Security forces complicit in killing

Some of the key points raised in Desmond de Silva’s 500-page report:

* Propaganda circulated by the sec-urity service legitimised Mr Finucane as a target. Having wrongly painted him as an IRA figure, Mr de Silva said there was an even greater obligation on the security service to take action on any threat intelligence received.

* Four weeks prior to the murder, then permanent under-secretary at the home office, Douglas Hogg, on the basis of an unsubstantiated police briefing, told Britain’s House of Commons some solicitors in the North were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA. Mr de Silva said in the violent context of 1989, loyalists picked up on his comments and there are grounds to believe those comments unwittingly increased the vulnerability of solicitors such as Mr Finucane.

* One or more police officers suggested Mr Finucane as a potential target to a loyalist paramilitary.

* There were failures to act on previous threats to Mr Finucane.

* RUC action to disrupt the UDA gang in the years prior to it killing Mr Finucane was “grossly inadequate”.

* Inadequacy of the RUC’s investigation of the crime included the failure to retrieve a gun used in the murder that had been passed to a state agent in the UDA, William Stobie. Mr de Silva said use of intelligence provided by Stobie could have prevented the murder. He was killed by loyalists in 2001.

* There were failures in the handling of agent Brian Nelson, who was recruited by the army’s force research unit (FRU) to infiltrate the UDA. He became an intelligence gatherer for the UDA.

* There were serious concerns about Nelson’s suitability, with a claim he was motivated by a desire to see republican targets killed and was prepared to withhold information if he felt he was carrying out justifiable targeting. He did not inform FRU of the plan to murder Mr Finucane. It said the army must, however, take a “degree of responsibility”, as he was acting in a position equivalent to an ministry of defence worker.

* There were just three cases in which security forces took action on the intelligence he provided to frustrate UDA attacks. Mr de Silva said steps were often not taken to protect those considered a thorn in the side of the security forces. He was particularly critical of the response of RUC special branch.

* Mr de Silva said sometimes army handlers’ actions indicated deliberate facilitation of the killing of IRA members. The report said there was a “signal failure” by army command to ensure adequate supervision of Nelson.

* Between 1987 and September 1989 there were 270 leaks from security forces to the UDA in Belfast.

* It was likely that Nelson produced an intelligence report on Mr Finucane that was used by his killers, carried out a reconnaissance operation at his home and gave Ken Barrett and another unnamed loyalist a picture of the solicitor.

* There was a willful and abject failure by successive UK governments to provide the clear policy and legal framework necessary for agent-handling operations to take place effectively and within the law. Agents were being asked to perform a task which could not be achieved effectively lawfully.

* There was no evidence government ministers knew of Nelson’s activity or of the plan to kill Mr Finucane.

* Though suspected of involvement in the murder, Barrett was recruited as a state agent two years later.

* An apparent admission made by Barrett in 1991 to three RUC officers was recorded but the tape “disappeared”. Mr de Silva believes this was a “deliberate act designed to obstruct the investigation into the murder”.

* In the years after the murder, the army provided the UK government with “highly misleading and, in parts, factually inaccurate” advice about the handling of Nelson as the authorities considered whether he should be prosecuted or not. It said senior RUC officers also provided contradictory submissions to the DPP. Nelson was later jailed for five counts of conspiracy to murder. He died in 2003.

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up