Submission to the United States Congressional Sub-Committee on International Operations and Human Rights

“Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, fellow speakers, ladies and gentlemen:

I am Michael Finucane, the eldest son of Patrick Finucane, the defence lawyer murdered in 1989.

I testified before this Committee two years ago and openly accused the British Government of ordering and arranging the murder of my father. I pointed to the powerful motivation of the British Government in silencing the embarrassing revelations of my father’s human rights work. I listed the names of prominent international organisations that had up until then supported my family’s call for a full independent inquiry into his murder.

Upon hearing the accusations I had to make and the proof I had to offer, this Committee immediately pledged its support to our call for an independent inquiry. Many others have done the same since, including:

  • the Irish Government
  • the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Param Cumaraswamy, also a witness before this Committee
  • the Law Society of Ireland
  • the Law Society of Northern Ireland
  • the Bar Council of Ireland
  • the Bar Council of Northern Ireland
  • the Bar Council of England and Wales

On February 12th this year, a petition was published in several national newspapers to mark the tenth anniversary of the murder of my father. It was signed by over 1300 lawyers world-wide, clearly showing to the British Government an unprecedented level of international support for an independent inquiry into my father’s murder.

On the same day, my family and I presented a confidential report compiled by the London based non-governmental organisation British Irish Rights Watch to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam. This report was based on classified information from British Intelligence files. It clearly showed that British Military Intelligence had clear advance knowledge of the plot to assassinate my father and that their agent, Brian Nelson, aided the assassins without hindrance.

I would very much like to be able to tell this Committee that all of these efforts and pledges of support have led to the establishment of an independent public inquiry.
They have not. In the last 12 months, the British Government has ignored not only the calls of this Committee, but has also dismissed a second report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur and has refused to respond to the report of British Irish Rights Watch.

Added to this are the events that have unfolded in Northern Ireland in the last number of months – events that have disclosed highly sinister practices on the part of the RUC and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland in relation to the prosecution of those responsible for murdering my father.

In March 1999, the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, recalled John Stevens to Northern Ireland. Mr. Stevens was the English Police officer who first investigated collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries, and he had been instructed by the Chief Constable to re-open my father’s murder investigation.

The Chief Constable is on record as having stated that previous investigations by Mr. Stevens had completely exonerated the RUC from any illegal involvement in the murder of my father. Mr. Stevens, however, began his duties by opening an initial press conference with the statement that he had never before investigated the case of Patrick Finucane, nor had he ever been asked to do so.

What, then, is the truth of this matter? Is the Chief Constable of the RUC lying about the investigation into my father’s murder? Is he aware of wrongdoing or illegality on the part of his officers and has he sought to cover it up?

Since the prior reports of Mr. Stevens are still being suppressed in the public interest, we are still unable to discover the truth of this matter.

On 23rd June of this year Mr. Stevens charged a man named William Alfred Stobie with the murder of my father. The first thing that he said when formally charged was:
“Not guilty of the charge that you have put to me tonight. At the time I was a police informer for [RUC] Special Branch. On the night of the death of Patrick Finucane I informed Special Branch on two occasions by telephone of a person who was to be shot. I did not know at the time of the person who was to be shot.”

When Mr. Stobie first appeared in court, his lawyer stated that his client was a “paid Crown agent” from 1987 until 1990 and that he gave the RUC information on two occasions before the my father’s murder, which was not acted upon.   In addition, Stobie’s lawyer claimed that, “As a result of this information at another trial involving William Stobie on firearms charges on 23rd January 1991, the Crown offered no evidence and a finding of “not guilty” was entered on both counts.  My instructions are that the bulk of the evidence here today has been known to the authorities for almost 10 years.”

Mr. Stobie has appeared before the courts on a number of occasions since then. More information has come to light, showing that what his lawyer said in court is absolutely true.

In 1990, Mr. Stobie was charged with the possession of firearms found in his home. I can say from personal experience that the evidence against him would have convicted any other person, and that this was the logical outcome here. However in this case, the charges were dropped, because Stobie threatened to expose his role as an RUC agent. The chief prosecutor in the case, Jeffrey Foote QC, is now a judge serving on the County Court bench in Northern Ireland.

It has also emerged that Mr. Stobie confessed to his role in my father’s murder while in police custody in 1990 and even the very existence of this confession was denied as recently as 3rd August this year. At a court hearing on that day, it was stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided not to prosecute Mr. Stobie for my father’s murder, due to a lack of evidence. It was claimed that the evidence against him consisted solely of notes taken by a journalist during an interview in 1990, which, until now, had not been stated in evidential form capable of being used in a criminal trial. This decision not to prosecute Mr. Stobie was specifically stated to have been taken by the DPP’s office “at the highest level” on 16th January 1991 – seven days before the firearms charges were dropped against him.

The only reason my family are aware that Mr. Stobie made a confession is because it emerged at a later court hearing. The RUC are seeking to compel Ed Moloney, another journalist who interviewed Mr. Stobie, in 1990 to hand over his notes of this interview. Mr. Moloney  has refused to do so and has cited journalistic privilege. It was during a court hearing on this issue that an RUC Chief Inspector stated William Stobie had admitted supplying the weapons in my father’s murder and recovering them after the killing. Mr. Stobie admitted this in police custody in 1990. He also admitted that he was a Special Branch Agent.

All of these matters raise important questions for the various institutions and individuals concerned. Why was William Stobie not charged in 1990, when a confession was on record and in the hands of the RUC? Why did it take the recall of John Stevens, 9 years later, before the charges were proferred? Furthermore, why did the DPP decide, at the highest level, not to prosecute Stobie given the existence of a confession? Why was the very existence of this confession denied in court on 3rd August this year? Is the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions complicit in concealing wrongdoing by members of the RUC, as the Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has done?

RUC officers have engaged in a persistent campaign of hostility, intimidation and abuse of defence lawyers in N.I. They have uttered death threats against many lawyers, two of whom have been assassinated. None have been brought to account for their actions.

It is a glaring omission in the report of the Patton Commission and it is a fundamental error. While the report contains many welcome proposals for a human rights based police service with primary responsibility to the whole community, it shies away from key issues that quite simply must be addressed if the new police service as a whole is to succeed. They say that they had no mandate to do so – I respectfully disagree.

In the terms of reference for the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland it is stated: “The Commission should focus on policing issues, but if it identifies other aspects of the criminal justice system relevant to its work on policing, including the role of the police in prosecution, then it should draw the attention of the Government to those matters.”

Surely the Commission does not suggest that the persistent and credible concerns regarding RUC threats and harassment of defence lawyers is not relevant to its work?

The RUC has labelled lawyers as “the enemy” and has engaged in a systematic campaign to undermine their role. They have actively pursued a course that has put the lives of all defence lawyers at risk and they have colluded with those who were prepared to murder them. At the very least, any new service needs to be retrained in its approach toward dealing with defence lawyers who are, after all, simply carrying out the function which it is their duty to do. The lawyer who represents William Stobie, Joe Rice, stated to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in 1992 that if a lawyer rocks the boat too much then, like Patrick Finucane, he or she will be in trouble.

Threats have continually been made for many years by RUC officers against defence lawyers. As far back as 1984, a client of my father’s was told, “[Finucane] would be like you; he’d be fuckin’ blown away.”

In 1988, Amnesty International recorded a statement from a man who had been badly beaten while in RUC custody and who was represented by my father. He said that the RUC told him, “It would be better if he [Patrick Finucane] were dead than defending the likes of you.”

Five weeks before my father was murdered, another man was told by an RUC officer that that his solicitor was “[W]orking for the IRA, and would meet his end also. He asked me to give Mr. Finucane a message from him…He told me to tell him that he is a thug in a suit, a person trying to let on he is doing his job, and that he, like every other fenian [Catholic] bastard, would meet his end.”

These threats had continued unabated for so many years that many lawyers, my father included, came to view them as an occupational hazard. Now, when an RUC officer tells a detained person that his lawyer will be shot, that lawyer must regard the threat as real. Lawyers are also members of the community that the Patton report seeks to serve, and as such they are entitled to protection from such individuals. The reality that lawyers must live with is that notwithstanding the fact that their lives are at risk from paramilitaries, they are also at risk from the RUC.

These issues are crucial. They are crucial because two very courageous lawyers have paid with their lives. Despite many submissions that specifically highlighted the existence of collusion in the murders of both my father and Rosemary Nelson, they are not addressed in any way in the report of the Patton Commission.

The report of the Patton Commission makes specific mention time and again of RUC officers who were killed during their period of service and how their families should now be accomodated. But it does not recommend anything for the benefit of those who have been murdered either by the RUC, or with the assistance and collusion of the RUC.
Why is this? Does the report seek to distinguish between “classes of victims?”

The report also ignores the fact that the very officers who engaged in activities of intimidation and abuse are still serving with the RUC. Furthermore, the report proposes no mechanism for ridding the new police service of these officers. It does not even recommend that they should account for their years of serial abuse of human rights.

I can categorically state that, given the Patton Report’s absence of recommendations in this area, given the continued absence of effective Government proposals, and given a complete lack of any commitment to stringent measures to deal with this problem, defense lawyers in Northern Ireland are still in trouble, the worst kind of trouble – their very lives are on the line.

In this very chamber, one year ago, I sat in the audience and listened to a most remarkable lady, Rosemary Nelson, utter the now haunting words “No lawyer can forget what happened to Pat Finucane.” Rosemary said she looked forward to a day when her role as a professional lawyer would be respected and where she could carry out her duties without hindrance or intimidation. She did not live to see that day. On March 15th this year, Rosemary Nelson was murdered.

Rosemary had spoken publicly of the threats to her life that she had been forced to learn to cope with, hoping that by publicly highlighting the regime targeted against her, she could somehow protect herself and her family from harm. In identical circumstances to those of my father she became a target, and consequently, a victim. To date, no-one has been charged with her murder. The political circus that took place over simply trying to ensure that independent police personnel would investigate her murder speaks volumes about little the British Government values the lives of people who are murdered for simply doing their job.

Is this to always be the way the State and the police in Northern Ireland – by any name – deal with lawyers who ask uncomfortable questions, who take on contentious cases, who seek to uphold the rights of all people without fear or favour?

The RUC as a police force – and I use the word “force” very deliberately – bears total responsibility for the sins of its past. Whether by act or omission, each and every member of the force must face up to the fact that they bear some responsibility for what has happened.

The victims of their atrocities cannot deny nor forget what happened. Indeed, the generosity of spirit of many of the victims of RUC collusion puts those who are responsible to shame. These people are prepared to work hard for the future of Northern Ireland, both for their own sake and the sake of future generations. But they should not be asked to simply swallow their pain. They should not be asked to erase the memory of those they have lost. They should not be asked to watch as those who have abused and killed and conspired to kill them and their loved ones are ushered into a new police service without being asked to render so much as an apology.

If we are to truly see a new police service for all of the community in Northern Ireland then there must be courage underlying our convictions. We must be able to turn to those who are not capable of participating in a new police service based on tolerance and respect for others, and tell them that they have no place. I do not deny that this is a difficult task. But in doing what must be done, we are acknowledging that wrongdoing of the most heinous kind has taken place, and that there are some acts which cannot go unpunished. The dead have paid the ultimate price – I believe it is right and proper that those responsible should not escape without payment of any kind.

I thank this Honourable Committee for its time.”

Michael Finucane