BEFORE he moved to the family home where he was murdered, Pat Finucane lived across the street from a pub frequented by leading members of the north Belfast Ulster Defence Association, the loyalist organisation which assassinated him. When he lived with his then young family in a terraced house in Charnwood Avenue, off the Cavehill Road, it would have been a simple matter for the UDA to cross the street to murder him. At the time he was already suspected by loyalists of being close to the IRA leadership – he had been appointed to take over the legal affairs of the IRA hunger strikers including Bobby Sands in 1981.
Yet he continued to live untouched in the house near the pub which was visited almost daily by the UDA north Belfast commander, Sammy Duddy, who died in 2007. Duddy occasionally mentioned his suspicions about Pat Finucane to journalists and was very well aware of his domestic arrangements. As a young parent, Finucane had a dangerously regular routine, often doing the shopping on Saturday mornings, with his young children. And yet, no murder attempt was made or, apparently, even contemplated at this very vulnerable time in his life.
From about this time onwards Pat Finucane's career, mainly in defence of Provisional IRA prisoners, began to rapidly expand. He was regarded as a highly astute solicitor and one of the first to successfully challenge prosecution cases on forensic evidence. At the time, there was an extremely high rate of convictions in the non-jury "Diplock" cases based on often dubious unsigned "confessions" by prisoners interrogated at the RUC's Castlereagh Interview Centre in East Belfast. Castlereagh was regarded as a conveyor belt of forced or fabricated "confessions". RUC detectives would claim in court that there had been an admission under questioning and this, in most cases, was accepted as truth.
While the Castlereagh "confessions" were generally sufficient to secure a conviction, the cases also required corroborating, often with forensic evidence which was vulnerable, and in a series of cases Finucane was successful in challenging on this and other grounds. His success with IRA prisoners attracted the attention of loyalists, including UDA prisoners, and a number changed their legal representation and hired him, with successful results.
As his caseload and earnings increased, Finucane and his family were able to move to the detached house in Fortwilliam Drive among the Catholic middle classes on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. Those who knew him at the time found he was more relaxed and enjoying his work, which was attracting attention for his courtroom successes. His murder in February 1989 came as a considerable shock, not just to his colleagues in the legal profession but to the rest of the Catholic professional and business class, who had until then felt reasonably safe in areas such as Fortwilliam.
The man who ordered the murder, named repeatedly, and most recently in Sir Desmond de Silva's report published last week, was Tommy "Tucker" Lyttle, the long-time commander of the UDA on the Shankill Road in west Belfast. Lyttle was not regarded as among the most extreme of loyalists. The rival Shankill Road Ulster Volunteer Force, for instance, was regarded as the ultimate extreme terrorist group, and during the Seventies it achieved infamy during the period of the "Shankill Butcher" campaign involving the abduction of innocent Catholics and their torture and murder, in several cases resulting in death by having their throats cut and, in at least one case, severed.
Lyttle was known to be opposed to the murder of innocent Catholics, though very much in favour of assassination of known or suspected republican terrorists. He was also the point of contact for British army personnel with access to intelligence files. At the start of each six-month tour of duty in north and west Belfast soldiers would openly visit Lyttle in pubs on the Shankill Road and hand over photocopied files on suspected republican paramilitaries, containing their names, addresses and details of movements. These were used to mount repeated assassinations and attempted murders by the UDA. This process seriously disrupted the IRA's activities in Belfast, as its members were forced to regularly move house and be permanently vigilant against attack. The result was, by the mid-Eighties, a fall-off in the killings of British soldiers in north and west Belfast where, in the early years of the Troubles, they had suffered their biggest losses.
In 1989 only two out of 24 British soldiers killed by the IRA died in Belfast, the area with the highest concentration of IRA support in the North. The collusion tactic of the army sergeants in using the "counter" loyalist gangs to do their dirty work was increasingly, and obviously, successful. Their imperative was to ensure their ordinary soldiers returned home safe, and using the UDA and UVF was a successful tactic in this regard.
And it was by no means a secret. Six months after the Finucane murder, the UDA shot dead a Co Down man, Loughlin Maginn, aged 28, at his home near Rathfriland. Maginn was not a known republican and the murder was at first described as another loyalist sectarian murder. In order to dispel this Tommy Lyttle summoned a journalist to west Belfast and showed him the British army file on Maginn in which he was described as a key IRA figure. Other journalists had been shown multiple army files on suspected IRA figures.
Pat Finucane's murder did not fit into this process, however. He was not a member of the IRA, and was not a threat to the lives of members of the security forces. The murder was a mystery.
What has emerged as the "shocking" level of collusion between the British army and the loyalists in the de Silva and other investigations comes as no surprise to journalists who closely covered the Troubles at the time. The recruitment of informers within all the terrorist groups was a prime security policy, with hundreds of agents working inside all the terror groups, often at very senior levels. The RUC, at the time, was the international leader and "wrote the book" on what later became known as counter-terrorism operations. It was ruthless in its use of, and safeguarding, its agents who became known as their "crown jewels".
As part of this policy, agents or informants were often allowed to take part in operations leading to the deaths of innocent people and even police and soldiers. There were bitter rows between British army intelligence officers and the RUC special branch who blamed each other for allowing their agents inside the IRA to carry out killings of security force members, and even each other's informants.
In the middle of this "dirty war", the murder of Pat Finucane did not appear to fit any pattern. The British army agent in the west Belfast UDA, Brian Nelson, was an assiduous individual who was fed information about suspected IRA people and worked successfully until his exposure for his part in the Finucane murder. A high-profile murder of this nature was an extremely high-risk venture for any terrorist group or for any agent-handlers.
What has also never been fully explained is Tommy Lyttle's reasoning when he ordered the assassination. The UDA statement that they had
shot dead "Pat Finucane, the Provisional IRA officer, not Pat Finucane the solicitor" was a blatant lie. Finucane's working life was consumed by his growing practice and there was no basis to believe he had anything to do with the IRA.
Senior loyalist sources, who have spoken privately about the murder, disagree with Lyttle's and the UDA's claim that Pat Finucane was active in any way in the IRA. They believe Lyttle's motivation was for other reasons. They believe that a legal figure, now dead, who had sway over Lyttle and who had a personal and murderous hatred of Finucane, influenced Lyttle in his thinking. This man had established control over Lyttle and helped organise the UDA's running of drinking clubs, pubs and other business ventures. As Lyttle became enriched from these enterprises it is believed this man's influence increased.
The UDA was notorious at the time not just for its assassination campaign but for its profiteering from its illicit businesses. Information about these ventures was leaking into the media and this man may have had a malign suspicion that Finucane was behind some of these leaks.
The retired loyalists, who were intimately aware of the shady dealings Lyttle was involved in, believe, as Sir Desmond de Silva stated in his report, there was no over-arching conspiracy to murder Finucane, one of the most high-profile Catholic defence solicitors in the North. They also agree with Sir Desmond that the truly shocking thing about the murder is that elements within the British army knew of the intended murder and did nothing to stop it, in order to protect their agent inside the UDA.