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Finucane probe block 'indefensible'

Published 11/05/2015

Pat Finucane's brother Seamus, left, daughter Katherine and son John arrive at the High Court in Belfast for a legal challenge to the Prime Minister's refusal to order a public inquiry into his murder
Pat Finucane's brother Seamus, left, daughter Katherine and son John arrive at the High Court in Belfast for a legal challenge to the Prime Minister's refusal to order a public inquiry into his murder
Pat Finucane was murdered in front of his wife and children

A Government decision to reject a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane was based more on costs and political fallout than the need to establish the truth, a court has been told.

A barrister representing Mr Finucane's widow Geraldine branded the breaking of a commitment to hold a statutory probe into allegations of state involvement in the killing as "morally and legally indefensible".

Belfast High Court is hearing a judicial review by Mrs Finucane of the 2011 decision by Prime Minister David Cameron to rule out an inquiry into the 1989 Ulster Defence Association (UDA) shooting in the city.

On the first day of the case, Barry MacDonald QC outlined previously confidential correspondence involving Mr Cameron, then Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and senior governmental officials and advisers which, he claimed, revealed the true motivation behind the inquiry rejection.

Instead of proceeding with an inquiry, Mr Cameron commissioned QC Sir Desmond de Silva to review all the existing documents relating to the case and produce a public narrative of what happened.

But Mr MacDonald claimed a governmental briefing paper had identified such a non-statutory review as the option "least likely to establish the truth".

He said the Government nevertheless had gone on to publicly characterise it as the most effective means of reaching the truth.

The barrister said the review was merely a "cosmetic exercise, devoid of meaning".

"They presented their decision as the quickest means of finding out the truth when the evidence and briefing paper said a review of the paper documents was the least likely way of finding out the truth," he said.

Mr MacDonald was critical of another memo, penned by one of Mr Cameron's advisers, that referred to Mr Finucane as "another republican lawyer".

He questioned how a current government official could refer to the solicitor in such terms, given the evidence showing a similar characterisation had been a factor in marking him out as a murder target.

Mr MacDonald then referred to another memo that warned of the "inestimable cost" of an open-ended public inquiry.

"The single reason given is expense," he said of the document.

"There is a conspicuous absence of a balancing of factors. The decision is nothing to do with the best way of establishing the truth."

The barrister then highlighted a note sent by the special adviser to Mr Paterson to "chief of political staff" that flagged up potential "political" factors to consider.

One of the issues raised was the fact that ordering an inquiry would "open us up to potential attack from elements of the Conservative Party and the right wing press such as the Mail and the Telegraph".

Mr MacDonald acknowledged that the note said other factors away from the political had to be considered but he said it proved that the "popularity" of the decision was a significant issue.

Mr Cameron has apologised for the state wrong-doing in the Finucane case but has insisted that an inquiry would not shed any further light on the collusion.

His stance is at odds with a pledge made by the previous Labour government during the Weston Park peace process talks.

The 2001 talks resulted in Canadian judge Peter Cory being asked to examine the grounds for public inquiry in a number of controversial Troubles deaths.

At the time, the Government said such inquiries would be set up if the judge recommended that course of action.

Judge Cory subsequently did recommend public inquiries for a number of killings, including Mr Finucane's.

But while the Government ordered inquiries into the other deaths, it has not given the green light for one in the Finucane case.

Mr MacDonald said the Government's pledge at Weston Park established a "legitimate expectation" that an inquiry would be held.

The solicitor's family has long campaigned for a full independent public inquiry into the murder, but Mr Cameron has insisted such an exercise would not shed any more light on the events.

The review of the controversial murder published by Sir Desmond detailed shocking levels of state involvement.

That included spreading malicious propaganda that Mr Finucane was sympathetic to the IRA; one or possibly more police officers proposing him as a target to loyalists; and the mishandling of state agents inside the UDA who were involved in the murder.

While Sir Desmond found no evidence of an overarching conspiracy by the authorities to target the 38-year-old lawyer, he said the actions of a number of state employees had "furthered and facilitated'' the UDA shooting while there had also been efforts to thwart the subsequent criminal investigation.

As he accepted the report's findings in the House of Commons in December 2012, Mr Cameron reiterated an apology to the Finucane family and also pledged that the Government would examine the review in detail to identify potential lessons.

Mr Finucane was gunned down in front of his wife Geraldine and their three children inside their north Belfast home in February 1989.

Mr MacDonald said the murder was one of the "most notorious" of the Troubles.

"It is notorious for good reason," he added. "The available evidence suggests that agents of the state responsible for law enforcement devised and operated a policy of extra-judicial execution, the essential feature of which was that loyalist terrorist organisations were infiltrated, resourced and manipulated in order to murder individuals identified by the state and their agents as suitable for assassination.

"In other words 'murder by proxy' whereby the state itself engaged in terrorism through the agency of loyalist paramilitaries."

The barrister added: "The decision not to hold one (an inquiry) is indefensible both morally and legally."

Mr MacDonald outlined details of the various collusion investigations that examined the Finucane murder in the years following the shooting.

He referred to government papers that acknowledged the police and army engaged in an "active and significant obstruction" of an investigation carried out by former Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Sir John Stevens.

The barrister also revealed that as well as three investigations carried out by Sir John, the government conducted its own confidential assessment of the collusion claims in 1999 - a never-published document entitled the Langdon report.

The existence of the report emerged only during the legal discovery process ahead of the judicial review.

Mr MacDonald said all the various investigations detailed evidence that warranted examination in a public inquiry.

"It is difficult to imagine a more serious allegation against a liberal democracy founded on the rule of law," he said.

"Patrick Finucane was a victim of this policy. He was identified by state agents as suitable for assassination and duly shot dead in front of his family in a particularly brutal fashion."

Mr Finucane's son John and daughter Katherine were in court for today's hearing, as was the murdered solicitor's brothers Seamus and Martin.

The judicial review is expected to last five days.

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