Issue 1 - 2023 front

1 July 1999 Edition

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Informer admits RUC role in Finucane murder

By Padraig MacDabhaid

A fully independent public inquiry is now the only course available to ensure the full circumstances surrounding the killing of Pat Finucane can be revealed
Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast and spokesperson on policing, has said that ``a fully independent public inquiry is now the only course available to ensure the full circumstances surrounding the killing of Pat Finucane can be revealed''.

Her comments come after revelations made by ex-UDR man and former UDA quartermaster William Alfred Stobie, from Forthriver Road, Belfast, that he was an informer at the time of his involvement in the Finucane killing. Stobie was charged on Thursday, 24 June with killing the Belfast solicitor ten years ago. When Stobie was charged, he replied: ``Not guilty to the charge you have put to me tonight. At the time, I was a police informer for Special Branch. On the night of the death of Patrick Finucane, I informed Special Branch on two occasions by telephone that a person was to be shot. I did not know at that time the person who was to be shot''.

Stobie's lawyer added that his client had asked him ``to state that the murky web of deceit and lies spun around this murder doesn't emanate from him and he looks forward to the truth coming out at the inevitable trial at Belfast crown court''.

That the RUC and its agents were involved in the slaying is not a new accusation. However, the claims made by Stobie in court have implicated the RUC as major players in the cover-up which followed the killing.

After Stobie's claims, it emerged that the RUC had dismissed evidence which was published six years ago by the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, which linked an RUC agent to Finucane's murder. At the time of publication, an RUC report on the new evidence came ``to the conclusion that it does not merit detailed comment''.

Stobie alleges that he told his RUC Special Branch handlers of the UDA's plans, once five days before the attack, the second on the evening of the killing. He claims that he never knew Finucane was the target but claims that he gave the RUC enough information and time to save Mr Finucane's life. He says when he complained to his handlers about their inaction they replied that ``he (Finucane) was just an IRA man''. After the attack, the RUC made no attempt to seize the weapons used even though Stobie gave the Special Branch detailed information about how the killers planned to get rid of their guns.

Stobie also claims that the RUC conducted a campaign to scare him into silence over the Finucane killing even going as far as to sabotage weapons under his control in order to draw UDA suspicion on him. Eventually the RUC planted guns in his flat in order to frame him on arms charges. At his trial on the arms charges he instructed his lawyers to tell the Director of Public Prosecutions that he would publicly reveal that he had given the Special Branch warnings before Finucane was killed if they continued proceedings against him - four months later the Crown prosecutor announced that no evidence would be offered against Stobie and a ``not guilty'' verdict was entered against him.

The claims made by Stobie are substantiated by the Lawyer Committee for Human Rights publication, which was dismissed by both the RUC and the NIO. The document, published in 1993, details the threats made against Finucane by the RUC, explains the role of British army agent Brian Nelson in the killing and then details the RUC connection.

According to the report, ``two independent sources told us that the RUC also had a double agent in the UDA. They stated that they had learned from loyalist sources that in late December 1988 or early January 1989, Brian Nelson came to a UDA meeting and passed a file on Finucane to `R'. Those present took the transfer of this file to mean that Finucane would be killed. A week later, the double agent alerted his handlers in the RUC Special Branch who were stationed at Castlereagh. About two weeks later, `R' came to the agent and asked him for weapons, including a Browning. At the next meeting with his handlers, the agent told them of R's request and that he would be supplying the weapons in the next few days. In both instances, the agent gave the information to his handlers on the assumption that they would do something to prevent the murder from taking place''.

In Castlereagh interrogation centre, a group of UDA men were told by mid-level RUC officers to forget about indiscriminate sectarian killings and concentrate on three solicitors who they claimed were the ``brains behind the IRA''.

That Stobie informed his handlers before Finucane was killed is also backed up by the earlier publication. It states that ``according to another source, the Special Branch had one last opportunity to prevent the killing just hours before it occurred. On the day Finucane was murdered, an adjutant UFF commander under R called the RUC's agent at about 3pm. This adjutant told R to deliver the weapons to a nearby social club at 5pm, which he did. He then called his Special Branch handlers; told them that he had handed over the guns; and impressed upon them that he thought they would be used quickly. By 7.30pm, Finucane was killed''.

All of this appears to back up the family of Pat Finucane, who assert that only an independent public inquiry can attain the truth. After a meeting with British Secretary of State Mowlam in June, the family released a statement saying that ``a criminal investigation (no matter who carries it out) will not be a public process and its sole function is to attempt to secure criminal convictions and not to expose the truth''.

This again was echoed by Martin Finucane on the day that Stobie made his revelation. According to Finucane: ``The fact that the person charged today said that he was a paid agent of the RUC installed in the UDA group which carried out the murder makes a full public judicial inquiry imperative so that we can establish the full extent of the involvement of the RUC in the murder of Pat Finucane... The eventual trial of Mr Stobie will not be an adequate vehicle for establishing the full truth of the circumstances surrounding the murder as has been proven by the trial of Brian Nelson, when the truth was fudged and covered up by the authorities.''

Finucane concluded: ``It is abundantly clear that the arguments for a full independent public judicial inquiry is overwhelming and should now be established forthwith. Today's development verifies and bolsters our demand for such an inquiry. Public concern over the case has reached such a level that no other course of action can be acceptable.''


A piece of the jigsaw

By Laura Friel

Now there are three. A former British soldier and at the time active British Military Intelligence agent who, in his role as UDA chief intelligence officer, scouted Pat Finucane's house and provided a photograph of their intended victim to the loyalist murder gang.

A former British soldier and active RUC special branch informer who, in his role as UDA quartermaster, provided the weapons for the killing. And a British soldier who stole the weapon used in the shooting from a UDR arsenal.

Three direct links in the conspiracy to murder a Belfast solicitor, whose death RUC interrogation officers procured and a British minister, Douglas Hogg, knowingly or unwittingly, politically endorsed.

And then there are the British Military Intelligence officers who colluded through their agent, Brian Nelson in the updating and reorganisation of UDA death lists. The intelligence officers who their agent claims were warned of the murder plot against Finucane but did nothing to prevent it. In the event of the Stevens Inquiry, the British Intelligence officers who hid a suitcase of UDA hit lists, which included over 1,000 crown force photo montages, at a British army barracks. Their actions threw the inquiry team off the scent for months.

And Colonel `J', a British army commander, who appeared as the chief defence witness in the trial of Brian Nelson to describe his agent in the terms of a `hero' whose ``biggest motivation'' was loyalty to the British army. The list continues with British Cabinet Minister Tom King, whose letter of support sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions described Nelson as a valuable agent. And the trial judge, Basil Kelly, who described Nelson as a man who had shown ``the greatest courage''.

And don't forget Patrick Mayhew, DPP at the time and later British Secretary of State, and his role in the deal in which 15 of the most serious charges against Brian Nelson were dropped in return for guilty pleas on 20 lesser charges. A deal which it has been alleged was designed to protect details of British involvement in the procurement of loyalist arms.

The British magazine Private Eye claimed in February 1992 that a trip to South Africa in 1985 by Nelson to procure loyalist weapons had been cleared not only by the British Minister of Defence but also by an unnamed government minister. Neither the minister nor Nelson's trip were mentioned during the trial.

The bulk of the subsequent illegal arms shipment, which involved another British agent, Charles Simpson, was not intercepted despite British Military Intelligence knowledge of the transportation route.

Three weeks before the murder, RUC interrogation officers in Castlereagh suggested to loyalist detainee Tommy Little, a leading West Belfast UDA man that he should target Finucane and two other leading Belfast defence lawyers. Pat Finucane was ``the brains behind the IRA'', the RUC interrogators said.

Then there's RUC Special Branch, whose agent Billy Stobie provided the weapons used by the loyalist gang who carried out the Finucane killing. Stobie insists that he gave his Special Branch handlers enough information and in sufficient time for them to have prevented the solicitor's murder.

A week before the killing, Stobie was summoned by his UDA commander and told to provide weapons for an operation they were planning. The UDA leader rejected a Heckler and Kock offered by Stobie and requested a Browning 9mm, a weapon more suited for assassination, ``a special job''. ``We're going to hit a top Provie,'' Stobie was told.

Stobie telephoned his RUC handlers, providing information on the murder plot which included the name of the gang leader. The UDA leader and two loyalist squads with which he operated were known to the RUC. Despite the RUC's vast surveillance and legislative resources, the gang was neither watched nor intercepted before the murder. The weapons they were to use were not bugged. The RUC sat on its hands.

Stobie contacted his RUC handlers again on the evening of the shooting when the operation was clearly imminent. The weapons had been collected from Stobie. He had seen three members of the gang getting into van and realised the operation was underway.

When Stobie subsequently complained to the Special Branch about their inaction, the RUC claimed ``they hadn't had time to get things organised'' and that ``anyway'' Finucane ``was just an IRA man.''

Even if Stobie's information was too late, as the RUC claim, to stop the killing from happening, it was not too late to apprehend the loyalist gunmen on their way back, still armed with the murder weapons. The RUC did nothing. Later still, with the names of the killers known to the RUC, no one was arrested.

According to Stobie, rather than pursuing Finucane's killers, RUC Special Branch instigated two plots to frighten their informer to ensure his full compliance. The first, a thinly disguised death threat, almost exposed Stobie's role as an RUC agent to the UDA killers upon which he was spying. The second, in which illegal weapons were planted in Stobie's flat, put him in court.

Stobie claims that the prosecution case against him collapsed after he threatened to expose the fact that RUC Special Branch had been informed but took no action to prevent the Finucane murder.

A recent claim by RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan that John Stevens had investigated the murder of Pat Finucane and found no evidence of RUC collusion was dismissed by Stevens, who said he had never even been asked to investigate the murder, only the implications of the Nelson trial in relation to allegations of British army collusion.

Flanagan responded, to head off the growing pressure for a fully independent inquiry, by requesting Stevens to lead a team of British detectives to investigate the murder. Last week that team identified their first suspect, Billy Stobie, and the story of his role as a RUC Special Branch informer, kept under wraps for over a decade, finally came to light.

As with the case against Brian Nelson before him, the trial of Stobie is unlikely to establish the full truth behind the murder of Pat Finucane. But at the very least, Stobie provides just one more piece of the jigsaw and the picture which is emerging shows more than the mechanics of the Finucane murder. It exposes the very nature of Britain's role in Ireland and the operation of its ``dirty little war''.

Flanagan remembers he hasn't forgotten

by Laura Friel

Controversy about that telephone call to Geneva continued to stalk RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan this week. Recently interviewed by BBC Panorama journalist John Ware, Ronnie Flanagan couldn't recollect telephoning UN special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy to request comments attributed to the RUC Chief in the UN draft report were deleted from the final document.

According to the UN official, the RUC Chief accused some lawyers of working for paramilitaries, working to a paramilitary agenda, during an interview at RUC Headquarters in Belfast in 1998. Flanagan's words were noted down at the time by Param Cumaraswamy's assistant.

On camera Flanagan, striken with apparent sudden amnesia, having denied the comments felt compelled to deny the subsequent telephone call about the comments. However the RUC Chief couldn't deny two letters posted to Geneva a short time later. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. It was, in short, all a bit of a mess.

In a valiant attempt to redress his dismal TV performance, RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan remembered this week that he had not forgotten that he had made a telephone call to UN special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy because he had never made that call.

``I have now had all billing records checked. I made no such phone call,'' Flanagan informed the press. Now a telephone call was received by the UN's Geneva office and the person who took the call understood he was speaking to Ronnie Flanagan at the time but maybe he was mistaken. Perhaps someone else made the call on behalf of the RUC Chief whose comments were still in the draft report. ``There may have been a phone call made by a representative of the UK government, ``speculated Flanagan.

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