Disappearance of admission tape 'a deliberate act to thwart investigation'
Evidence is that the RUC had no interest in finding Finucane killers, writes GERRY MORIARTY
On October 1st, 1991, Det Supt Jonty Brown of the RUC’s criminal investigation department (CID) asked UDA man Ken Barrett who had killed Pat Finucane. “Hypothetically, me,” Barrett replied. A tape recording of that admission subsequently disappeared.
Later that month the RUC Special Branch recruited Barrett, the only man convicted of the murder, although it took several more years and a police force with a different name – the Police Service of Northern Ireland – before he was jailed for the killing.
In 1991, Jonty Brown wanted to nail Barrett for the murder, as Sir Desmond de Silva makes clear in his 500-page report published yesterday.
In fact, as Sir Desmond noted, Brown continued to pursue the investigation of the murder “to the dismay of SB [Special Branch]”.
“I am sure that the RUC special branch took a conscious decision to recruit Kenneth Barrett as an agent rather than seek to bring him to justice for his role in the murder of Patrick Finucane,” the report says. “That decision was taken at RUC SB superintendent level, though it is possible that knowledge of Barrett’s prima-facie ‘admission’ and recruitment extended further up the RUC hierarchy.”
Possibly how “further up” is not learnt from the report, which is a critical issue for the Finucane family.
Sir Desmond said he was satisfied that the disappearance of a tape recording of Barrett’s “admission” in October 1991 “was a deliberate act designed to thwart the RUC CID in its efforts to investigate Barrett in connection with the murder”.
Never warned of threats
We learn from the report that on three occasions the UDA planned to murder Pat Finucane – in 1981, 1985 and finally in a conspiracy begun in late 1988 – and concluded with his killing in his north Belfast home on February 12th, 1989.
The RUC special branch and/or MI5 were aware of these threats. On none of these occasions was the solicitor warned.
Sir Desmond found that in December 1988, MI5 received information about a “potentially serious threat to the life” of the solicitor.
“Mr Finucane was murdered by the UDA less than two months afterwards. No steps had been taken to warn him that his life was in danger or to otherwise protect him,” he said. “I believe that the responsibility for the failure to act on the December 1988 threat intelligence lies with the Security Service [MI5].”
Sir Desmond’s report points to a culture of RUC special branch antagonism to leading lawyers such as Finucane, the late Oliver Kelly and Patrick McGrory – father of the current DPP in the North, Barra McGrory – who represented high-profile republicans.
He makes clear that they were not trusted and that the RUC special branch and others would make no distinction between a lawyer and the clients he represented, a recurring theme throughout the Troubles.
No interest in finding killers
In one twist, Sir Desmond observes that on one occasion in 1981 when the UDA was planning to murder Kelly, a scheme was put in place to protect him. But this was because it was thought he could play a “constructive role” in relation to the republican hunger strikes rather than over a concern about his safety.
Throughout the report the evidence is that the RUC special branch had no interest in apprehending the killers of Finucane – the reverse, it appeared.
The report finds that the informant and UDA quartermaster William Stobie, who was murdered by his own organisation in December 2001, supplied the 9mm Browning pistol that the “UDA hit team” used in the killing, but that Stobie did not know who was the target.
But again, had the RUC acted with any degree of professionalism, at least one of the killers could have been apprehended, said Sir Desmond. The report’s author also says he was in “no doubt that the UDA were heavily reliant on RUC and UDR [Ulster Defence Regiment] leaks to carry out its targeting and attacks during this period” .