- 1 Beyond Collusion
- 1.1 The UK Security Forces and the Murder of Patrick Finucane
- 1.1.1 Executive Summary
- 1.1.2 The Army’s Force Research Unit and Brian Nelson
- 1.1.3 RUC Special Branch and William Stobie
- 1.1.4 Martin Ingram’s Allegations
- 1.1.5 The Possible Instigation of the Murder by RUC Officers
- 1.1.6 The Prosecution and Subsequent Murder of William Stobie
- 1.1.7 Cover Up: Special Branch and the Story of Johnston Brown
- 1.1.8 The Panorama Revelations
- 1.1.9 The “International Judge” Investigation
- 1.1 The UK Security Forces and the Murder of Patrick Finucane
The UK Security Forces and the Murder of Patrick Finucane
A report by Lawyers Committee for Human Rights published in 2003 some 14 years after the murder of Pat Finucane
Patrick Finucane was a high-profile solicitor in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s and 1980s. He was well known for his work in representing people arrested under the emergency or anti-terrorism laws and for his use of litigation to challenge the legal framework in which the U.K. security forces operated. On the evening of February 12, 1989, masked gunmen broke into Finucane’s home and shot him 14 times in front of his wife and three children. The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) claimed responsibility for the killing. The UFF is a cover name used by the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), the largest loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland.
Over the last 14 years, there have been persistent reports that members of the U.K. security forces were involved in the Finucane murder. The U.K. government has firmly resisted calls to establish a public inquiry into the killing, however, claiming that this could prejudice ongoing criminal investigations. In addition to the investigation by Northern Ireland’s Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), there have been three separate police investigations led by Sir John Stevens, the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London. The findings of the first two Stevens investigations have remained largely classified and the third, established in 1999, is still ongoing. Despite the many official investigations, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for Patrick Finucane’s murder.
Over the last 11 years, the Lawyers Committee has conducted a series of missions to Northern Ireland to investigate reports of official collusion in the murder. The evidence that has emerged over this period extends far beyond isolated acts of collusion by individual members of the security forces and implicates the very foundations of the government’s security policy in Northern Ireland. The evidence strongly suggests that units within both the British Army and the RUC were involved at an institutional level in the murder and subsequent cover up. This report provides a comprehensive account of the Finucane case on the 14th anniversary of his murder.
The Army’s Force Research Unit and Brian Nelson
The Force Research Unit (FRU) was a covert unit of the British Army that infiltrated agents into republican and loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. FRU officers, operating as “handlers,” debriefed and counseled these agents. Documents recording the contacts between FRU agents and their handlers have revealed that the purpose of the FRU, at least with respect to loyalist paramilitary groups, was to redirect the killing power of loyalist paramilitaries away from random sectarian killings and toward “legitimate” republican targets.
In 1987, the FRU recruited Brian Nelson to infiltrate the intelligence structure of the UDA. With the active assistance and resources of the FRU, Nelson soon brought new professionalism to the UDA’s information-gathering system. According to multiple sources, Brian Nelson prepared targeting information on Patrick Finucane with the knowledge of his FRU handlers. FRU documents pertaining to Nelson were withheld from the Stevens investigations and were subsequently found to have been altered. On the night before Stevens planned to arrest Nelson as part of his first investigation, Nelson fled to England and Stevens’s offices were destroyed by a fire. According to an FRU whistleblower, that fire was set by members of the British Army.
The Stevens team did eventually arrest Nelson. After pleading guilty to 20 crimes, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Since then, reports have emerged claiming that MI5, the U.K.’s domestic intelligence agency, had received daily access to FRU files and had been aware of its illegal activities all the time. In addition, according to a 1998 government affidavit, the FRU continued to operate in the wake of Nelson’s arrest, adopting a new name, the “Joint Support Group Northern Ireland” (JSGNI).
RUC Special Branch and William Stobie
Another intelligence agency implicated in the Finucane murder is Special Branch, the intelligence wing of the RUC. Like the FRU, Special Branch ran agents in Northern Ireland’s paramilitary organizations. At the time of the Finucane murder, William Stobie was simultaneously an agent for Special Branch and a quartermaster for the UDA in West Belfast. As quartermaster, Stobie was responsible for supplying weapons for UDA missions in his area.
In September 1990, William Stobie was detained for seven days and repeatedly interrogated by officers of the RUC’s Criminal Investigations Division (CID). Stobie admitted that several days before Patrick Finucane’s murder, a UDA superior had instructed him to supply guns for an operation. Stobie also admitted that he had retrieved the weapons after the murder. During the interrogation, Stobie explained that he was an agent for Special Branch. He insisted that he had kept his handlers fully informed of developments as they arose and that Special Branch had known the names of the UDA members involved. Despite his admissions, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided on January 16, 1991, not to charge Stobie in connection with Finucane’s murder.
Martin Ingram’s Allegations
The Lawyers Committee conducted a series of interviews with a former FRU officer, who spoke to us under the pseudonym “Martin Ingram.” According to Ingram, there were three separate UDA plans to assassinate Patrick Finucane. The first two plans were thwarted, but the third succeeded. Ingram claimed that both the FRU and Special Branch knew that the UDA was targeting Patrick Finucane. He said that they also knew, prior to the killing, that there had already been two attempts on his life. Despite this, Finucane was not warned of the dangers that he faced.
Ingram told the Lawyers Committee that he did not know whether the FRU had advance knowledge of the third plan. He explained that although Brian Nelson was responsible for gathering intelligence for UDA killing teams, he would not necessarily have known the date and time of impending attacks. Martin Ingram believed that Special Branch must have had advance knowledge of the third attack, however, given its own sources within the UDA in West Belfast. Ingram told us that Special Branch should have been electronically monitoring the weapons under William Stobie’s control. He also told us that he knew with “cast iron certainty” that the leader of the UDA in West Belfast was working for Special Branch at the time of Finucane’s murder. This UDA leader, Tommy “Tucker” Lyttle, was in charge of both Nelson and Stobie. Ingram claimed that it was Lyttle who instructed Nelson to compile targeting information on Finucane.
The Possible Instigation of the Murder by RUC Officers
The allegations concerning Lyttle are highly significant in the context of reports that RUC officers actively procured Finucane’s murder. In 1992, a source found reliable by the Lawyers Committee informed us that three weeks before the killing, RUC officers told three prominent UDA men under police detention that the UDA should target Patrick Finucane. In 1995, BBC journalist John Ware published an article detailing a similar scenario. Ware had interviewed Tucker Lyttle before his death in October 1995. Lyttle confirmed that two RUC detectives had originally suggested murdering Finucane. Lyttle told Ware that when this was relayed to him, he was so astonished that he asked a “regular contact” in Special Branch why Finucane was being pushed. Lyttle claimed that this contact had not in any way discouraged the idea that Finucane should be shot.
The Prosecution and Subsequent Murder of William Stobie
In 1999, a few months after Stevens began his third investigation, William Stobie was charged with the murder of Patrick Finucane. In his defense, Stobie claimed that he had not known that Finucane was the target before the murder. He also claimed that he had given his Special Branch handlers enough information to prevent the killing (and in the aftermath to apprehend the killers and retrieve the murder weapons). He also claimed that given his 1990 admissions, the DPP had long possessed the information on which the charges were based. After extensive delays, the DPP ultimately did not offer any evidence in the case, and Stobie was found not guilty on November 26, 2001. The next day, Stobie called for a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane.
Two weeks later, William Stobie was ambushed and killed outside his home, in an attack attributed to the UDA. The U.K. government knew that Stobie was at risk from the UDA, but failed to protect him. Stobie had repeatedly applied for government protection after his role as a government agent was exposed in 1999. Working in conjunction with Stobie’s solicitor, the Lawyers Committee had raised Stobie’s need for official protection with many U.K. officials. Although Stobie had requested only modest security measures, the government denied his applications. As this report goes to press, nobody has been charged with his murder.
Cover Up: Special Branch and the Story of Johnston Brown
In late 2000, news surfaced that Special Branch had blocked attempts by fellow RUC officers to prosecute one of the two gunmen in the Finucane murder. These allegations were made by CID officer Johnston Brown. Brown claimed that on October 3, 1991, a prominent loyalist had confessed to being one of the two gunmen in the murder. Instead of pursuing a prosecution, however, Special Branch decided to recruit the loyalist as an informer.
In interviews with the Lawyers Committee in early 2002, Brown explained that he had vigorously opposed Special Branch’s decision not to pursue the prosecution. As a result, he and his partner were harassed and threatened by Special Branch officers. In November 1991, for example, he learned that Special Branch officers had tipped off the loyalist about Brown’s desire to prosecute him, a move that placed Brown’s life in immediate danger. In April 1999, Brown told the Stevens III team about the 1991 confession. A Special Branch officer later threatened to have guns planted in his home. Brown told the Lawyers Committee that he still felt very much under threat from Special Branch.
The Panorama Revelations
In January 2002, journalists publicly identified the loyalist who confessed to the killing as Ken Barrett. Threatening graffiti had begun to appear around Belfast, accusing Barrett of being a police informer and explicitly linking him to Johnston Brown. Barrett fled Northern Ireland, reportedly afraid for his life. Several months later, the BBC’s Panorama program broadcast a documentary on collusion, which contained excerpts of interviews with Barrett. Barrett did not know he was being recorded and talked freely about the murder, discussing his own role and the roles of the Army and the RUC. He claimed, for example, that an RUC Special Branch officer had worked to convince him that Finucane was a “legitimate target.” The same Special Branch officer reportedly assisted the UDA murder gang on the night of the killing. Barrett also claimed that Brian Nelson had personally supplied him with the targeting material on Finucane—handing him a picture of Finucane six days before the murder and then driving him past Finucane’s house.
The Panorama documentary also broadcast interviews with officers from the Stevens I and II investigations. These officers confirmed that Army officials had tried to mislead them and obstruct their investigations. They also reported that they had conclusively established that the FRU had been using Nelson to direct UDA targeting—long before Stevens was called in for the third time.
The “International Judge” Investigation
Following negotiations on the Northern Ireland peace process in July 2001, the U.K. and Irish governments announced that they would jointly appoint “a judge of international standing from outside both jurisdictions to undertake a thorough investigation of collusion” in the murder of Patrick Finucane, as well as in five other prominent cases. The governments revealed that in all six cases, the international judge would be asked to review all the papers, interview “anyone who can help,” and report back with recommendations (which could include the establishment of a public inquiry).
The Lawyers Committee was deeply unsatisfied with the governments’ proposal. How was one judge—with limited powers—to review the papers and interview witnesses in all six of these complicated cases? In addition to promptness considerations, we were dismayed by the government’s continuing failure to establish an open and accountable investigation in accordance with its obligations under international law. In relation to the Finucane case, we could not understand the purpose of establishing yet another “private” investigation, something that the government had been repeatedly criticized for in the past with respect to the Stevens investigations.
Despite such criticisms, the Honorable Peter Cory was appointed as the international judge on May 29, 2002 and took up his post in August 2002. Judge Cory is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. While we recognize his credentials, we remain skeptical that he will have the access or authority needed to uncover the truth.
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