Former Canadian supreme court judge Peter Cory asked himself, when investigating whether collusion existed in the murders of Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright: ‘How should collusion be defined?’
To help him he opened a dictionary and read - to collude means to conspire, connive, collaborate, plot and scheme.
To further assist he sought the definition of connive - to deliberately ignore, overlook, disregard, pass over, take no notice of, turn a blind eye, wink, excuse, condone, look the other way, let something ride, pretend ignorance or unawareness of something one ought morally or officially or legally oppose, fail to take action against a known wrong doing or misbehaviour, to violate a law, indulge, tolerate or be secretly in favour of, sympathise with or understand.
When Judge Cory closed his dictionary he decided to cast the net as widely as possible when defining collusion. He did so as he said in his report because the public need to have confidence in government agencies, particularly the state’s armed forces.
This was not an idle exercise or a play on words by the judge.
He was investigating the circumstances surrounding four of the most high-profile killings of the conflict.
Using his own definition he reported that collusion existed in all four killings.
Some years before Cory’s investigation, Sir John Stevens, one of Britain’s most senior policemen, defined collusion during one of his three investigations into it thus - “the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder”.
In his 14 years of investigating, Stevens said: “I found all these elements of collusion to be present.”
He also found a ‘culture of obstruction’ which was ‘widespread in parts of the [British] army and RUC’. On occasions it was more than obstruction. A room Stevens was using to plan arrest operations against loyalists was destroyed. He described it as a “deliberate act of arson”.
His plans to arrest British army agent and UDA man Brian Nelson were thwarted when Nelson’s handlers tipped him off and he fled his home.
In terms of collusion the Nelson case is by far the most significant. It embodies all the agencies required to make collusion effective in its execution, its cover up and the protection of those involved.
The state is there in the shape of Nelson’s British army handlers and advisers. The loyalists are there through Nelson. The system is there to protect both. At the trial a British army colonel identified as ‘J’, who we now know to be Brigadier Gordon Kerr, appeared as a character witness.
Nelson, it is believed, was personally involved in the deaths of 10 people, the targeting of 16 others, while six others named on his files were killed after his arrest.
With direct assistance from British Intelligence Nelson smuggled from South Africa, in January 1988, a huge consignment of weapons for loyalists. Included were 200 AK 47 assault rifles.
A report by the Belfast-based Relatives for Justice (RFJ) into the use of these weapons estimated that 230 people were killed, 185 of them Catholics.
Aware of the horror caused by these weapons and the involvement of British Intelligence and Nelson in procuring them the commanding officer of the British army, Sir John Wilsey, said in January 1997 that he was “certainly not ashamed of Nelson’s role”.
In the same report RFJ said that all multiple killings carried out by loyalists after March 1988 involved the use of their South African weapons.
Two weeks ago the families of the six people killed in Louginisland in 1994 accused the RUC-PSNI of collusion with the killers.
The weapons used were South African. An RUC agent allegedly supplied the car used in the massacre. The RUC later destroyed the car and any potential forensic evidence which may have remained. They failed to link a hair sample found with the weapons to anyone.
There are serious questions to be asked about the entire investigation.
Clearly, anyone of these failures meets Cory’s collusion test. He was right to cast the collusion net widely. For decades republicans raised the issue of collusion but were dismissed as propagandists. It is now an undisputed fact.
It is time the British government admitted its role in the conflict.