Tony Blair worked behind scenes to thwart Pat Finucane Public Inquiry after discussion with MI5 boss

Prime Minister’s view of case was discussed with his inner circle and recorded in document discovered by Belfast Telegraph at The National Archives in Kew

Tony Blair worked behind the scenes to avoid a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane after a conversation with the head of MI5 made a significant impression on the Prime Minister, a Government file has revealed.

The conversation with the director general of the Security Service gives further weight to the belief of the murdered Belfast solicitor’s family that the intelligence community was behind the repeated rejection of a statutory inquiry which could compel witnesses and documents.

There have been a series of less substantial inquiries into the atrocity, but the Finucane family continue to campaign for a full public inquiry.

Mr Finucane was slaughtered in front of his young children, and his wife Geraldine was injured, when UDA gunmen burst into their north Belfast home in 1989.

In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for “shocking levels of collusion” between the state and the UDA in his murder.

Among documents declassified at The National Archives in Kew and discovered by the Belfast Telegraph, there is a record of Mr Blair speaking candidly with his senior advisers about his reasons for wanting to avoid such a public and robust investigation.

A confidential July 30, 2001 memo from Mr Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, conveyed the Prime Minister’s view on nationalist demands for public inquiries into collusion allegations.

Mr Powell said the Prime Minister “made clear that he would not agree to full public inquiries” and was “not attracted” to the alternative of giving the Policing Board a general power to initiate its own investigations into past events.

However, he accepted “a non-statutory investigation into a limited number of cases by an independent judge from outside both jurisdictions, based largely on an examination of the papers”.

He went on: “The Prime Minister wants to avoid this exercise leading to unwelcome full-scale public inquiries, particularly in the Finucane case, where there is an awkward security dimension which he has discussed with the Director General of the Security Service.

“If the proposal goes ahead we will need to address these concerns in selecting and briefing the judge who will conduct the investigations.”

Sinn Féin and the SDLP had been pressing for the inquiry, and with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement faltering, the Government was attempting to work out which concessions it could most easily make.

However, in a ‘confidential and personal’ memo on May 31, 2001, the NIO’s associate political director, William Fittall, recorded a meeting the previous day between Gerry Adams and the Secretary of State.

In the “good humoured” hour-long meeting, Mr Fittall said that “inquiries is the dog that did not bark”.

In a meeting between David Trimble and Tony Blair six weeks later, the UUP leader was told that as far as the SDLP was concerned “the biggest problem was on inquiries”.

He said: “The SDLP objective was to get certainty on the prospect of specific inquiries, either by direct agreement or by securing the necessary revisions to the policing legislation.”

In 2012, human rights lawyer Sir Desmond de Silva investigated Mr Finucane’s murder — but it was not a public inquiry, and was dismissed by the murdered lawyer’s family as inadequate.

Sir Desmond said in his 841-page report that he was “in no doubt that agents of the state were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder.

“However, despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the state, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an overarching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane.”

Sir Desmond also said that there had been “serious obstruction of previous criminal investigations” which he had examined.

However, he said that at that point “it is important to acknowledge that all relevant Government departments and agencies co-operated fully and openly with my review.

“Although I had no statutory powers of compulsion, I was given access to all the evidence that I sought, including highly sensitive intelligence files.

“I should specifically acknowledge the assistance provided by the Ministry of Defence, the Security Service and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, all of which held a large quantity of relevant material. The assistance and co-operation provided by these organisations was exemplary.”

Mr de Silva also revealed how a previous prime minister had been involved in the aftermath of Mr Finucane’s murder.

He said that John Major became involved in considering the case of Brian Nelson.

Nelson had been a top-level UDA informer who said he warned his handlers of the plan to murder Mr Finucane, but who himself then faced serious charges, including murder.

On March 15, 1991, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, minuted the Prime Minister to outline the “damage” that could be caused by proceeding with the proposed murder charges against Nelson.

The de Silva report said: “The briefing provided to the Prime Minister thus perpetuated the MoD’s account of Nelson’s activities which I have found to be gravely inaccurate.

“Attached to the briefing was the Attorney General’s minute of 11 March 1991, which had, by this stage, already cast serious doubt on the MoD’s claim that Brian Nelson had saved many lives.”

The de Silva report then referred to Charles Powell, who in 1991 was the Prime Minister’s private secretary — and who is the brother of Jonathan Powell.

The report said: “Charles Powell concluded his briefing by noting that the Prime Minister would reach his ‘own judgment’ but cautioning him that intelligence-gathering was a ‘very murky world’ and that ‘you have to use the material to hand: the old adage that it takes a thief to catch a thief’.”

In Wikileaks’ publication of US diplomatic cables in 2010, there was a reference to MI5’s view of Mr Finucane’s case.

A message from the Dublin Embassy in 2005 said that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and almost every other Irish government official had raised the case with US envoy Mitchell Reiss.

The cable said: “Reiss briefed him on his talks in London, including with the head of MI5, who committed to turning over all evidence her agency has to the inquiry, but she was adamant that the inquiry will proceed using the new legislation.

“Reiss noted his concern that the Finucane case will become an irritant in Irish relations with the UK and get in the way of a deal.”

The purported change in MI5’s stance might in part be explained by a change of personnel.

In 2000, the director general of the Security Service was Sir Stephen Lander.

By 2005, he had been succeeded by Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Belfast Telegraph