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29 November 2001 Edition

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Inquiry call as Finucane trial collapses

BY LAURA FRIEL

The trial of William Stobie finally collapsed this week, taking with it any last vestige of credibility attached to the Stevens investigation. Over a decade of investigations, including three separate inquiries conducted by British police chief John Stevens, now head of the London Metropolitan Police, amounted to nothing this week as the case against the only person ever charged with the Finucane murder ended in farce.

Meanwhile, the British government, which has repeatedly stated it could not deliver a public inquiry while criminal proceedings were ongoing, initiated a further delay by announcing the appointment of an international judge, to be appointed by April 2002, to review the evidence of this and other controversial cases.

William Stobie, the self-confessed former UDA quartermaster and RUC Special Branch informer at the time of the killing, supplied and disposed of the weapons used to kill the Belfast defence lawyer. The case against Stobie collapsed after the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to call the main prosecution witness.

The trial had been adjourned last week after presiding Judge Carswell referred the case back to the DPP. Lawyers petitioning on behalf of the witness, Neil Mulholland, claimed there was new evidence supporting the claim that he was unable to appear on medical grounds.

In court, prosecution barrister Gordon Kerr said the DPP had concluded that Mulholland was not now capable of providing reliable evidence. The court recorded a verdict of not guilty in relation to the Finucane killing. Stobie was also acquitted of the murder of 19-year-old student Adam Lambert, shot dead in 1987 in the mistaken belief he was a Catholic.

Speaking outside the court, Stobie's lawyer, Joe Rice, said his client had worked as a crown agent from 1987 to 1990 and he had given Special Branch information that should have stopped the murder of Pat Finucane. Stobie described himself as a pawn in "a much bigger and deadlier game". He went on to dismiss Stevens inquiries as "a sham for the last 12 years".

Over a year ago, An Phoblacht predicted the likely collapse of the case after discovering the prosecution's main witness had signed himself into a psychiatric unit. Neil Mulholland, then working as an NIO Press Officer, had been called as a witness after submitting a lengthy 28-page statement to the Stevens team detailing an interview with Stobie conducted by the former journalist in 1990.

That year, believing his former associates in the RUC Special Branch were trying to set him up, Stobie contacted the Sunday Life and asked to speak to a journalist. Stobie subsequently arranged to meet Mulholland outside an RUC barracks on the Shankill where he was signing bail.

At the time Stobie was facing charges following an illegal arms find at his home. He claimed the weapons had been 'planted' by the RUC. Stobie also alleged that the RUC Special Branch had tried to set him up by exposing his role as an agent to his loyalist associates.

Fearing for his life and liberty, Stobie detailed his role as an RUC Special Branch agent and his part in the killing of Pat Finucane to Mulholland but asked the journalist only to print the revelations if something happened to him. However Mulholland ignored Stobie's request and referred the incident to the RUC.

Stobie was arrested after Mulholland outlined the story to the head of the RUC press office, Bill McGookin. McGookin arranged for Mulholland to meet an RUC Special Branch officer, who falsely claimed to be in charge of the Finucane inquiry. Mulholland met the officer three times.

Stobie was subsequently arrested and interrogated by the same Special Branch officer. During seven days detention in September 1990, Stobie was interviewed 32 times for over 47 hours resulting in a 200-page hand written confession. He was then released without charge.

Immediately after his release, Stobie contacted another journalist, Ed Moloney of the Sunday Tribune. He recounted the tale he told to Mulholland but with one significant difference.

In the testimony given to Mulholland it is believed that Stobie admitted knowing Finucane had been the intended target prior to the killing. He told Moloney he did not know the gang's intended target. The failure of the RUC Special Branch to act on information from their informant now could be explained away.

The RUC later admitted Stobie was their agent and that he had alerted his handlers prior to the Finucane killing but they claimed that without more information they could not intervene effectively to save the solicitor's life.

This week's fiasco at Belfast High Court is not the first trial involving Stobie to collapse into chaos. In 1990, Stobie appeared for trial in relation to the arms find at his home. During the trial, Stobie instructed his solicitor to tell the Crown prosecution that he would reveal all he knew about the Finucane case if he was convicted.

Minutes later, an RUC officer giving evidence made a 'mistake' and the judge declared a mistrial. In 1991, the charges against Stobie were dropped and a verdict of not guilty recorded. In 1994, Stobie survived a UDA execution squad, who shot him six times and left him for dead.

Commenting on this week's trial collapse, the Finucane family said they were not surprised. "The trial of Stobie was never a truth seeking process," read a statement released by the family's solicitor. The family dismissed the Stevens investigation and the prosecution of Stobie as "a delaying tactic to thwart the establishment of a public inquiry".

The British Prime Minster's announcement of the appointment of a judge to review the evidence "will delay a public inquiry for another four or five years", said the statement. "No amount of political deal making will dilute the family's entitlement to a very basic human right, the right to truth."

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