Belfast Telegraph

Finucane family consider legal options after losing appeal for public inquiry

The family of solicitor Pat Finucane are considering fresh legal options after losing a court challenge against the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into his murder.

An application to the Supreme Court or a civil claim for damages against the authorities are two of the avenues that will be explored in the wake of the latest setback, Mr Finucane's son John said.

"This is very much unfinished business," he said after the Appeal Court ruling in Belfast.

His pledge followed a judgment that also revealed detectives are in the final stages of an investigation linked to the 1989 murder. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) subsequently confirmed an initial report has been sent to the region's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for assessment.

The murdered solicitor's widow Geraldine, who witnessed his shooting in 1989, had appealed against a judgment that found the 2011 decision by then Prime Minister David Cameron to reject a public inquiry was lawful.

Three Court of Appeal judges in Belfast rejected her challenge on Tuesday.

Mr Finucane, 38, who represented a number of high-profile republicans, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.

The killing, one of the most notorious of The Troubles, is shrouded in controversy amid allegations that the security forces colluded with the gunmen from the outlawed Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Lawyers for the Finucane family have repeatedly argued that the Government made a commitment to hold an inquiry during peace process negotiations at Weston Park in 2001.

In their ruling, the Court of Appeal judges acknowledged that a pledge to hold an inquiry had been made.

But they upheld the Government's right to balance public interest factors, such as costs, when, years later, it opted to commission a review of case papers by QC Sir Desmond de Silva rather than instigate an inquiry.

In publishing his findings in 2012, Sir Desmond said he had uncovered "new and significant" material. The Appeal Court was told that a PSNI investigation into that evidence was nearing completion.

In 2015, Mr Justice Stephens ruled that Mr Cameron's actions had been lawful and that a full-blown public inquiry would be costly, protracted and could not be confined to narrow issues surrounding the loyalist shooting nearly 30 years ago.

The three Appeal Court judges backed his findings.

Delivering their judgment, Lord Justice Gillen said the Government had been transparent in its deliberations on whether the public interest would be served by holding a potentially lengthy inquiry.

"We conclude that not only was this reasoning transparent but, based on all the range of public interest factors under consideration, it was a lawful decision by the Government, within its discretion, that it should not be held bound to maintain a policy of instituting a public inquiry in this instance," he said.

In his scathing report, Sir Desmond detailed shocking levels of state involvement in the case.

That included spreading malicious propaganda suggesting 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 he found no evidence of an overarching conspiracy by the authorities to target the solicitor, Sir Desmond said the actions of a number of state employees had "furthered and facilitated'' the shooting.

He also said there had been efforts to thwart the subsequent criminal investigation.

While he was prime minister, Mr Cameron apologised to the Finucane family in the House of Commons.

Outside court on Tuesday, Mrs Finucane said she was disappointed but not angered by the judgment.

"One thing we will have to follow up on is the fact that the police are now investigating all the new evidence that de Silva uncovered," she said.

"Nobody knows what that is. Nobody knows at what level it's happened. So we will await that with much interest."

Asked if she would consider an appeal to the UK Supreme Court, Mrs Finucane said: "We will be looking at it most seriously."

John Finucane said the family would also be considering a potential civil action.

"That would be an option, yes," he said, before again highlighting the option of a Supreme Court bid.

Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy, from the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch, said detectives had sought to identify the new and significant material to consider "whether it presents any credible opportunity to progress the investigation into the murder of Pat Finucane".

He added: "An initial report relating to that material has been submitted to the Public Prosecution Service but further consideration of the de Silva material is required before the PSNI's conclusions can be fully considered by the PPS."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph