Ex-CID officer: Special Branch muddied probe

06 January 2002

BALLYMENA, Northern Ireland - Johnson Brown spent 30 years battling the Irish Republican Army and lived. Now he fears some of his former police colleagues are scheming with pro-British loyalist paramilitaries to kill him because he knows too much about one of Northern Ireland's most controversial murder cases.

"Special Branch are winding up loyalist paramilitaries to kill me,'' he told the Boston Sunday Herald. "That's why I am talking to the media - to make it harder for them.''

Brown alleges that, in 1991, a loyalist paramilitary police informant confessed to the 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, a prominent pro-Irish nationalist lawyer.

Finucane's family claims police and British soldiers assisted in the unsolved murder, which was claimed by the Ulster Defense Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters.

According to Brown, the killer's confession - and his naming of an accomplice - was taped by a Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch member, whose car they were all in at the time.

Brown claims the Special Branch officer, citing the killer's informant value, then blocked his attempt to obtain a second ``controlled'' confession that would have stood up in court. Brown, a member of Criminal Investigations Division, was outranked, so he dropped the matter.

However, when English detective John Stevens reopened the case in 1999, Brown spilled his guts. But as soon as he signed his statement, the Stevens team said he'd perjured himself because the relevant tape - from Oct. 3, 1991 - contained no confession. Shocked, Brown listened for himself.

He recalled that he and the Special Branch man met Finucane's killer Oct. 3 and again on Oct. 10. On the tape Stevens had which was marked "October 3rd'' (the day of the alleged confession) Brown heard the killer talk of that day's IRA's murder of a UDA/UFF man, and the UDA/UFF's killing of a Catholic.

Brown then pointed out that both of those men died on Oct. 10, proving the tape that Special Branch gave Stevens marked "October 3rd'' was actually made a week later.

Stevens was stunned, and all perjury talk ceased. Brown believes Special Branch, who then told Stevens no other "October 3rd'' tape ever existed, actually destroyed it to thwart a wider probe that might prove damning to them.

"In my opinion, if a man admits murder, you set up a sting, and then you charge him with murder,'' he said. "Now why does a police force rid itself of a confession if it's got nothing to hide? Why?''

He also claims Special Branch regularly allowed paramilitaries to commit murders, and, in some cases, actually suggested the targets. "Special Branch, in a nutshell, was driving the violence,'' he said. "I'm not saying that Special Branch were involved in terrorism, but there's a very subtle difference.

"The Branch would argue that you don't make informants in gospel halls or Sunday schools. And that's true,'' he said. "But I don't think you should lie down with these people. There were informants out there who did not get involved in crime, and who helped us save life after life.''

Brown is more edgy after the UDA/UFF slaying last month of William Stobie, the group's own former quartermaster who was acquitted of involvement in Finucane's murder in November.

Stobie had accused Special Branch both of ignoring his two tipoffs - on the night of Finucane's murder - that a top Catholic was about to be killed, and of doing nothing when he subsequently gave them the killer's names.

Brown, 50, who retired from the RUC in 2000, says he'll be looking over his shoulder "the rest of my life.'' He said if he's shot, a loyalist may pull the trigger, but most likely at Special Branch's bidding.

"They call it: 'Use a rat to kill a rat,' '' he said. "The UDA killed Pat Finucane. But who sent the UDA toward him? Why do Special Branch not want a public inquiry into his death? What are they afraid of?''