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13 December 2001 Edition

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Stobie shot dead

For many the hand of the British secret services is plain to be seen in the summary execution in Belfast this week of former RUC Special Branch agent and UDA quartermaster William Stobie. Stobie's death removes one of the most crucial witnesses who would have given evidence to a public inquiry about the links between British state forces and the murder of defence lawyer Pat Finucane.

Stobie, shot dead on Wednesday December 12, supplied and later disposed of the weapons used by the killers of Finucane in 1989. He was recently brought to trial by the Stevens team for his part in that murder and the sectarian killing of Adam Lambert.

The trial collapsed after the DPP ruled that the chief prosecution witness could not be called to give evidence. A former journalist and NIO press officer Neil Mulholland signed himself into a psychiatric unit almost two years ago. Stobie claimed he informed his RUC handlers on two separate occasions of a pending attack by a well-known loyalist gang. Despite the fact that a simple roadblock could have intercepted the gang, the Special Branch later claimed they were unable to thwart the killing because Stobie had not named the intended target.It is believed that Stobie admitted to Mulholland that he knew Finucane was the intended target.

After lengthy interrogation by RUC Special Branch in Castlereagh, Stobie contacted another journalist, Ed Moloney, and changed his story. In a detailed account Stobie told Moloney he did not know Finucane was the target. It provided a convenient, if not wholly convincing, escape clause for his RUC handlers.

Stobie was shot at around 6.15am outside a block of flats in the loyalist Forthriver Road. He died at the scene. The killing has been claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name for the UDA.

The London-based human rights group British-Irish Rights Watch called on the British Secretary of State to initiate an independent public inquiry into the Finucane killing and Stobie's death. Following comments made by loyalist spokesperson John White, Jane Winter of BIRW asked if Stobie had been killed "to defend the honour of the RUC." Winter pointed out that John White, former spokesperson of the now defunct UDP, admitted that Stobie's public call for an inquiry into his prosecution and the ramifications of the Finucane murder had "angered many people in the loyalist community and that White claimed the Finucane case was being used to undermine the RUC and the Six County state. "Is the implication that Stobie was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries intent on defending the honour of the RUC?", she asked.

The human rights spokesperson went on to point out that White did not reveal in the interview, or in other interviews, that he had accompanied loyalist Johnny Adair in a visit to Stobie at which he was allegedly assured that his life was not in danger. "The alleged assurance clearly had a sell-by date," said Winters.

Meanwhile the Committee on the Administration of Justice has reiterated the call for a public inquiry into the Finucane killing and called for a properly constituted independent investigation into Stobie's death. Paul Mageean, a legal officer for the CAJ said that "public confidence is unlikely to be secured by an unsupervised police investigation into the Stobie murder".

The CAJ said that if the British government had any interest in establishing the truth of what happened to Pat Finucane and William Stobie, it must establish a public inquiry without further delay.



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