Pat Finucane murder a ‘terrible crime’ and British government ‘deeply sorry ‘
Published 12/10/2011 | 14:08
THE BRITISH Government is "deeply sorry" following the murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane, Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said today.
Making a statement in the Commons, he told MPs that Mr Finucane's killing in front of his family on February 12 1989 was "a terrible crime", adding that there have been long-standing allegations of security force collusion in his murder.
Former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Stevens was asked to investigate the murder in 1999.
Mr Paterson said Prime Minister David Cameron 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 Mr Finucane.
He said: "The Government accepts the clear conclusions of Lord Stevens and Judge Cory that there was collusion. Mr Speaker, I want to reiterate the Government's apology in the House today. The Government is deeply sorry for what happened."
Mr Paterson said he and the Prime Minister were committed to ensuring the "truth is revealed", saying the public needed to know the extent and nature of that collusion.
He told the House he had asked 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.
Mr Paterson said he was "disappointed" the family did not feel able to support the process.
He said: "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."
Mr Paterson maintained that the process outlined would be the "quickest and most effective way" of getting to the truth.
Experience had shown, he added, that public inquiries took many years and could be subject to prolonged litigation.
He said both the Prime Minister and himself had made clear they did not believe that "more costly and open-ended inquiries are the right way to deal with Northern Ireland's past".
Newly installed shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker labelled the review "inadequate".
He said it was "a source of great regret" to the last government that they were not able to agree terms of reference with the Finucane family for an inquiry to take place.
He said: "Today the Secretary of State has told us of his decision that there will be no inquiry at all.
"Instead the Government has announced an inadequate review, although all of the country will welcome the apology.
"We are disappointed by that decision and think that the Secretary of State should honour commitments that have been made."
Mr Coaker said the Finucanes visited Downing Street yesterday believing the Government would offer an inquiry acceptable to them, and accused ministers of "raising false hopes".
He said that, while inquiries took time and cost money, it was "possible for these to be both reasonable and, in themselves, should not be a barrier to the pursuit of justice".
Mr Coaker added: "There are many horrors from the past, many atrocities, 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."
Mr Coaker urged the Government to rethink its decision because "it is the right thing to do".
He said: "By seeking the truth and by honouring agreements, the cause of justice is served and, with it, the cause of a better future for Northern Ireland."
Mr Paterson insisted that, unlike his predecessors, he met the Finucane family. He denied ever indicating that the Government would launch a full public inquiry.
He told MPs: "At no stage have we given them any misleading information as to where our decision was going.
"There has been nothing said in public."
He claimed the Northern Ireland Office was in regular contact with Irish ministers in the run-up to yesterday's announcement, but the Irish Government did not know the British Government's decision before the Finucanes.
The Secretary of State said inviting the family to Number 10 was a bold move designed to clear the "impasse" left by the last Labour government.
But Labour's John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) accused ministers of getting it "badly wrong" and being "crass" in its handling of Mr Finucane's relatives, while Labour's John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) said the family was "shocked" by yesterday's decision.
He added: "Unless the family sanctions the process of moving on, this will be a futile exercise."