Minister 'unwittingly' increased solicitor's vulnerability
SUMMARY:Douglas Hogg made public remarks by RUC figures about solicitors, writes STEVEN CARROLL
A British home office minister was “compromised” after a briefing by senior RUC officials and he “unwittingly” went on to make a statement that increased the vulnerability of defence solicitors such as Pat Finucane, the report states.
Junior minister Douglas Hogg travelled to Belfast in November 1988 and was told during his discussions with RUC special branch and CID figures that some solicitors were engaging with terrorists. He was later provided with RUC “profiles” of Finucane and Oliver Kelly.
However, de Silva said these did not “substantiate a claim that either of those solicitors was effectively in the pockets of terrorists”. The report paints a conflicting picture as to whether or not it was intended for the information provided during the meeting between Hogg and the RUC to enter the public domain.
Former RUC chief constable John Hermon was adamant, in his subsequent evidence to the Stevens inquiry, that he had specifically asked Hogg not to disclose that information and that he “was very irritated that Hogg later mentioned about solicitors being involved with terrorists”.
‘Unduly sympathetic’ to IRA
Hogg, on the other hand, in his evidence to Stevens, said the idea that “I had been told this stuff and would not use it in the House of Commons is bizarre”.
The following January, Hogg stated during a House of Commons debate that there were a number of solicitors in Northern Ireland who were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. Less than a month later, Finucane was murdered, prompting SDLP and Sinn Féin politicians to say Hogg’s comments legitimised loyalist attacks on solicitors who represented republicans.
De Silva said Hogg’s comment was based on the RUC briefing, which he felt the organisation expected would be put into the public domain, and that Hogg was “compromised” when given the information.
He was sure that Hogg’s comments did not incite the UDA to murder Finucane but said “the evidence does suggest that the UDA considered the minister’s comments to be significant”.
“I am satisfied that the manner in which Hogg was briefed by the RUC indicated an attitude or mindset within the RUC at the time which led them to be predisposed against solicitors representing republican paramilitaries, and against Patrick Finucane in particular,” he said.
More broadly, the report is critical of the failure of successive British governments to clarify the oversight of the conduct of intelligence agents but it found “no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any government minister had foreknowledge of Patrick Finucane’s murder”.
It says a series of positive actions by employees of the state “actively furthered and facilitated his murder” but that “despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the state, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an over-arching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane”.
The actions of Brian Nelson, a former loyalist paramilitary brought in by the British army’s Force Research Unit to become a secret agent within the Ulster Defence Association, and “the accountability of agencies of the state for those actions” are described as key contextual themes in the report.
Despite having been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment over the kidnap and torture of a man, Nelson was recruited and run as an FRU agent from 1984 to 1985.