Collusion can of worms is open
BY LAURA FRIEL
The British government has opened a can of worms. Under intense international pressure, perhaps the British government had hoped that by sidestepping the call for an independent inquiry into the 1989 assassination of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane and reinstating an investigation by British police officers they could keep the lid on the truth behind British occupation of the north of Ireland.
d for a while it worked. It's true that the arrest of William Stobie, a self-confessed UDA quartermaster who supplied and disposed of the weaponry used in the Finucane killing, was a significant development.
But when Stobie established he was acting for the RUC Special Branch at the time of the shooting, nationalists feared that we were looking at another Brian Nelson scenario of pre-trial deals. And that fear appears to be well founded. In fact, it is now unclear whether Stobie will even come to trial after the prosecution's chief witness recently signed himself into a psychiatric unit.
Meanwhile, the British government, armed with Official Secrets legislation, has been vigorously pursuing journalists who are investigating aspects of Britain's covert war in Ireland. An unprecedented number of British newspapers have recently faced gagging orders preventing them printing details of the activities of one of the British army unit at the centre of the collusion controversy, the Force Research Unit (FRU).
When a former member of the FRU, known only as Martin Ingram, started leaking information to the Sunday Times, the British authorities panicked. One-time FRU operatives were hunted the length and breadth of England, and further abroad, in a desperate attempt to identify the source. In one specific instance, a house used by a former FRU member was broken into and documents stolen.
When a former FRU operative, suspected of being the whistle blower, was arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act, the British must have thought the flow of information would be stemmed. But for the Stevens' team, an identifiable member of the FRU, willing to cooperate and available for interview, proved to be the breakthrough they had been waiting for.
A tip off from the operative sent the Stevens' team to British Army headquarters, where documents detailing the activities of the FRU at the time of the Finucane killing, the so-called ``secret books'', had been kept unbeknown to the investigation.
d now the British government is possibly facing its worst nightmare. The FRU documents are believed not only to contain the details of many killings, but also the precise intelligence available to whom at any given point. In other words, the documents may reveal who knew what and when.
Since the seizure of the documents, the FRU has been linked to a number of other attacks. The sectarian killing of a Catholic pensioner Francisco Notorantonio was apparently an FRU ploy to protect an informer. FRU involvement in the death of UDA chief John McMichael has also been cited in the press.
d now it appears the FRU played a role in loyalist Michael Stone's gun and grenade attack on nationalist mourners in Milltown cemetery in 1988. Three people died and over 60 were injured during an attack on the funeral of three IRA Volunteers killed by the British SAS in Gibraltar.
According to the latest revelations, Stone met with FRU agent Brian Nelson to discuss the murder plot. Later, Nelson scouted the graveyard and provided Stone with maps to aid the attack. Nelson also kept his FRU colleagues informed of the planned attack.
The Stevens' team had already contacted the British Army requesting details of Brian Nelson's new identity and whereabouts so that he can be interviewed in relation to Finucane's death. But recent revelations have connected Nelson and the FRU with other killings.
So now the heat is on. Attempts by the British Government to limit the scope of the investigation into the killing of Pat Finucane have inexplicably backfired. They are now under extreme pressure to widen the remit of the Stevens team to investigate a string of killings in which Crown force collusion is evident.