Stevens to report in days despite Nelson death

 

A major report on alleged British security-force collusion with loyalist paramilitaries is due to be published as planned this Thursday, say police, despite the death of Brian Nelson, one of the figures central to that probe.

Nelson (53), who was implicated in the murder of the Belfast solicitor, Mr Pat Finucane, died on Friday from a brain haemorrhage. It is understood he was in Canada. He had suffered a heart attack two weeks earlier and also had cancer, sources said.

Nelson was a British agent who served as the UDA's intelligence officer while working for the British army's highly secret Force Research Unit (FRU).

His death comes as the head of London Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, prepares to publish the findings of his third inquiry into allegations of security force collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

A spokesman for the Stevens inquiry said yesterday the report was expected to be published on Thursday as planned, but he could make no comment on whether Nelson's death would undermine the effectiveness of the investigation.

Part of his reported role for the FRU was to try to prevent loyalist paramilitaries killing "innocent" or "ordinary" Catholics but to prompt them to target known republicans instead.

Part of the Stevens inquiry focuses on allegations that the FRU provided Nelson with files and photographs of alleged republicans, and that this contributed to the deaths of 29 people, most of whom were not involved in any IRA activity.

The victim with the highest profile was Mr Finucane, who was gunned down at his home in 1989 by the UDA. It is alleged that Nelson scouted the Finucane home for the UDA some days before the murder. Nelson also claimed he told his FRU handlers that Mr Finucane was being targeted, but nothing was done to protect the solicitor.

In 1992, Nelson was sentenced to 10 years for conspiring to murder five Catholics. On release he lived at a secret location in England for his protection. The Stevens team interviewed Nelson on numerous occasions.

Last month in Belfast Sir John Stevens revealed that he is preparing prosecution papers on up to 20 former and serving members of the British army and police, for presentation to the DPP.

One of the officers the Stevens team is investigating is the British military attaché in Beijing, Brig Gordon Kerr, who was Nelson's chief handler. During Nelson's trial Brig Kerr said his agent saved many lives.

The Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mr Alex Maskey, and the SDLP Assembly member, Mr Alex Attwood, said Nelson's death reinforced the calls for an independent inquiry into the Finucane murder.

"Many of those publicly identified as playing a role in that killing have themselves now died. But the questions for the British government will remain until the truth behind collusion is uncovered," said Mr Maskey.

Mr Attwood said: "The truth of the Pat Finucane murder and the activities of the Force Research Unit require such an inquiry, and the Stevens Report whatever its content will not reduce the requirement for such an inquiry. There will be elements in the security and policing system who will work to frustrate an inquiry."