By Neil Harris
THE FINUCANE Independent Review, published in December 2012, found only some evidence of “collusion” between the British State and Ulster “loyalist” death squads, limiting those involved to a few “rotten apples”. This has satisfied no one, least of all those hoping for the truth and because of this, the likelihood of further successful prosecutions after all these years is slim.
Written at the insistence of the Irish and American Governments, the review was a concession forced on the British government as part of the deal behind the “peace process” in Ireland and by the 2003 European Court of Human Rights finding that Britain had failed to carry out an adequate investigation into the murder of Patrick Finucane, in breach of Article Two of the charter.
Rather than simply report on the review, the New Worker thought it would be more interesting to look at the newly revealed material, including some heavily redacted secret documents and some partial statements from the Stevens investigations which now help us to see the direct links between the murderers and the British State. Of course, Mr Da Silva was looking for cast iron legal proof of collusion, failing to understand that the kind of people who involve themselves in this kind of murder, rarely leave more than a trace behind. This article pieces together the traces.
It all began in August 1987, when an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) Colour Sergeant passed out weapons from the Palace Barracks armoury to the fascist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) for use by its front organisation the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). This included a standard British Army nine milimetre Browning pistol, one of the weapons later used in Finucane’s murder.
The Browning was to become part of a cache of weapons held by William Stobie, a paid informer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch. Stobie was a member of the UDA and acted as a Quartermaster to the UDA/UFF, holding weapons for the Active Service Units (ASU) of the West Belfast Brigade, amongst others.
As an informer, he kept the Branch aware of the weapons he was holding, who he supplied them to and, on occasion, passed those weapons out to the RUC for forensic tests to be carried out, before they were returned to the cache for use. Despite this knowledge, between 1987 and 1989, the West Belfast UDA/UFF carried out numerous sectarian murders unimpeded by the RUC.
In his statement to the Stevens investigation, journalist Neil Mulholland gave evidence of an interview with Stobie in 1990, where he described how he had warned RUC Special Branch that he had handed over the Browning to an ASU for imminent use against Finucane:
“It was after this that he said he had decided there and then, to take no more with the SB. He felt that these guys were killers, he said they knew Finucane was away for his tea and did fuck all about it, he said this scared the shite out of him.”
Prior to the murder of Finucane, RUC officers were making threats to his life via his clients and inciting his murder when interrogating “loyalists” at Castlereagh.
The Security Service conducted a propaganda operation against Finucane and other lawyers, who were also UDA targets, intending to discredit them.
Douglas Hogg MP, who was Tory Under-Secretary at the Home Office, visited the occupied north of Ireland on 24/11/88 where he was briefed by Sir John Herman (RUC Chief Constable) and other RUC officers about solicitors the RUC didn’t approve of. At Hogg’s request, this was followed up with a written briefing on Finucane and the others, which was sent to him on 13/1/89.
In a parliamentary statement on 17/1/89, Hogg used this information and referred to a number of solicitors who were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. Seamus Mallon MP of the Social Democratic and Labour party responded by saying that lawyers in Northern Ireland would become “targets for assassins bullets” as a result of Hogg’s comments. This was to prove an accurate forecast; on the 12th February 1989, Patrick Finucane, an Irish lawyer of great courage, was shot in his own home by a gang of UDA/UFF murderers.
Brian Nelson had been an Army informer, before he moved to Germany. The Force Research Unit, the Army unit responsible for running covert agents in Ireland, persuaded Nelson to return and resume his undercover activities in the UDA, which he did from 1987 to 1989. During this period as a paid informer, he returned to his old role as Intelligence Officer for the UDA, responsible for their “Intelligence Dump”, a collection of “personality cards”, essentially profiles of Nationalist targets for assassination built up from leaked security forces material.
It seems to have been widely known in “loyalist” circles that Nelson was an informer and in contact with the FRU, indeed, how else could he have access to such material? For example, when he took over the dump again in 1987, the FRU completed a “contact form” (CF 14/10/87) setting out the confidential material it held, presumably after Nelson had given them access to it. It included: RUC statements, Garda reports on Nationalist personalities, British Army Personality files, Photos of British military ops rooms walls (that is of operational material; maps, photos and so on), British Army NI aide memoire and 500 RUC files of personalities (Nationalist targets).
Later Nelson passed the dump over to the FRU so that out of date material could be weeded out before it was returned to him for UDA use.
In 1989 FRU took possession of the dump to secure it from the Stevens enquiry into leaks of confidential information. At that time it included so much confidential material we can only quote a sample: 238 Army photo montages of suspects, 27 RUC photos of PIRA suspects, 500 photos from Army/RUC, Army notebooks, 42 B/W Army photos, 10 pages of suspects names from RUC source, 18 Army style photos, “Country Suspect” lists Army/RUC, 26 pages Army/RUC information (target files), 113 military photos PIRA, 24 B/W photos funerals, 25 photos – “stop and search”, “stop lists” of vehicles, vehicle registration numbers, Newry PIRA “sightings list”, RUC “sightings lists”, Army air photos, Army maps, RUC photo fits, lists of “Arrests for the month”, RUC lists of “persons of interest”, Army films, military style photos and one letter from the fascist British National Front, presumably begging for help.
This “dump” was to be given protected status by the Army and RUC; in his statement, the Officer Commanding the FRU’s East Detachment (East Det FRU) told the Stevens II investigation on 9th December 1993: "I have said before and I repeat – RUC Special Branch, in particular the Source Unit, were aware of the address where the int dump was contained, and to the best of my knowledge, this address was listed by them as a 'do not search property without reference to the FRU'."
All this information collecting was not just “trainspotting”, Nelson was providing accurate targeting material based on Army and RUC secret intelligence to UDA/UFF death squads and then reporting to his Army handlers what was going to happen. This is what he did in relation to Finucane, including providing the UDA with his personality card, photographs and even doing a “recce” of his house in advance of the assassination.
In a FRU telephone contact form dated 13/2/89, the following conversation was recorded between Nelson and his handler regarding the Finucane murder;
Nelson: “It was done this morning”
Handler: “Was it?”
Handler: “OK thanks”
Nelson: “See you tomorrow”
Handler: “OK bye”
The review concludes: “The handler commented that Nelson was referring to the murder of Patrick Finucane. The Officer Commanding (East Det FRU), A/01, added proudly that this intelligence was "passed to Source Unit before it was claimed on Downtown Radio".
Kenneth Barrett drove the murderers to Finucane's house and many years later made admissions that resulted in his conviction and life imprisonment. But after the murder, he agreed to become an RUC informer and as a result forensic evidence from the hijacked car used in the murder disappeared. This was not the only evidence to go missing; Barrett’s first taped confession vanished and the Browning pistol was bizarrely returned to the UDR after its recovery, where its barrel and firing mechanism were removed and destroyed. All of which protected Barrett for some years, while he was providing information.
In fact the protection went further; an RUC CID officer investigating Barrett’s role in the murder, Detective Sergeant Brown, gave the following account of a discussion with R/06, an RUC Special Branch officer on 3/10/91:
"'Move away from it', Sam [DC R/06] said …
“I brought it to his attention that we could clear the controversial murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane … What he said next astounded me.
“ 'We (Special Branch) know he done it', he said.
“ 'Pardon?' I replied."
Later, after being convicted and imprisoned for life for his role in the murder, Barrett made statements to the Stevens investigation where he set out exactly what had happened.
On the 28th April 2006, he described how police were “putting word out that Finucane should be shot”. Then he described how “Nelson produced a card for Finucane” as well as photographs. He described how Stobie brought the guns from their hiding place and that “somewhere on the Antrim Road there was always a roadblock. L/20 made a couple of calls to remove it…the week before the murder the road block was removed”.
He also separately described how it was arranged that he could steal weapons from Malone Barracks: “It was set up for me to go in. There were a few with knowledge of what was happening – MI5, FRU he spoke to, whatever.”
He described how he lost confidence on the first attempt but then returned “when it was explained the Army were in on it….I was allowed to walk in the armoury”. He signed for various weapons in a false name while wearing uniform: “I took two SA80’s and some Brownings. I walked out with the guns but there was a problem”. He described how he was threatened into returning one of the SA80’s: “One of the SA80’s had to be recovered…we were told what we could do and what we couldn’t do.”
The extent of active collusion can be best understood in this example we have pieced together from the review and its documents: in early December 1988 Nelson reported to his Army handler that the UDA were going to enter an Ulster Defence Regiment barracks to obtain secret information, with the help of sympathetic soldiers. The RUC decided not to intervene, neither did the FRU on behalf of the British Army.
The Security Service (MI5) was kept informed and recorded a discussion their officers had with the Deputy Head of RUC Special Branch (D/HSB) in an internal note:
"[L/03] was planning to break into a UDR camp on 2nd December to photograph some intelligence reports … We agreed that this was … odd … a view endorsed by D/HSB when I spoke to him subsequently. D/HSB advised that 'since the UDA already had lots of this stuff anyway' and that they would find nothing of value there was little to be gained by trying to prevent [L/03's] activity."
In fact amongst other material, the UDA obtained a video tape of a secret UDR briefing on Nationalist targets. Nelson was reported in an FRU CF dated 6/12/88 as having viewed the tape and saying that the sympathetic UDR soldiers had offered refuge in the barracks to the UDA/UFF hit team if they needed somewhere to hide. The UDA targeted the individuals on the tape and murdered Loughlin Maginn. It was that murder that started the chain of events leading to the three Stevens inquiries, the prosecution of Nelson, the inquiry by Justice Cory and eventually the Finucane review.
In an FRU CF dated 4/1/89, Nelson reported to his handler: “If no attacks resulted on any of those mentioned on the video tape, the UDR personnel who supplied it would not supply any more”. There was little danger of that happening; they knew the security forces would not have taken any action to prevent it.
In the second part of this article, we will look further at the involvement of the State and politicians in the cover up that followed the murder, and to what extent this was all deliberate policy.