The quest for truth continues by the Finucane family into the killing of husband and father Pat Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, by the UDA in 1989. The High Court in Belfast has backed the refusal by the British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a public inquiry into the killing of the well-known human rights lawyer. He was shot dead in front of his family at his North Belfast home by loyalists believed to have been acting in collusion with British security forces.
A judicial review rejected an appeal by Mr Finucane’s family for a public inquiry into the shooting, saying Mr Cameron’s 2011 decision not to hold one was lawful. Mr Cameron instead commissioned an independent investigation, whose report was published in 2012. The report by Desmond de Silva QC severely criticised members of the British intelligence services and army and the RUC for colluding in the killing and covering it up.
The solicitor’s family has long campaigned for a full independent public inquiry, but Mr Cameron insisted such an exercise would not shed any more light on the events. He instead commissioned a review of the case papers by Mr de Silva, whose report detailed shocking levels of state involvement.
It included spreading malicious propaganda that Mr Finucane was sympathetic to the IRA; one or possibly more police officers proposing him as a target to loyalists; and the mishandling of state agents inside the UDA who were involved in the murder. While Mr de Silva found no evidence of an overarching conspiracy by the authorities to target the 38-year-old lawyer, he said the actions of a number of state employees had “furthered and facilitated” the UDA shooting while there had also been efforts to thwart the subsequent criminal investigation.
As he accepted the report’s findings in the House of Commons in December 2012, Mr Cameron reiterated an apology to the Finucane family and also pledged that the government would examine the review in detail to identify potential lessons.
The judicial review focused on a commitment made by the UK government at Weston Park in 2001 during peace process negotiations with the Government. The Weston Park talks resulted in Canadian judge Peter Cory being asked to examine the grounds for public inquiry in a number of controversial Troubles deaths. The British government said such inquiries would be implemented if the judge recommended that course of action. Judge Cory subsequently did recommend public inquiries for a number of killings, including Mr Finucane’s. But while the British government ordered inquiries into the other deaths, it did not give the green light for one in the Finucane case.
Speaking following the judgment, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan T.D. said: “I note this morning’s judgment in the judicial review and will be studying it closely. The Irish Government’s position remains unchanged. We continue to believe that an independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, in line with the political commitments made by the British and Irish governments at Weston Park in 2001, should be honoured.”
“This is a matter which the Government has consistently raised with the British Government. I raised it most recently with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers on 19 May, and the Taoiseach discussed the case with Prime Minister Cameron when they met in London last week. My thoughts at this time are with Geraldine Finucane and all the Finucane family, who have campaigned so tirelessly for more than a quarter of a century in pursuit of the full truth in the case of Pat Finucane, including the role of collusion in his murder.”
Mike Ritchie of Relatives for Justice gave the following assessment in a blog on the RFJ website:
“In an 86 page judgement, Judge Ben Stephens rejected Geraldine Finucane’s challenge to David Cameron’s refusal of a public inquiry into her husband’s murder. He chose to conclude that any government must be able to change policy and laid out the legal framework that must underpin such a change at the macro political level. He held that the change of view was properly considered and laid out the government’s decision-making process which, he said, was composed of rational grounds.
While Geraldine Finucane did have a legitimate expectation that the government should fulfil its promise to have an inquiry as stated at Weston Park, there was no absolute right to be consulted before a change of view, particularly in circumstances that included a change of government after a general election.
While dismissing the application, the judgment nevertheless set out in great detail the variety of investigations and reviews of documentation that had occurred in this case. It also addressed the question as to whether there remained a requirement to hold an article 2 (right to life) compliant investigation. The judge concluded that, whatever about whether previous investigations – including prosecutions – amounted to a fulfilment of the article 2 procedural requirement, the review by Desmond De Silva had uncovered and published significant new information that had not been considered by criminal investigators and/or the public prosecution authorities. In the judgment he sets out in detail the disturbing findings of collusion that were the conclusions of the De Silva review.
Judge Stephens therefore held that there is a continuing requirement on the authorities to complete an article 2 investigation into these matters and he invited submissions from the parties on how these might be concluded.
The major problem with this lies in the fact that, after the De Silva review was published, the PSNI Chief Constable asked the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to consider the new material. With the HET out of the picture, lacking sufficient independence to carry out impartial investigations, the matter presumably falls to the Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) of the PSNI. However, this unit has been found by the Westminster Parliament’s Human Rights Committee not to be sufficiently independent to deal with legacy matters. RfJ agrees with this view.
Furthermore, correspondence from DCC Drew Harris and ACC Will Haire to the judge has also outlined budgetary constraints which have impeded the PSNI in its examination of the De Silva material. In RfJ’s experience, lack of resources has simply become the latest excuse preventing the truth of collusion emerging into the light. Nor can the LIB be trusted to carry out an independent, thorough investigation in a manner capable of leading to the “identification and prosecution of the perpetrators” as required by Article 2.
The Finucanes’ quest for the truth continues. It’s not clear that Judge Ben Stephens proposed route ahead takes us very much further forward.”