The accused was arrested in England last week by detectives from the team of officers working for Scotland Yard chief Sir John Stevens, who’s examining British Army collusion with loyalist paramilitary killers in Finucane’s murder in February 1989.
Because of the criminal charges against Barrett, the Finucane family’s demands for a public inquiry could be set back. The British government can now argue in response that an inquiry could prejudice the criminal proceedings.
At Belfast Magistrates Court on Friday, senior detectives disclosed that they were able to charge Barrett following two covert operations.
“Mr. Barrett has made certain comments to officers involved in the undercover operation,” a detective of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said.
Barrett was also accused of other weapons offenses (stealing rifles from a British Army barracks and handling other weapons stolen from a second barracks) and the attempted murders of Thomas McCreery and Elizabeth McEvoy in January 1991. He was also charged with membership of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters.
His defense lawyer said he denied all of the accusations. Barrett had provided a written statement describing himself as a “scapegoat” and the “subject of state victimization”, defense attorney Joe Rice said.
Barrett was arrested last Wednesday at an address in Sussex, England, by members of the Stevens team, supported by officers from the PSNI. A 45-year-old woman arrested along with him was questioned and later released pending further inquiries.
The arrest came just weeks after Stevens issued an interim report in his 14-year inquiry into claims that the RUC special Branch and British Army plotted with loyalists to murder Catholics in the late 1980s and ’90s.
The Finucane family, backed by several human rights groups, are demanding a full public inquiry into the case. They say there is no other way to establish how far up the political chain of command the collusion went.
The dead lawyer’s widow, Geraldine, says she’s not interested in the identities of those who pulled the trigger, but those who sent them out. “We want the organ grinder, not the monkeys”, she said.
One of Stevens’s most senior officers, Det. Inspector Brian Tarpey, told the court “There were two separate covert operations, the first in February 2002 and the second authorized at the end of last year.”
The court heard that detectives had decided to carry out their surveillance plans following a BBC “Panorama” program in January last year in which Barrett claimed police officers had first suggested murdering Finucane.
In a separate case, a former Special Branch officer, accused of leaking intelligence information, including the transcripts of phone conversations involving Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, was also in court.
Peter Adamson, 48, whose address was given as a police station in East Belfast, appeared at Antrim Magistrates’ Court charged with leaking security information that was in his possession by virtue of his position.
His lawyer told the court that he had been assured, before his client was interviewed, that Chief Constable Hugh Orde had authorized his original arrest, although Orde has since denied any involvement. The case has been referred to the police ombudsman, Nuala O`Loan, he said.
The charges are linked to a police investigation into the alleged leaking of telephone conversations between McGuinness and key political figures, including former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam.
Details of the conversations, which appeared in a biography of McGuinness, written by Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke, and his wife, Kathryn Johnston, were published last month in a number of newspapers. They were also arrested but later released without charge.
Adamson was charged on May 2 under the Official Secrets Act 1989. When arrested, he had replied that he had nothing to say “At this time.”