PAT FINUCANE MURDER INVESTIGATION

Geraldine Finucane with investigative journalist John Ware in Belfast

Geraldine Finucane with investigative journalist John Ware in Belfast

The quest for truth continues by the Finucane family into the killing of husband and father Pat Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, by the UDA in 1989. The High Court in Belfast has backed the refusal by the British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a public inquiry into the killing of the well-known human rights lawyer. He was shot dead in front of his family at his North Belfast home by loyalists believed to have been acting in collusion with British security forces.

A judicial review rejected an appeal by Mr Finucane’s family for a public inquiry into the shooting, saying Mr Cameron’s 2011 decision not to hold one was lawful. Mr Cameron instead commissioned an independent investigation, whose report was published in 2012. The report by Desmond de Silva QC severely criticised members of the British intelligence services and army and the RUC for colluding in the killing and covering it up.

The solicitor’s family has long campaigned for a full independent public inquiry, but Mr Cameron insisted such an exercise would not shed any more light on the events. He instead commissioned a review of the case papers by Mr de Silva, whose report detailed shocking levels of state involvement.

It included spreading malicious propaganda that Mr Finucane was sympathetic to the IRA; one or possibly more police officers proposing him as a target to loyalists; and the mishandling of state agents inside the UDA who were involved in the murder. While Mr de Silva found no evidence of an overarching conspiracy by the authorities to target the 38-year-old lawyer, he said the actions of a number of state employees had “furthered and facilitated” the UDA shooting while there had also been efforts to thwart the subsequent criminal investigation.

As he accepted the report’s findings in the House of Commons in December 2012, Mr Cameron reiterated an apology to the Finucane family and also pledged that the government would examine the review in detail to identify potential lessons.

The judicial review focused on a commitment made by the UK government at Weston Park in 2001 during peace process negotiations with the Government. The Weston Park talks resulted in Canadian judge Peter Cory being asked to examine the grounds for public inquiry in a number of controversial Troubles deaths. The British government said such inquiries would be implemented if the judge recommended that course of action. Judge Cory subsequently did recommend public inquiries for a number of killings, including Mr Finucane’s. But while the British government ordered inquiries into the other deaths, it did not give the green light for one in the Finucane case.  PFCTALK (2) (452x639)

Speaking following the judgment, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan T.D. said: “I note this morning’s judgment in the judicial review and will be studying it closely. The Irish Government’s position remains unchanged. We continue to believe that an independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, in line with the political commitments made by the British and Irish governments at Weston Park in 2001, should be honoured.”

“This is a matter which the Government has consistently raised with the British Government. I raised it most recently with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers on 19 May, and the Taoiseach discussed the case with Prime Minister Cameron when they met in London last week. My thoughts at this time are with Geraldine Finucane and all the Finucane family, who have campaigned so tirelessly for more than a quarter of a century in pursuit of the full truth in the case of Pat Finucane, including the role of collusion in his murder.”

Relatives for Jutsice

Relatives for Jutsice

Mike Ritchie of Relatives for Justice gave the following assessment in a blog on the RFJ website:

“In an 86 page judgement, Judge Ben Stephens rejected Geraldine Finucane’s challenge to David Cameron’s refusal of a public inquiry into her husband’s murder. He chose to conclude that any government must be able to change policy and laid out the legal framework that must underpin such a change at the macro political level. He held that the change of view was properly considered and laid out the government’s decision-making process which, he said, was composed of rational grounds.

Mike Ritchie, Relatives for Justice  Pic. RFJ

Mike Ritchie, Relatives for Justice Pic. RFJ

While Geraldine Finucane did have a legitimate expectation that the government should fulfil its promise to have an inquiry as stated at Weston Park, there was no absolute right to be consulted before a change of view, particularly in circumstances that included a change of government after a general election.

While dismissing the application, the judgment nevertheless set out in great detail the variety of investigations and reviews of documentation that had occurred in this case. It also addressed the question as to whether there remained a requirement to hold an article 2 (right to life) compliant investigation. The judge concluded that, whatever about whether previous investigations – including prosecutions – amounted to a fulfilment of the article 2 procedural requirement, the review by Desmond De Silva had uncovered and published significant new information that had not been considered by criminal investigators and/or the public prosecution authorities. In the judgment he sets out in detail the disturbing findings of collusion that were the conclusions of the De Silva review.

Judge Stephens therefore held that there is a continuing requirement on the authorities to complete an article 2 investigation into these matters and he invited submissions from the parties on how these might be concluded.

The major problem with this lies in the fact that, after the De Silva review was published, the PSNI Chief Constable asked the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to consider the new material. With the HET out of the picture, lacking sufficient independence to carry out impartial investigations, the matter presumably falls to the Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) of the PSNI. However, this unit has been found by the Westminster Parliament’s Human Rights Committee not to be sufficiently independent to deal with legacy matters. RfJ agrees with this view.

Furthermore, correspondence from DCC Drew Harris and ACC Will Haire to the judge has also outlined budgetary constraints which have impeded the PSNI in its examination of the De Silva material. In RfJ’s experience, lack of resources has simply become the latest excuse preventing the truth of collusion emerging into the light. Nor can the LIB be trusted to carry out an independent, thorough investigation in a manner capable of leading to the “identification and prosecution of the perpetrators” as required by Article 2.

The Finucanes’ quest for the truth continues. It’s not clear that Judge Ben Stephens proposed route ahead takes us very much further forward.”

CROSSRAIL UPDATE

Image of new rolling stock:  Crossrail website

Image of new rolling stock: Crossrail website

When I wrote about Crossrail earlier this week I did not know that the £14.5 billion project was officially at the half-way stage. I had quoted the November statistic that  Crossrail’s seven giant tunnelling machines were approaching 25 kilometres out of 42 kilometres of new train tunnels that will link East and West London. Another 14 kilometres of new passenger, platform and service tunnels are being constructed below the new Crossrail stations.

Today the British Prime Minister David Cameron accompanied by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson visited the site of Europe’s largest infrastructure project. Mr Cameron said:-

Big infrastructure projects like Crossrail are vital for the economy of London and the rest of Britain. They are the foundation-stone on which business can grow, compete and create jobs – a massive 55,000 jobs in the construction phase of this project alone“.

The rolling stock and depot contract is expected to be awarded in Spring 2014. Delivery and testing of trains is scheduled to start in 2017 ready for the opening of the new Crossrail tunnels to passengers in late 2018. It will transform train travel across London and South-East England, delivering faster journey times, boosting London’s rail capacity by 10% and bringing an additional 1.5 million people to within 45 minutes travel of the capital’s major business centres. Over 200 million passengers will travel on Crossrail each year.

The Prime Minister and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Stephen Hammond went 25 metres below ground to view progress at Crossrail’s Tottenham Court Road site. They were joined by apprentices and commuters who will benefit from the new east / west railway, along with Crossrail Chairman Terry Morgan CBE, Crossrail Chief Executive Andrew Wolstenholme OBE and Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy CBE.

Mr Cameron said Crossrail is one of the government’s priority projects as set out in the National Infrastructure Plan.

David Cameron visits Crossrail  Photo: gov.uk website

David Cameron visits Crossrail Photo: gov.uk website

Crossrail: key facts

Crossrail will add 10% capacity to London’s rail network and its services are due to start in 2018. It will serve 38 stations, connecting Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west with Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east via central London. The economic benefits from Crossrail are spread across the country. It is estimated that Crossrail will generate at least 75,000 business opportunities and support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs around the UK. 3 out of 5 businesses currently winning work on the project are based outside London and over half (58%) are small and medium sized enterprises. In addition to Crossrail, 61,000 jobs are created around the country annually through TfL’s investment programme. When Crossrail opens it will increase London’s rail-based transport network capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city.

Read more on developing Crossrail.

Cross-section of Crossrail tunnels  Image: gov.uk website

Cross-section of Crossrail tunnels Image: gov.uk website

The British government is intent on delivering a national infrastructure plan to make the UK globally competitive. Up and down the country big projects are boosting the prospects for the future and providing high quality jobs.

David Cameron & Boris Johnson visit Crossrail  Photo: gov.uk website

David Cameron & Boris Johnson visit Crossrail Photo: gov.uk website

At the Spending round the British government announced it would spend £300 billion on capital projects over the next 6 years, including £100 billion of specific projects. These include:

  • providing funding for the biggest programme of investment in roads since the 1970s
  • setting out £3.3 billion of new funding for affordable housing from 2015 to 2016
  • providing funding for 500,000 new school places
  • investing up to £250 million to extend superfast broadband so that 95% of UK premises will have access to superfast broadband by 2017
  • specific long-term funding settlement for flood defences out to 2020
  • new package on shale, including community benefits package, changes to planning and Environment Agency permit processes
  • committing to HS2
Artists impression of crossrail station

Artist’s impression of crossrail station Photo: gov.uk website

LOCKERBIE 25 YEARS ON

Every time I pass through the small town of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland I think of the devastation caused 25 years ago today when a bomb exploded on board an aircraft in the sky above, sending the Boeing 747 crashing to earth and disintegrating on impact. 270 people including 16 crew and 11 people on the ground were killed when Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was blown up, half an hour into its journey. I wrote about Lockerbie a year ago and included some pictures of gravestones of two of the victims who were buried in the cemetery at a local church.

Wreaths have been laid in Lockerbie to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing and a service has been held in a local church. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, were among those who took part in the wreath-laying ceremony at Dryfesdale Cemetery.

Families and relatives at Dryfesdale cemetery, Lockerbie  Photo: Getty Images ex BBC News

Families and relatives at Dryfesdale cemetery, Lockerbie Photo: Getty Images ex BBC News

The service was led by the Rev John MacLeod. Lord Lieutenant Jean Tulloch represented the Queen. During the service Rev MacLeod said: “It is 25 years after the day on which certain men chose to set aside their humanity and destroy the lives of 270 people in the air over this area of Scotland and here in the little town of Lockerbie – not only their lives but also those who survived, families and friends. What we the people of Lockerbie in this area will never tire of saying is we welcome you once again to this place where you know you are always welcome. In doing so we seek to comfort and console you.”

A representative of the US government, Craig Lynes, also spoke at the event. He said: “We have seen changes great and small throughout the world in the years since December 21st 1988. It is with pride that we declare once again our unshakeable commitment to continue the fight against terrorism. We owe that to each of you. Nobody can return what was taken from you that night. But we can and will continue to work and to fight for justice.”

Mr Salmond told BBC News: “Out of disaster, there are the bonds of friendship. Lockerbie has been a welcoming place for the relatives of those who died, and over the last 25 years has taken as good care of people as it possibly could. I don’t think you ever move on, you certainly never forget, but people do rebuild their lives and many have.”

Other gatherings to mark the anniversary of Britain’s worst-ever terrorist attack include a remembrance service at Westminster Abbey in London. In the United States, a ceremony is being held at the memorial cairn in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC.

Most of the passengers and crew on board the aircraft were US citizens. A service of hope and remembrance was held at the Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University in New York state, which lost 35 students who had been studying at its London campus. The service was followed by a procession to its Wall of Remembrance. A further service will also take place at the university’s Lubin House in New York.

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn, Arlington cemetery  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn, Arlington cemetery Photo: © Michael Fisher

Events at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia will centre on the Pan Am 103 Memorial Cairn. It is made of 270 blocks of Scottish sandstone, one for each of the victims of the bombing. Scotland Office Minister David Mundell is attending the service there.

Plaque on Memorial Cairn, Arlington Cemetery  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Plaque on Memorial Cairn, Arlington Cemetery Photo: © Michael Fisher

One man, Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the bombing at a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001. He was released from jail on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer. He died at his home in Tripoli last year. His family have repeated their intention to pursue an appeal against the conviction.

Lockerbie Memorial  Photo: PM Office website

Lockerbie Memorial Photo: PM Office website

In a message reflecting on what he described as ‘a shocking event’, the British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the fortitude and resilience of those affected by the Lockerbie bombing. He said: “Over the last quarter of a century much attention has been focused on the perpetrators of the atrocity. Today our thoughts turn to its victims and to those whose lives have been touched and changed by what happened at Lockerbie that night. To families, friends, neighbours, loved ones, and all those caught up in the painful process of recovery, let us say to them: our admiration for you is unconditional. For the fortitude and resilience you have shown. For your determination never to give up. You have shown that terrorist acts cannot crush the human spirit. That is why terrorism will never prevail.”

FLANDERS FIELDS

Enda Kenny & David Cameron at grave of Willie Redmond MP  Photo: Paschal Donohoe via twitter

Enda Kenny & David Cameron at grave of Willie Redmond MP Photo: Paschal Donohoe via twitter

The improved relationship between the British and Irish governments was again shown today by the joint visit to some of the World War I battlefield sites in Flanders by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron. They paid their respects at the grave of nationalist MP from the Irish Parliamentary Party, Major Willie Redmond.  He was commissioned as a captain in the Royal Irish Regiment and fought on the Western Front with the 16th (Irish) Division, in the winter of 1915 to 1916, and died during the Messines Ridge attack in June 1917.  Lise Hand reported on the visit for the Irish Independent.

Enda Kenny & David Cameron at grave of Willie Redmond MP  Photo: Irish Embassy Belgium via twitter

Enda Kenny & David Cameron sign book at grave of Willie Redmond MP Photo: via twitter

They also visited the Irish peace park at Messines, the first time the heads of the two governments have done so. Each laid a wreath close to the round tower that dominates the site. Mr Kenny and Mr Cameron also saw Wijtschate military cemetery, south of Ieper, where there is a memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division.

Wreaths laid at Irish Peace Park, Messines  Photo: Defence Forces via twitter

Wreaths laid at Irish Peace Park, Messines Photo: Defence Forces via twitter

A bronze plaque near to the entrance of the Island of Ireland Peace Park is inscribed with a Peace Pledge:

From the crest of this ridge, which was the scene of terrific carnage in the First World War on which we have built a peace park and Round Tower to commemorate the thousands of young men from all parts of Ireland who fought a common enemy, defended democracy and the rights of all nations, whose graves are in shockingly uncountable numbers and those who have no graves, we condemn war and the futility of war. We repudiate and denounce violence, aggression, intimidation, threats and unfriendly behaviour.

As Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness. From this sacred shrine of remembrance, where soldiers of all nationalities, creeds and political allegiances were united in death, we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society. Let us remember the solidarity and trust that developed between Protestant and Catholic Soldiers when they served together in these trenches.

As we jointly thank the armistice of 11 November 1918 – when the guns fell silent along this western front – we affirm that a fitting tribute to the principles for which men and women from the Island of Ireland died in both World Wars would be permanent peace.”  (from www.greatwar.co.uk website)