual agreement that the British Army just wasn't violent enough for him.

Beyond this we enter into the murky world of far left (or self-perceived far left) politics, and the incomprehensible rivalries of its various factions. One of these is a war of words between Searchlight and a variety of left-wing groupuscules some of which O'Hara represents. The following is based on memories of conversations with Roger Sandell some years ago, so don't take it as gospel but a flavour of what the more esoteric parts of the allegations about Hepple are about. Basically Searchlight takes - or took - the view that anyone who even so much as breathed the same air as a member of the far right, fairly broadly interpreted, was thereby an errand boy of the fascists. As O'Hara had actually interviewed members of some of these groups in the course of some research he was therefore an errand boy par excellence.

At the same time Searchlight had been taking strenuous efforts to present themselves as the 'respectable' face of antifascism, and have been only too willing to work with the establishment, including the intelligence services to that end. Scurrilous rumour also has it (please note: I am not saying whether this is true or not, I have no way of knowing) that Searchlight, some of whose members were orthodox communists, were only too willing to help the security services to, er, shall we say inconvenience, their rivals on the far left.

Similarly, to O'Hara and company anyone who breathes the same air as a member of the intelligence services is a 'State Asset', which is a very bad thing indeed, because to him 'The British State' is almost as big an enemy as the neo-Nazis. Because Searchlight cooperates with the intelligence services, it is thus a major 'State Asset: and a very bad thing indeed. So if Hepple gives information on Nazis to Searchlight, he is a 'State Asset', which is almost worse than being a Nazi. From now on Hepple grows in importance, he is not just a State Asset, he is an important one, so important that the Shayler affair is concocted to draw attention from Hepple's difficulties with O'Hara.

Now why should such a powerful State Asset devote himself to the sad, murky world of gutterroots ufology? Well some semi-coherent reasons are given, but which fail to convince. While it might make sense to use alleged low level agents like Hepple to infiltrate semi clandestine groups, anyone can join a UFO club. Who needs Hepple when you have Admiral Hill Norton as vice President of BUFORA? I mean if Hepple was an intelligence agent, Norton is the sort of guy to whom Hepple's handlers' boss’s boss would salute and say 'yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir'. I suppose though if you have someone you would really prefer to keep a low profile, but just refuses to, ufology is as good a place to hide them as any. After all, once the word ufology is mentioned, serious investigative journalists run a mile.

Now, no doubt, as they go round investigating unidentified flying objects, holding sky watches, etc. ufologists are bound to find out things the intelligence services would rather not have found out. So a low level surveillance is likely to be required. But would a halfway sane intelligence service employ a Hepple to infiltrate a group of solid middle-class burghers and a bunch of teenagers;  a guy whose activities draw attention to himself and antagonise everyone in sight? Of course not; you choose someone who is unfailingly quiet and courteous, goes out of his way never to really offend anyone, and earns general respect; but who lets it be known on occasion in an understated way, that he knows a thing or two worth knowing. I mean to be honest you could probably join some of these clubs and announce you were from MI5, but they wouldn't chuck you out, they'd crowd round for your autograph, and pat themselves on the back that they're the ones who have 'someone really important' on board. Just feed them a scrap or two of the 'I've been out East and seen a thing or two' routine and they'll eat out of your hand.

In the second part of the study there is an analysis of Hepple's involvement with ufology, which at least shows his rapid changes of views and allegiances, par for the course perhaps, but it is the speed, weeks and months rather than years which spring to mind. There are a number of allegations made, but the evidence as opposed to assertion is none too strong, and its clear than at times the authors are quite out of their depth in the world of ufology. This is manifested not only in their willingness to believe that everything that goes wrong is the result of Hopple's machinations: Eric Morris was causing trouble before the big H came on the scene, but they apparently believe that ufologists are a bunch of rather fey, quiet folks, whose vicarage tea party-like world had been rudely interrupted by 'the thug Hepple '. How wrong can you be.

Poor old Larry O'Hara clearly came to Matthews' Southport Conference in 1998 to be martyred to the cause, and Hepple obligingly responded by leaping from the platform making various threats. Kevin McClure intervened before there could be serious violence, and O'Hara was pushed out with no more force than is seen many a weekend in pubs and clubs the length and breadth of the country. Though mildly upsetting, it was certainly not 'a serious brawl' (i.e. no chairs were thrown at the platform, there were no snooker cues, baseball bats or broken beer glasses involved). Given the real injuries suffered by many antifascists over the years, O'Hara's attempt to portray this fracas as the second battle of Cable Street is overwrought and in rather poor taste. While some members of the audience, mainly members of the general public in attendance, were upset, others were rather disappointed that the 'serious brawl' hadn't broken out, and others were clearly waiting for Jenny Randles to come round with pencil and paper, believing that what they had witnessed was a staged demonstration to test observation and recall!

O'Hara had badly fouled up his own operation, not only by giving Hepple advance notice of his intentions, but then leaving his actual presence to the late afternoon, allowing Hepple most of the day to spin his version of events and portraying O'Hara as a demented stalker giving Hepple's poor father a heart attack, and horror of horrors, breaking into his parents' coal shed, turning even those members of the audience who might have been sympathetic to O’Hara against him. A much better O'Hara tactic would have been to give absolutely no hint of attending, and using a friend or colleague who was quite unknown to Hepple, to ask some question, which while sounding quite innocuous to the audience would have seriously rattled Hepple's cage. The audience reaction would then have been very different. As it is, with enemies like O'Hara, who needs friends?

There is also an embarrassingly naive paragraph on other radical rightists in ufology, trying to argue that Hepple is almost unique, with the only other British figures counting being Patrick Harrington who printed a couple of issues of BUFORA's UFO Times journal about eight year ago, and George Spurgeon, outed by yours truly back in 1996. Erm, excuse me folks haven't we forgotten something here? That as President of the organisation, BUFORA proudly raised aloft the figure of Patrick Wall, arguably the most racist and reactionary post-Suez Tory MP of them all, a far more powerful and sinister character than the Big H. You might think that an organisation which accepts a notorious racist as its President wants watching, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Then there is the [late] editor of FSR Gordon Creighton, who goes round telling people that UFOs are run by card carrying communist demons, and produces editorials on his crusade against the peace movement. Previous editors have included an employee of the South African apartheid state, a right wing ex-Liberal parliamentary candidate, a hereditary peer who varied his campaigns on behalf of the space brothers with support for the Smith regime in Rhodesia, and an aviation historian who had at least a touch of the intelligence department about him. We could go on and on, and we have done so at length in the past. I could also mention how many UFO and Fortean groups gave publicity to a 'conspiracy conference' a few years ago, in which one of the main speakers was the notorious anti-Semite Eustace Mullins.

It would be unfair to say that all the ufology in this booklet is bad, the piece by Robert Booth on the Nazi saucer myth is really good. OK, Andy, he failed to detect the Sonderburo hoax, but I have to confess that one would have slipped past most of us, me included. But this guy knows his technology and his aviation. Alas this was his downfall in the animal liberation affair. If you, as an intelligence agency, have got it into your heads that a group of people are going to set up a terrorist cell, who do you target? An intelligent, obviously highly technically competent, disciplined former member of the RAF, who if he were that way inclined could construct some serious nasties, or a dropout music student? Got it in one folks. Booth makes an important point: when you have a former member of the British National Party writing a book arguing that UFOs are descended from the amazing magical technology of the Germans, an argument known to be used by Nazi groups, then one must ask the question 'how ex is ex?'

At the end of reading this booklet, my feeling is that, if Hepple was the 'state agent' that the authors claim, then I would be rather less unhappy about ufologists accepting him as a colleague than I actually am. Because, like it or not, it may be necessary to do some pretty unpleasant things when dealing with the wildest shores of politics, and it would imply a degree of consistency, rationality and responsibility in Hepple's conduct that I am not convinced is there.

What is really worrying is that ufologists had leapt to HeppIe's defence in a kneejerk reaction, without stopping to think or even address the questions posed in this booklet. Do you really want someone as a colleague, about whom even one of his more staunch defenders Andy Roberts (who has now revised his opinion) says he wouldn't believe anything he said about his past? In which case, why believe anything he says about anything? This is a guy with a murky past, which gives rise to the suspicion that he may be a fantasist with a penchant for violence, and perhaps for negotiating his way out of trouble at the cost of colleagues. He's someone who was clearly a highly controversial figure in ufology before all this stuff hit the fan. Ufology is in enough mess (being polite) already, without importing other people's and shovelling it over our heads. I have a sense of deja-vu when hearing of Hepple's adventures. We have been here before. Remember Bryan Jeffrey and his tales of infiltrating the British Movement, and the wild goose chases he sent us on implicating just about everyone in the APEN affair, which almost certainly he was running himself? Do we want to go through all that again?

I have to say that seeing the brightest and best in ufology being taken in by Hepple, makes me wonder if we can really ever rely on ufologists as judges of character (Sadly Booth and O’Hara can't take the high ground here, having been taken in the absurd Armen Victorian). – Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 70, March 2000.

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