Finucane case witness hospitalised
BY LAURA FRIEL
A key prosecution witness in the case against William Stobie, charged in connection with the 1989 assassination of civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, has signed himself into a psychiatric hospital. According to sources, Neil Mulholland was admitted into a psychiatric unit voluntarily after visiting his consultant last Thursday. The implications for the forthcoming trial against the self-confessed former UDA quartermaster and RUC agent who supplied and disposed of the weapons used to kill Finucane may be devastating.
This latest development follows last week's decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to reduce murder charges against Stobie to the lesser charge of aiding and procuring. The DPP's decision was seen as the first move towards brokering a face-saving deal, which would mean that the full facts about the state's involvement in the killing would not be exposed.
Senior legal sources described the DPP's actions as part of a damage limitation exercise, pointing out that under the current law anyone facing a murder charge cannot be offered a plea bargaining deal. The reduction of charges against Stobie clears the way for the DPP to broker such a deal.
A similar tactic was used in relation to Brian Nelson, a British agent and UDA intelligence officer who helped set up the Finucane killing. On the eve of his trial, Nelson accepted a deal in which the most serious charges against him were dropped. Nelson pleaded guilty to a number of lesser charges and served just five years in jail.
Like Nelson, Stobie was working as a state agent, this time for the RUC Special Branch, at the time of the shooting. Such a deal in the case of Stobie may result in any prison term imposed never being served. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Stobie could be released without serving one more day in jail.
The fact that Stobie was ever charged with the murder of Pat Finucane was due largely to a 28-page statement made to the Stevens inquiry team by a NIO press officer and former journalist, Neil Mulholland.
In 1990, believing his associates in the RUC Special Branch were trying to set him up, Stobie contacted ``The Sunday Life'' and asked to speak to a journalist. He was put through to Mulholland and the two later met outside Tennent Street RUC barracks on the Shankill, where Stobie had just signed bail. Stobie was facing charges following a weapons find at his home, which he claimed had been `planted' by the RUC.
Stobie told Mulholland of his role as an agent acting for the RUC Special Branch, including details of his part in the killing of Pat Finucane. Stobie said that he alerted his Special Branch handlers of the pending killing. Significantly, Stobie claimed to know Finucane was the target. Stobie asked Mulholland only to print details of the story if something happened to him.
Mulholland subsequently told colleagues at work about Stobie's allegation of RUC collusion in the Finucane killing. Later, Mulholland outlined the story to the head of the RUC press office, Bill McGookin, who arranged for Mulholland to ``meet someone'' to discuss the allegation. An RUC Special Branch officer, who falsely claimed he was in charge of the Finucane inquiry, met with Mulholland three times.
Stobie was subsequently arrested and interviewed by the same RUC Special Branch officer who had lied to Mulholland. During seven days of detention in September 1990, Stobie was interviewed 32 times for a total of 47 hours and 20 minutes. Stobie's confession ran into 200 hand written pages which were later translated into 120 pages of single space typing. Stobie was released without charge.
Shortly after his release, Stobie contacted another journalist, Ed Moloney of the Sunday Tribune. He recounted the tale he told to Mulholland but with one significant difference. He claimed he did not know the identity of the target before the killing. The failure of the RUC Special Branch to act on information given by their informer could now be explained away.
The RUC Special Branch would later admit that Stobie was their agent. They could also admit Stobie had alerted them to the pending killing but claimed that they could not intervene effectively because they did not know who was the intended target.
Coincidentally, attempts by the DPP to curtail the remit of the Stobie trial and the question mark which now hangs over one of the prosecution's key witnesses comes in a week when relatives of the murdered Belfast solicitor were remonstrating with another world leader.
Geraldine Finucane, the solicitor's widow, the couple's daughter Katherine and Pat's brother Martin travelled to Downing Street to reiterate their call for an independent public inquiry to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
``Tony Blair has a moral responsibility to us,'' said Martin Finucane, ``in the 11 years since Pat's death, compelling evidence has emerged which suggests British army intelligence and the RUC were complicit in the murder.
``The Northern Ireland authorities and the British government have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent information from coming into the public domain regarding this murder. Tony Blair has under his control all the answers to the questions we have raised.
``The British government should be embarrassed by the way in which they have handled this case and the fact that they continue to ignore the concerns raised by the United Nations, the Irish government, US Congress, European Parliament and other distinguished bodies,'' Martin concluded.