Previous SectionIndexHome Page

1.4 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) has spoken of a tragic event--the murder 10 years ago of Patrick Finucane in front of his family. As he says, a further police inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane was announced last week. I shall say more about the background to that investigation in a moment, but the point I need to stress is that I shall not be able to comment on the substance of the issues that are being investigated, as I have to ensure that I say or do nothing that would impede the police inquiry, or any possible future prosecutions. In addition, in relation to the murder, there are on-going civil proceedings in the courts in Northern Ireland, which severely limit how much the Government can say; and there is an on-going case in Strasbourg under the European convention on human rights. Because of that, my hon. Friend will understand why I have to be circumspect in my comments in this debate.

The Government unreservedly condemn the brutal murder of Mr. Finucane, and we are determined that all necessary steps should be taken to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. Certain allegations have been made against the security forces in relation to the murder; likewise, we are determined to ensure that all the allegations are fully and fairly investigated and are seen to be so. As I have mentioned, a police investigation into the murder and related issues is under way, but that does not mean that the Government have closed their mind on what additional action, if any, is necessary in relation to the case. All options remain open. Nothing has been ruled out.

It might be helpful if I were to outline in more detail the background to the recent developments in respect of the murder of Mr. Finucane.

Mr. McDonnell: When my right hon. Friend says that no option has been ruled out, he is explicitly stating that the option of holding a full public inquiry has not been ruled out at this stage.

Mr. Ingram: That is correct, and I shall stress that again later in my speech.

To return to the background of the case, Patrick Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, was murdered in February 1989. The murder was investigated by the police at the time and, although the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone for murder, three people were charged with and convicted of possession of one of the weapons used in the attack and received sentences of two, three and four years respectively. As my hon. Friend says, unease about the background to the murder has not gone away, and it has been the focus of an on-going campaign over the years.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Mr. Finucane's widow, Geraldine, on 12 February 1999 and took receipt of a document that contained alleged new evidence prepared by British Irish Rights Watch about the murder of Mr. Finucane. My right hon. Friend gave an assurance that the document would be examined fully, and that is now being done. The Irish Government have now written to us with their assessment of the document--an assessment that has now been widely published, although

5 May 1999 : Column 910

it would have been inappropriate to discuss the content of that assessment during this debate. My right hon. Friend met Mrs. Finucane again this morning; she also plans to meet the Irish Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs to discuss the Irish Government's representation. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday:

    "I take the situation very, very seriously. I am determined that no option will be excluded. Be assured, I am not going to leave the issue alone . . . I am not going to let this drop."

Let me now explain the process involved in the examination of the material. After receiving the document, the Government sent it to the RUC and to Mr. John Stevens, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, asking for their views on the significance of the material. Because the material contained allegations of criminal offences having taken place, we also passed it to the Law Officers. The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland in turn received a copy of the report from the Law Officers.

The Director wrote to the Chief Constable of the RUC on 16 March in regard to the report, asking the Chief Constable to inform him whether it contained facts and information in respect of offences alleged to have been committed against the law of Northern Ireland, which had not been the subject of investigation and report to him, whether by Mr. Stevens or any member of the RUC, and which required investigation by the police. The Director also asked to be informed whether the report contained additional facts and information in regard to offences alleged to have been committed against the law of Northern Ireland which had been the subject of investigation and report to him, whether by Mr. Stevens or any member of the RUC, and which required further investigation by the police.

I recognise that some have criticised the Government for referring the paper to the RUC and Mr. Stevens. However, in doing so, we were not only following up the most effective lines of inquiry to assess the material, but we were legally obliged--I want to stress this--to pass to the police any evidence of criminal offences having been committed. Practical and legal imperatives therefore required us to act in this way. The way in which the RUC then carries out its own criminal investigations is for the Chief Constable to decide, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to interfere in that process. That does not mean that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has ruled out the option of an independent public inquiry.

As I stated earlier in response to an intervention, that option remains open. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is determined to keep developments under review and will not hesitate to act if she concludes that the public interest and the interests of justice require her to do so. For now, however, it is right that the possibility of bringing those responsible to justice in the courts should be pursued.

The Chief Constable announced on 19 March that the British Irish Rights Watch paper had been referred by him to Mr. Stevens for investigation. Mr. Stevens then made an announcement on 28 April about his remit. He said that he would be investigating the murder of Mr. Finucane and associated matters raised by the British Irish Rights Watch report and the report of the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Param Cumaraswamy.

In order to progress his investigation, Mr. Stevens has set up an independent team of investigators, with current and former officers from the Metropolitan police service

5 May 1999 : Column 911

and the Northumbria constabulary. He has called for anyone who can provide information to get in touch. I reiterate and re-emphasise that call today. If people want this investigation brought to a successful conclusion, they should co-operate fully with those responsible for carrying out the investigation.

While there are no RUC officers on his team--

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford): Does the Minister think that it would be better if Mrs. Finucane also spoke to Mr. Stevens?

Mr. Ingram: I think that I have made things clear. I have said that anyone who has any information--it is not for me to assess whether someone has information--or who thinks that he or she can help Mr. Stevens in his inquiry, from whatever quarter, should do so. That will help in bringing to justice those responsible for the murder.

I was about to comment on the fact that while there are no RUC officers on Mr. Stevens's team, Mr. Stevens explained that it would have access to RUC information and resources as necessary to support the investigation.

In September 1989, Mr. Stevens, then deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire, had been appointed by the then RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, to inquire into allegations of breaches of security by the security forces in Northern Ireland. Mr. Stevens's team had not previously investigated the murder of Mr. Finucane itself, but information emerging from the previous investigations had linked individuals involved in those investigations to the murder.

Mr. Stevens's first investigation had begun after the theft of photo-montages from a Belfast police station. It resulted in 43 convictions and more than 800 years of imprisonment for those convicted. The report of that investigation contained more than 100 recommendations for the handling of security documents and information. All were accepted and they have now been implemented. To quote from the published summary of Mr. Stevens's report, the analysis of the evidence

Mr. McDonnell: I would ask my right hon. Friend to take back to the Government and the Law Officers who would be involved in the decision on this matter the message that part of the restoration of confidence in the overall investigatory processes in Northern Ireland would be assisted by the publication of the full Stevens report rather than just the summary.

Mr. Ingram: That predates this Government taking office. In any event, the documents refer to highly sensitive intelligence material. If they had been put in the public domain, they could have put at risk the lives of those who are acting in the interests of us all in the defence of democracy. Very difficult decisions have to be taken by Governments in the pursuit of democracy and in the defence of it against determined paramilitary and terrorist forces. However, if there is some form of inquiry, public or otherwise--as I have said, nothing is ruled out--

5 May 1999 : Column 912

it becomes a matter of deciding at that time what is published and what goes into the public domain. I am not at liberty at this stage to say that that should or could happen. It remains a matter for the authorities at that time.

In 1993, following further allegations that had been made, Mr. Stevens was again asked by the then Chief Constable to investigate further matters which related solely to the initial inquiry. Mr. Stevens's second report to the Chief Constable was considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, who concluded that the evidence was insufficient for any further prosecutions to be brought. As I have said, the fact that the new investigation has been established very much limits what I can say about the substance of the recent allegations surrounding the murder of Mr. Finucane. I hope that the current police investigation will leave us in a better position to assess what further action, if any, we need to take.

I emphasise again that no options have been ruled out. That means that a public inquiry has not been excluded as a possible outcome. It is important that every support and encouragement is given to the police in carrying out the current investigation to bring to justice those who murdered Mr. Finucane.

Next Section

IndexHome Page