Beyond Collusion: The UK Security Forces and the Murder of Patrick Finucane

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

ii
Acronyms iii
Executive Summary and Recommendations iv
I. Portrait of an Advocate at Risk 1
II. The Murder and the Official Investigations 10
III. Institutionalized Collusion: The Roles of Agents Brian Nelson and William Stobie 21
IV. Martin Ingram's Allegations & Possible Instigation of the Murder by RUC Officers 39
V. The Prosecution and Murder of William Stobie 48
VI. RUC Special Branch and the Story of Johnston Brown 56
VII. Continuing Calls for a Public Inquiry 64

 

ACRONYMS

BBC

British Broadcasting Corporation
BIRW British Irish Rights Watch
CAJ Committee on the Administration of Justice
CID Criminal Investigations Division
CME Covert Means of Entry
DPP Director of Public Prosecutions
EPA Emergency Provisions Act
ECHR European Convention on Human Rights
FRU Force Research Unit
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
IRA Irish Republican Army
KPPS Key Persons Protection Scheme
MI5 UK intelligence service responsible for national security
NIO Northern Ireland Office
PIRA Provisional Irish Republican Army
PTA Prevention of Terrorism Act
RUC Royal Ulster Constabulary
SAS Special Air Service
SDLP Social Democratic & Labour Party
SIW Special Intelligence Wing
SSUs Special Support Units
TCGs Tasking and Coordination Groups
UDA Ulster Defense Association
UDR Ulster Defense Regiment
UFF Ulster Freedom Fighters
UTV Ulster Television

 

 

PREFACE

This report examines allegations of state involvement in the murder of Patrick Finucane, a prominent Belfast human rights lawyer who was murdered on February 12, 1989. In this report, we piece together the evidence of state involvement that has emerged gradually in the 13 years since Finucane was murdered. We also present new allegations of security force involvement in the killing and subsequent cover-ups. With this report, we hope to force the UK government, by the weight of evidence, to finally carry out a public inquiry into Patrick Finucane's murder.

Over the last ten years, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights has conducted a series of missions to examine the human rights situation in Northern Ireland. Based on those missions and extensive outside research, we have published two previous reports on Northern Ireland, the first in 1993 and the second in 1996. Both of these reports considered unfolding allegations of state involvement in Finucane's murder. In addition, our first report, Human Rights and Legal Defense in Northern Ireland, looked into claims that members of the security forces had systematically harassed and intimidated defense lawyers. Our second report, At the Crossroads: Human Rights and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, examined two main issues in addition to the Finucane murder. The first was the continued reliance on emergency legislation by both the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. The second was the role of the judiciary in implementing the emergency law framework and in facilitating the transition to the rule of ordinary law.

The new allegations of state involvement in Finucane's murder discussed in this report are based on information gatduring a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland in June 2001, as well as on a series of follow-up interviews. The members of the mission delegation were Michael Posner, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee; Martin Flaherty, Professor at Fordham Law School; and Meg Satterthwaite, Policing Fellow at the Lawyers Committee, who also conducted a preliminary fact-finding mission. The follow-up interviews were conducted by Fiona Doherty, Policing Fellow at the Lawyers Committee. The report also draws on information gathered during our previous missions to Northern Ireland as well as on the work of other human rights groups and journalists on the Finucane case. The report was written by Meg Satterthwaite and Fiona Doherty.

We would like to thank the many staff members and friends of the Lawyers Committee who participated in our previous missions to Northern Ireland, especially Elisa Massimino, the director of our Washington, D.C. office. Our report would not have been possible without the assistance of local human rights organizations. In particular, we are grateful to Jane Winter of British Irish Rights Watch, who provided us with invaluable assistance, as she has done for many years. We also record our long-standing debt to the Committee on the Administration of Justice, especially Martin O'Brien, Paul Mageean, Maggie Beirne, and Liz Martin. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Fionnuala Ní Aoláin and Martin Flaherty. Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to the family of Patrick Finucane.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
February 12, 2002

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

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 UK 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 13 years, there have been persistent reports that members of the UK security forces were involved in the Finucane murder. The UK government has firmly resisted calls to establish a public inquiry into the killing, however, claiming that this could prejudice on-going criminal investigations. In addition to the investigation by Northern Ireland's Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), there have been three separate criminal 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 these official investigations, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for Patrick Finucane's murder.

Over the last ten 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. There are many allegations 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 is designed to provide a comprehensive look at Patrick Finucane's case on the 13th anniversary of his murder. The report binds together information that has gradually become public over the last 13 years. The report also contains new information about state involvement in the case, such as:

 

The Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) 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 towards "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 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 the British Army.

RUC Special Branch and William Stobie

A second intelligence agency implicated in the Finucane murder is RUC Special Branch. Repeatedly described as "a force within a force," Special Branch is a unit so secretive that even other RUC officers do not know about its activities. 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 also 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 has 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 claims that both the FRU and Special Branch knew that the UDA was targeting Patrick Finucane. He says that they also knew, in the run up to the killing, that there had already been two attempts against 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

These 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 Patrick Finucane's murder, 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 the idea of murdering Finucane. Lyttle told Ware that when this suggestion 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 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 alternative to apprehend the killers and retrieve the murder weapons). He also claimed that given his 1990 admissions, the Director of Public Prosecutions (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. William Stobie was found not guilty on November 26, 2001. The next day, he called for a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane.

Two weeks later, William Stobie was ambushed outside his home and shot several times at close range, reportedly by the UDA. The UK 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 double 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 UK government officials. Although Stobie had requested only modest security measures, the government denied his applications.

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 confessor as an informer.

In interviews with the Lawyers Committee, 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 confessor 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 feels very much under threat from Special Branch.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

On the 13th anniversary of Patrick Finucane's murder, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights calls on the UK government to take the following steps:

I. Abandon the Weston Park Proposal

Following the political negotiations at Weston Park in July 2001, the UK 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 controversial 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 is deeply dissatisfied with this proposal. How is one judge - with currently undefined powers - to review the papers and interview witnesses in all six of these complicated cases? The Finucane case, alone, has been active for much of the last 13 years. The Lawyers Committee believes that the international judge proposal will prevent the truth from emerging in these cases for many years to come.

II. Establish a Public Inquiry into Patrick Finucane's Murder

The Lawyers Committee believes that the official investigations into Finucane's murder have not satisfied the requirements of international law. Under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, for example, the investigation must be carried out independently from the members of the security forces implicated in the killing. Despite this, we understand that all three Stevens investigations were instigated by the RUC and report back to the RUC.* Article 2 also requires that the investigation have a sufficient element of public scrutiny to secure practical accountability. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also requires an open and accountable investigation. The investigations have remained largely classified, however.

Given the deficiencies of the official investigations to date, we believe that the UK must immediately establish a public inquiry in the Finucane case. Indeed, as the government delays, critical evidence has disappeared and witnesses are afraid for their lives.** On December 12, 2001, William Stobie was murdered shortly after he called for a public inquiry into the killing. The government had refused his applications for protection.

The long list of those who have supported the call for a public inquiry includes the Irish government, the U.S. House of Representatives, the European Parliament, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders. The Lawyers Committee believes that a public inquiry in the Finucane case should be conducted by an independent tribunal operating with the powers of the High Court.

III. Commit to the Accountability and Reform of the Security Services

A central element of the 1998 Good Friday agreement was a transformation of the RUC into a police service built around notions of accountability and human rights. These two themes - accountability and respect for human rights - were building blocks for the September 1999 report of the Independent Commission on Policing (the "Patten" Commission). As the government has taken steps to implement police reform, no issue has loomed more important to the success of that effort than creating a visible sense of accountability. In particular there continues to be a widely held perception that police officers and other members of the security forces who act outside the law have not and will not be held accountable for their actions. That perception is particularly stark in relation to the members of intelligence units.

No case better illustrates this problem than the murder of Patrick Finucane. In the 13 years since Finucane was gunned down in his home, the evidence of security force involvement in the murder and subsequent cover up has continued to swell. Despite this, the record demonstrates a decided lack of political will to get at and make public the full truth about what happened. This failure to publicly uncover the truth undercuts the government's commitment to fundamental principles of democratic accountability.

 

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* On November 4, 2001, the RUC's name was changed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The third Stevens investigation, therefore, will actually report to the Chief Constable of the PSNI.
** Ken Barrett, the man revealed in the press to be the loyalist who confessed to Johnston Brown, reportedly fled Northern Ireland after Stobie's murder, amid allegations that he was a police informer. Brown also fears for his life.

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Here is the Body of the Report in a zipped microsoft Word file for download or alternatively the report including the text above in an pdf file LCHR Finucane Report (pdf).

 


Pat Finucane