By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST – William Stobie, an ex-British solider, former UDA man and RUC informer, who admits his role in supplying the guns used to murder lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989, walked free from court this week after the case against him collapsed.
Stobie was acquitted Monday after the chief prosecution witness, Neil Mullholland, a former journalist, said he would suffer a nervous breakdown if he were forced to testify and was subsequently excused.
The British government said that a judicial investigation into the murder would be held in the New Year.
The British statement was viewed with skepticism by members of the Finucane family, who have repeated their call for a full public inquiry into the murder. They have condemned as “delaying tactics” British government plans that a judge should decide whether such an investigation should be ordered.
Britain’s Northern Ireland Office said a judge of international standing would be appointed no later than April next year to conduct an investigation into the murder, and others in which there have been allegations of security force collusion. It is thought the Finucane family will have nothing to do with this inquiry, just as they are boycotting the present Stevens Inquiry, on grounds that it is intended to hide rather than expose British military and police involvement.
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Finucane, a Catholic lawyer who had represented a number of IRA defendants, was murdered in front of his wife and children in February 1989 as they prepared Sunday dinner at their home in North Belfast.
A UDA agent and British Army spy, Brian Nelson supplied the information that helped the UDA carry out the murder.
On Monday, Stobie’s 51st birthday, he walked from Belfast Crown Court a free man. His lawyer, Joe Rice, said his client is may sue the RUC chief constable and the Northern Director of Public Prosecutions office for malicious arrest and false imprisonment.
Stobie’s first involvement with the Pat Finucane murder came during its planning stages when he was asked to provide weapons. He was a paid police informer at the time and says he twice warned his Special Branch handlers of the plan, although he maintains he did not know who the target was.
After the shooting, Stobie says he also told the police who had been responsible and where the weapons were hidden. When his relationship with the police turned sour, he contacted journalist Neil Mulholland to tell his story in case he was exposed to the UDA as an informer.
Mulholland was asked to keep quiet unless Stobie either gave him permission to speak publicly or was injured or killed. Mulholland, however, gradually told the police more and more about the interview.
Stobie later contacted journalist Ed Moloney, of the Sunday Tribune. Moloney kept quiet for nine years at Stobie’s request.
The British authorities tried and failed to force Moloney to hand over his interview notes. Moloney argued that information given to reporters in confidence could not be used by the authorities as informants. After an international campaign, the British legal authorities dropped their attempt to force Moloney to hand over his notebooks.
Subsequently, Mulholland became a press officer at the Northern Ireland Office, performing PR functions and writing speeches for politicians, among them the then Northern secretary, Mo Mowlam.
Although he had refused to give a written statement to the police, Mulholland then agreed to break confidentiality and sign a statement for the police stating what Stobie had told him.
Stobie was arrested and charged by officers in the Stevens Inquiry into the Finucane murder and then began a long series of court appearances and bail hearings.
Mulholland apparently suffered a series of mental breakdowns under the stress of fear that he would be forced to testify. His psychiatrist told the court last week that he was a manic depressive with suicidal tendencies.
The court ruled that the medical evidence did not preclude him testifying but invited the DPP to reconsider whether a man in Mulholland’s mental state would be credible in a trial where he was the main crown witness.
On Monday, a crown lawyer agreed that Mulholland was not a credible witness and offered no further evidence. Defense counsel then formally asked for an acquittal. Stobie walked from the court, saying he was delighted and relieved.