Today, the 19th anniversary of the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, the Finucane family announced that their lawyers are requesting meetings with the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward, to press for a fully independent public inquiry into British State collusion by British agents in Pat Finucane’s murder. International human rights lawyers Michael Mansfield QC and Richard Harvey of Tooks Chambers in London have joined the family’s legal team.
Michael Finucane, solicitor and eldest son of Patrick Finucane, said in Dublin today:
“The British Government promised to establish an independent public inquiry following the recommendations of Canadian Justice Peter Cory. The Government then delayed the commencement of the inquiry while passing new legislation that gives control of the inquiry to government ministers. Our legal team will be briefed to ensure that the inquiry will not become a Government vehicle for suppression. Secret justice is no justice at all.”
Michael Mansfield and Richard Harvey are two of Britain’s leading human rights counsel. Speaking from London, Michael Mansfield said: “The significance of the murder of Pat Finucane cannot be underestimated. The extent to which collusion existed between Britain and Loyalist paramilitaries is deeply shocking and all the more so when employed to murder an officer of the court merely for doing his job.”
Richard Harvey added, “19 years ago, I attended Pat Finucane’s funeral in Belfast. It is unconscionable that successive governments have failed to conduct an independent inquiry. There can be no whitewash in this case and we will not allow another anniversary of this murder to pass without the government being called to account.”
Background Note: Patrick Finucane, a prominent human rights lawyer, was shot dead in front of his wife and young children as they sat down to Sunday dinner on 12 February 1989. During the 19 years since, conclusive evidence has shown that both the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary had highly placed agents in the loyalist paramilitary group that carried out the murder. Human rights NGOs and others who have investigated the killing believe the only reasonable conclusion is that very senior British officials must have had foreknowledge that this murder was to take place.
John Stevens, former Assistant Chief Constable, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, conducted a number of inquiries into collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the RUC and British Army. The extensive evidence he gathered remains secret.
In 2001 the Irish and British governments asked Canadian Judge Peter Cory to conduct a review of six cases involving allegations of collusion and to make recommendations on the need for inquiries. The two Governments agreed to act as the judge recommended. In his 2004 report, Judge Cory stated he had found sufficient evidence of collusion to warrant a public inquiry and recommended one should be conducted as soon as possible.
Since 2004, the British Government has repealed all existing laws relating to public inquiries and passed a new statute, the Inquiries Act 2005, of which sections 19 and 20 give government ministers exclusive power to restrict public access to information and to order that all or part of “public” inquiries should be held in private. Judge Cory has commented since the passing of the Act that no self-respecting Canadian judge would agree to participate in such a government-controlled inquiry, which he went on to describe as an “Alice in Wonderland situation.”
The family’s lawyers are now planning to meet with government ministers to explore ways of removing the obstacles to public justice that the new Inquiries Act has created.