4 July 2002 Edition
Collusion and the big lie
BY LAURA FRIEL
"I will believe it when I hold a copy in my hands," said Michael Finucane, the son of the assasinated Belfast solicitor at the centre of the current Stevens investigation, urging caution when questioned about the pending publication of the latest Steven's report into collusion.
Michael Finucane, accompanied by his sister Katherine and brother John, were speaking at a Belfast press conference last week. A full public inquiry was "the only way all the questions of the murder of Pat Finucane can be properly addressed and answers sought", Michael had insisted on behalf of his family.
A few days later, a spokesperson from London's Metropolitan Police, of which John Stevens is the head, announced that the report, expected to be finalised within the next few weeks, would now be delayed until the autumn. Apparently, the report can only be 'delivered' after Stevens has assured himself that the report is "absolutely thorough.
"The Commissioner has determined that the completed report should be absolutely thorough and therefore anticipates that he will be in a position to finalise and deliver it in the autumn," said the unnamed spokesperson. A commitment to 'deliver' is ambiguous enough to suggest publication without actually confirming any such eventuality.
Of course Michael Finucane didn't need to be a psychic or indeed evoke any kind of telepathic powers to anticipate British reluctance. This is the third time the British state has called upon John Stevens' abilities and when it comes to damage limitation he has yet to disappoint his political masters. Apart from a summary of the first report released in May 1990, neither the first nor second report has ever been published in full.
In 1990, Stevens concluded "the passing of information to paramilitaries by security force members has been restricted to a small number of individuals" and was neither "widespread nor institutionalised".
Over a decade later, we now know that Stevens' clever words obscured rather than exposed the truth. The passing of information to loyalist death squads was restricted to a small number of individuals, primarily the FRU and Special Branch.
There was no need for it to be 'widespread' because with agents like Brian Nelson in key positions, a single conduit provided the means to network information throughout the ranks of loyalist gunmen.
And of course the entire premise of the original inquiry was false. Collusion was never just about 'leaks'. Through agencies like the FRU, the British rearmed, reorganised and redirected loyalist death squads.
As Michael Finucane pointed out last week, the British state stands accused of one of the most serious crimes levelled against any body politic, that of soliciting the murder of citizens within its own jurisdiction.
Last week, over 200 families whose relatives had been killed by loyalist gunmen in suspicious circumstances called for an independent public inquiry into Crown force collusion. But the final toll may be much higher.
As one of the Stevens team interviewed by John Ware pointed out, it begins to look as if loyalists were incapable of carrying anything out without significant help.
To date, subterfuge and suppression have been the hallmarks of British internal inquiries. In April 1990, a day after Stevens announced the end of his first investigation, the then British Secretary of State, Peter Brooke, inadvertently said it all.
Commenting on the Stevens' report, Brooke concluded: "It will be up to the Chief Constable what he tells me and then a number of us will decide what we'll tell everyone else."
And according to recent 'leaks' to the media, what Stevens will be telling everyone else following the latest three-year 'investigation' is that he has now discovered widespread collusion.
But according to Stevens, it is collusion only between individual RUC/PSNI officers, British soldiers and loyalist gunmen. There is no proof, Stevens is to insist, of conspiracy in the military top brass or at British Cabinet level. But like blood through bandages, the truth continues to seep through the web of lies.
According to a recent television documentary, MI5 knew virtually everything about RUC/PSNI and British Army collusion with loyalist killers. Panorama claimed MI5 had direct access to all secret British Army files, many of which detail the commissioning of selected killings through agents working with loyalist death squads.
A former FRU operative known only as Martin Ingram has corroborated this claim. According to Ingram, MI5 had unlimited access to all FRU files.
"The MI5's officer sat opposite the FRU's operations officer at the unit's headquarters, face to face with the files down the middle," said Ingram. "All reports came through to headquarters. There were no secrets between MI5 and FRU, they knew everything."
As chairperson of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which met once a week in Downing Street, the British Prime Minister was kept informed of FRU activities. A former agent recently claimed that, following exposure, he was flown out of the North in Margaret Thatcher's private jet plane.
The rumour that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher no longer travels abroard because she's afraid of being arrested for war crimes may be apocryphal. But, when it came to political dissidents, Thatcher and General Pinochet shared more than tea and sympathy.
And then there's the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP has consistently played a pivotal role in curtailing prosecutions of loyalist killers. According to recent revelations, charges were dropped against a senior loyalist linked to the killing of Pat Finucane after the DPP refused to use British Army agent Brian Nelson as a Crown witness.
Charges against Jim Spence and four other loyalists in relation to the possession of Crown force documents were dropped by the DPP without explanation in 1990. The five loyalists were due to stand trial for possessing British military documents as part of the first Stevens investigation into collusion.
In a further twist, another loyalist implicated in the Finucane murder, Ken Barrett, along with Jim Spence, was charged with extortion in 1993 only for the charges aganst both men to be dramatically dropped.
But despite British efforts to stem the tide of international public opinion, the call for an independent public inquiry continues to gain momentum.
Last week, the Law Society of Ireland added its voice to the litany of legal and human rights bodies calling on the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to launch a public inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. The society represents over 7,000 Irish solicitors.
"The murder of a solicitor simply doing his duty in defending his clients is an attack on the rule of law and on the rights of every citizen in a democracy," said Law Society director general Ken Murphy. "The trail should be followed, wherever it leads, to ensure that everyone responsible, directly or indirectly, for this despicable crime is brought to justice.
"The shocking revelations in the Panorama programme confirm the society's belief that only an independent judicial inquiry with access to all information and the power to compel witnesses can get to the truth about this sad affair."
The Law Society director general said solicitors in the south had been appalled that Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson had been murdered for representing their clients.
No doubt, when sufficient information further implicating the British state has already surfaced in the public domain, Stevens 4 will be immediately commissioned to extricate the current administration.
And no doubt, we will then be encouraged to ignore the fact that under Tony Blair's stewardship the FRU continues to operate, albeit under a different name. We will also be supposed to turn a blind eye to the serious questions arising about the role of British agents and their handlers in the recent Omagh bombing.
Meanwhile, Tony Blair is considering transferring counterinsurgency primacy from the Special Branch to MI5. Such a move would offset any possible accountability that might have accompanied the transference of authority over policing. The British government has said it intends to devolve police and security matters to the Assembly after the elections of May 2003.
In other words, we will be given all the appearance of change without any possibility of its realisation. Such a move will ensure that the chain of command, so rigorously denied when it comes to collusion, will be preserved, along with key personnel.
According to The Sunday Times, if tasked, MI5 has already indicated it will be re-recruiting local expertise. "The obvious recruits are former Special Branch officers who retired under the Patten reforms, when the RUC became the PSNI," writes Liam Clarke.
"These include many experienced agent handlers, who are familiar with the informant network established within paramilitary groups."
The operational primacy of Special Branch provided a mechanism through which MI5 could control the RUC. In the past, a number of former FRU operatives, (a unit closely monitored by MI5) are known to have transferred to Special Branch. Such a cosy relationship should allow a smooth transition back again.
So is collusion a thing of the past? Or is that just the next big lie?
Fermanagh family appeals to Taoiseach
The family of Louis Leonard has said that the collusion revealed by the recent television programme into the death of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane is not an isolated incident.
Ciaran Leonard, spokesperson for the family, said:
"We believe British military intelligence was operating a definite policy of collusion in the Fermanagh area in the early '70s. This led to the murder of Micheal Nann and Andy Murray in Newtownbutler as well as Louis Leonard and Jim Murphy in Derrylin.
"We know that this collusion involved the RUC and going from all the revelations of the Panorama programme there is overwhelming evidence that this policy was directed from Whitehall and the securocrats in the British government.
"The Leonard family have requested access to RUC files relating to Louis' murder but have continuously found the RUC/PSNI to be completely uncooperative in relation to this serious matter.
"The family have been continuously harassed and discouraged by the "forces of law and order" from pursuing their ongoing campaign for the truth.
"The Fermanagh based group for victims of state violence, Fírinne (Truth), of which I am a member, calls for An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to demand an international inquiry surrounding the British state's active participation of unlawful killings in the Six Counties during the past 30 years."