Prime minister apologises to Finucane’s family after report reveals special branch repeatedly failed to warn lawyer of threat
The prime minister’s frankest admission yet that the state colluded in the 1989 murder of the Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane has failed to quell demands from his family, human rights organisations and the Irish government for a full public inquiry.
Fresh revelations on Wednesday – about special branch’s repeated failure to warn Finucane that his life was under threat, the RUC’s “obstruction” of justice, and MI5’s “propaganda initiatives” that identified the lawyer with republican paramilitaries who were his clients – only reinforced calls for a more thorough investigation.
David Cameron’s apology to Finucane’s family in the Commons followed publication of a scathing report by the former war crimes lawyer Sir Desmond de Silva QC that cleared ministers but blamed “agents of the state” for the killing. The prime minister acknowledged there had been “shocking levels of collusion” in what was one of the most controversial killings of the Troubles.
The extent of the co-operation between the security forces and Finucane’s loyalist killers was unacceptable, Cameron added. “On the balance of probability,” he admitted, an officer or officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary did propose Finucane as a target to loyalist terrorists.
The report made for extremely difficult reading, Cameron said. “I am deeply sorry,” he told the Finucane family, who were in the Commons gallery to hear his statement. He said he “respectfully disagreed” with the demand for a full, independent public inquiry, citing the cost of the Bloody Sunday tribunal as one reason.
Cameron, however, tried to divert blame away from the Tory former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg over comments he made before the murder in which Hogg said some solicitors in Northern Ireland were unduly sympathetic to the IRA.
The Ulster Defence Association was responsible for shooting Finucane dead in front of his family at their north Belfast home in February 1989, but de Silva said state employees “furthered and facilitated” the murder of the 38-year-old father-of-three.
The family and human rights campaigners have insisted over the past 23 years that there was collaboration between the UDA in west and north Belfast and members of the security forces.
In his report, de Silva concluded: “My review of the evidence relating to Patrick Finucane’s case has left me in no doubt that agents of the state were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder.
“However, despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the state, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an overarching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane.”
Dismissing the report and Cameron’s statement as a “confidence trick” and a sham, Finucane’s widow Geraldine said: “At every turn, dead witnesses have been blamed and defunct agencies found wanting. Serving personnel and active state departments appear to have been excused. The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others.”
She demanded that the government order a public inquiry so witnesses can be cross-examined and account for their actions. Her calls were echoed by the Irish government and human rights groups. The Irish premier, Enda Kenny, said he supported the Finucanes’ campaign. He said: “I spoke with prime minister Cameron … before his statement to the House of Commons, and repeated these points to him once again. I have also spoken today with Geraldine Finucane and I know that the family are not satisfied with [the] outcome.”
Micheal Martin, the current Fianna Fáil leader, who was Ireland’s foreign minister during a critical time of the peace process, said the UK government was still obliged under an international agreement to set up a public inquiry into the murder.
He said the UK government under Tony Blair had committed itself to such an inquiry.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s director in Northern Ireland, said: “The Finucanes, and indeed the public, have been fobbed off with a ‘review of the paper work’ – which reneges on repeated commitments by the British government and falls short of the UK’s obligations under international law.”
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president and Irish deputy, said: “The information provided by Desmond de Silva is a damning indictment of British state collusion in the murder of citizens. It reveals some of the extent to which this existed. It does not diminish the need for a public inquiry. On the contrary, it makes such an inquiry more necessary than ever.”
The SDLP MP Mark Durkan questioned the idea in the report that there was no overall, structured policy of collusion. He said: “Between special branch, FRU and secret services we had a culture of anything goes but nobody knows. And as far as Desmond de Silva is concerned now we still have to accept that nobody knows!”
Henry McDonald and Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, Wednesday 12 December 2012 21.17 GMT
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