Northern Ireland: British government covers up collusion in lawyer's killing

June 29, 2007

Four years after an inquiry established collusion between British intelligence, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the loyalist paramilitary killers of leading Belfast civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service (PPS) ruled on June 25 that there was "insufficient evidence" to bring charges against any police officers or British military intelligence personnel.

Finucane, known for his defence of Republicans and IRA members in court, was gunned down in front of his wife and children in their home in 1989 by the Ulster Defence Association's (UDA) death squad, the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Three inquiries over 14 years, led by the former head of Scotland Yard Lord Stevens, concluded, "Collusion is evidenced in many ways. This ranges from 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 the early stages of the inquiry it was revealed that Brian Nelson, the British Army Force Research Unit's (FRU) key agent in the UDA at the time of the murder, informed his handlers of the plan to assassinate Finucane. Shawn Pogatchnik wrote in a June 25 Associated Press article that "Nelson's job as the UDA intelligence director in Belfast — and simultaneously as an army spy — was to encourage the group's anti-Catholic hit-squads to hit the 'right' targets".

William Stobie and Ken Barrett, both UDA members, were charged with the murder in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Stobie, an RUC informer, walked free after a key witness decided not to testify against him. He was shot dead by loyalists two months later. Barrett pleaded guilty to the murder but was released in May 2006. As well as Nelson, Stobie and Barrett, nine former members of the army's FRU and seven police officers were investigated by the PPS. Gordon Kerr, the former head of the FRU and one of those investigated, is now leading British military intelligence in Iraq.

The failure of the director of public prosecution to lay further charges has been condemned by Finucane's family and human rights groups, and characterised as a high-level cover-up. A June 25 Amnesty International statement pointed out: "The fact that much of the DPP's decision appears to hinge on the absence of evidence simply reinforces concern about the extent to which state officials have been involved in a cover-up in respect of their collusion with paramilitary organisations in the perpetration of serious human rights abuses."

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