Fact-finder to unveil UK files on lawyer's killing

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2011 9:41 AM
Fact-finder to unveil UK files on lawyer's killing

A fact-finder investigating British state involvement in the killing of a high-profile Belfast lawyer vowed Thursday to publish secret U.K. intelligence documents as part of his work.

Human rights lawyer Desmond de Silva made his promise one month after Britain appointed him to review its largely secret documentation on the 1989 assassination of Patrick Finucane, one of the most bitterly disputed killings of the entire Northern Ireland conflict.

Finucane specialized in defending Irish Republican Army suspects and had three brothers in the outlawed group. Two gunmen from an enemy paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association, shot him 14 times in front of his wife and children as they ate a meal in their Belfast home.

A series of secrecy-shrouded probes led by former London police commissioner John Stevens has already concluded that Belfast police and British Army intelligence units both operated UDA agents involved in the attack. Stevens says his probes produced 9,256 written statements, 10,391 documents exceeding 1 million pages, and 16,194 exhibits of potential evidence _ almost none of it made public, all of it open for de Silva to examine.

Britain has pledged to publish de Silva's report and supporting documents _ but only after vetting it for security issues _ in late 2012.

"It is already clear to me that an enormous quantity of relevant material regarding this murder has been kept secret for many years," de Silva said.

He pledged "to declassify and publish original intelligence documents alongside my report. ... I am determined to expose the truth about this appalling murder."

De Silva, who has previously overseen U.N. war crimes investigations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, said he was seeking an early meeting with the Finucane family to persuade them to support his work. Finucane's widow Geraldine, who was wounded in the 1989 attack, has rejected the exercise as too restricted.

De Silva is expected to shed new light on the role that Northern Ireland's legal forces of law and order played in influencing the UDA, a working-class Protestant gang committed to terrorizing the Catholic minority. His work is not expected to spur new prosecutions, in part, because key UDA players are already convicted or dead.

One police informer, senior UDA gunman Ken Barrett, pleaded guilty to killing Finucane and received a life sentence in 2004. He was paroled two years later under terms of Northern Ireland's peace accord, which offered early freedom for all convicted members of paramilitary groups observing cease-fires.

Another UDA man on the police payroll, William Stobie, was killed by colleagues in 2001 after testifying he may have supplied the guns used for the Finucane hit and tried to tip off police handlers about it.

A British Army intelligence agent, Brian Nelson, served as the UDA's top intelligence officer _ responsible for researching and picking targets _ in the late 1980s. Nelson in 1992 pleaded guilty to 20 criminal charges including conspiracy to murder, but not directly to involvement in the Finucane killing. He was paroled in 1997 and died in 2003.

The UDA killed more than 250 people, mostly Catholic civilians, before calling a 1994 cease-fire, renouncing violence in 2007, and disarming in 2010.

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Online:

Pat Finucane Centre documents on case, http://bit.ly/oEvmQ9

2003 findings of collusion investigator John Stevens, http://bit.ly/nf1scR