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Patrick Finucane

Volume 730: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2011


My Lords, with permission I shall now repeat a Statement made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the other place.

“Following my Statement to the House last November, in relation to the murder of Mr Patrick Finucane, I have considered this case very carefully. I want to set out today how the Government intend to proceed.

The murder of Mr Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, in front of his family on the 12 February 1989, was a terrible crime. There have been long-standing allegations of security force collusion in his murder.

The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Stevens, was asked to investigate the murder in 1999. He published his overview report in 2003, concluding that there was ‘collusion’, that the murder ‘could have been prevented’ and that the original investigation of the murder,

‘should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers’.

When he was asked by the previous Government to consider the question of a public inquiry, Judge Cory found in 2004,

‘strong evidence that collusive acts were committed by the Army ... the RUC ... and the Security Service’.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister invited the family to Downing Street yesterday so he could apologise to them in person and on behalf of the Government for state collusion in the murder of Patrick Finucane. The Government accept the clear conclusions of Lord Stevens and Judge Cory that there was collusion. I want to reiterate the Government’s apology in the House today. The Government are deeply sorry for what happened.

Despite the clear conclusions of previous investigations and reports, there is still only limited information in the public domain. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have committed to establishing a further process to ensure that the truth is revealed. Accepting collusion is not sufficient in itself. The public now need to know the extent and nature of that collusion.

I have, therefore, asked the distinguished former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, to conduct an independent review to produce a full public account of any state involvement in the murder. Sir Desmond is an internationally respected QC who will carry out his work completely independently of government. Sir Desmond has worked for the United Nations on major international issues in Serbia and Sierra Leone. In 2005, Kofi Annan appointed Sir Desmond to be chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In 2010, he was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to the independent fact-finding mission to investigate the Israeli interception of a Gaza aid flotilla. His track record in carrying out this work speaks for itself.

His terms of reference are to draw,

‘from the extensive investigations that have already taken place, to produce a full public account of any involvement by the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Security Service or other UK Government body in the murder of Patrick Finucane. The review will have full access to the Stevens archive and all Government papers, including any Ministry of Defence, Security Service, Home Office, Cabinet Office or Northern Ireland Office files that [Sir Desmond believes] are relevant. The account [will be provided to me] by December 2012, for the purpose of its publication’.

I have agreed the terms of reference with Sir Desmond. I would stress that Sir Desmond is being given unrestricted access to these documents. He will be free to meet any individuals who can assist him in his task. It is, of course, open to Sir Desmond to invite or consider submissions as he sees fit. The review will have the full support and co-operation of all government departments and agencies in carrying out its work. I have spoken to the chief constable who has given his assurance that Sir Desmond will have the full co-operation of the PSNI.

This Government have demonstrated in the Bloody Sunday, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson cases that we will publish independent reports without delay. The same checking and publication arrangements will be put in place. This has been an exceptionally long-running issue. The previous Government sought to resolve this issue after the 2004 commitment to hold an inquiry but was unable to reach an agreed way forward with the family. I am disappointed that the family did not feel able to support the process that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I outlined to them yesterday. I fully recognise that the family have pursued their long campaign to find out the truth with great determination.

We do not need a statutory inquiry to tell us that there was collusion. We accept that and my apology in the House today reflects this. The task now is to uncover the details of this murder. The public should not be kept waiting for many more years for the truth to be revealed. The Government have taken a bold step by asking an internationally respected figure to produce a full public account. Details in papers and statements that have been kept secret for decades will finally be exposed. The House will be aware of the extensive investigations that have already taken place in this case. I am clear that we do not need to repeat all the work that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, has already carried out for the truth to be revealed.

The investigations into the murder of Patrick Finucane have produced a huge amount of material. One man, Kenneth Barrett, was prosecuted and convicted of the murder in 2004. Taken together, the Stevens investigations took 9,256 witness statements. The Stevens documentary archive extends to more than 1 million pages, and 16,194 exhibits were seized. This was one of the largest police investigations in UK history.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, carried out a police investigation to bring forward evidence for prosecutions. A 19-page summary was produced in 2003 but the Stevens investigation was not designed to provide a public account of what happened. That is why Sir Desmond de Silva will now have full access to the Stevens files and all government papers to ensure that the full facts are finally set out. The House will not want to pre-empt the details of Sir Desmond’s report. When the report is published the Government will not hide from the truth, however difficult. I strongly believe that this will be the quickest and most effective way of getting to the truth. Experience has shown that public inquiries into the events of the Troubles take many years and can be subject to prolonged litigation, which delays the truth emerging. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have made clear for some time, we do not believe that more costly and open-ended inquiries are the right way to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.

I am acutely conscious that the conflict in Northern Ireland saw more than 3,500 people from all parts of the community killed and tens of thousands more injured. We should never forget the many terrible atrocities that took place. More than 1,000 of those killed were members of the security forces. I want to be clear that the overwhelming majority of those who served in the security forces in Northern Ireland did so with outstanding courage, professionalism and even-handedness in upholding democracy and the rule of law. The whole House will agree that we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

The murder of Pat Finucane has been one of the longest running and most contentious issues in Northern Ireland’s recent history. The appointment of an internationally respected and wholly independent figure to produce a full public account demonstrates the Government’s determination that the truth about this murder should be finally revealed. The House will recognise the spirit of openness and frankness with which we are dealing with this difficult issue. I would encourage everyone to judge the process that we have established by its results. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement in your Lordships’ House. Every community in Northern Ireland has suffered outrages, atrocities and murders but today we reflect on the murder of Pat Finucane. His wife was wounded in the attack, and his three children witnessed what no child ever should—the murder of their father.

Thirteen months ago the former Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, asked the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, to honour the commitments of a previous Prime Minister and previous Secretaries of State to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. This commitment was made as a result of an agreement between the British and Irish Governments at Weston Park in 2001. If peace and reconciliation are to be taken forward we need to respect such agreements. Progress made in Northern Ireland is built on trust. As we have heard, since Justice Cory’s report public inquiries have been held into the cases of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright but not Pat Finucane.

It was a source of great regret to us, as the previous Government, that we were not able, as the noble Lord indicated, to agree terms of reference with the Finucane family for an inquiry to take place under the Inquiries Act 2005. However, today the Minister has told us of the Government’s decision that there will be no inquiry at all. Instead, the Government have announced an inadequate review, although we welcome the apology. We are disappointed by that decision and consider that the Government should honour commitments that have been made. The incredible scenes yesterday of the Finucane family at Downing Street, expressing their feelings of anger and outrage at being completely let down by the Government, show that this is no way to deal with such a difficult and sensitive issue.

Appreciating those sensitivities and difficulties, I have given the Government advance notice of the questions that I shall ask the noble Lord today. Will he tell your Lordships’ House why, having made the decision not to hold an inquiry, the Government allowed the Finucane family to believe for so long that there would be one? What discussions were held with the family prior to informing them of the Secretary of State’s decision? What advice was give to the Prime Minister by the Secretary of State that led him to invite the Finucane family to Downing Street, they clearly believing that they were to be offered something that would be acceptable to them—otherwise why raise false hopes?

Can the Minister tell us what discussions the Government had with the Irish Government before making the decision, given that the original decision to have an inquiry was made as a result of an agreement between the British and Irish Governments? Why, on the day that the Irish Government extended by six months the Smithwick inquiry into the murders of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan regarding alleged Garda collusion, did the Government choose to deny an inquiry to the Finucane family? Do the Government accept that any form of inquiry takes time and carries a financial cost but that it is possible for both of those to be reasonable and that in themselves they should not be a barrier to the pursuit of justice?

Specifically on the review of the papers, can the Minister outline how representations, including any from the family, can be made? What is the expected cost and timescale of the Government’s proposed review, and where will the hearings be held? Will any be in secret, and will witnesses be called?

Everything that has been achieved in Northern Ireland since the mid-1990s has been achieved with consensus. The Belfast, St Andrews and Hillsborough Castle agreements were all achieved by consensus. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Executive operates by consensus.

As a former Minister with responsibility for victims in Northern Ireland, I am aware, as are many of your Lordships, that there are many horrors from the past, many atrocities and many outrages by both loyalist and republican terrorists. However, there is an opportunity for Northern Ireland to escape the grip of the past by confronting the truth about past events. Therefore, can the Minister tell us anything about the Government’s policy for dealing with the past? Having denied a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane, what additional resources will be provided to the Historical Enquiries Team?

The people of Northern Ireland have made real progress but we must never take that progress for granted. It has taken real effort and commitment and a great deal of trust. We are asking the Government to reconsider their decision with respect to an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane because it is the right thing to do. By seeking the truth and honouring agreements, the cause of justice is served and, with it, the cause of a better future for Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her contribution. She began by referring to the murder, and we start from the basis of, quite frankly, how appalling and dreadful it was. She then referred to what her right honourable friend in the other place, Shaun Woodward, had attempted to do, but the fact is that an inquiry on that occasion was not pulled off. That is the position—there was no inquiry. Indeed, as I understand it, my noble friend in the other place, almost immediately on taking office, wrote to the family and met them shortly after that—something that did not happen in the preceding period.

Discussions have taken place but in the end one looks at what has happened with previous inquiries. Cost is one thing, but let us put that on one side for the moment. I ask noble Lords to cast their minds back. What is their abiding memory of the Bloody Sunday inquiry? I think they will find that, ultimately, it is the apology. I went through page after page of that inquiry document because I would have to speak here on the matter at a later point, but I believe that it was the apology that really caught people’s attention. I think that the prime purpose of bringing the Finucane family to Downing Street yesterday was to make the apology—something that had not happened until yesterday. I believe it is very important to think of the apology, and that was the reason for bringing the family here.

Many discussions took place. We have to recall that one reason why the previous Government were not able to proceed in line with the wishes of the family was that at the time the family did not want an inquiry, which had been offered under the Inquiries Act. That is why we had the impasse. We are trying to break into that impasse by first making an apology and then saying, “There are a million pages of printed matter on this event. It is all there written down. We shall get a very distinguished person to look through them and set out what has happened because it is all there”. One of the problems of going down the inquiry route, irrespective of the money side of all this, is that, sadly, 22 and a half years after the event, a number of people who were involved in it are no longer alive. I recall from reading the Bloody Sunday report that a number of people who were involved in that incident were either no longer alive or had forgotten the detail of the incident, and how difficult that made it to consider the matter.

Discussions have taken place with the Irish Government so that they know what is going on. I am not privy to those discussions. The reference to the Irish case where an inquiry has been extended brings us back to the question of time. Does time matter? You might think that 22 and a half years is a considerable length of time, but more time will elapse before this matter is resolved. The review is expected to cost in the region of £1.5 million.

The Historical Enquiries Team is well thought of and does splendid work, but this is a devolved matter. This Government have added £250 million to the police budget in Northern Ireland, so they may well have the resources to tackle it. In any event discussions are still taking place with interested parties in Northern Ireland about further work.

My Lords, may I remind the House of the benefits of short questions in order that my noble friend the Minister can take as many questions as possible? Perhaps we should start with a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and then go on to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this appalling murder took place during my time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 22 years ago? What made it even more atrocious as a crime were the allegations, subsequently confirmed in the Stevens report, that there may have been—there was, as the Prime Minister has accepted today—collusion by members of the security forces in that murder. Against that background, I welcome the Statement. I say to the noble Baroness—the same point was made by the Front Bench in the other place—that I think it was entirely right for the Prime Minister to see Mrs Finucane and her family. If he had not seen them and this announcement had been made, people would have criticised him for a lack of courage and not being prepared to face the situation. He invited them to come to enable him to make a formal apology to them for what has happened. That was precisely the right thing to do.

We have the appalling situation whereby the murder was committed 22 years ago and allegations of collusion emerged soon after. It is 12 years since the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, produced his report, 10 years since the Weston Park agreement was signed and six years since the previous Government approached this matter. They pledged to hold an inquiry but did nothing about it except to argue with the Finucane family about the form of the inquiry, which could not be resolved because they were not prepared to agree to the form proposed under the Act. That has left this Government with a logjam that has now to be resolved. No one can seriously suggest that it is a good idea to embark on a major public inquiry that could last another five years, during which time more people who were involved in the murder will die, as will people who may be responsible for the collusion and who ought to be liable to prosecution and brought to justice. These matters are still outstanding. I feel passionately about this.

We owe it to the Finucane family to resolve this matter, to publish a document referring to the people who may have been responsible for the murder and to make the truth known. We also owe it to all those people in the security forces, brave people who, day in, day out, 24/7, have defended the people of Northern Ireland with integrity and courage but whose conduct has been besmirched by the action of a few. We owe it to them as well as to the Finucane family to get to the truth of this as quickly as possible and then let the proper consequences of punishment, if that is appropriate, take place and for the truth to be known so that the Finucane family can see it. I hope at the end of the day—it depends, obviously, on the result of this report, but I have confidence in Sir Desmond de Silva—that Sir Desmond’s report may at last bring some satisfaction in these matters so that they can be properly dealt with.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for his contribution and pay tribute to his time in service in Northern Ireland. He rightly points out the 22 years and the fact that he was in post at that time. I am grateful for his supportive comments and make the point that time and delay are features that we have to think very seriously about. Twenty-two and a half years have gone and yet the report that we are suggesting and which Sir Desmond has been appointed to produce will be achieved within 15 months. Fifteen months is a small period when we think of the 22 and a half years that have gone before.

My Lords, I want to make it very clear first that I condemn every killing that occurred in Northern Ireland and I spent 12 years of my life ensuring that both loyalist and republican killers were brought to justice. That is my justification for saying that, while I thank the Minister for bringing the Statement here, I totally disagree with and resent the term “collusion”. Can you imagine what it is like to live 24/7 in a situation where people are being murdered, and people are talking about this in cars, in homes, in pubs, in clubs and in the workplace because they are struggling to survive the violence that we had to endure. If that is collusion, then collusion took place, but my experience over all those years, working with police and the regular Army and in command of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, was that there was no organised collusion, and I resent that term deeply.

Let me further say that there are so many victims, and victims who are close to me: Harold Sinnamon, the brother of my assistant teacher in the school where I was principal; the Dobson brothers, whom I went to school with, two people who were not involved with anything, shot in their business office; George Shaw, who contributed to his community, who took me to my first scout camp; Eric Shields, whom I worked and played rugby with and who was not a member of my party but of the Alliance Party; all these people. Was there collusion there? Are they even considered?

In finality, I was sued by the Finucane family for saying that they were an IRA family. That is what they were, an IRA family. They sued me. When they were forced by the courts to put up or shut up, they withdrew their case against me and paid my costs. Why did that happen? Let us look at the whole picture with 40, 30 or 20 years of hindsight, at what those of us who lived through the Troubles had to endure, and see whether it is prejudiced.

My Lords, once more I try to remind the House of the benefits of a short question and that also, on behalf of the House, I have a very long memory.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, for his contribution. This Statement today is about Pat Finucane. It is not about anything else. The apology has been given because of collusion. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made that clear in 1999; Judge Cory made it clear in 2004. Yet we were at the point where this was not a resolved issue and there was a question about an inquiry and so forth. The noble Lord has heard the reasoning—

—as to the way forward. Sir Desmond de Silva will have the opportunity to go through paper after paper and to produce a report. That may well be the time for the noble Lord to express a view. But Sir Desmond will be reporting on what the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and Judge Cory have already indicated about collusion.

My Lords, I was a Minister serving with my noble friend Lord King at the time of this murder and I agree with everything that he said, so I will not repeat it. Can the Minister assure this House that when this review is complete there will be no statute of limitations issues if—and I say if—the review specifies individuals who should be prosecuted as a consequence of the murder?

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord on that precise point about limitations. All I would say is that we should not forget that when the report by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, was produced, in the end it was not possible for prosecutions to take place. Other matters may come up and people may contact Sir Desmond, but we cannot say what will happen. The idea is to get the truth about what happened with a murder. That is the position, and what happens subsequently is something for another day. However, on that specific point, I will have to write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I wish to address two points raised by the Minister. First, the significance of the apology in the Bloody Sunday inquiry was that it followed an acknowledgement of the facts that had been revealed by that inquiry. The apology alone without the inquiry would not have addressed the issue. Secondly, I would like the noble Lord to confirm that this is a review, not a criminal investigation, and that therefore there will be no prosecutions following this review by Sir Desmond de Silva.

I am one of the few people in this House who has actually read all three Stevens reports, and I am aware of the extent of obstruction by the state in the course of those inquiries. I am also sighted of much further information in relation to the activities of loyalists over the years, and I am very clear that had the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, been allowed to do the inquiry that he wished to do and had that inquiry led to prosecutions, we would have been spared a very significant number of murders, intimidation, shootings and bombings.

My question to the Minister reflects the fact that the Finucane family has always been concerned that the full story of what happened should be told. The terms of reference of the inquiry appear to be limited to the incident of the murder. The Finucane family has been concerned about what happened prior the murder and the collusion that did exist, as identified by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, between loyalists and representatives of the state. There will be no arrangements that will enable any challenge to any decision that will be made by Sir Desmond—and I am in no way impugning Sir Desmond when I say this—but there is no accountability in this process until it is finished.

Therefore, my question for the Minister is: can he give us an absolute, categorical, unqualified assurance that access will be given to all Special Branch and MI5 intelligence in relation to anybody who may have had any association of any kind with the murder of Patrick Finucane, or with those connected with the murder of Patrick Finucane? As a former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, I am acutely aware of the games that can be played in releasing intelligence. You have to get the question absolutely right or you do not get the intelligence. I therefore ask the Minister for the assurance that there will in reality be no empty promises of full co-operation but that full access to all the intelligence will be given to this inquiry.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and pay tribute to her work in Northern Ireland over many years. She is concerned about whether Sir Desmond has the opportunity to look at the papers. The review will have the full support and co-operation of all government departments and agencies in carrying out its work. There is no intention whatever to restrict Sir Desmond in looking at these papers. That has been clearly said and I repeat that in saying that he has free access to look at these things.

Will my noble friend accept that all sides of this House should be extremely supportive of the Prime Minister in his unqualified apology? Much of what has happened in the north of Ireland has happened in terrible circumstances on both sides. There is a history which goes back way beyond the present troubles and many apologies which could be made by all of us, not least the Conservative Party over its actions in Northern Ireland. This apology is crucial because it shows that we have admitted that what happened should not have happened and I hope that arguments about the form of the solution will not overcome the reality of the Government’s clear commitment to the human rights involved.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I believe that the word “apology” and what has been done is the most important thing to have happened. The further inquiry by Sir Desmond is on top of that and we have got to find out what happened. The apology is one thing and it is very important. I am glad that the noble Lord has mentioned that. But we have then got to move on because the whole thing is about moving on. Until we can satisfy all of the people who are concerned about this, it remains one of the impediments in moving on in the peace process in Northern Ireland.

There were four inquiries asked for by the Cory report and I was a panel member for the fourth one that has not been mentioned—the Robert Hamill inquiry.

The Minister asked what would be remembered about inquiries. What is more important is not what the nation might remember but what is remembered locally. We had a public inquiry in which a family and all the people involved were able to express their own feelings about the murder. It released a whole lot of information but also a lot of emotion. That cannot be quantified or have a financial value. A private apology, even when it is made public, cannot take the place of allowing a family to express publicly, in a way which can be heard by everybody else, the pain and horror they have been through.

I welcome the fact that the facts will be known and be published. It is a pity that it has taken such a long time for this to happen.

My Lords, I understand this and I would not want to say that an inquiry would be no use in any circumstances. We are talking about an event, however, that took place 22 and a half years ago. We know from reading about those inquiries about the people who were dead or forgotten or who could not be found. There are seven key witnesses here. There is Brian Nelson, an FRU agent who died in 2003. RUC agent William Stobie was murdered in 2001. Sir John Hermon, the ex-Chief Constable of the RUC, is dead. Brian Fitzsimons, the ex-deputy head, was killed in the Chinook crash, as was John Deverell, the most senior security service rep in Northern Ireland. Wilfred Monahan died of natural causes. These people are all dead, and this is one problem with the inquiry: one is not able to call them because they are not able to turn up. Therefore, one needs to strike a balance. When one adds three, four, six or 10 years from today, if one is going down that route, one must then consider whether, sadly, others will be added to the list. One must take that balance into account. Asking noble Lords and everyone else to wait 15 months for this review is one way in which we can then move forward.

My Lords, I will take further the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. I do not entirely agree with her that the events are not known and that the apology has come before they are known. It is known that there was a murder and that there was collusion: that is clear. However, the details have not yet been published and it is very important that they are.

The noble Baroness said something else that will be very disturbing to the House. She suggested that because of the form of the inquiry, no criminal prosecutions could come from it. Other noble Lords have expressed the concern in various ways that, should material come forward into the public domain, prosecutions should proceed. I seek assurance from my noble friend that that is the case and that the concerns of the noble Baroness are not necessary because prosecutions can proceed from the publication of the report.

My Lords, I believe that that could happen: there could be prosecutions. I have some doubts, bearing in mind that Sir Desmond will be culling the million pages of evidence that have already been seen. That evidence did bring forward prosecutions. I suspect that because Sir Desmond's work is taking place, people may contact him, or he may contact people, and it is possible that something new may come into the domain and, because of that, prosecutions might happen.