by Democrat reporter
NEWS THAT a former head of the shadowy army intelligence unit at the centre of a police investigation into collusion between the security forces and loyalist assassination squads could face criminal charges has been greeted with cynicism by the family of the murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
It has also triggered renewed calls from the family and rights campaigners for an independent public inquiry into this aspect of Britain’s ‘dirty war’ against Irish republicans.
Speaking at a press conference in mid-February Metropolitan Police chief Sir John Stevens, announced that up to 20 former and serving British army and police officers, including Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the head of the army’s secret Force Research Unit (FRU) at the time of Finucane’s murder, could face collusion charges.
It has become clear in recent months that the third Stevens investigation has spread to all branches of the state intelligence services, including M15.
Stevens, who has headed three police investigations into collusion over the past 14 years, confirmed that prosecution papers relating to collusion and other related matters were currently being prepared and would be passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
It would be up to the DPP to decide whether to prosecute, he told journalists. Brigadier Kerr, who was interviewed last year as part of Stevens’ third inquiry into allegations of collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, was head of the now notorious FRU between 1986 -1989.
At the 1992 trial of UDA double agent Brian Nelson, Kerr told the court that information supplied by Nelson while working for the FRU had saved around 200 lives. Kerr’s assertion has been strenuously denied by detectives working with the Stevens investigation.
Despite evidence that the double agent’s UDA activities had resulted in nearly 30 deaths, many of them ordinary Catholics, Nelson was persuaded to plead guilty to a lesser charge of conspiracy to murder five people and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Until a few weeks ago Kerr was the British government’s military attaché in Beijing. However, recent press reports suggests that he has been posted to the Gulf to head up Britain’s Middle East spying activities in preparation for the war against Iraq.
Kerr’s latest role, which some have described as ‘a get out of jail free card’, has added to speculation that his actions have long been sanctioned and protected at the highest level. It has also added to doubts as to whether he and others will ever be called to account for their actions in the six counties.
Confirming that there would be a further delay in the publication of his final report, which is now not expected until at least the end of the year, Sir John Stevens stressed that his team had recently secured a large quantity of previously undisclosed army documents going back as far as 1989.
Despite the latest delay, Stevens suggested that his interim report would be ready for presentation to the policing board and the head of the Northern Ireland police service in April.
Stevens took the opportunity of the press conference to refute unionist and security force allegations concerning the murdered solicitor. “I can categorically say that Patrick Finucane was not connected with any terrorist organisation whatsoever, and those who have alleged such things have told untruths. He was a very effective and efficient solicitor,” he said.
Responding to the latest developments, the family of Pat Finucane declared themselves unimpressed with the Stevens announcement and reiterated their call for a independent public inquiry as the only hope of discovering the full truth about the solicitor’s murder.
Despite a renewed appeal by Stevens for the family to co-operate with his investigation, they are refusing to do so because they believe it has been used by the British government as a delaying tactic and as part of an elaborate cover-up.
Pat Finucane’s widow Geraldine described Stevens’ recent announcement as no more than a “headline” that would detract from the truth.
Pat Finucane’s son Michael, who is also a lawyer, called for the Stevens inquiry to be shut down “as a matter of urgency”.
Stevens' revelation that files had been sent to the DPP also sparked renewed calls for a public inquiry from the SDLP, Sinn Féin and range of civil liberty and campaign organisations.
Relatives for Justice, a group which campaigns on behalf of families killed by the security forces, stressed that the Stevens announcement vindicated their “calls for a full independent inquiry into the activities of the Force Research Unit and the arming and directing of loyalism by the British state”.
The group also called for a similar inquiry into the British army’s 14th intelligence unit, which it claims, along with the FRU, was responsible for the killing of four men in 1989 and 1990.
The group called upon the British government to make an immediate statement acknowledging that it had had a policy of directing and resourcing loyalism. It also called for the British and Irish governments to invite the International Criminal Court to begin an independent process, which would include “a full disclosure of the facts to the families’ of victims”.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has called on the British government to accept that collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries could not simply be put down to “a few rotten apples”.
Pat Finucane and “many other citizens” had been killed “as a matter of British policy”, in “an example of the outworkings of a structured strategy by the British government and its agencies”, he insisted recently.
To date, only one person, self-confessed UDA quartermaster William Stobie, has faced charges in relation to the Finucane murder. Stobie, whose trial collapsed last November due to lack of evidence, was murdered by a loyalist hit squad outside his Belfast home one month later.
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