I WOULD like to make a statement on Sir Desmond de Silva’s report into the nature and extent of state collusion in the murder of Patrick Finucane.
Mr Speaker, the murder of Patrick Finucane in his home in north Belfast on Sunday 12th February 1989 was an appalling crime.
He was shot 14 times as he sat down for dinner with his wife and three children.
His wife was injured and Pat Finucane died in front of his family.
In the period since the murder there have been three full criminal investigations carried out by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Stevens.
Taken together they amount to the biggest criminal investigation in British history led by the most senior police officer consisting of more than one million pages of documents and 12,000 witness statements obtained with full police powers.
As a result of the third Stevens investigation, one of those responsible — Ken Barrett — was tried and convicted in 2004 for the murder of Patrick Finucane.
There was a further report by Judge Cory.
Both Lord Stevens and Judge Cory made it clear there was state collusion in this murder.
This in itself was a shocking conclusion and I apologised to the family on behalf of the British government when I met them last year.
But, despite these reports, some 23 years after the murder there has still only been limited information put into the public domain.
The whole country and beyond is entitled to know the extent and the nature of the collusion — and the extent of the failure of our state and government.
That is why last October this Government asked Sir Desmond de Silva to conduct an independent review of the evidence to expose the truth as quickly as possible.
Mr Speaker, Sir Desmond has had full and unrestricted access to the Lord Stevens archive and to all government papers.
Sir Desmond’s report has now given us, I believe, the fullest possible account of the murder of Patrick Finucane and the truth about state collusion.
And the extent of disclosure in today’s report is without precedent.
It sets out the extent of collusion in areas such as identifying, targeting and murdering Mr Finucane, supplying a weapon and facilitating its later disappearance and deliberately obstructing subsequent investigations.
The report also answers questions about how high up the collusion went including the role of ministers at the time.
Sir Desmond is satisfied that there was not, and I quote, “an over-arching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane”.
But, Mr Speaker, while he rejects any state conspiracy, he does find quite frankly shocking levels of state collusion.
Most importantly, Sir Desmond says he is “left in significant doubt as to whether Patrick Finucane would have been murdered by the Ulster Defence Association in February 1989 had it not been for the different strands of involvement by elements of the state”.
He finds that “a series of positive actions by employees of the state actively furthered and facilitated his murder”.
And he cites five specific areas of collusion.
First, “there were extensive ‘leaks’ of security force information to the UDA and other loyalist paramilitary groups”.
Sir Desmond finds that “in 1985 the Security Service assessed that 85% of the UDA’s ‘intelligence’ originated from sources within the security forces”.
And he is “satisfied that this proportion would have remained largely unchanged by...the time of Patrick Finucane’s murder”. Second, there was a failure by the authorities to act on threat intelligence.
Sir Desmond describes — and I quote — “an extraordinary state of affairs... in which both the army and the RUC Special Branch had prior notice of a series of planned UDA assassinations, yet nothing was done by the RUC to seek to prevent those attacks”.
And in the case of Patrick Finucane he says, and I quote “it should have been clear to the RUC Special Branch from the threat intelligence that... the UDA were about to mount an imminent attack” but it is clear that they took, and I quote, “no action whatsoever to act on the threat intelligence”.
Third, he confirms that employees of the state and state agents played “key roles” in the murder.
Sir Desmond finds that “two agents who were at the time in the pay of the state were involved” — Brian Nelson and William Stobie — “together with another who was to become an agent of the state after his involvement in that murder”.
It cannot be argued that these were rogue agents.
Fourth, there was a failure to investigate and arrest key members of the West Belfast UDA over a long period of time.
Fifth, this was all part of what Sir Desmond calls a wider “relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice” after the murder had taken place.
Sir Desmond finds that “senior Army officers deliberately lied to criminal investigators”; the RUC Special Branch too “were responsible for seriously obstructing the investigation”.
And on the separate question of how certain ministers were briefed, while Sir Desmond finds no political conspiracy, he is clear that ministers were misled.
Mr Speaker, more broadly on the role of ministers, he says there is, and I quote, “no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any government minister had foreknowledge of Patrick Finucane’s murder, nor that they were subsequently informed of any intelligence that any agency of the state had received about the threat to his life”.
Mr Speaker, the collusion demonstrated beyond any doubt by Sir Desmond — which included the involvement of state agencies in murder — is totally unacceptable.
Collusion should never happen.
So on behalf of the government — and the whole country — let me say again to the Finucane family, I am deeply sorry.
Mr Speaker, it is vital that we learn the lessons of what went wrong and, for government in particular, address Sir Desmond’s criticisms of “a willful and abject failure by successive governments to provide the clear policy and legal framework necessary for agent-handling operations to take place effectively and within the law”.
Since 1989 many steps have been taken to improve the rules, procedures and oversight of intelligence work.
Mr Speaker, policing and security in Northern Ireland have been transformed, reflecting the progress we have made in recent years.
We will study Sir Desmond’s report in detail to see whether any further lessons can be learned.
And I have asked the Secretaries of State for Defence and Northern Ireland and the Cabinet Secretary to report back to me on all the issues that arise from this report.
I will publish their responses.
We should never forget that over 3,500 people lost their lives.
There were many terrible atrocities.
We must not, we will not allow Northern Ireland to slip back to its bitter and bloody past.
Mr Speaker, the Finucane family suffered the most grievous loss and they suffered it in the most appalling way imaginable.
I know they oppose this review process. And I respect their views.
However, I do respectfully disagree with them that a public inquiry would produce a fuller picture of what happened and what went wrong.
Indeed, the history of public inquiries in Northern Ireland would suggest that had we gone down this route, we would not know what we know today.
Mr Speaker, Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 20 years but there is still more to do to build a genuinely shared future.
One of the things this government can do is to face up honestly when things have gone wrong in the past.
If we as a country want to uphold democracy and the rule of law then we must be prepared to be judged by the highest standards.
And we must also face up fully when we fall short.
In showing once again that we are not afraid to do that, I hope that today’s report can contribute to moving Northern Ireland forward.
And in that spirit, I commend this statement to the House.