Declassified files: Concern at crown solicitor role in official’s evidence

The case related to the extradition of escapees from the Maze Prison
The case related to the extradition of escapees from the Maze Prison

A senior NIO official expressed serious concern that his affidavit to a court had been changed by the Crown Solicitor and that he had been advised not to give certain information in his possession when under cross-examination.

During preparations for the Dublin court hearing where the Government was attempting to extradite IRA man Dermot Finucane, it was decided that S C Jackson in the NIO’s prisons division was to be put forward as a key witness for the Government.

In a confidential October 14 1988 memo to seven other senior NIO officials, Mr Jackson expressed concern at what the Crown Solicitor, H A Nelson, was advising him to do.

Mr Jackson said that he had understood that following a meeting with Irish officials and a minute to the secretary of state’s private secretary “the law officers had agreed that we would be rather more forthcoming in our response to questions about matters of past history at Maze than had previously been the intention.

“At the meeting the Irish referred in particular to ... the treatment allegedly meted out to prisoners in the aftermath of the Maze escape, and the incident in March 1983 in which Finucane was alleged to have been threatened with execution…”

He said that at a meeting with the secretary of state “it was clear ... he was anxious that we should not appear to be covering up, even if some of the information which came out was unhelpful to our case.

“Against this background, I was surprised to be told by Mr Nelson on Wednesday October 12 that it was still the intention that I should not [word underlined] say, if a question on the subject was put, either that the deputy governor’s initial report concluded that unnecessary force had been used or that some prisoners had been bitten by dogs, or to give the outcome of our informal inquiries of Mr Wright.

“These points have been excised from the statement (first put together on Saturday January 8) of my knowledge of matters relating to [those events].”

Mr Jackson concluded: “You will understand my concern that the advice from the law officers does not square with the tenor of the secretary of state’s remarks to us on Tuesday.

“I do not relish being cross-examined and appearing to be covering up and declining to give information which is within my knowledge.”