inquiry ordered by the British Government may fail
to uncover the truth about the murder of Belfast
solicitor Pat Finucane.
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.
41, confessed to having been one of two Ulster Defence
Association gunmen who smashed into Finucanes
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. Barrets
guilty plea meant that no detail emerged in court
of the involvement of police and army personnel
in procuring and facilitating the killing.
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 Mondays development at Belfast
Crown Court, there are no proceedings now pending.
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.
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.
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 didnt disappear.
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.
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.
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
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.
recent judicial rulings may exclude the great bulk
of evidence along these lines.
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 Inflictions right to life was
substantive and must take precedence
over the procedural right of the Bloody
Sunday families to the full truth.
in this category was marginal in relation to Bloody
Sunday but would be the main substance of a Finucane
March this year, in a case arising from alleged
shoot-to-kill incidents in Armagh in
1982, five Law Lords ruled unanimously that the
States 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.
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.
murdered solicitors 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