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5 April 2001 Edition

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RUC to face charges over Finucane killing

BY LAURA FRIEL

Two RUC officers who knew a loyalist gang was about to kill but did nothing to thwart the death squad who shot dead Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 are to be charged with withholding information. The two facing charges are believed to be the Special Branch handlers of William Stobie, the UDA quartermaster who supplied and disposed of the weapons used in the assassination.

The RUC were alerted to a pending loyalist attack by Stobie 1 hour and 40 minutes before the killing, but failed to intervene to prevent the fatal attack. It is understood that the Stevens team will recommend charges be brought against the RUC officers in a report prepared for RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan.

News of the pending charges were leaked to the press as the case against the only other person charged in connection with the Finucane killing appeared about to collapse. William Stobie, a UDA quartermaster attached to a notorious loyalist gang based in North Belfast, was an agent working for RUC Special Branch at the time of the killing.

Stobie alerted his handlers when he was asked to supply weapons for a pending loyalist plot to target ``a top Provo''. A few days later, on Sunday 9 February, the day of the killing, Stobie made two calls to the RUC. The second call was made at 5.30pm. Stobie told his handler ``the team is out''.

The RUC knew the loyalist gang involved, they knew the area in which they operated and in the words of one commentator, ``as little as four vehicle check points could have thwarted this attack''. The RUC did nothing.

After the killing, Stobie alerted his RUC handlers when the principle weapon used in the shooting, a Browning automatic, was being moved. The RUC were given an opportunity to arrest the leading UDA gunman involved in the killing in possession of the murder weapon. The RUC did nothing.

Stobie claims that after the killing he was targeted for harassment by RUC Special Branch who planted weapons in his home. Stobie was arrested and charged with possession but the case against him was dropped after he threatened to reveal all he knew about the RUC Special Branch's culpability in the Finucane killing.

Stobie has also claimed that the RUC Special Branch were behind a plot to kill him in 1994 because they feared he would reveal their role. He claims that the UDA took him to a house and shot him six times. ``I was set up by RUC Special Branch because I was the only person who knew that they had done nothing to stop the murder,'' said Stobie.

The case against Stobie is on the verge of collapse after the chief prosecution witness withdrew his evidence. Former journalist Neil Mulholland, who is now employed as a NIO press officer, contacted the Director of Public Prosecutions last week to formally withdraw three statements implicating Stobie. Earlier in the year Mulholland had signed himself into a psychiatric hospital, effectively undermining his credibility as a witness.

During a court hearing last week, an attempt by Stobie's legal team to force disclosure of Mulholland's medical records was stalled when the proceedings were adjourned for another month at the request of the prosecution.

The news that two RUC officers are now facing charges does nothing to undermine the Finucane family's demand for an international independent public inquiry. As predicted, the Stevens inquiry has collapsed into what republicans and nationalists always suspected it was, a mechanism of damage limitation.

A campaign of vilification against Pat Finucane prior to his death began with RUC Special Branch. During an interrogation of a loyalist, RUC Special Branch officers suggested Finucane should be targeted. It was they who issued death threats against the solicitor through his clients. It was they who compiled a dossier and briefed British Minister Douglas Hogg, which promoted his House of Commons outburst about certain lawyers being too sympathetic to the IRA.

One of their agents, William Stobie, played a key role in the actual plot, a plot which the RUC Special Branch refused to thwart. In the aftermath, the RUC Special Branch ignored information which could have resulted in the arrest and prosecution of the gunmen.

They intervened to suppress evidence when a loyalist confessed his role in the killing to an RUC detective. And if Stobie can be believed, they tried to stitch up a loyalist who knew too much. Withholding information? Conspiracy to murder would be nearer the mark.
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