Getting away with murder
BY LAURA FRIEL
The British government is very frightened. The truth is bound and gagged but it's seeping out like blood through bandages and the stain on their reputation at home and abroad is spreading.
The latest report on the killing of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane compiled by British Irish Rights Watch (BIRW) concludes: ``The materials on which the report is based strongly suggest that agents of the state have been involved, directly and indirectly, in the murder of its citizens, in contravention of domestic law and all international human rights standards.''
Agents of the state have been involved, directly and indirectly, in the murder of its citizens, in contravention of domestic law and all international human rights standards
Agents of the state involved in the ``murder of its citizens''... surely this is the most damning indictment of any body politic.
For Irish republicans in particular and northern nationalists in general for most of our adult lives collusion has been part of our experience of British occupation. But for many years, the allegation of collusion was like a voice crying into the wind. Largely unheard and too easily ignored.
In the eyes of the world, Britain was seen as the cradle of democracy; as a nation it had fought on the right side in two world wars, it's political and judicial institutions were revered in some of the most powerful countries across the globe.
This month marks the eleventh anniversary of Pat Finucane's death. Ten years ago, the claim that the British state colluded in the killing of a defence lawyer, ruthlessly gunned down in front of his family, would have been dismissed as incredible. Today it is increasingly recognised as a matter of fact.
In the orchestration of the killing of Pat Finucane and its aftermath, many elements within the collusion conspiracy came into play. In a detailed document, BIRW outlines many of the controversial aspects of the murder. BIRW notes that the briefing which prompted British Minister Douglas Hogg to make his now infamous remarks about defence lawyers in the North, came from RUC Special Branch and was most probably endorsed by the then RUC chief constable, John Herman.
The document highlights the RUC interrogators in detention centres like Castlereagh who promoted a climate of vilification against Finucane which included RUC officers suggesting Finucane as a target to a detained loyalist killer. The BIRW points to British agent Brian Nelson, who provided the loyalist assassination squad with the necessary information to target Finucane successfully.
The document outlines the role of an RUC Special Branch agent, William Stobie, who supplied the loyalist gang with their weaponry, including the weapon used in the killing, which was taken from a British Army barracks by a UDR soldier. The weapons were disposed of by Stobie afterwards. BIRW points a finger at Stobie's handlers, who made no attempt either to intervene to thwart the plan or to arrest the gang after the killing.
d central to the plot, the document highlights the role of a branch of British Military Intelligence, the Force Research Unit, a secret force with direct links to the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. (Perhaps another one of the reasons why, in the wake of Pinochet's arrest, Thatcher no longer feels safe to travel abroad, just in case she's arrested for war crimes.)
Then we have the Director of Public Prosecutions who, after Brian Nelson was inadvertently arrested by the Stevens' team and charged with a series of killings and conspiracies, effectively scuttled the trial by accepting a plea bargaining deal in which the most series charges were dropped.
At trial, Nelson was defended by the British Army, a Colonel `J' and a British government representative, Cabinet member Tom King. The presiding judge also went along with the pantomime. Each small piece of information further illuminates the collusion landscape. And as the picture clears, it is increasingly one of ``agents of the state involved in the murder of its citizens''.
But as BIRW document points out, it isn't simply a matter of detail - the reaction of the British state and it's continuing fear of disclosure further indicates they have something to hide. Three months ago, the Sunday Times published a series of articles in which a former member of the FRU, the covert British military intelligence unit, implicated that unit in the Finucane murder.
The FRU operative, calling himself Martin Ingram, made a number of revelations about what he called `the dirty war'. Ingram claims that the FRU started the fire which destroyed the office of the Stevens' team and almost wrecked the investigation into collusion and more specifically the investigation into their agent Brian Nelson. The FRU action failed only because Stevens had kept copies of key documents at another location.
The fire took place on the same day that Brian Nelson temporarily fled to Britain in order to escape arrest by the Stevens' team. It is believed that Nelson fled following a tip off from the FRU, who in turn had been warned of Nelson's pending arrest by a member of the RUC. Ingram claimed that the FRU attempted to sabotage the Stevens Inquiry to gain more time to construct a alternative cover story for Nelson.
Three days after the first article appeared, on 25 November 1999, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon obtained a court injunction banning the Sunday Times from publishing any more allegations by Martin Ingram. The British didn't deny Ingram was a former FRU operative, they didn't even challenge the truth of his statements, the British Secretary of State argued that Ingram owed ``a duty of confidence, secrecy to the Crown.'' Initially, the court barred the Sunday Times from even reporting the fact that they had been censored but this was later relaxed.
According to BIRW, London's Metropolitan Special Branch are now investigating the Sunday Times' allegations. However they are not investigating whether the FRU started the fire but whether Martin Ingram has breached the Official Secrets Act. On 17 December 1999, a soldier was arrested on suspicion of being Ingram by Metropolitan police officers in Wales at the request of the British Ministry of Defence.
The arrested soldier was taken to Charing Cross police station in London and held until the following day, when he was released without charge on police bail until February this year. During his detention, the soldier was questioned about possible Official Secrets offences. He was not asked about the fire and he was not interviewed by the Stevens' team. As BIRW points out: ``The authorities seem very anxious to cover up this story.''
But it isn't just a case of the state being anxious to cover up the detail of a crime which happened over ten years ago. After all, we have moved away from the military-led conflict of a decade ago, a Labour government has replaced the Conservatives and Maggie Thatcher has long been abandoned, not only by the British electorate but also by her own political party. Yet the details surrounding the shooting of Pat Finucane continue to be fiercely guarded by the British authorities.
It is not hard to understand why. The killing of Pat Finucane may have happened over ten years ago, but the mechanisms of state collusion are far from being a thing of the past. The FRU was disbanded shortly after the trial of Brian Nelson, only to be reactivated under another name.
If any of us needed reminding that the shadow of collusion continues to fall across our daily lives, the killing of Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson last year and the exposure of continuing collusion at Stoneyford Orange Hall remain pertinent reminders. In the year 2000, agents of the British state continue to collude in ``the murder of its citizens'' in the north of Ireland.