By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Amnesty International and the United Nations have both called for a full inquiry into last week’s murder of former RUC informer William Stobie, who had claimed he tried to avert the murder of lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989.
His recent acquittal on charges of aiding and abetting Finucane’s murder had renewed demands for an inquiry into Stobie’s claims that he twice warned his police Special Branch handlers of UDA plans to attack the lawyer.
Stobie, a former member of the Ulster Defense Association, was shot a number of times in the early morning of Wednesday, Dec. 12, as he walked from his North Belfast home to his car. His partner, Lorraine, heard the shots and immediately realized what had happened. The Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility. This is thought to be a front for the UDA.
The Finucane family said they were shocked and had not wanted Stobie hurt nor even prosecuted. They sought only the truth into the murder of Finucane, a human rights lawyer who was shot dead in front of his family during Sunday dinner in 1989.
“If a public inquiry had been established, Stobie could have been granted anonymity and he would probably still be alive today,” the family said in a statement.
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The UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Malaysian lawyer Dato Param Cumaraswamy, expressed his concern, saying the motive might have been “to prevent Stobie from assisting any eventual independent inquiry.”
He also said the police investigation into the murder should not be carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland or its Special Branch. He reiterated his calls for a public judicial inquiry into claims that the RUC knew that Finucane was to be murdered yet did nothing to prevent it.
Following his acquittal two weeks ago, Stobie himself called for a full international independent inquiry into Finucane’s killing.
An ex-British soldier, Stobie joined the UDA in the 1970s and was made a quartermaster, in charge of weapons, in North Belfast. He was blackmailed into becoming an RUC informer after a fellow UDA man named him in a confession as the getaway driver in the 1987 murder of a Protestant student mistaken for a Catholic.
Two years after Stobie became an informer, the local UDA commander asked him to get guns for a “job” on a top republican. He said he gave his Special Branch handlers almost a week’s notice that an attack was being planned, and alerted them again on the night.
Stobie said he was amazed when police took no action beforehand or afterward, even when he tipped them off about the movement of the principal murder weapon, the Browning pistol, on the day after the Finucane murder.
Stobie alleged later that the RUC Special Branch tried to set him up by filing down the firing pins on UDA guns in his keeping, so that he would be blamed, and claimed it framed him by planting weapons in his home.
In 1990, fearing the police would expose him to his former associates, he told a journalist, Niall Mulholland, about his role in the Finucane murder.
Mulholland was supposed to remain silent about the story unless Stobie was found dead or gave him the go-ahead. The journalist, however, told police about the confession and they linked it to Stobie. Eventually, Mulholland made a written statement about Stobie’s information. Stobie was charged with the Finucane murder.
He was only acquitted two weeks ago when the North’s DPP ruled that the evidence, because Mulholland is how suffering from a mental illness, was insufficient for a reasonable chance of conviction.
During his first trial– for possession of arms — in 1990, Stobie instructed his attorney to tell the Crown lawyer privately that he would tell all he knew about the Finucane case if he was convicted.
Minutes later, a policeman in the witness box referred to previous convictions and the judge had to declare a mistrial. In January 1991, on the same offense, all charges were mysteriously dropped and a “not guilty” verdict recorded.
In 1994, Stobie spent weeks in the hospital after a UDA gunman shot him six times, leaving him for dead. Later, he was assured by the UDA that he was safe to live in the loyalist Glencairn area, where he was shot dead last week.
In a recent documentary made by Ulster Television, a former RUC man in the Criminal Investigation Branch, Det. Sgt. Johnson “Jonty” Brown, said that Special Branch routinely blocked investigations and destroyed evidence in order to protect informers.
This included, he said, the police investigation into, and evidence concerning, the murder of Pat Finucane. Brown has gone on record to confirm that Special Branch doctored a tape that recorded a confession from a member of the loyalist gang that murdered Finucane.
According to Brown, a high-level decision was made to block the murder investigation in order to use the alleged loyalist gunman as an informer. It has since transpired that the Special Branch officer present during the confession was one of Stobie’s handlers.
Amnesty International said it was “seriously disturbed” by the murder of Stobie, which they said, “reinforces the need for the [British] government to initiate immediately a full, independent and public inquiry into allegations of official collusion into the murder of Patrick Finucane.”
Amnesty International said Stobie’s “claims that Special Branch may have been able to prevent the killing and of their failure to arrest the perpetrators, have never been tested in court.”
The Northern Ireland Committee on the Administration of Justice said “Not only is this murder a personal tragedy for Mr. Stobie’s family, it also removes one of the most crucial witnesses who would have given evidence to a public inquiry about the links between the RUC and the murder of Pat Finucane.
“If the [British] government has any interest in establishing the truth of what happened to Pat Finucane and William Stobie, it must establish a public inquiry without further prevarication.”