New York Times editorial on Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson Responses from British Ambassador and Peter Madden
Bill Denney, New York Times editorial | 28 May 2001
"A newly retired policeman of the Royal Ulster Constabulary recently asserted in a Northern Ireland television interview that 10 years ago he taped a man confessing to an infamous murder and that the RUC then squashed the investigation and claimed the tape never existed. The murder victim was Patrick Finucane, a Belfast lawyer shot to death in 1989 by members of a Protestant paramilitary organization.
"The policeman's account and other disclosures about the Finucane case and the 1999 murder of Rosemary Nelson, a lawyer from near Belfast killed by a car bomb, make clear that a more energetic and open investigation of these killings is needed. Neither victim was suspected of Irish Republican Army activities, but both made themselves unpopular with the RUC and the British Army by representing clients accused of IRA terror. Investigations of the murders have stalled.
"To do justice in these cases and address serious questions of possible government involvement, Britain should open an independent, judicial inquiry along the lines of the current investigation into the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.
"Ms. Nelson had several clients accused of IRA activities. She had reported that they conveyed to her death threats from RUC interrogators. Human rights groups had repeatedly asked London to protect Ms. Nelson, but nothing was done. The murder investigation, while led by a British police officer, has been run from the RUC station that employs the officers who allegedly threatened her. That has discouraged witnesses from coming forward.
"In the years since Mr. Finucane's murder, reporters have uncovered disturbing information about possible official involvement. Agents of British Army and RUC intelligence have said they participated in targeting and arranging Mr. Finucane's murder. Credible witnesses have also said that the agents' handlers knew a murder was coming and did nothing. The veracity of these claims must be tested by an independent public inquiry.
"The British government argues that not every crime deserves a special inquiry, and that holding one would interfere with the ongoing investigation of the Finucane case, led by John Stevens, the chief of London's city police.
"But Mr. Stevens has already led two probes of the case that went nowhere, and many suspect were deliberately blocked. He also lacks the power to look into potentially relevant government files and subpoena politicians, steps that could help determine whether government policies contributed to the deaths. His report, like his first two, will also likely be secret. In politically charged cases like these, the best path to justice is an open, public inquiry."
Response to the above editorial, by the British Ambassador in Washington,
Christopher Meyer, published 6/4/01:
June 4, 2001
The Killings in Ulster
To the Editor:
"Unsolved Murders in Ulster" (editorial, May 28) calls for public inquiries into the murders of two lawyers, Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. My government has not ruled them out, but cannot accept such a call while criminal investigations are under way. Inquiries would take evidence from the same witnesses, raising issues of disclosure, admissibility, conflicting evidence and immunity from prosecution.
You state that earlier inquiries associated with Mr. Finucane's murder "went nowhere." The first - into security breaches, not the murder itself - led to 44 convictions and 100 remedial measures; a summary was published. The murder inquiry has led to one person's being charged. The Nelson investigation continues to employ 80 police officers; 8,000 people have been interviewed and 24,000 documents seized.
It is not true that nothing was done about a request from a human rights group for protection for Ms. Nelson. The group was advised as to how she could apply for protection. She did not apply.
Ambassador of Britain
Washington, May 31, 2001
Response to Meyer's letter from Peter Madden, Madden and Finucane Solicitors.
My law partner was Pat Finucane, who was shot to death in 1989, and I was a close colleague and friend of Rosemary Nelson, who was killed by a car bomb in 1999.
The British ambassador, Christopher Meyer, asserts in a June 4 letter that the British Government cannot accept a call for public inquiries because it would prejudice criminal investigations. But he did not to say that public inquiries were established simultaneously with criminal investigations in other cases; an example is the Bloody Sunday killings of unarmed civil rights demonstrators in 1972.
It is too convenient to divert to a police investigation the examination of allegations that the British army was involved in the murder of hundreds of British citizens over many years during our conflict.
A police investigation is carried out in secret with no input from the bereaved families.
International human rights groups; lawyers worldwide and the Irish Government have called for public inquiries.
At present the British Government's stance is out of step with international opinion.
Belfast, Northern Ireland. June 6, 2001