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8 April 2004 Edition

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Made in Britain

BY LAURA FRIEL

A picket calling for a public inquiry into Rosemary Nelson's killing

A picket calling for a public inquiry into Rosemary Nelson's killing

There have been many definitions of collusion. At various stages in over a decade of discourse, collusion has been portrayed in the limited terms of 'a few bad apples' or as a matter of 'leaks'. In this scenario, collusion has been identified as simply the product of random individual decisions acting outside official sanction and structures.

Stevens (1) was largely based on this premise. It was specifically triggered by the loyalist decision to publicly produce crown forces' documents to prove their targets were 'legitimate'. Conveniently, the emphasis of the investigation was primarily against those (loyalists) who were the recipients of leaked documents rather than those (Crown force members) who were doing the leaking.

Suspicion, not necessarily accompanied by prosecution, was focused upon indigenous groupings, loyalists and the UDR. The RUC was largely kept out of it. British forces were obscured, the close relationship between Special Branch and FRU and MI5 was underplayed by promoting the notion of 'rivalry'.

The 'inadvertent' arrest of Brian Nelson (FRU agent and British soldier, sectarian torturer and UDA member) and his decision to admit he was working as a British agent for the FRU to the Stevens team changed the entire collusion landscape.

The importance of Nelson as an agent and more significantly the importance of the people behind Nelson (his arrest threatened their exposure) can be guessed by the lengths to which the British went to subvert the conviction.

When covert attempts by British agencies like the FRU (the hiding of Nelson's paperwork at Palace barracks, the fire at Stevens' headquarters) failed, the British state could no longer completely hide its hand. The state feared the information that might be exposed during a lengthy court case so much that it had to deploy 'public' mechanisms to curtail the trial.

The cover-up had to rely on the DPP and the then Attorney General, Patrick Mayhew (a key political figure within the Thatcher government) and partial exposure of the FRU with the 'appearance' behind screens of Colonel 'J', Gordon Kerr (who remains a key military and political figure, even under Tony Blair).

The most politically dynamic revelation to come out of this period was exposure of Nelson's involvement in the Finucane killing. This became and largely remains the cutting edge of the collusion controversy. Stevens (2) was established to manage the political fallout following Nelson's trial.

Stevens (3) was established after a British Government (under international pressure to hold a public inquiry) claim that the Finucane killing had already been investigated was refuted by Stevens.

And now we have Cory.

HALF-WAY HOUSE

The British Government had fought long and hard to keep 'investigations' into allegations of collusion 'in-house' and the appointment of a Canadian judge outside the immediate jurisdiction of the British state was a significant defeat for those who wished to keep the full horror of British state collusion under wraps.

But if Cory's investigation was no longer 'in-house' it was a half way house. Cory could only recommend a fully independent international public inquiry but he couldn't conduct one. It is hardly surprising that the Cory reports are largely a consideration of evidence already in the public arena.

Now this might have been a significant disadvantage had it not been for the fact that the entire collusion controversy has a momentum outside the British state apparatus and an enormous amount of evidence has already emerged within the public domain. Add to this a wide range of commentaries by international legal and human rights groups, politicians and lawyers, and it is clear that British state notions of collusion would most likely be swept aside, like the flotsam they always were.

In effect, the significance of Cory lies less in the further information he reveals and more in the interpretations he employs. In every discipline the standing theory to explain any phenomenon is accepted until the establishment of exceptions to the rule becomes so great that the theory collapses under its own contradictions.

Within the collusion discourse, the Cory Reports represent such a critical mass. The British Government may hope to keep its finger in the dyke but the dam won't hold. The representation of collusion as something outside official sanction and support can no longer be sustained.

In his reports, Cory defines collusion in a number of ways. He begins by looking at the literal meaning of the verb to collude. Synonyms include to conspire, to connive, to plot and to scheme. Cory goes further, by exploring the verb connive as to deliberately ignore, to overlook, to disregard, to pass over, to turn a blind eye, to excuse and to condone.

For a number of years, the British state has attempted to confine damaging notions of collusion to the idea of cover up after the event. When pushed, the British state accepts the notion of collusion by omission. It hopes that by accepting the notion that systems within the state failed (failed to act, failed to inform, failed to arrest, failed to prosecute — whatever) the systems themselves can remain intact. In such a scenario, mechanisms, guidelines etc, can be put in place to 'ensure' failure won't recur or remain unacknowledged but nothing has to be dismantled. In such a scenario, collusion can be explained away as human error or as misguided loyalty rather than a policy sanctioned at the very top and a strategy pursued by the state apparatus itself.

But while Cory does focus on collusion by omission, he also paves the way for an emerging notion of collusion by commission. Cory considers both the action and inaction of British Government agencies and significantly 'patterns of behaviour' by government agencies that indicates collusion is integral to its operation. It is here that the British state is most vulnerable to exposure. And it's the Finucane case that poses the greatest threat to the British of this kind of exposure.

FINUCANE & NELSON

In fact, the assassination of Rosemary Nelson can only really be understood in the light of the assassination of Pat Finucane ten years previous. A public inquiry into the killing of Rosemary Nelson without full consideration of the Finucane killing will necessarily be incomplete if not fatally flawed. The British Government's decision to 'delay' the Finucane inquiry while proceeding with an inquiry into the Rosemary Nelson killing has to be judged in light of this.

The 'delay' imposed by the British, as well as censorship of sections of report directly contravenes Cory's recommendations, to which the British Government promised to adhere. Cory specifically warns against delaying a public inquiry into the Finucane killing on the grounds of ongoing criminal prosecutions. "This may be one of the rare situations where a public inquiry will be of greater benefit to a community than prosecutions," writes Cory.

A range of agencies were involved in the Finucane killing and the subsequent cover up. One such agency was the covert British Army unit, the FRU. FRU agent and British soldier Brian Nelson targeted the Belfast solicitor and provided intelligence to assist the killing squad.

Another FRU operative accompanied Nelson to reconnoitre Finucane's house. FRU Captain M is believed to have ordered a clear run for the killers (she had the power to remove all other British Army and RUC patrols out of the area). Captain M was directly accountable to FRU OC, then Colonel now Brigadier, Gordon Kerr.

Special Branch was also involved in the Finucane killing. It was their agent William Stobie who supplied the weaponry and disposed of it afterwards. Despite information from Stobie, Special Branch did nothing to thwart the attack or pursue the executioners.

Special Branch also briefed British minister Douglas Hogg, who played a significant role in setting the scene in the run up to the killing. After the briefing, Hogg went on to describe to the British House of Commons some Belfast solicitors as unduly sympathetic to the IRA. Special Branch was also involved in covering up a taped 'confession' to the Finucane murder by UDA killer Ken Barrett. Barrett was subsequently recruited as a Special Branch agent.

Special Branch doctored the evidence by replacing the confession tape and later was involved in an attempt to incriminate the CID officer Johnston Brown who had witnessed the confession and informed the Stevens team. Meanwhile, the weaponry used in the killing came from the UDR.

COLONEL 'J'

Cory considers much of this evidence while also throwing more light on the actions of government agencies like the DPP and government ministers involved in the Finucane case. Cory specifically considers Gordon Kerr's evidence during the Nelson trial and exposes his claims as fundamentally flawed if not downright lies. Kerr appeared in court behind screens and identified only as Colonel 'J'. Cory refers to Kerr as Soldier 'J'.

"The evidence given by the CO FRU (soldier 'J') at Nelson's trial could only be described as misleading. The statement that Nelson's actions were responsible for saving close to 217 lives was based on a highly dubious numerical analysis that cannot be supported on any basis," says Cory.

Cory's report goes further, suggesting that Colonel 'J' not only lied in court but that there was a conspiracy to lie which involved members of the British Government and other agencies. Kerr told a senior police officer investigating the Finucane killing that he had testified from a 'script' that had been approved by others in authority. He later denied this admission.

Cory cites other evidence that supports Kerr's initial claim that he was testifying from an approved script. According to Cory, in 1990, during the first Stevens' inquiry, a senior British Government official was asked for information that might be used to persuade the Attorney General that Brian Nelson should not be prosecuted for crimes he committed while he was a FRU agent.

"A document was prepared that described Nelson's life-saving activities in virtually the same language that was used by Soldier 'J' at Nelson's trial. This language also appeared in a letter written by the Secretary of State for Defence to the Attorney General, in which he urged the Attorney not to prosecute Nelson," says Cory.

"Whether or not this constituted a 'script', it would appear that Soldier J's testimony describing Nelson's life-saving activities had been both approved and used by others in authority who wished to shield Brian Nelson from criminal prosecution," says Cory.

But there's more. At the time Kerr (Soldier J) gave evidence at Nelson's trial in 1992, senior officials were already well aware that the statistics referred to by 'J' were nonsense.

"In a letter sent to the Secretary of State for Defence on 25 April 1991, the Attorney General pointed out that the evidence in the possession of the DPP and others indicated that Nelson's intelligence had actually resulted in only two lives being saved and that 'the Chief Constable of the RUC agrees with this conclusion'."

In other words, the notion that Nelson's primary function was to save lives was a lie and a known lie at the time of his trial but it was used as the primary justification for the plea bargaining deal and subsequent light sentence.

The range of involvement of state agencies and government officials likely to emerge during an independent international public inquiry gives the lie to any notion of collusion as the action of individuals or of a 'rogue' unit like the FRU. It also gives the lie to the notion that state collusion takes place only on the basis of omission. Cory takes us to the edge of preferred notions of collusion used by the British. He goes further by urging us to look into the abyss of British state involvement.

No wonder the British government is running scared and Tony Blair is 'considering' alternative forums like truth and reconciliation. A properly constituted independent public inquiry might just open up the whole squirming can of worms.

STATE TARGETS ITS CITIZENS

The truth about the Finucane killing and the murder of other civilians would even undermine the notion with which the British justify collusion to themselves, the notion of "taking the war to the IRA". An independent public inquiry might just expose the fact that once the 'murder machine' was up and running, no one was safe.

It might just reveal that British agencies like Special Branch and the FRU killed at their convenience, to cover the tracks of agents, to eliminate agents past their sell by date or uppity lawyers interfering with delivery of the criminalisation policy, loyalists who knew too much and Britain's political as well as military opponents. It might also show that they were prepared to sacrifice the lives of other British soldiers and members of the RUC.

Perhaps, just perhaps, an independent public inquiry might expose the fact that citizens of a state whose authority was under question were killed in the interests of that state. It might conclude that the British state didn't just collude, but actively commissioned the murder of citizens within its jurisdiction. It might just show that the British didn't 'take the war to the IRA', they targeted the Irish people. And finally, collusion might be exposed for what it is, a political policy and counter insurgency strategy exported to Ireland but 'made in Britain'.

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