Pat Finucane was 39 years old when two loyalist killers broke down his door with a sledgehammer in February 1989 and shot him twice in front of his children before shooting him a further twelve times in the head as he lay on the floor. He was a lawyer who defended people accused of crimes, as lawyers do, and he was good at his job. He was murdered because the security forces didn’t like that.
They recruited the killers, they supplied the weapon and they hid the evidence. The State killed Pat Finucane and then buried the evidence.
On the face of it, the de Silva report seems pretty hard-hitting. It certainly goes into Finucane’s murder in considerable detail and doesn’t shirk from pointing the finger at the police, the army and the various organs of state that colluded in his killing. And yet, it manages to omit certain vital facts and makes no attempt to establish if anyone in government knew of the threat to defence lawyers in Northern Ireland.
As it turns out, Finucane wasn’t the only lawyer targetted by the loyalists with assistance from the RUC Special Branch, MI5 and the army. Ed Moloney, former Northern editor of the Sunday Tribune, has contradicted one of de Silva’s most important findings, that the British government first discovered RUC officers had incited the murder when they were told about it the next day by the Irish ambassador.
This is plainly untrue.
Two months before Pat Finucane’s murder, Moloney met Tommy Lyttle, the west Belfast commander of the UDA. Lyttle informed him that RUC officers were openly suggesting to loyalists that they should kill lawyers instead of ordinary Catholics, and that three individuals were specifically named: Pat Finucane, Oliver Kelly and Paddy McGrory. Ironically, Finucane had represented both loyalists and republicans in court, and perhaps this was why Lyttle chose to tell Moloney what was going on.
Moloney tipped off McGrory, who contacted Charlie Haughey. Haughey passed the information to the Northern Ireland Office who seem to have done nothing, because the threat was duly acted on two months later with Pat Finucane’s murder. But of course, it’s also inconceivable that this information would not have found its way to Downing Street. Hardly a month after Moloney had lunch with Lyttle, minister Douglas Hogg stood up in Parliament and complained about lawyers who were, in his view unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA.
That statement beggars belief. It goes completely contrary to the concept of an accused person being innocent until found guilty, but it goes beyond that again. If the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran had suggested such a thing, there would have been outrage. Hogg and his colleagues would have been trumpeting the virtues of western democracy by contrast with the totalitarian barbarity of the Iranians, and yet, in a European parliament, here we had the spectacle of a government minister denouncing officers of the court for carrying out their properly-constituted duties.
Hogg made his comments on foot of a confidential briefing from the RUC – a briefing that can now be seen for what it was: the preamble to murder, and even though Jack Hermon, the RUC chief constable, was enraged at Hogg for breaching confidentiality, his anger is perhaps being misconstrued. Hogg, in his pomposity and hubris, inadvertently blew the whistle on Hermon and on the special branch of which he was master, exposing the sort of thinking that permeated the RUC. Even worse, from Hermon’s point of view, Hogg in his stupidity lifted the lid on the reality of the North. There was no such thing as democracy. After all, if lawyers can be spoken of in such terms for defending people against criminal charges, and if those same lawyers can later be shot dead, then there’s only one way to describe such a state of affairs. It’s a police state.
The context is important. Less than a year earlier, the SAS shot dead three IRA members in Gibraltar. At their funeral, loyalist Michael Stone attacked the mourners with guns and hand grenades, killing three and wounding many more. Three days later, at the funeral of one of those killed in Milltown, two British soldiers in plain clothes accidentally drove in among the mourners and were immediately taken for loyalist attackers. In a scene of appalling violence witnessed by the whole world on television, the two were pulled from their car, beaten, stripped and shot dead.
Four years earlier, the IRA had set off a bomb in the Grand Hotel in Brighton where the Conservative party was holding its annual conference. The bomb killed five people and injured many more. Though Margaret Thatcher escaped injury, it was now personal.
Thatcher was no great believer in democracy when it could be avoided. She had few qualms about sending the mounted police to beat the coal miners off the streets when they marched to defend their livelihoods, and showed no hesitation in launching a war to defend the ridiculous Falkland Islands when she detected that a bout of nationalistic jingoism would boost her re-election chances in 1982. It mattered nothing to Thatcher that so many men on both sides would lose their lives as long as the Tories retained power.
So why on earth would such a woman, who was happy to throw away English lives for political advantage, be too worried about one troublesome Paddy?
De Silva sees no “overarching” government involvement in the collusion between the police, the intelligence services and the army in subverting democracy, such as it might have been in the North at that time, but perhaps that’s because he wasn’t briefed to look in the right places for such information. I have no doubt that he’s a decent and honourable man, and what’s more, I don’t doubt David Cameron’s sincerity when he apologises for this outrage, jjust as he was sincere in apologising for Bloody Sunday. He has done more than most British PMs in that regard.
But I can’t help thinking that this report is a gambit: giving something away to gain something bigger.
Denning might have been in his dotage when he articulated the appalling vista judgement, but decrepit though he was, he still had his bony old finger on the establishment pulse and I suspect the de Silva report is simply a concession by the British government in order to avoid a truly appalling vista. It looks like the lower levels have been jettisoned to avoid asking the real question: Did Downing Street decide to murder troublesome lawyers?
The implications of that are so enormous that Cameron may be willing to sacrifice any amount of traditional Conservative ground rather than face the consequences.