Republican News · Thursday 14 February 2002

[An Phoblacht]

State-sponsored assassination


Crown collusion with loyalist paramilitaries was systematic, organised and sanctioned from the very top. The British didn't just recruit informers, or run agents within loyalist groups like the UDA; they organised, armed and directed countergangs that operated in parallel with regular Crown forces.

In its determination to maintain partition, the British government developed a mechanism of state sponsored murder. Behind the mask of liberal democracy and the rule of law, the British state murdered citizens within their own jurisdiction. And this wasn't just about 'taking the war to the IRA'. Pat Finucane wasn't murdered in the belief that he was a 'top Provo'.

Pat Finucane was assassinated because he was a diligent and effective defence lawyer at a time when criminalisation became Britain's determining counter insurgency strategy. This isn't the story of the rogue cop, the frustrated soldier, or the unreliable informer; this is the tale of a rogue state and ruthless government.

These are the facts which successive British governments have sought, and continue to seek, to obscure and hide. The recent killing of a potential key witness to any future inquiry, William Stobie, and the threats and harassment of other key witnesses, suggests that British forces may go to any lengths to prevent public exposure.

This week marks the 13th anniversary of Pat Finucane's killing. It also marks the publication of the latest report onto the killing. "Beyond Collusion; the UK Security Forces and the murder of Pat Finucane" is a comprehensive collation of evidence gathered over many years from many different sources by the New York based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

The document presents new evidence, dismisses the British government's proposal to appoint an international Judge and reiterates the call for the immediate establishment of an independent international public inquiry into the killing.

Launching the document at a Belfast press conference, Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of the Lawyers' Committee, was joined by members of the Finucane family and representatives from a number of human rights organisations including, the Six-County based Committee for the Administration of Justice, Amnesty International and British Irish Rights Watch.

"The myth that those calling for Pat Finucane's case to be properly investigated are living in the past must be dispelled. This case is not happening in the past it is part of a process to find a peaceful resolution for Northern Ireland in the future," said Massimino. "The appointment of a judge to investigate these cases could delay things for a long time. We believe that plenty of evidence already exists in the Finucane case for an inquiry to go ahead as it is. The Finucane family and human rights groups have been calling for an inquiry for over a decade. We think that the questions raised in our report can only be answered by a public inquiry."

"The evidence that has emerged in the Finucane case has stretched the traditional concept of collusion to its breaking point," reads the document. "The term collusion conjures up images of an isolated officer or group slipping files to members of paramilitary groups" but what was actually at work was much more entrenched."

Describing a "complex web of intelligence units" whose agents operated actively while reporting back to their government handlers, the document says: "In this context, collusion is an institutionalised phenomenon, one that wears away the boundary between paramilitary and government."

New information revealed by the Lawyers' Committee includes evidence from a former member of the covert British Army unit at the centre of the collusion controversy, the Force Research Unit and information from a former RUC member who claims that pursuit of one of Finucane's killers led to threats from the Special Branch.

The document details further evidence to suggest that the Special Branch not only knew of an imminent threat against the lawyer's life but they were probably at the heart of its instigation. The Special Branch didn't just 'turn a blind eye' or fail to respond to the threat, evidence increasingly suggests they actively procured the killing.

d they weren't alone. The British Army's FRU supplied the intelligence through their agent Brian Nelson; they even accompanied Nelson on a mission to identify Finucane's house. It has also been suggested that the FRU ensured the killers had a free run by ordering other members of the Crown forces away from the area during the attack.

"Documents recording the contacts between FRU agents and their handlers have revealed that the purpose of the FRU, at least with respect to loyalist paramilitary groups, was to redirect the killing power of loyalist paramilitaries away from random sectarian killings towards 'legitimate' republican targets.

"With the active assistance and resources of the FRU, Nelson soon brought new professionalism to the UDA's information gathering system. Brian Nelson prepared targeting information on Patrick Finucane with the knowledge of his FRU handlers."

d if anyone thinks this has nothing to do with the British government and military top brass, think again. The work of FRU agents was "routinely passed along to the very highest levels of the British government" and "every week the FRU submits a report of its activities to the Joint Intelligence Committee which reports directly to Ten Downing Street."

First we have collusion, and then we have cover up. The lengths to which the Special Branch, FRU and British government has gone to obscure the truth about the Finucane killing flags up the controversial nature of their own involvement.

The document details the FRU's frantic attempts to safeguard their agent Brian Nelson from scrutiny by the Stevens team. This includes storing illegal documentation at a British Army barracks, breaking into the investigating team's offices and attempting to destroy vital evidence by setting the office on fire.

"FRU documents pertaining to Nelson were withheld from the Stevens investigations and subsequently found to have been altered. On the night before Stevens planned to arrest Nelson, Nelson fled to England and Stevens' offices were destroyed by fire. According to an FRU whistleblower, that fire was set by the British Army."

Then we have the RUC Special Branch threatening other members of the RUC to protect self-confessed loyalist killers, consistently refusing to act on information, doctoring intelligence tapes and destroying or 'losing' vital evidence, including a taped confession and the murder weapon.

The pistol used in the Finucane killing wasn't 'lost' but, despite the ongoing nature of the investigation, handed over to the British Army who conveniently 'upgraded' the weapon, removing any chance of further forensic examination.

William Stobie was an agent for the Special Branch when acting as an UDA quartermaster he supplied the weapons used to kill Pat Finucane. In 1990, during interrogations by the RUC's CID, William Stobie detailed his role in the Finucane killing, insisting that he had kept his handlers fully informed and that Special Branch had known the names of the UDA members involved.

"Despite his admissions, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided on January 1991 not to charge Stobie in connection with Finucane's murder."

According to a former FRU member, known only as Martin Ingram, there were three separate UDA plots to assassinate Pat Finucane.

"Ingram claims that both the FRU and Special Branch knew that the UDA were targeting Patrick Finucane. He says that they also knew, in the run up to the killings, that there had already been two attempts against his life. Despite this, Finucane was not warned of the dangers he faced."

Ingram has also confirmed that Tommy Lyttle, the leader of the UDA in West Belfast was working for Special Branch at the time of the murder. Lyttle was in charge of both Nelson and Stobie. In an interview in 1995, Lyttle confirmed that two RUC officers had originally suggested the idea of killing Finucane. He also claimed that his Special Branch contacts did not discourage the idea that Finucane should be shot.

At the heart of the intrigue, argues the document, was the British government's criminalisation policy. When Patrick Finucane began practicing law, the British government was shifting strategies in its conflict against the IRA.

The government deemphasised its military campaign and opened up a new front that became known as criminalisation. This strategy depended upon a fundamental manipulation of the legal system, including powers of arrest, detention and admissibility of evidence. As a diligent defence lawyer, Pat Finucane had inadvertently struck at the very heart of this strategy. He paid with his life.

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