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Who Pulled the Strings

The murdered solicitor's son, Michael Finucane, said last week that the family most wanted to know 'not who pulled the trigger but who pulled the strings'

Eamon McCann • Sunday Tribune, 19 September 2004

Any inquiry ordered by the British Government may fail to uncover the truth about the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Pressure on Tony Blair to establish an inquiry increased last week after the former Loyalist paramilitary and special branch informer Ken Barrett pleaded guilty to the 1989 killing. However, a number of factors, including recent rulings by senior British judges on intelligence information and human rights law, may prevent an inquiry probing to the heart of the matters raised by the murder.

Barrett, 41, confessed to having been one of two Ulster Defence Association gunmen who smashed into Finucane’s north Belfast home on February 12th 1989 and pumped 14 shots into the 39-year-old in front of his wife and three children. The court heard that a RUC detective had taped Barrett in 1991 boasting about his role but that this information had been suppressed by special branch officers out to protect the killer in his function as a police informer. Barret’s guilty plea meant that no detail emerged in court of the involvement of police and army personnel in procuring and facilitating the killing.

Blair agreed at the Weston Park talks in August 2001 to accept the decision on a public inquiry of retired Canadian judge Peter Cory, asked by the British and Irish governments to look into six killings in which collusion was alleged. Cory delivered his report in October last year, recommending five inquiries, including into the Finucane case. The Brirtish government balked at the Finucane recommendation, suggestingan inquiry might compromise criminal proceedings. However, following last Monday’s development at Belfast Crown Court, there are no proceedings now pending.

Barrett was arrested in May last year in Sussex, where he had been taken for his own safety by police under Metropolitan Commissioner Sir John Stevens, conducting a long-running investigation into collusion allegations. In Sussex, Barrett again confessed to the Finucane murder, telling a BBC Panorama team that a RUC officer had told him the solicitor was a senior IRA man who should be “got rid of.”

Barrett told Panorama that the killing had been set up by UDA intelligence chief Brian Nelson, an agent of both MI5 and the military intelligence organisation, the Force Research Unit.

Sussex police launched a sting operation to gather evidence usable against Barrett in court. Conversations with his partner at their Eastbourne home were recorded via a planted “bug”. A phoney job advertisment for the sort of driving job police knew Barrett wanted was placed in a local newspaper whose classified ads. he regularly read. Barrett fell for the scam and went to work, as he believed, as a courier for a drugs gang. The officers, identified only as “Tom” and “Steve”, then told the killer that they had become aware of his paramilitary past and that this enhanced his value to them. Barrett again boasted in detail about his part in the murder. This time, the tape didn’t disappear.

Barrett was jailed for a minimum of 22 years. He is likely to be released early next year under the Belfast Agreement. The Finucane family and supporters now want the promised public inquiry set up without delay to find the truth about security force collusion.

One reason for British government anxiety may be the likely difficulty in confining an inquiry to the Finucane murder alone. The FRU is believed to have been involved in as many as a dozen murders of Catholics in Belfast in the 1980s, including the 1987 killing of Francisco Notorantonio, 66, supposedly eliminated in order to protect the identity of the high-ranking British plant in the IRA code-named “Stakeknife.”

Nelson, who scouted the Finucane home and identified the solicitor to Barrett, worked under the direction of FRU officer Maggie Walshaw. Nine years after the murder, she was commissioned as an officer, and subsequently awarded the British Empire Medal. The FRU chief in Belfast in the late 1980s was Lt. Col. Gordon Kerr, now a brigadier and military attache at the British embassy in Beijing. An inquiry would clearly have to summon Walshaw and Kerr, among others, to ask whether Finucane was murdered as a matter of policy, and at what level this policy had been sanctioned.

An inquiry would also have to delve into Special Branch involvement. The Finucane murder weapons were supplied by UDA quartermaster and SB agent William Stobie, himself murdered by the UDA in December 2001.

However, recent judicial rulings may exclude the great bulk of evidence along these lines.

Rulings in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, either by chairman Lord Saville or courts overruling Saville, excluded a raft of evidence because it might compromise “national security” or put the lives of agents at risk by allowing them to be identified or exposing the agencies’ modus operandi. Ruling against calling evidence from the agent “Infliction”---said to have claimed to have heard Martin McGuinness admit firing the first shot on Bloody Sunday---Saville declared that Infliction’s right to life was “substantive” and must take precedence over the “procedural” right of the Bloody Sunday families to the full truth.

Evidence in this category was marginal in relation to Bloody Sunday but would be the main substance of a Finucane inquiry.

In March this year, in a case arising from alleged “shoot-to-kill” incidents in Armagh in 1982, five Law Lords ruled unanimously that the State’s obligation under the Human Rights Act to carry out “effective and independent” investigation of killings involving State agents did not apply to deaths prior to the incorporation of the Act in October 2000. This would appear to have further, ominous implications for the ability of a Finucane inquiry to compel crucial evidence.

It was on the day immediately following this ruling that Northern Secretary Paul Murphy announced that the Cory Report, delivered to him the previous October, would be published.

The murdered solicitor’s son, Michael, said last week that the family most wanted to know, “Not who pulled the trigger but who pulled the strings.” The problem for the family, but a source of comfort for the British Government, may be that no adequate constitutional mechanism exists for achieving this end.


 

 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



19 September 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Get On With It
Dolours Price

Who Pulled the Strings
Eamon McCann

Can of Worms
John Kennedy

British Terror in Ireland
Kevin Raftery

Big Snake Lake
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain

'Ulster Britishism' or the Myth of Nationality
Liam O Comain

An Teanga Once Again?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Converting Waste into Value
Liam O Ruairc

Scargill Speaks In Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

NIPSA, the Most Important Workers Strike in Northern Ireland in 20 Years
Davy Carlin


12 September 2004

Standing Down
Mick Hall

Life in the Party
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Is There a Peaceful Way to a Peoples Republic?
Liam O Comain

Rising to the Top of the Hate List
Fred A. Wilcox

Books Not Bombs
Mary La Rosa

Fighting for the Right to be a British Drug Dealer
Anthony McIntyre

Document Stamped 'Secret'
submitted by Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

The Final Insult
Starry Plough Editorial Collective

Tensions Escalate as Loyalists March Through the Ardoyne
Paul Mallon

 

 

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