In describing the circumstances surrounding the UDA killing of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989 and British state collusion in it, barrister Sir Desmond de Silva has painted a chilling picture of a much broader culture of tolerance, and even encouragement, of such acts. On Finucane he says, “the real importance in my view, is that a series of positive actions by employees of the state actively furthered and facilitated his murder and that, in the aftermath . . . there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice.”
Quite apart from the appalling contribution to Finucane’s death, for which another apology from British prime minister David Cameron was certainly called for, de Silva’s report raises profound questions that should be of deep concern to any democratic government, of any political hue, about the political control and accountability of security services for whom the rule of law did not seem to apply.
De Silva makes clear that employees of the state and state agents, specifically Brian Nelson and William Stobie, played “key roles” in the murder, and that Finucane may well have been suggested to the UDA as a target by an RUC officer. Such, and other targeting of republicans, was known to handlers and regularly ignored, while, in 1985, 85 per cent of the UDA’s intelligence originated with sources within the security forces. Investigations after the event were lied to by senior army officers and obstructed by the RUC Special Branch.
Mr Cameron told the Commons the collusion involved a small minority of those working in the police and security agencies in Northern Ireland. No ministers were implicated – they were “misled” – and nor was there any over-arching state conspiracy, he said.
Yet what may have been a small minority may also have represented a substantial number of those at the cutting edge of, and in command of, the fight against terrorism – the people who mattered. And the apparent ignorance of ministers suggests strongly they were deliberately not asking the right, tough questions about the conduct of those for whom they were responsible. About whom even the dogs in the street were at the time making frightening, credible claims. It’s what the Americans call “plausible deniability”.
Cameron, in rejecting family calls for a public inquiry, insists the de Silva report provided “the fullest possible account of the murder . . . and the truth about state collusion.” But do we really know now all there is to be known, and particularly about the politically embarrassing interface between politics and security officials? Such an inquiry would not need to be as costly or elaborate as the £200 million Bloody Sunday inquiry. One was already recommended by the Weston Park agreement in 2001. The scale of what is alleged, and now largely admitted, warrants a public inquiry.