By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Widespread collusion between the RUC/British military intelligence and loyalists in Northern Ireland went on for years because of a culture of “gross unprofessionalism and irresponsibility,” according to leaked details of the Stevens Report.
The report, whose publication is expected later this year, was set up to investigate claims of collusion in the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, who was shot dead in front of his family in 1989.
The Stevens Report, named after London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens, who headed the inquiry, will conclude that police officers created a climate in which Catholics could be murdered with near impunity.
It found that in many cases the relationship between RUC Special Branch detectives, British Army intelligence personnel and loyalist paramilitaries was so unprincipled and lacking in accountability that it bordered on “institutionalized collusion.”
The Finucane family has already said the Stevens Investigation, with which they refused to cooperate because of what they called its lack of power, scope and accountability to the public, nonetheless backs the call for a full public inquiry.
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The Stevens team will not conclude there was any “sinister web of conspiracy” stretching throughout the RUC, because insufficient evidence was found. The report says record keeping was slipshod and careless and left no “paper trail” that investigators could use in their inquiries.
Republicans and civil rights activists are already suspicious that the report, while shocking, will allow those in political control to wash their hands of any responsibility and leave senior officers intact while scapegoating their juniors.
The report, while it could result in the virtual disbandment of the old RUC Special Branch, could result in the shadowy, undercover MI5 British intelligence service assuming more power, with no appreciable change in the rules governing the use of informers.
The three-year investigation into the murder of Finucane will also condemn a culture of incompetence that left junior ranks effectively making up the rules as they went along, failed to maintain records and failed to set any code of conduct.
Stevens hopes to recommend charges against several police and British Army officers and he will outline proposals for wholesale reform of procedures to ensure future transparency over what the police force is doing.
The leaked report, published in the London Guardian newspaper, reveals that through speaking to former British soldiers, loyalists and double agents, the Stevens team uncovered astonishing levels of collusion with the police and British Army.
His report will not estimate the number of shootings that resulted from the collaboration, but he believes that loyalists were incapable of carrying out targeted assassinations without significant help.
“There are many anecdotes of Special Branch officers, when interviewing loyalists, saying ‘you are targeting the wrong people’ and then walking out of the room, leaving photographs and other details on the table,” one source close to the inquiry said.
Stevens has been told that attempts by his detectives to find out who was in charge of operations was “like trying to juggle soot.”
“Next to nothing was written down, so it is extremely difficult to find out exactly what was done and on whose authorization,” a source said. “Northern Ireland Special Branch kept no records, had no recognized policy code and yet their agents and informers were deployed at the cutting edge of life-threatening situations at more risk than in any other region of the UK.”
Nobody has been tried for the murder of Finucane, a father of three, who was shot 14 times in front of members of his family as they ate Sunday dinner in February 1989.
Stevens, who has conducted two previous inquiries into the use of informers and collusion with loyalists in Northern Ireland, already knew Finucane’s details had been passed to loyalists by an army double agent, Brian Nelson, who was helping loyalists to identify leading Catholics.
He went on to discover that two of the UDA gang members thought to be responsible for the murder were police informers. One of the two guns used was stolen from an army barracks.
Sometime later, the weapon was recovered by police officers, who, inexplicably, returned it to the army, where it was modified — destroying potentially crucial forensic evidence.
“When three out of four people in the frame for the Finucane murder turn out to be security force agents, you have got to ask yourself, is this counter-terrorism, or totally counter productive?” a source said.
While it’s understood Stevens will name the loyalists arrested and questioned on suspicion of the Finucane murder, he will not identify the two suspected gunmen in case it jeopardizes a future criminal case.
During the course of the inquiry, the Stevens team reviewed documents from the British Ministry of Defense, which detailed the activities of soldiers working for the British Army’s top secret Force Research Unit.
The FRU recruited and handled agents in Northern Ireland and it is still operating, albeit under a different name. Unlike the police, the FRU kept meticulous records in so-called “secret books”; the existence of the files was only revealed when a former FRU member, known by the pseudonym Martin Ingram, came forward.
The paper trail led the Stevens team to arrest and question under caution a number of former FRU soldiers and agents, including Brian Nelson. The former commander of the FRU, Brigadier Gordon Kerr, is to be interviewed under caution within weeks.
A file on Brig. Kerr — now British military attache in Beijing, one of the most senior posts at the MoD — has been prepared in advance of the questioning, which is likely to last three days.