The murder of Patrick Finucane on 12. February 1989 in front of his family was a horrific crime that has caused enormous suffering. It came at a difficult and dark time in the history of this nation that caused immeasurable pain to many families in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Northern Ireland has made massive strides since the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday) to create a vibrant, inclusive and forward-thinking future. However, the legacy of the problems still hangs like a shadow over society. This government is determined to work hand in hand with the people of Northern Ireland, from all communities, with victims and survivors, and with our Irish partners. We want to find a way to bring truth and reconciliation to where it is currently hurt and where too many people continue to suffer because of the lack of information about the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved ones.
Mr Spokesman, it is clear that the level of collusion in the Finucane case, which has been made clear by previous investigations, is completely unacceptable. Former Prime Minister David Cameron rightly apologized publicly in 2012. I repeat that apology without reservation today. I also acknowledge that apologizing cannot reverse history or alleviate the years of pain felt by the Finucane family. It is correct, however, that this government recognizes that at the height of the problems, action was taken that fell far short of what can and should be expected.
Mr. Spokesman, the murder of Patrick Finucane has been the subject of a significant number of investigations and reviews, including the Stevens 3 investigation and the de Silva investigation. This investigation resulted in the conviction of Ken Barrett, a loyalist terrorist who pleaded guilty to the murder.
In February 2019, the Supreme Court issued a statement that the state had failed to conduct an Article 2-compliant investigation into the death of Mr Finucane. In this judgment it is expressly stated: « It is up to the state to decide …. What form of investigation, if indeed one is now feasible, is required to meet this requirement. « .
No public inquiry was ordered. However, in examining all of the ways I can meet the State’s obligations under Article 2, I have considered whether a public inquiry is the most appropriate step in order to take into account the specific findings of the Court at the time.
Mr. Spokesman, I spoke to the Finucane family today. I have informed them of my decision not to open a public investigation at this point. Our public statement, published this afternoon, contains the deliberate reasons for this decision, which I will now explain directly to the House.
Mr. Spokesman, when the Supreme Court reached its conclusion, it identified a number of issues with previous investigations into this case:
First, there was no identification of the officers within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Security and Secret Service who had not warned Patrick Finucane of known threats to his life in 1981 and 1985, and the circumstances in which these errors occurred ;
Second – there was no identification of the RUC officers who, as Desmond De Silva said, « suggested Mr Finucane as a likely target for loyalist terrorists » in December 1988; and
Third, there was no identification of the police source who provided Ken Barrett with information about Patrick Finucane.
The Supreme Court has found these shortcomings and other procedural errors. However, the previous reviews and investigations that resulted in important findings and information being made publicly available were not deemed null and void.
The work and results of these previous independent investigations and reviews remain valid. The state’s Article 2 obligations can be met through a number of processes, taken by independent authorities on the initiative of the state, which can cumulatively determine the facts, identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable when there is sufficient evidence.
In June 2019, an independent review of previous research was commissioned by my Rt Hon Friend who is a member of Staffordshire Moorlands. The first purpose of this review was to have a clear understanding of what investigative steps had already been taken to identify all of the affected individuals. Its second purpose was to understand the actions that had been taken as part of previous investigations into these individuals.
The review was conducted by an independent lawyer from Northern Ireland. It was highlighted that previous investigations had indeed taken steps that the Supreme Court ignored but were relevant to the issues it identified. For example, it was found that a number of officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army Force Research Unit had been interviewed as part of the Stevens investigation, and Stevens accepted that there was no direct violation of the guidelines by any single officer at the time.
As my friend from Rt Hon for North Shropshire noted in 2011, it is not enough to accept that a collusion has occurred. The UK Government recognizes the need to ensure adequate public scrutiny of the criminal investigation and its results.
I am releasing additional information today that the independent attorney has considered in its review since the Supreme Court ruling, some of which has not previously been made public. This includes information on a 2015 police service review in Northern Ireland.
Mr Spokesman, as set out in the 2015 Police Review, a number of questions were referred to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in 2016 which are still under investigation.
Additionally, the Legacy Investigation Branch of PSNI informed my department on Jan.. November 2020 that the case of Patrick Finucane will shortly be subject to a review process according to the priorities set in their case sequencing model. The Chief Constable confirmed that this is expected to start at the beginning of the new year.
To be clear, this is a purely operational police matter. The UK government rightly plays no role in determining how or when the police deal with their outstanding debts. However, the fact that a police review decision is due soon is an important development and has been a factor in determining the next steps in this case. A review would critically examine whether further investigative steps could be taken in this case and whether the PSNI should do so. These were key elements of the Supreme Court ruling.
It is rightly up to the Chief Constable of the PSNI to determine the precise scope and format of a review according to his own priorities and review procedures. And the police have indicated that they expect a review to be conducted independently of the PSNI.
Such a process, in addition to the ongoing investigation by the Police Ombudsman, could play an important role in resolving the issues identified by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Speaker – I want to be clear. I am currently not removing the possibility of a public inquiry. It is important that we allow the processes of the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman to move forward and that we avoid the risk of new conclusions from this work.
Mr Spokesman, I assure the House that this decision has been made after careful consideration of the facts, the findings of the Supreme Court judgment, the outcome of the independent lawyer review and the UK’s obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr. Spokesman, this government has shown that, if the public interest so requires, we will conduct public inquiries to investigate possible deficiencies in the government or government agencies. As we did in the case of the Manchester bombing.
In this case, I believe it is in the public interest to continue the proceedings of the police and the Ombudsman before deciding whether the State’s obligations under Article 2 have been met or whether further action is required.
Mr Spokesman, unfortunately this case is just one example of the violence and tragedy so many individuals and families in Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and Ireland experienced during the riots. Therefore this government continues to seek to treat the legacy of the past in its entirety.
We are determined to get this right and to work closely with the communities. This is vital to enable Northern Irish society to look beyond its divisive past to a shared future.
Pat Finucane, Government, United Kingdom Government, Northern Ireland Police Service, The Problems
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