An international campaign was launched today to press the British government for a fully independent inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of what remains one of the most controversial killings of the Troubles, with security forces found to have colluded in the lawyer’s murder.
The 39-year-old father-of-three was shot dead by loyalists in front of his family at their north Belfast home on February 12, 1989.
Amnesty International has launched a campaign to push for a fully independent probe after Government offered a public inquiry into the case, but insisted it take place under new legislation which critics claim gives ministers undue influence.
“On this day in 1989, Patrick Finucane was shot dead in front of his wife and three children,” said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen.
“Twenty years on, the truth about his killing is still kept from them and from the public.
“With each day that passes, the chances of an inquiry uncovering that truth get smaller.
“Already at least two potentially crucial witnesses have died.”
She criticised government plans to hold a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, which last year the UN Human Rights Committee criticised for allowing “the government minister who established an inquiry to control important aspects of that inquiry”.
Ms Allen said: “With the Inquiries Act 2005, the UK government has tried to ensure that any inquiry will lack real independence.
“The UK government’s failure to hold a properly independent inquiry into the killing of Patrick Finucane after 20 years – despite repeated promises to do so - is an outrage.”
She added: “The government has made it clear that it intends to use the Inquiries Act to ensure that part of any inquiry into this case would be held in secret, behind closed doors and in the absence of the Finucane family.”
Amnesty has now launched a global online appeal on its UK and international websites urging people to write both to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward demanding an independent inquiry.
The Finucane family has refused to accept the inquiry offered by Downing Street and demanded a probe free of British government control.
This weekend the 20th anniversary of Mr Finucane’s death will be marked by a major conference at Dublin’s Trinity College.
Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine, wounded in the attack which killed her husband, will address the event, as will former UN investigator Param Cumaraswamy and Canadian judge Peter Cory, who each probed the solicitor’s murder.
In the immediate aftermath of the killing, allegations of a security force role were made by the Finucane family.
And while the claims were rejected by security forces, disturbing details behind the assassination later emerged.
Army agent Brian Nelson was found to have planned the killing, while RUC agent Billy Stobie was found to have provided the weapon.
Four years ago loyalist Ken Barrett pleaded guilty to the charge of murdering Mr Finucane. In a documentary he had been secretly filmed claiming police urged loyalists to shoot the solicitor.
Police were found to have failed to act on tip-offs before the crime and did not properly investigate the murder after it happened.
In 2003 former head of the Metropolitan Police John Stevens released extracts from his own review of the case and confirmed security force collusion in the killing.
Mr Finucane’s clients included high-profile republicans and he began to receive threats after successfully representing IRA suspects.
His family has consistently denied he was an IRA supporter and said he was killed for doing his job.
Stevens, who carried out three inquiries into various allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in the North, has confirmed some of his findings.
In 2003 he said his investigations uncovered evidence of “collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder”.
The full findings, however, remain secret and have never been made public or shown to the Finucane family or their lawyers.