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24 June 1999 Edition

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Flanagan and RUC must go

``Total disbandment, we will accept nothing less'' was the message the Patten Commission received at a hearing in Lurgan on Tuesday, 22 June.

The night before, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan looked a broken man as his attempts to pretend he was unaware of the death threats to Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson were exposed.

The same programme put forward evidence, which had been circulating for some time, that the RUC and British Army intelligence were involved in the 1992 murder of Sam Marshall in Lurgan. Surely Flanagan must now be sacked.

At the Lurgan Patten Commission hearing, members of the families of Eugene Toman and Gervais McKerr, shot dead in a 1982 shoot-to-kill operation, and Martin McCauley, who survived after being shot in a shoot-to-kill operation by the RUC a month later, asked the two commission members if they could ever accept a police force that had murdered, maimed, fabricated evidence, and obstructed the Stalker and Sampson inquiries.

Flanagan was himself at the centre of three shoot-to-kill incidents in and around Lurgan when, as a newly promoted Detective Chief Inspector, he moved from North Belfast to the Mahon Road Barracks in Portadown and took command of the RUC's SAS-trained Headquarter Mobile Support Units.

These units were responsible for the murder of Eugene Toman, Gervais McKerr and Seán Burns, all from Lurgan; civilian Michael Tighe, shot dead in a hayshed on the Ballinary Road outside Lurgan with his friend Martin McCauley, who survived but suffered terrible injuries; and Séamus Grew and Roddy Carroll from Armagh city.

One witness put it simply: ``The RUC have always shown an absolute willingness to act outside the law to those they are politically opposed to.''

This is not just perception, this is not propaganda - the RUC have been caught out time and time again as being a violent partisan force. From Flanagan's involvement in shoot-to-kill policy to his untruths and comments about lawyers upholding the rights of nationalists, it is clear that cosmetic changes will not change the motivation and actions of the RUC. The time to create ``a framework for a new beginning'' - in the words of one of the Patten commissioners - is now.

 

Careless Talk, Ronnie Flanagan and the future of the RUC



By Laura Friel

    
One of the biggest predators swimming in the Six-County pond, Flanagan failed to realise that in dealing with the UN official he was way out of his depth. Cumaraswamy's assistant carefully noted down the RUC chief's comments. When they appeared in a draft report as further evidence that allegations of RUC hostility towards defence solicitors were credible, Flanagan was furious
It isn't easy to throw off balance RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan in front of the cameras. Yet this week, BBC documentary presenter John Ware did just that. ``Careless talk'', a television programme screened as part of the Panorama series, investigated allegations of RUC collusion in the deaths of Six-County Human Rights lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. The programme also highlighted the role of British forces in the murder of Lurgan republican Sam Marshall.

The documentary posed the question - had careless talk by the RUC cost the life of one solicitor, Pat Finucane, and then another, Rosemary Nelson? What the programme makers revealed went far beyond a few chance words by overzealous RUC interrogators, careless talk which inadvertently cost lives. The truth was far more sinister.

It involved systematic vilification, well placed `careful' talk. It involved RUC Chief Constables as well as Special Branch interrogators, British ministers as well as British military intelligence, and British agents as well as loyalist gunmen. Incitement to murder? Definitely. Collusion? Probably, the programme concluded.

But just as significantly, the documentary exposed the dichotomy between the public and private workings of the RUC, the hidden mechanisms of power and authority, where a nod is as good as a wink, or should be if it comes from an RUC Chief Constable. United Nations Special Rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy was given the nod and the wink when he met Ronnie Flanagan in Belfast in October 1997.

Cumaraswamy was tasked with investigating allegations of RUC threats against defence lawyers in the Six Counties, most significantly those made against Rosemary Nelson and the specific allegation of RUC collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane. At RUC Headquarters, the UN investigator was told by Flanagan that some lawyers were ``working for paramilitaries... there are those who are working for a military agenda''. Flanagan said he had ``more than a suspicion about this'' and that there were ``reams of documented evidence''.

In the past, a few carefully targeted `off the record' comments would have been sufficient to influence public opinion makers. Ten years ago, shortly before the murder of Pat Finucane, a few private words by two of the RUC's most senior officers was sufficient to spur on British Home Office Minister Douglas Hogg to announce in the British House of Commons that there were ``a number of solicitors who are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA''. Hogg continued: ``I state it on the basis of advice that I have received, guidance that I have been given by people who are dealing with these matters and I shall not expand it further.''

But in 1997, with Param Cumaraswamy, the RUC was dealing with a different kettle of fish. One of the biggest predators swimming in the Six-County pond, Flanagan failed to realise that in dealing with the UN official he was way out of his depth. Cumaraswamy's assistant carefully noted down the RUC chief's comments. When they appeared in a draft report as further evidence that allegations of RUC hostility towards defence solicitors were credible, Flanagan was furious.

According to the programme makers, the RUC chief telephoned Cumaraswamy's office on 27 February and followed his call with two letters. Flanagan asked the Special Rapporteur to delete the comments from the final report, and with an added sting in the tail, the RUC Chief claimed publishing them could put Rosemary Nelson's life at risk.

Asked on camera about comments recently made by former RUC Chief John Hermon, who claimed Pat Finucane was associated with the IRA, Flanagan reiterated his public position that Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson were professional lawyers doing their professional best for their clients. Confronted with the contradiction of his comments to Cumaraswamy, an uneasy Flanagan categorically denied the UN official's account of their conversation.

The Chief Constable's denials continued. There was no telephone call to Geneva. Challenged, he changed his mind. The RUC chief simply had ``no recollection'' of any phone conversation with Cumaraswamy in Geneva. But the exposure of the RUC and its chief didn't stop there.


Flanagan's claim that John Stevens inquiry concluded there was no RUC collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane, was contested by Steven's himself who pointed out that he was never asked to investigate the Belfast solicitor's murder.
Flanagan's claim that he never heard of the allegation of collusion in relation to the Finucane killing until it appeared in a report by British Irish Rights Watch was questioned.
The RUC claim that a car used by British military intelligence and spotted moments before the murder of Lurgan republican Sam Marshall (whose inquest Rosemary Nelson demanded just prior to her death) was not in the vicinity at the time of the shooting was challenged by two eyewitnesses, who saw the vehicle just around the corner.
RUC prosecution cases against Colin Duffy, a client successfully cleared by Rosemary Nelson, were exposed as vindictive and the identification evidence used against Duffy dismissed as a sham.
The claim by the original RUC senior officer tasked with investigating allegations of RUC threats to Rosemary Nelson that the allegations were simply republican propaganda was ridiculed.
The RUC claim that there was no collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane was off set by the testimony of loyalist Tommy Little who alleged that UFF members while being held in a RUC interrogation centres were told by RUC officers to ``concentrate on Pat Finucane... the financial brains behind the IRA.''
The role of British agent Brian Nelson in targeting Pat Finucane was exposed.
The message from the film makers was clear. There is an ethos operating throughout all ranks of the RUC which displays a cavalier attitude to the law and a blatant disregard of the truth. The beginning of the documentary noted that Catholics had ``no faith'' in the RUC. By the end it was crystal clear why.

FLANAGAN MUST GO


The Relatives for Justice group has called on Mo Mowlam to immediately dismiss RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan following the screening of the Panorama documentary `Careless talk' which, they say, ``exposed Mr Flanagan's lies and attempted cover up of remarks made to UN Rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy.'' Spokesperson for the group, Mark Thompson said: ``We were aware of Flanagan's remarks to Mr Cumaraswamy for some time. We made Chris Patten aware of it as did Rosemary Nelson, however we only exposed this detail after Rosemary's death.''

This issue alone revealed the hostile attitudes towards Rosemary Nelson, other human rights lawyers and human rights activists at the most senior level of the RUC, said Thompson. The RUC Chief Constable's ``reprehensible behaviour'' demonstrated a ``conscious disregard and neglect of duty which placed the life of an officer of the court in extreme danger leading to her eventual murder. ``In the light of this there is no other alternative than for him to be dismissed and for a totally independent investigation and inquiry into Rosemary's murder to be immediately initiated,'' said Thompson.

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