THE Prime Minister refused yesterday to launch a public inquiry into the loyalist murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane after shocking levels of State involvement were outlined in a Government review.
David Cameron told the Commons that the collusion detailed was totally unacceptable and reiterated his previous apology to Mr Finucane’s family, but insisted an inquiry would not shed any more light on the scandal.
The 500-page review of the case by QC Sir Desmond de Silva heavily criticised the actions of a number of State employees, who he said “furthered and facilitated” the shooting of the 38-year-old father-of-three by the Ulster Defence Association in 1989.
The collusion outlined by Sir Desmond included spreading malicious propaganda that Mr Finucane was sympathetic to the IRA; one or possibly more police officers proposing him as a target to loyalists; and the mishandling of State agents inside the UDA who were involved in the murder.
But Sir Desmond found no evidence of an over-arching conspiracy by the authorities to target Mr Finucane.
Announcing the findings of the report at Westminster, Mr Cameron said: “Collusion should never, ever happen.
“So on behalf of the Government – and the whole country – let me say once again to the Finucane family, I am deeply sorry.”
But the murdered solicitor’s family have branded the review a sham and again repeated their demand for an independent public inquiry.
The Prime Minister said he was not in favour of such an exercise.
“I respectfully disagree with them that a public inquiry would produce a fuller picture of what happened and what went wrong,” he told MPs.
“Indeed the history of public inquiries in Northern Ireland would suggest that, had we gone down this route, we would not know what we know today.”
Mr Finucane was gunned down in front of his wife Geraldine and their three children inside their north Belfast home in February 1989.
His widow last night said the Government-commissioned review was a “sham, whitewash and confidence trick”.
Mrs Finucane accused it of suppressing the truth and attempting to throw all blame on dead individuals and disbanded organisations while exonerating ministers, serving officers and existing security agencies. “The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others,” she said.
Labour leader Ed Miliband supported the call for a public inquiry.
He told the Commons: “All sides of the House believe that we must establish the full and tested truth about Pat Finucane’s murder.
“But on this side of the House we continue to believe that a public inquiry is necessary for his family and Northern Ireland.”
Sir Desmond was critical of a defunct Army intelligence unit and the RUC’s Special Branch, which each ran at least one agent inside the UDA that had a direct involvement in the murder.
He found that instead of pursuing another loyalist suspect, Special Branch actually recruited him as an agent as well.
Sir Desmond said there was also widespread leaking of sensitive intelligence to loyalists by the security forces during this period of the Troubles – a total of 270 separate leaks in Belfast between 1987 and 1989.
He also accused elements of the security forces of actively attempting to thwart the investigation of Mr Finucane’s murder.
Loyalist Ken Barrett was convicted of Mr Finucane’s murder in 2004.
Responding to the review, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said he will discuss the findings with the Police Ombudsman and the Public Prosecution Service to see if more people should be held to account.
“The murder should never have happened,” he said. “There was a catalogue of failure which needs to be assessed to see if people should be held accountable.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “The de Silva report, and Prime Minister Cameron’s statement, acknowledge the shocking extent of State collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane and the efforts to subvert and frustrate subsequent investigations into that murder.”
Key points raised in the report included:
l Security Service propaganda legitimised Mr Finucane as a target. Having wrongly painted him as an IRA figure, Sir Desmond said there was an even greater obligation on the Security Service to act upon threat intelligence.
l One or more RUC officers suggested Mr Finucane as a potential target to a loyalist paramilitary and police failed to act on at least two previous threats against him. RUC action to disrupt the UDA gang before the shooting was “grossly inadequate”.
l Police failed to retrieve a gun used in the murder that had been passed to a Special Branch agent in the UDA, William Stobie. Sir Desmond said proper use of Stobie’s intelligence could have prevented the murder. Loyalists shot him dead in 2001.
Another agent – Brian Nelson – was recruited by the Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) to infiltrate the UDA, his role was gathering intelligence for the paramilitary organisation.
The report recorded a “signal failure” by the Army command to ensure adequate supervision of Nelson, who likely produced an intelligence report on Mr Finucane used by his killers, carried out a reconnaissance operation at his home and gave murderer Barrett and another unnamed loyalist the solicitor’s picture.
The report said: “There was a wilful and abject failure by successive governments to provide the clear policy and legal framework necessary for agent-handling operations to take place effectively and within the law.”
Serious concerns about Nelson’s suitability as an agent were expressed in the report – it found he wanted to see republican targets killed and was prepared to withhold information from handlers if he felt targeting was justified.
Nelson did not inform FRU of the plan to murder Mr Finucane but the report said the Army must take some responsibility for an agent as he was equivalent to an MoD employee.
Just three cases were noted in which the security forces acted on Nelson’s intelligence to frustrate UDA attacks. Sir Desmond particularly criticised Special Branch’s response to his information.
The report found no evidence Government ministers knew of Nelson’s activity or the plan to kill Mr Finucane. After the murder, the Army provided Government with “highly misleading and in parts factually inaccurate” advice about Nelson’s handling when the authorities considered whether to prosecute him.
Senior RUC officers gave contradictory submissions to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Nelson was jailed for five counts of conspiracy to murder and died in 2003.