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7 October 2004 Edition

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Human rights groups sound alarm over Finucane Inquiry

BY LAURA FRIEL

Human rights groups have expressed alarm at the way the British Government is handling the issue of an inquiry into the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane. In a letter to Tony Blair, the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice, the London-based British Irish Rights Watch and Amnesty International raised a series of concerns.

The groups questioned the proposed secrecy of the Finucane inquiry and criticised the failure of the British Government to keep the families of the three other inquiries recommended by Judge Cory properly informed.

The groups point out that despite initial assurances by British Ministers that the families would have the prior opportunity to meet and discuss the terms of reference, membership and proposed arrangements, the families fear the NIO intends to renege on earlier promises.

The letter reminds the British Government that "it is essential to ensure public confidence in the ability of the inquiries to uncover the truth and finally allay the significant public concern that allegations of state collusion and impunity in these cases".

The groups said that the British Government's failure to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the killings had resulted in the need for public inquiries.

"The primary object of these inquiries now must be to ensure that there be independent public scrutiny of those agents and institutions of the state who may have been implicated in these killings and that those responsible be held to account without fear or favour," said the letter.

The family of murdered Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson have threatened to withdraw their support for any inquiry if the British Government ignores their views. Rosemary's brother, Eunan Magee, said if his family were "not properly consulted or given the opportunity to have an input about who is put of the inquiry team, we might have to withdraw".

The collusion controversy continued this week with further claims. It has been alleged that a Special Branch agent killed Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan, shot dead as he walked home with his wife on the night of September 28 2001.

The information came from a loyalist contact who worked closely with O'Hagan before he was shot dead. Barry Bradbury from Lurgan said he had been given details about the gunman from "a trusted contact within the PSNI".

Jim Campbell, a close friend and work colleague, confirmed that the man named by Bradbury is the likely killer. The suspected killer is a man in his mid thirties, a member of the LVF, and has been linked to two other killings.

Despite information connecting him with the O'Hagan shooting, the LVF man has not been arrested. The reluctance of the PSNI to even question the suspect suggests he is being protected.

O'Hagan was working on a number of potentially damaging stories about Special Branch collusion and the LVF when he was murdered. The journalist was investigating allegations of collusion between a former RUC Special Branch officer and LVF leader and notorious killer Billy Wright.

According to O'Hagan's investigations, the Special Branch officer had supplied Wright with false alibis after the murder of four people in Cappagh in 1991. O'Hagan was also investigating the Special Branch officer's links with Wright at the time of the killing of Rose Anne Mallon. The man believed to have ordered the journalist's killing was the prime suspect in the murder of Rosemary Nelson.

Meanwhile, the police ombudsman has recommended action against a senior PSNI officer after a report accused the Chief Inspector of attempting to conceal the identity of a Special Branch agent involved in a dissident bombing near Newry in 2002 by manipulating evidence.

PSNI Chief Inspector Derek Williamson was the most senior officer involved in the bombing investigation. Williamson put pressure on forensic scientists to suppress evidence that suggested the bomb had been planted by a Special Branch agent.

The Chief Inspector's attempt to tamper with evidence came to light accidentally, when a defence lawyer visiting the Six-County Forensic Science Laboratory to study the case notes came across a envelope marked "do not open".

In the envelope, he found a letter signed by a senior scientist Dr Gerry Murray. The letter described a meeting with Williamson in which he asked the scientist to "prepare a modified statement, omitting a number of sections" from the original.

In another case involving the falsification of evidence, Belfast High Court upheld a decision not to prosecute two RUC officers accused of falsifying interview notes.

In 1977, John Boyle, from the Markets area of Belfast, was convicted solely on statements now believed to have been falsified by two RUC detectives. Boyle was jailed for 12 years but was released in 1986 after the Appeal Court heard that interview notes had been rewritten.

Following further investigation by the Ombudsman, a report recommended that the two RUC officers involved should be charged with perjury. In the High Court this week, John Boyle challenged the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision not to pursue a case against the two detectives.

Judge Girvan dismissed the application for a judicial review on the grounds that the fact that the DPP had refused to reveal the reasons why the charges would not be pursued did not mean those reasons were invalidated. The judge suggested the DPP should clarify the reasons in the interests of public confidence.

Belfast High Court also heard a second challenge of the DPP's decision not to prosecute this week. The family of a Derry woman shot dead over 30 years ago contested the DPP decision not to charge the British soldier suspected of the killing.

Kathleen Thompson died after being hit by a high velocity bullet while standing in her back garden at Rathlin Drive, Creggan in 1971. The Royal Green Jackets soldier, a member of a four-man patrol, fired eight shots but later claimed a man fired a single shot from a .22 rifle at the patrol from the back of the victim's garden.

The soldier's claim was never investigated. Local people claim that the 47-year-old mother of six was alone when she was shot dead, as women of the Creggan alerted their neighbours of British Army raids. Witnesses testified that there was no gunman and no shots fired at the patrol. A judicial review sought by the family last year held that the authorities had failed to investigate the killing.

But leave to seek a judicial review challenging the DPP's decision not to pursue charges against the soldier responsible for the killing was denied at the High Court.

Judge Girvan upheld the DPP's decision not to prosecute. "I am unpersuaded that there is any basis for the proposition that the decision not to prosecute was irrational," said Girvan.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman has recommended disciplinary action against eight PSNI officers involved on the raid of a journalist's home. Nuala O'Loan had been asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke and his wife last May, the raid on their home and a raid on the newspaper's offices in Belfast.

O'Loan described the PSNI operation as "poorly led and unprofessional" and recommended disciplinary action against those involved.

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