Britain has refused to hold a public inquiry into state collusion in the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane by loyalist paramilitaries, one of the most notorious killings in Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
Brandon Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said an ongoing investigation by the police ombudsman should proceed instead of an immediate public inquiry, as well as a review of the case due in the new year by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. His statement on Monday drew biting criticism from Mr Finucane’s family.
Mr Lewis was responding to a February 2019 ruling by the UK Supreme Court that earlier inquiries into the murder did not comply with the requirement under the European Convention on Human Rights to carry out an effective official investigation.
Mr Finucane, who acted for Irish republicans, IRA members and loyalists, was murdered by pro-British Ulster Defence Association gunmen who burst into his home while he was eating Sunday dinner and shot him 14 times in front of his wife and three children.
His family have for years sought a public inquiry after repeated findings of state involvement in his killing, saying Britain reneged on a 2001 promise to carry out such an investigation.
When he was prime minister in 2012, David Cameron acknowledged “shocking levels” of collusion, set out in a review by Sir Desmond de Silva, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, but he refused to call for a public inquiry. Geraldine Finucane, the murdered solicitor’s widow sought a judicial review that led ultimately to the Supreme Court ruling.
Mr Lewis told the House of Commons: “I am not taking the possibility of a public inquiry off the table at this stage. It is important that we allow the PSNI and Police Ombudsman processes to move forward, and that we avoid the risk of prejudicing any emerging conclusions from that work.”
It was in the public interest, he added, to allow their work to proceed before deciding whether the state’s human rights obligations had been discharged “or whether further steps are required”.
But John Finucane, son of the murdered solicitor and a Sinn Féin MP in Belfast, said the response was “nothing short of insulting”.
“This proposal falls so short of what is required in this case that it beggars belief,” the Finucane family said in a statement
Micheál Martin, Ireland’s taoiseach, who had urged UK prime minister Boris Johnson to convene an inquiry in a phone call last Friday, said he was disappointed in the decision. In a statement, the Irish government said it “remained strongly of the view that a public inquiry was needed”.
Sir Desmond found in 2012 that state agents were involved in the murder, but said they were not linked to “an overarching state conspiracy”. Mrs Finucane dismissed his report as a “whitewash” and “sham”.
Sir Desmond found that an officer or officers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary — the region’s police force at the time — proposed the solicitor as “a UDA target” when speaking to a loyalist paramilitary.
“I am left in significant doubt as to whether Patrick Finucane would have been murdered by the UDA in February 1989 had it not been for the different strands of involvement by elements of the state,” Sir Desmond said.
In its 2019 judgment, the Supreme Court said: “Various investigations about the murder and the nature of the collusion have been conducted. None of these has uncovered the identity of those members of the security services who engaged in the collusion nor the precise nature of the assistance which they gave to the murderers.”