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6 December 2001 Edition

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State killing by proxy

BY LAURA FRIEL




Like blood seeping through a bandage, the sordid mechanisms of Crown force collusion with loyalist death squads are becoming increasingly obvious. Despite the British government's best efforts, no amount of wound binding will stem the flow.

The collapse of the Finucane murder trial was predictable and the imposition of another delaying tactic characteristic. But the truth is out and behind the facade of democracy the British state engaged in the summary execution of its political opponents.

The collapse of the Finucane murder trial raises many more questions surrounding the role of the RUC Special Branch, Sinn Féin's Chief Whip Alex Maskey told a Belfast press conference this week.

William Stobie has admitted he supplied the weapons used to kill Pat Finucane and it has been confirmed that he was an RUC Special Branch agent at the time. He also informed RUC Special Branch that the attack was going to take place and the loyalist gang involved. Despite the fact that a simple roadblock could have thwarted the killers, the RUC Special Branch did nothing.

"The role of the RUC Special Branch and British military intelligence in collusion and running agents within the loyalist death squads has not been explained," said Maskey, "cover up is still the order of the day. The RUC Special Branch is, in the words of the Patten Commission, a force within a force," said Maskey.

Stobie has admitted remaining in position within the UDA until at least 1990. In that time, the UDA in Stobie's area killed six people. These were: Adam Lambert in November 1987, Gerard Slane in September 1988, Pat Finucane in February 1989, Eamon Quinn in March 1990, John Judge in July 1990 and Dermot McGuinness in October 1990.

"What did the Special Branch know about these killings?" asked Maskey. "And are Stobies handlers now members of the new policing arrangements? The reality is that the Special Branch still exists and exists as a secret police force."

Nationalists and republicans will not support policing arrangements with an unaccountable wing, a Special Branch, governed by a culture of silence and operating with no controls, accountability or scrutiny. Patten recognised this and the British government must now move to recognise this also, the West Belfast Assembly member told the conference.

Meanwhile, solicitors acting on behalf of Maskey are to lodge court papers to force former British Army agent Brian Nelson to appear in court. Nelson, like Stobie, as a British agent infiltrated the UDA and took an active role the Finucane killing.

Nelson has already admitted that he supplied the Belfast solicitor's personal details, including a photograph, to the UDA death squad that carried out the shooting. Nelson has also been implicated in two attempts on the life of Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey.

Maskey, who survived a number of murder bids in the late 1980s and early 1990s, says that there is now overwhelming evidence to prove the state actively colluded with loyalists in the murder of nationalists and republicans.

Nelson's career as an agent for one of the British army's most secret groups, the Force Research Unit, ended when he was arrested by the Stevens' team and was charged with his part in a series of killings.

The full facts of Nelson's role were prevented from being revealed in open court by pre-trial plea-bargaining. At the last minute, the most serious charges against Nelson were dropped. A series of lesser charges were uncontested by the defence and the trial dramatically curtailed.

The deal, which was struck at British Cabinet level, was designed to stop damaging evidence of sanctioned Crown force collusion in what amounted to state killings by proxy.

Nelson was subsequently convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He was immediately transferred to a jail in England, where he served only five years. On release, Nelson was relocated and provided with a new identity by the British authorities.

Nelson has been implicated in two attempts on Maskey's life. In 1988, a plot to kill the Sinn Féin Councillor began when a member of the UDA spotted him at a hotel on the Antrim Road.

Informed of Maskey's whereabouts, Nelson contacted two known UDA gunmen in a plot to assassinate the Sinn Féin representative. Unable to locate a weapon, Nelson contacted a fourth member of the UDA who had access to weaponry.

In a statement to the RUC, Nelson claimed that he was unable to contact his handlers and alert them of the murder bid because he was at home with his two sons at the time.

But evidence exposed by BBC Panorama reporter John Ware revealed that Nelson had in fact made two separate calls to his handlers that night. But the calls had been made, not to enable thwarting of the plot but to enlist the help of the handlers.

In the first call, Nelson is believed to have asked his British Army handler to confirm that the details and registration number of Maskey's car were correct.

When Nelson telephoned for a second time, he was told: "You're not wrong about the car." Further details of Nelson's role in the plot emerged from a prison diary written by Nelson while awaiting trial. He subsequently pleaded guilty in 1991 to conspiring to murder Alex Maskey.

But more recently new evidence, which could land the British agent back in court, has emerged of Nelson's role in an earlier loyalist attack on Maskey in which the councillor was seriously wounded at his home in May 1987.

Maskey was shot and seriously wounded when he answered a knock at his front door by a UDA gunman disguised as a taxi driver from a local firm.

According to a book written by a former member of the FRU, the covert British Army unit at the centre of the collusion controversy who ran Nelson as an agent in the UDA, Nelson provided Maskey's personal details and the false taxi plate intended to lure the councillor to his death.

Commenting, Maskey said he had instructed his solicitors to pursue legal action that could result in Nelson appearing in court for a second time.

"Despite Brian Nelson's admission that he was involved in a plot to kill me with other named loyalists, no one was ever arrested or questioned by the RUC," said Maskey, "It has to be asked why an agent of the state was allowed to engage in murder and was never brought to justice."

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is supporting the calls for a full independent inquiry into the killing of human rights solicitor Pat Finucane by the UDA. He has pointed out that that the party outlined the extent of the activities of the British agent Brian Nelson and his role in the Finucane killing in a Sinn Féin document titled Appalling Vista which was given to the British government at the time of the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
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