Senior British government officials permitted a campaign of state-backed killings by unionist paramilitaries and the RUC (now PSNI) police to be conducted at the height of the conflict, a senior security adviser for the British government has finally admitted.
The admission in advice to British Prime Minister David Cameron comes after the Downing Street continues to block a genuine inquiry into the 1989 murder of Pat Finucane, a US congressional committee was told on Wednesday.
The point-blank assassination of the Belfast lawyer, who was gunned down in front of his wife and children as he ate his Sunday dinner, remains one of the most controversial state killings in the North.
Last year, Cameron made an apology in the British parliament to the Finucane family, admitting “shocking” collusion in his murder between Loyalist paramilitaries and the RUC. However, he denied any political conspiracy existed, while refusing a public inquiry which could have exposed that claim as false.
However, a letter written in July 2011 by senior official Ciaran Martin admits that internal classified documents supported the Finucane family’s claims.
“[S]ome of the evidence available only internally could be read to suggest that within government at a high level this systematic problem with loyalist agents was known, but nothing was done about it,” said the letter.
“It’s also potentially the case that credible suspicions of agent involvement in Mr Finucane’s murder were made known at senior levels after it and that nothing was done; the agents remained in place. These two points essentially aren’t public.”
Mr Cameron was accused of perpetuating a “massive injustice” for his continued refusal to allow a public inquiry or to admit that the collusion was politically sanctioned.
In a hearing in Washington DC this week, Mr Cameron was accused of seeking to protect politicians and senior British government officials who had turned a blind eye to the murder.
Chris Smith, chair of the human rights sub-committee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs castigated him for its refusal to allow a full inquiry.
“The British government has reserved one final, yet massive injustice,” he said, “it continues to protect those responsible for the murder of Pat Finucane.”
Mr Finucane’s son, Michael, told the committee that he believed the collusion with unionist paramilitaries “was a deep-rooted, officially sanctioned policy of selecting targets based on their degree of opposition to the State.
“The more troublesome the individual, the more likely the State was to deploy its killers-by-proxy to erase the ‘problem’.”
The British government had first offered a public inquiry into his father’s killing in 2001 during peace talks but then consistently “welshed” on the commitment, Mr Finucane said.
In 2004, a review by Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory called for a public inquiry, but after repeated delays the British government agreed in 2011 only to a’review’ of the case papers.
“My family would not be permitted to see any of the documents nor would we be allowed to hear witnesses called to give evidence or ask them any questions,” said Mr Finucane, arguing that the review was totally inadequate and repeating calls for a full judicial inquiry.
The existence of the security letter first emerged last month at a Belfast High Court hearing challenging Downing Street’s decision not to allow a full inquiry.
The judge ordered the government to hand over minutes of the July 2011 cabinet meeting at which the decision was taken to deny a public inquiry, and correspondence between Downing Street officials and MI5. It is still unclear whether the documents will actually be made available to the Finucane family.