Special Branch police were aware of a plot three years ago to kill the family of Pat Finucane but failed to inform them of the threat, it has been admitted.
British officials have privately confirmed that PSNI Special Branch police had been alerted that the unionist paramilitary UDA planned to murder members of the family in summer 2003.
However, despite evidence of a murder plot Special Branch failed to inform the Finucanes that their lives were in danger.
It is understood that the family only learned of the UDA plot through a third party. When the Finucanes questioned British officials about the threat, Special Branch denied being aware of any danger.
British forces only admitted knowledge of the threat following the intervention of the Dublin government. The Finucane family were finally allowed protection following confirmation that their lives were under threat.
British officials have refused to explain why the PSNI had failed to inform the Finucanes that their lives were under threat.
The UDA murder plot ago came at a time when retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory was actively investigating collusion by British forces in Mr Finucane’s 1989 murder.
This Sunday marks the 17th anniversary of the murder by a UDA death squad.
Five of the gang directly involved in the murder have since been exposed as agents working for different branches of the British intelligence services, including RUC Special Branch.
The Finucane family have now accused British Direct Ruler Peter Hain of attempting to prevent an independent inquiry into the murder of Mr Finucane.
After Judge Cory recommended an independent inquiry, the British government announced it would only allow an investigation into Mr Finucane’s murder under specially introduced legislation, known as the Inquiries Act.
Any inquiry under that act is subject to a government minister determining what evidence can be heard and what can be withheld.
The decision, which broke a commitment made in negotiations in 2001, provoked outrage from nationalist parties, the Dublin government, human rights groups, Judge Cory himself and Bloody Sunday Inquiry judge Lord Saville.
The Finucane family met with Mr Hain yesterday at Stormont Castle to voice their concerns.
In what was described as a “frank and robust” meeting, Mr Finucane’s widow, Geraldine Finucane, accused Mr Hain of allowing the Crown forces to dictate the terms of any future inquiry.
“What was very evident in the meeting was that the government could not rely on the cooperation of their security forces and that is a major concern for us,” she said.
Michael Finucane, the son of the murder victim, angrily demanded to know “who the hell is running the country”.
During the meeting, Mr Hain insisted that an inquiry into the murder could only take place under the terms of the controversial Inquiries Act.
The British government’s position is based on an alleged need to protect “national security” considerations.
Describing yesterday’s meeting as “disappointingly familiar”, Michael Finucane hit out at Peter Hain’s refusal to consider any vehicle other than the Inquiries Act for investigating his father’s case.
“That position now means that the British government is insistent on proceeding with an inquiry that will not have the co-operation or the endorsement of the Finucane family,” Mr Finucane said.
“The meeting really did underline the extent to which this government (the British) is under the control of the intelligence services, to such an extent that they - MI5, Special Branch and so forth - are capable of dictating the terms of an inquiry into an issue as serious as Pat Finucane and collusion.
“Insofar as the British maintain that the Inquiries Act is the best vehicle in these circumstances, they are obviously pandering to the whims - and sometimes demands - of the security services.
“Mr Hain and his officials continually talked about the need to achieve the co-operation of the intelligence services and that such co-operation is only possible if the Inquiries Act is used and restriction notices are employed.
“What was agreed at Weston Park in 2001 was a public and independent inquiry if so recommended by Judge Cory.
“What is now being proposed is an intelligence services’ inquiry, in which it is entirely possible the only people who will see all of the relevant material are the intelligence services who created it in the first instance.
“Mr Hain said that the intelligence services would only be prepared to co-operate in providing information when restriction notices would be in place.
“That demonstrates that it is the people who currently have the information locked away in their offices and files who control any inquiry.
“You really come away from such a meeting with the burning question: who the hell is running the country?” Mr Finucane said.