Leaked dispatches strengthen Finucane family’s demands for inquiry into collusion between UFF gunmen and security forces
MI5 has said that it is prepared to hand over sensitive files on one of the most high-profile murders during the Northern Ireland Troubles carried out by loyalist gunmen working with members of the British security forces. The offer in the case of the Pat Finucane, the well-known civil rights and defence lawyer murdered in front of his wife and three young children in 1989, is contained in confidential US embassy cables passed to WikiLeaks.
Supporters of Finucane welcomed the revelation of the offer as “highly significant” and believe it could pave the way for a fresh inquiry into the killing that would be acceptable to the family.
Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, has told Finucane’s widow that he will decide early next year whether to hold a hearing that could shine a new light on collusion between gunmen from the Ulster Freedom Fighters and members of the security forces. A refusal to hold such a hearing, which Paterson has questioned in the past, would prevent an examination of the MI5 files.
Finucane’s supporters spoke out after leaked US embassy cables, published by WikiLeaks, showed that:
• Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister between 1997 and 2008, told US diplomats that “everyone knows the UK was involved” in the murder.
• US diplomats feared that “elements of the security-legal establishments” in Britain beyond MI5 were fighting hard to resist an inquiry.
• Brian Cowen, the current Irish prime minister, warned that a failure to hold an inquiry could be a “deal breaker”.
Finucane’s family said MI5’s offer was a highly significant development in their 20-year battle to uncover the circumstances surrounding the murder.
The Security Service’s offer is revealed in a cable from June 2005, written by the US ambassador to Dublin, James C Kenny, which reported on a meeting between the head of MI5 and Mitchell Reiss, the US special envoy to Northern Ireland. In an account of the meeting between Reiss and Ahern, the ambassador wrote: “Reiss briefed him on his talks in London, including with the head of MI5 [Eliza Manningham-Buller], who committed to turning over all evidence her agency has to the inquiry, but she was adamant that the inquiry will proceed using the new legislation.”
Peter Madden, Finucane’s partner in the Belfast solicitors’ firm Madden and Finucane, said: “This might significantly change things. This is something new and unexpected. It will have to be considered by the Finucane family.” Madden said the family would proceed with care because MI5 said any inquiry would be carried out under new legislation, which allows for material to be withheld from the final report. The family have demanded the same terms as the Bloody Sunday inquiry, but the legislation for that dated back to the 1920s and was repealed in 2005.
Madden said the family may change its mind in light of the MI5 offer. “Our stance has been that we want the inquiry but it’s the way the inquiry is proposed that is difficult to be part of, if it’s held under the 2005 Inquiries Act. We need to look very carefully at the cables. I think [it is] highly significant for the family and it might well change things.”
Ahern told the US he was adamant that members of the British security forces were involved in Finucane’s murder. The cable said: “The taoiseach said that the GOI wants the UK to provide evidence acknowledging its involvement in Finucane’s murder and it wants to know how high in the UK government collusion went. He said if the UK were to provide the information, it would only grab the headlines for a few hours because ‘everyone knows the UK was involved’.”
A year earlier, US diplomats raised fears that some forces in British were determined to block an inquiry. A cable by the same ambassador on 26 July 2004 quoted Ahern as saying: “Tony [Blair] knows what he has to do.” An explanatory comment inserted by the US ambassador noted: “Presumably, that the PM will have to overrule elements of the security-legal establishments to see that some form of public inquiry is held.” The elements resisting an inquiry could be the old Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and British military intelligence.
Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, concluded in a report in 2003 that members of the security forces had colluded in the murder of Finucane.
Several members of the UFF involved in the murder turned out to have been either agents or informers for the security services.
Meanwhile, Paterson told Geraldine Finucane that he has an “open mind” on whether to hold a public inquiry.
David Cameron told MPs in June – on the day he published findings of the £200m inquiry into the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings – that there would be “no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past”, though he added that each case would be considered on its merits.
In his letter to Finucane’s widow, Paterson said that the factors influencing his decision would include: “the commitment made to parliament by the previous government in 2004”, “the experience of the other inquiries established after the Weston Park commitments”, “political developments”, “the potential length of any inquiry” and “the potential cost of an inquiry and the current pressures on the UK government’s finances”.
“It is my intention to consider the public interest carefully and in detail at the end of the two month period for representations,” he informed Geraldine Finucane, “and then take a decision after such consideration as to whether or not to hold a public inquiry into the death of your husband.”
Officials in the UK believe a public inquiry would raise difficult questions for the military but not for MI5. To win MI5’s support, Blair made two key changes to the legislation governing public inquiries to prevent investigation beyond the official files it has been granted.
Alex Attwood, an SDLP minister in the Northern Ireland executive, said last night he regarded the decision of Mitchell Reiss to highlight the MI5 offer as potentially significant.
“Mitchell Reiss very much understood and had the measure of London,” Attwood said. “He was not going to buy a pig in a poke.”
WikiLeaks cable describes legacy of distrust left by Finucane killing
The Guardian 13/12/10
Political consequences of prominent civil rights and criminal defence lawyer’s murder still reverberate more than 20 years on
Patrick Finucane, a prominent civil rights and criminal defence lawyer, was eating supper with his wife and three children, when masked, loyalist gunmen smashed their way into his north Belfast home and shot him dead.
Members of the outlawed Ulster Freedom Fighters broke down the front door with sledgehammers and fired 14 shots from a .38 revolver and a 9mm Browning automatic pistol.
All of the rounds struck Finucane. The UFF claimed they had killed him because he was a high-ranking officer in the IRA. Police at his inquest said there was no evidence to support that assertion.
The attack took place on Sunday, 12 February 1989. More than 20 years later the political consequences of one of the most controversial killings of Northern Ireland’s Troubles are still reverberating.
British military intelligence’s disputed role in the murder has been the subject of successive police inquiries, several of which remain secret.
Finucane’s death fuelled suspicions of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries while fomenting distrust between Dublin and London. Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, the former Metropolitan police commissioner who conducted three inquiries into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, reached an unequivocal judgment in 2003.
“I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them,” he wrote of the murder of Finucane and Brian Lambert, a Protestant mistakenly targeted in 1987.Finucane, 38 at the time of his murder, had been at the forefront of arguing that suspects detained under anti-terror legislation were being held in conditions that violated their human rights.
As a solicitor, Finucane had represented loyalists and republicans.
His brother John was an IRA member who had been killed on active service in a car crash in the Falls Road, Belfast, in 1972. Another brother successfully contested attempts to extradite him to Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic; a third brother was the fiance of Mairéad Farrell, one of the IRA trio shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988.
The Finucane family has always denied, however, that Patrick was involved with the Provisionals.
Three weeks before the shooting, Douglas Hogg, then a junior Home Office minister, told the House of Commons that certain solicitors in Northern Ireland were “unduly sympathetic” to the IRA. Around the same time an RUC officer was reported to have told a client: “You will not be having Mr Finucane as a solicitor much longer.”
The man responsible at the time for assembling information about those selected as targets for UFF attacks was Brian Nelson, a former soldier who, it emerged, was an agent for British military intelligence.
Nelson was subsequently convicted of five counts of conspiracy to murder – but not in connection with Finucane’s death. Excerpts from his diary, broadcast by BBC Panorama in 1992, suggested he had warned his army handlers in the Force Research Unit (FRU) that Finucane was being targeted.
When Brigadier Gordon Kerr, who was in charge of the FRU, gave evidence at the trial of Nelson, he said the army unit’s purpose was to “save life … [and] prevent attacks taking place”. He insisted that Nelson’s actions had saved numerous lives.
Stevens faced major obstacles when he started investigating allegations of collusion in 1999. At one stage, his offices, inside a secure police compound, mysteriously burnt down. Not all of Stevens’s report have been published.
In a 2003 summary of his findings, Stevens was clear. “Collusion is evidenced in many ways. This ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder.
“The failure to keep records or the existence of contradictory accounts can often be perceived as evidence of concealment or malpractice. It limits the opportunity to rebut serious allegations. The absence of accountability allows the acts or omissions of individuals to go undetected. The withholding of information impedes the prevention of crime and the arrest of suspects. The unlawful involvement of agents in murder implies that the security forces sanction killings.
“My three inquiries have found all these elements of collusion to be present. The co-ordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor. Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes.
“Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected. Crucial information was withheld from senior investigating officers. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved.”
William Stobie, a former UDA quartermaster and a police informant, later revealed that he had told his RUC handlers when a UFF commander asked him to get guns for a “job” on a “top Provie”.
He said he was amazed officers still did nothing when he alerted them again shortly before the killing. Stobie was later shot dead by, it is thought, loyalist colleagues extracting revenge for his betrayal.
The US diplomatic cables passed to WikiLeaks make clear the Irish government believed the murder left an enduring legacy of distrust between Britain and the broader nationalist community.
James Kenny, the then US ambassador to Dublin, outlined the thinking of the former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern in a cable from July 2004.
The ambassador wrote: “Ahern said it is not a republican, but a nationalist, issue. Because there is such broad-based support across the nationalist community in the North for an inquiry, SF [Sinn Féin] will insist on it.”
The Finucane family have been battling for decades for an independent, public inquiry. In 2001, following peace process talks at Weston Park, the government appointed a Canadian judge, Peter Cory, to investigate allegations of collusion. He recommended a public inquiry into the killing but the Finucane family – and Cory – have been opposed to it being held under the more restrictive terms of the Inquiries Act 2005. **
The act empowers ministers to order that some inquiry sessions are held in private and to withhold material from the final published report. In the face of family opposition, hopes of an inquiry stalled.
Amnesty International, the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and the Belfast-based Committee for the Administration of Justice have all called for an independent public inquiry.
In 2007, the public prosecution service announced that no members of the security forces would be charged in connection with the Finucane killing. Michael Finucane, his son, described that decision as “extremely disappointing and in some cases very, very perplexing”.
Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, last month told Finucane’s widow Geraldine that he has an “open mind” on whether to hold a new inquiry. But on 15 June this year, when he published the Bloody Inquiry, David Cameron said: “Let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.”
The prime minister said it was better to let a special team examine the past, though he did not close off entirely future inquiries. “I think that it is right to use, as far as is possible, the Historical Enquiries Team to deal with the problems of the past and to avoid having more open-ended, highly costly inquiries, but of course we should look at each case on its merits.”
Only one man, Ken Barrett, a former Special Branch informer, has been convicted of killing Finucane. Barrett, 44, was jailed for 22 years in 2004 but released shortly afterwards under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. He is believed to be living at a secret location in England.
** See attachment for reasons why the Finucane Family refuse an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005