Pat Finucane murder: A profile | The key points | The key players

Share this article
Have your say

PAT Finucane, a high-profile lawyer working and living in Belfast during the height of the Troubles, came to prominence due to successfully challenging the British government over several important human rights cases in the 1980s.

He came from a family with IRA connections – three of his younger brothers were volunteers – though Mr Finucane believed in working towards change within the law. There were allegations that he was linked with the terrorist group, but his family has always denied this.

As a defence solicitor, his clients included convicted members of the IRA and the families involved in the shoot-to-kill allegations against the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

He had also represented a number of high-profile IRA prisoners, some of whom had taken part in hunger strikes at the Maze Prison, including Bobby Sands, who died in jail in 1981.

Mr Finucane also defended Pat McGeown in 1988 – the year before he died – after he was charged with helping to organise the murder of two army corporals who had accidently driven into an IRA funeral cortege in west Belfast. The two men were trapped, dragged from their car and taken to waste ground where they were executed by IRA gunmen.

Mr Finucane managed to have the charges against his client dropped, but it is claimed that a double agent passed a photograph of the solicitor, taken outside the court, to the UFF gunmen who carried out the murder.

The key points

• Four weeks prior to the murder, the then Home Office minister Douglas Hogg – on the basis of an unsubstantiated police briefing – told the Commons that a number of Northern Ireland solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA. Sir Desmond said that, in the violent context of 1989, loyalists did pick up on his comments and there are grounds to believe those comments unwittingly increased the vulnerability of defence solicitors such as Mr Finucane in Northern Ireland.

• One or more police officers suggested Mr Finucane as a potential target to a loyalist paramilitary while he was in custody.

• The Royal Ulster Constabulary’s action to disrupt the UDA gang that murdered Mr Finucane in the years before the shooting was “grossly inadequate”.

• Inadequacy of the RUC’s investigation of the crime included the failure to retrieve a gun used in the murder that had been passed to a state agent in the UDA, William Stobie. Sir Desmond also said proper use of intelligence provided by Stobie could have prevented the murder.

• A series of failures over state agent Brian Nelson, who was recruited by the army’s Force Research Unit to infiltrate the UDA. He became an intelligence gatherer for the UDA.

• In the years after the murder, the army provided the government with “highly misleading and, in parts, factually inaccurate” advice about Nelson as the authorities considered whether he should be prosecuted or not.

The key players

Ken Barrett: Convicted of the murder of Pat Finucane in 2004 and sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment. He was released in 2006 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement after serving three years. He had grown up on Belfast’s loyalist Shankill Road and became a trusted hitman for the UDA. One detective described him as a compulsive gambler and one of the most cold-blooded killers he had ever met. Barrett’s current whereabouts are unknown.

Brian Nelson: Recruited by the British military’s Force Research Unit (FRU) in 1984. Between May 1984 and October 1985 he met his handlers 60 times. At the time of Pat Finucane’s murder, Nelson was the UDA’s intelligence officer, helping to gather vital information and pin-point targets.

In a statement included in the investigation by Sir John Stevens, he said: “I have been told by someone … that if I want to get someone really big get Finucane, he is the brains behind PIRA [the Provisional IRA].”

He claimed to have passed on information about the murder of Pat Finucane, but it was not acted on. Nelson died aged 55 in Cardiff in April 2003, after a battle with lung cancer.

William Stobie: The former soldier was a quartermaster for the west Belfast brigade of the UDA. He was recruited as a British agent in February 1988 after being arrested and questioned about the murder of a 19-year-old student. Stobie had admitted supplying the gun to the UDA hit team involved in the murder of Pat Finucane. He was charged in connection with the murder, but the case against him collapsed in 2001 after a key witness refused to testify. Stobie claimed to have given his Special Branch handlers enough information to have stopped the solicitor’s death. He was shot dead by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by the UDA, in December 2001.

Tommy “Tucker” Lyttle: Died in October 1995, aged 56. He was the UDA’s long-standing West Belfast brigadier and sat on the inner council. By 1989, he had become the UDA chairman. Lyttle was not directly involved with the murder of Pat Finucane, but Sir Desmond said he would have been at least aware of the conspiracy. The report also concludes that Lyttle was being improperly assisted by RUC contacts in the period before and after Mr Finucane’s murder.