Wednesday 14 May 2003 --
[Mr. Edward O'hara in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting
be now adjourned.[Mr. Sutcliffe.]
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I am grateful that
my request to the Speaker for such a debate was granted. The findings of Sir
John Stevens - even in the form of an interim overview - represent the most
damning indictment of the security services and, by implication, Government
practice that I can recall. That being said, I am surprised and disturbed that
it should require a Back Bencher, not even a right hon. Member, to bring such a
matter before the House. In light of the grave findings and the report of Sir
John Stevens, I am surprised that neither the Secretary of State for Northern
Ireland nor the Secretary of State for Defence volunteered to make a statement
to the House.
Nominally, the report is the third inquiry conducted by Sir
John Stevens into allegations of collusion between the security forces and
loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Taken together with Stevens 1 and
2, it is already the largest criminal investigation undertaken in the United
Kingdom. I pay tribute to Sir John Stevens for his courage, tenacity and
persistence in pursuing the inquiry. It has been a 14-year battle against
formidable odds, and the odds have all been within the establishment. Even more
so, I pay tribute to the family of Pat Finucane and to the families of all the
victims of collusion, from whatever area they come. Their grief has been
compounded by the cover-up and lies that they have come to expect. The tenacity
of investigative journalists and the hard work of human rights non-governmental
organisations have played a large part, but it has been the families of the
victims who have refused to forget and who have kept alive the search for the
Lady Hermon (North Down): Will the hon. Gentleman
Mr. McNamara : I had not thought that I had said
anything startling so far.
Lady Hermon : The hon. Gentleman has paid tribute to
Sir John Stevens, as he has to the family of Pat Finucane. Am I right in
thinking that Pat Finucane's widow did not co-operate with the Stevens inquiry
or have I misunderstood the position?
Mr. McNamara : I understand that that is the case.
The reason for such a decision was that the family were not happy with the way
that they had been treated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and investigative
forces in the past. They considered that only a full and open public inquiry
would reveal the truth about what happened.
The Stevens report's stark message is that successive
British Governments have sanctioned murder - that they have employed agents and
given them a licence to kill. Agents have acted above the law, without the law
and with impunity. While the interim overview and recommendations before us stop
short of the full publication that the families of the victims are pressing for,
Stevens proposes to allow criminal investigations and prosecutions to proceed,
while putting into the public domain the gravity of his findings and the
obstruction that he has encountered. I urge full publication as soon as
I hope that the Government will announce that they accept
the interim report in its entirety and will respond favourably to its immediate
recommendations. Many of Stevens's proposals on bringing accountability to the
intelligence-gathering process echo the thoughts of Her Majesty's inspector.
Stevens's findings on the murder of Patrick Finucane are clear. It is not in the
public interest for an independent inquiry to be further delayed. There is a
need to restore confidence. I urge the Minister to bring forward the
Government's agreement-in-principle commitment for a full inquiry under the
Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, to be conducted by an international
jurist of repute.
Stevens says that he has uncovered enough evidence to lead
him to believe that the murders of Pat Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert could
have been prevented from happening. He also believes that the RUC investigation
of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in an early arrest and detection
of his killers.
Stevens concludes that there was collusion in both murders
and the circumstances surrounding them. He says that collusion
"ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the
absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through
to the extreme of agents being involved in murder.
"The failure to keep records or the existence of
contradictory accounts can often be perceived as evidence of concealment or
malpractice. It limits the opportunity to rebut serious allegations. The absence
of accountability allows the acts or omissions of individuals to go undetected.
The withholding of information impedes the prevention of crime and the arrest of
suspects. The unlawful involvement of agents in murder implies that the security
forces sanction killings."
Stevens's three inquiries
"found all these elements of collusion to be present.
The co-ordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor.
Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to
participate in terrorist crimes. Nationalists were known to be targeted but were
not properly warned or protected. Crucial information was withheld from Senior
Investigating Officers. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved."
Throughout his three inquiries, Stevens has operated from
the premise that those involved in policing and security duties in Northern
Ireland work within, and are subject to, the law. Where he has uncovered
unlawful activities, he has attempted to assemble the evidence necessary to
identify those responsible and bring about their successful prosecution.
At the centre of Stevens's investigation and allegations of
dirty tricks and unlawful activities carried out by the British Army are the
members and officers of the force research unit - the FRU - previously known as
the forward reconnaissance unit, and before that the 14th intelligence company.
The unit is now known as the joint services group and, according to Brigadier
Arundell David Leahy, its methods of operation have not changed to any
Patrick Mercer (Newark): The hon. Gentleman should
get his facts straight. He has confused a series of wholly discrete
organisations and has misused their titles. It would be a service to the debate
if he got his facts straight.
Mr. McNamara : It would have been of service to the
debate if the hon. Gentleman had given me the correct names. I would be quite
happy to use them. He obviously knows more about it than I do.
Of Brian Nelson, who doubled as the head of intelligence for
the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, Stevens says:
"It was only through the investigative efforts of my
Enquiry team that I was able to identify and arrest the Army agent Brian Nelson
in January 1990. When he was interviewed I discovered that he had been in
possession of an 'intelligence dump'. This had been seized by his FRU handlers
when my first Enquiry had begun, in September 1989. This crucial evidence had
been concealed from my Enquiry team.
"There was a clear breach of security before the planned
arrest of Nelson and other senior loyalists. Information was leaked to the
loyalist paramilitaries and the press. This resulted in the operation being
aborted. Nelson was advised by his FRU handlers to leave home the night before.
A new date was set for the operation on account of the leak. The night before
the new operation my Incident room was destroyed by fire. This incident, in my
opinion, has never been adequately investigated and I believe it was a
deliberate act of arson.
"During my first Enquiry I asked to examine particular
documents but received written statements that they did not exist. My latest
Enquiry team has now recovered all these documents. The dates recorded on them
show that they all existed at the time of my first request."
Who was responsible for those lies?
Following three recent major disclosures by the Army and the
Ministry of Defence, Stevens is now investigating whether the concealment of
documents and information was sanctioned, and if so at what level. The Saville
inquiry has heard evidence of discussion papers prepared by senior personnel in
the security forces arguing for the adoption of tactics based on illegal use of
lethal force through arbitrary killings and extra-judicial assassination.
Orchestration of a flawed inquiry under Lord Justice Widgery and consequent
failure to prosecute those responsible for the Bloody Sunday outrage sent a
disturbing message to the security forces. Her Majesty's Government allowed the
impression to remain that although the legal actions were damaging for
propaganda purposes, the commission was protected by an informal system of
If it is tacitly understood that intelligence agencies may
operate outside the rule of law, or that such behaviour is given an informal
legitimacy through the failure to set lawful parameters, it is not structurally
possible to hold the agencies or their employees and agents accountable without
the intervention of an outside independent body. It now seems evident that the
intelligence agencies have been engaged in running agents inside both loyalist
and republican paramilitary groups and promoting, planning and participating in
terrorist activities in order to achieve internally defined goals. Agencies have
protected individuals from other paramilitaries and from investigation and
prosecution by the police.
Police investigations have been prevented or undermined,
sidetracked and sabotaged. Combatants and non-combatants alike have become
victims of those practices and the failure to stop them. Police officers have
lost their lives and their honest efforts have been thwarted. For successive
Governments, the tactical assessment of the options for a military offensive
against terrorism was flawed by compromised intelligence and undermined by its
reliance on the unlawful activities of agencies.
I remain to be convinced that dirty tricks saved lives.
Undoubtedly, undercover British agents prevented some loss of life, but too
often the lack of political control meant that agents were averting their eyes
from terrorist crime and ending up acting as judge, jury and executioner.
On 15 January 1990, I raised in the House the shooting dead
of Peter Thompson, Eddie Hale and John Joseph McNeill in Whiterock, and the
activities of British soldiers from 14 Intelligence Company during an attempted
armed robbery. I will not go into the details; I asked questions about the
activities of that unit. The Ministers responsible are now saying that they did
not know about the activities of those units. The questions that I asked in the
House are on the record. Some 13 years later the families of the victims of that
incident still await justice.
I believe that intelligence agencies played a significant
role in shaping the political geography of Northern Ireland and prevented the
emergence of a political alternative for many years. Great strides have been
made in addressing the shortcomings of the RUC by a process of police reform and
the adoption of a model of accountable policing contained in the Police Service
of Northern Ireland. Such changes would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
However, the intelligence agencies have so far been immune to change.
When Brian Nelson was first brought to court in June 1990 he
faced 34 charges, including two counts of murder. It was admitted that he was an
agent for military intelligence. There was, at the time, speculation that Nelson
was threatening to expose the involvement of the Army in a large number of
offences, including murder. When the trial began two years later, counsel for
the Attorney-General, Brian Kerr QC, argued that after
"a rigorous examination of the interests of justice",
15 charges, including two murder charges, were to be
dropped. Nelson then pleaded guilty to the remaining charges, including five
counts of conspiracy to commit murder.
Following pleas for leniency from the then head of the FRU,
Colonel - now Brigadier - Gordon Kerr, and the Secretary of State for Defence,
Tom King, Nelson was sentenced to just 10 years in prison. He was freed in 1996
and died this year in somewhat suspicious circumstances; no one knows quite how
or why. I was not happy when the Attorney-General took control of that
prosecution and I was dubious about his reasons for deciding to drop charges.
Those reasons remain undisclosed.
David Burnside (South Antrim): Will the hon.
Gentleman give way?
Mr. McNamara : No. With the greatest respect, I have
a lot to go through. I have secured the debate and I have already given way
twice, so I am trying to give other hon. Members opportunities to make their
I do not believe that impunity for serious offences
committed by agents of the state can be in the public interest. Following the
Stalker investigation into allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern
David Burnside : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. McNamara : No. Chief constable Colin Sampson
recommended that police officers should be prosecuted for conspiracy to pervert
the course of justice and for fabricating cover stories. The journalist Peter
Taylor reported that Sampson also recommended that MI5 officers should face the
same charge for destroying a copy of the missing audio tape recording of the
shooting dead in a hay shed of 17-year old Michael Tighe, who mistakenly walked
into an ambush set by the security forces. In that case, the Director of Public
Prosecutions felt that there was sufficient evidence, but the then
Attorney-General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, halted proceedings; he informed the House
in January 1988 that there would be no prosecutions "in the public interest" and
a nolle prosequi was entered. At that time, most of us who were involved in the
issue thought that that only revolved around RUC officers. We had no idea that
MI5 was involved in the destruction of evidence.
I believe that the activities of intelligence agencies must
be governed by the rule of law and held politically accountable. Shortcomings
and breakdowns in the system of accountability inevitably lead to political
misjudgment and errors. Through interviews by my staff of a number of
individuals who claim to have been undercover agents, I have discovered that
there is a particularly blurred line between who is and who is not an agent;
between who is a covert human intelligence source and who is simply assisting
the security services. Individuals who feel that they have been expected to put
their lives at risk will want to know that their information will be acted on;
when they make personal and financial sacrifices, they expect protection and
security. Without effective regulation, those people feel let down - they do not
know where they stand and they have no legal means of redress. The insights that
I have gained have been passed on through what I consider to be the appropriate
channels. I have no means of knowing whether or not my advice was acted on.
Discovery of the truth behind controversial killings is part
of the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, where the grief of victims
has been compounded by unlawful acts that have apparently been condoned by those
in authority. The interests of justice require that those who sanctioned such
activities be identified and brought to justice. They must be removed from
office and punished. The process of cleansing is also essential to the integrity
of the intelligence agency. The passage of time and normalisation of the
security situation alters a balance to be struck in determining the public
interest. The fear that the identity of agents might become known and prejudice
the effectiveness of ongoing intelligence-gathering operations must be
significantly diminished in today's climate. The fear that cross-examination of
police officers and Security Service agents might compromise
intelligence-gathering methods must now be set against the need to establish
whether those methods have included unlawful actions. If evidence exists for
prosecution, it must be in the public interest to proceed.
Following an indication by Sir John Stevens that he wished
to interview an FRU agent known as Stakeknife - I understand that there is now
an alternative spelling - new and even more serious allegations concerning the
activities of security services have come into the public domain. I do not want
to distract attention from the findings of Stevens, which have been thoroughly
investigated and are based on verifiable evidence. I am aware of the
controversial nature of Stakeknife's allegations, and the extraordinary lengths
to which the Ministry of Defence has gone in issuing gagging orders to prevent
journalists from reporting them. I am aware that republicans regard the whole
affair as yet another example of counter-intelligence propaganda.
However, in light of the naming of Freddie Scappaticci as
Agent Stakeknife, I urge the Government to end uncertainty around his position
and ensure that no impediments are placed in the way of his questioning by the
Stevens inquiry. In particular, it is incumbent on my hon. Friend the Minister
to state whether Stakeknife is in the custody of some of the agencies of Her
It is alleged that Stakeknife was a low-ranking Irish
Republican Army volunteer, who was recruited to FRU in 1978. As a double agent,
he was tasked with advancing himself in the paramilitary group, and he became
head of the IRA internal security unit, the nutting squad. For that service, he
was paid the salary of a then Cabinet Minister - £80,000 a year; monies were
deposited into a bank account based in Gilbraltar. As head of the nutting squad,
Agent Stakeknife would have been in charge of vetting all recruits to the IRA
and seeking out British moles. If that were true, he would have been involved in
kidnap, interrogation, torture and punishment. He would have taken part in
anything up to 40 murders of suspected informers. He would be guilty of
colluding in the murder of IRA volunteers, police officers, soldiers and
David Burnside : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. McNamara : No.
It is reported that Gregory Burns, John Dignam and Aidan
Starrs were also FRU agents. Burns's girlfriend, Margaret Perry, discovered his
double role and the three agents conspired to kill her. It is alleged that
Stakeknife then killed the three agents, and all with the approval of his
handlers. In a case already considered by the European Court of Human Rights,
three IRA volunteers, Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage were killed
in 1988 by the SAS on the rock of Gibraltar. If, as is now alleged, Agent
Stakeknife supplied the information that led to that ambush, his handlers could
also have chosen to prevent the IRA action. Instead they permitted a summary
execution. He is alleged to have been involved in the murder of Joseph Fenton in
February 1989. Fenton was a Belfast estate agent who supplied safe houses for
the IRA, but acted the good citizen by passing information to the police.
Stakeknife had him killed.
Around the same time, the Irish police recruited a
confidential informant in the IRA who passed valuable information to the Garda
Siochana. If allegations concerning Stakeknife are correct, he was directly
implicated in the murder of Tom Oliver, whose body was found in1991. I should be
grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would inform us of whether there have
been any discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic about that
allegation, and if he would say what allegations had been made either way.
When the going got hot, and loyalist paramilitaries began to
target Stakeknife, it is alleged that the FRU moved to protect him by setting up
another Belfast man, Francisco Notarantonio. It planted false documents and
persuaded the Ulster Defence Association that he, not the man identified as
Stakeknife, was a leading figure in the IRA. If true, those allegations go to
the heart of British involvement in unlawful actions in pursuit of British
objectives in Northern Ireland. Also, if they are true, responsibility goes
right to the top of Government, and they must be held accountable.
Files with information from Stakeknife would have been
passed from the FRU to the Joint Irish Section - MI5 - and right up to the
Cabinet, and possibly to three Prime Ministers: Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Major and Mr.
Blair. It is the job of MI5 to monitor Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch
and military intelligence and report, independently of them, direct to Whitehall
and the Government. In his preliminary conclusions, Sir John Stevens stated that
he wants to question Agent Stakeknife and Brigadier Gordon Kerr, a former head
of the FRU who is currently a British military attaché in Beijing. It is
interesting to note that, despite Sir John Stevens's interim report, not a
single person has been removed from their post or suspended as a result of the
We are entitled to know how far up the obstructions to the
inquiry went. The journalist John Ware has reported that the former RUC Chief
Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, instructed the then commanding officer of Her
Majesty's armed forces in Northern Ireland, Lieutenant-General Sir John Waters,
not to provide Stevens with Army intelligence. It has also been reported that
members of the Stevens inquiry team threatened Waters with arrest if he did not
hand over the files in his possession. The cost of the Saville inquiry is
frequently invoked as an argument against the public inquiries that everyone
wants to be held into such terrible murders. I think that the cost of the
inquiry is outrageous, but I am very clear about where responsibility lies: not
with the families seeking the truth, but with those that covered up the truth in
the first place, such as the Ministry of Defence; those that attempted to
pervert the course of justice by the destruction of evidence, again the Ministry
of Defence; and those who have fought a guerrilla campaign of evasion from the
outset - once more, the Ministry of Defence.
Most of the answers to my questions and those raised by the
Saville inquiry are in the Government's files. An internal trawl and political
will could have saved millions of pounds. The Minister who is to reply to this
debate on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office is doing so because the Chief
Constable commissioned the report, but responsibility does not stop at the
Northern Ireland Office. The Ministry of Defence must answer questions about the
FRU and its predecessor and successor units. I repeat my earlier charge: it is
the responsibility of MI5 to monitor RUC special branch and military
intelligence and report independently of them direct to Whitehall and the
Government. Prime Ministers and senior officials were in the picture,
deliberately excluded from it, or given only rough generalisations.
The public have been kept in the dark for too long. I
believe that the Government have colluded in the unlawful activities of their
agents, and that the guilty must be called to account, however high up they are.
Where there is sufficient evidence, they must be prosecuted and punished - no
more nolle prosequis. It is clear that existing mechanisms for the oversight and
scrutiny of the intelligence services have failed. A Committee of Members of
this and the other House, appointed by the Prime Minister, meets in secret and
has its reports vetted in advance of publication, and so cannot provide the
accountability that we are entitled to demand.
When the Government themselves stand in the dock, what is
the appropriate remedy? The charges made by Sir John Stevens are the most
serious to be faced by any Government in Britain. They go right to the heart of
our democracy. Our commitment to human rights, the rule of law and justice in
Northern Ireland will count for nothing if we cannot address these matters
openly and honestly.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): May I congratulate
those in the Ministry of Defence on being virtually the only people who can
spell "Steak-knife" correctly? That in itself is significant, because it reminds
us that journalists tend to hunt in packs. In the media, as in many other
aspects of life, real independent thinking is not often evident.
I start with some basic principles. I congratulate the hon.
Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate: it addresses a
matter that is topical, so it is good that it is being raised. However, I want
to touch on some general principles, which it would have been better if the hon.
Gentleman had focused on at the outset.
We are dealing with terrorist organisations and with
conspiracies to commit some of the most appalling crimes that humanity has seen,
which are designed to overthrow democratic Governments. The public have a right
to expect that the authorities will take effective action to ensure that
terrorism fails and that terrorists are made amenable to justice. To do that,
obtaining intelligence is crucial: if Governments were to fail to endeavour to
obtain intelligence, they would be culpable. Intelligence can be obtained in a
number of ways, but it has been clear from time immemorial that one of the most
effective ways is to penetrate the terrorist organisations either by using
people who volunteer to join them in order to do so or, more often, by turning
members of those organisations - that is frequently the only effective way to do
that. If the public are to be protected and terrorism is to be defeated, there
must be intelligence agencies that recruit and run agents, and their operations
must be secret. In order to defend the public, that must be done and it must be
done secretly: those are basic principles that we must never lose sight of.
There is a serious risk that those whose job it is to defeat
terrorism may be so focused on the outcome that they begin to lose sight of
legal and moral responsibilities and boundaries. Those boundaries are necessary,
but some of them must be breached. The hon. Gentleman implied - although he
might not have actually said - that there must be no criminal activity by
agents, but, necessarily, there is such criminal activity. Being a member of a
terrorist organisation is a crime. Therefore, agents for intelligence
organisations are necessarily involved in the commission of crime. If those
people are to remain members of such organisations, they will inevitably be
involved in its activities.
The problem then becomes this: where should the line be
drawn? I imagine that we would have no difficulty in saying that the line must
be drawn at murder. There are plenty of novels in which intelligence agents
commit murders and other crimes, but in the real world the line must be drawn at
that. However, where else is it to be drawn, and how is it to be drawn?
We are dealing with a very murky area where the facts are
often difficult to ascertain. In recruiting agents, one does not have a huge
range of choice and some of the people who are recruited are not attractive
characters. They would not have joined terrorist organisations in the first
place if they were moral, upright citizens. If one is dealing with members of
terrorist organisations who have been turned, one is necessarily dealing with
flawed persons. That factor must be borne in mind. Whether those people
accurately report their activities or intentions is also uncertain.
It would be nice if we were in a position to conduct a
detailed forensic examination of everything that has happened, and I can
understand people's saying that because of the difficulties in taking decisions
in these matters we should know what has been done. However, I return to my
point that secrecy is necessary. While the terrorism continues, too much
publicity is prejudicial to the operation of the intelligence bodies - and,
consequently, prejudicial to public safety. There are things that must remain
secret. Of course there should be accountability and the hon. Gentleman's
comments showed that there is a degree of that. Accountability is essential,
because we have to trust some people. We tend to place our trust - rightly - in
those who hold office and are accountable to the House, and to those who head
the agencies concerned. However, I concede that there is a serious risk that
people will become so carried away with their objective that they lose sight of
where the boundaries should be set.
A lesson learned in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was that
soldiers are, by their nature, training and culture, focused on winning, and in
a war they have to win by whatever means available. However, policemen, by their
training and culture, are focused on upholding the law; they know what the law
is and what evidence is - much more so than any soldier would. That is why, in
such a situation, we must uphold the principle of police primacy, but that was
ignored in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. We are worried that Army intelligence
may continue to be ignored in the present.
I wish to digress a little. Some hon. Members may have heard
the story that I am about to tell. I first heard it many years ago. The hon.
Member for Hull, North referred to the fire at Stevens's headquarters. He was
using Carrickfergus police station as his base and a fire there destroyed
important material contained in various filing cabinets. As a result of the
fire, the offices were not available for use and he was relocated elsewhere.
When I heard the story, it was said that he was moved to Musgrave police station
in the centre of Belfast - that may or may not be accurate.
I heard that a difficulty arose because the Stevens inquiry
officers had to use the same canteen as regular RUC members, and apparently the
RUC members developed a habit of playing the jukebox whenever the inquiry
officers were there. They played a song by Billy Joel entitled, "We Didn't Start
the Fire". The incessant playing of the song so irritated the Stevens inquiry
officers that a fight broke out. I mentioned the story because, as far as we can
tell, the police officers were absolutely right. I say, "as far as we can tell",
because we are relying on comments made by a person who was an agent and has
since gone public. He said that the fire at the Carrickfergus police station was
started by Army personnel, not by policemen.
I hope that the hon. Member for Hull, North will bear in
mind that, at that time, allegations were made that it was the police who were
responsible for the fire, and allegations continue to be made against the
police. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of a mural that exists in Belfast, put
up by republicans, referring to the Finucane case and various participants in
it. It alleges that they were special branch agents. Of course, many of the
persons that it mentions were not special branch agents. Mr. Nelson was not.
There is a tendency to focus on the police and to attack
them - repeatedly and inaccurately. I see examples of that even in the summary
of the Stevens inquiry, in which he makes reference to a British Irish Rights
Watch report entitled "Deadly Intelligence - State involvement in loyalist
murder in Northern Ireland", which includes allegations that the RUC incited the
death of Mr. Finucane. I am happy to say that the next paragraph makes it clear
that there was no evidence to support those allegations. Allegations are too
often thrown around in the direction of the police, for which there is no
The inquiry reports from Sir John Stevens are necessarily
highly abbreviated, so it is extremely difficult for us to evaluate them. Their
conclusion was that there has been collusion in both murders - those of Lambert
and Finucane, which was evidenced in many ways by wilful failure to keep
records. That in itself is not evidence of collusion. We need to know more about
how that shows collusion. There may be more evidence in a full report from Sir
John Stevens, which unfortunately he cannot provide because cases are ongoing
and there is a need for secrecy. This report refers to "the absence of
accountability". Again, we would need to know what that referred to in order to
know whether it indicated collusion. The report also refers to
"the withholding of intelligence and evidence".
That might indeed be the case. The report goes through to
"the extreme of agents being involved in murder."
That is a very serious matter, and it would be important for
us to know what material lay behind it. As far as the report is concerned, that
material is not disclosed.
The paragraph referring to Nelson's involvement in the
attack on Mr. Finucane states:
"It is not clear whether his role in the murder extended
beyond passing a photograph".
With regard to Stobie's involvement in the case, the report
states that the information that he provided
"principally concerned the collection of a firearm."
"supplied information of a murder being planned."
Again, there is no material here to demonstrate the
collusion that is referred to. That evidence may be there. I would not be
surprised if things had happened and things had gone wrong over the years. I
would not be surprised at mistakes having been made. Whether deliberately or
culpably, we do not know. I hope that we will know, that the full information
will become available and that we will reach a point at which it is safe to put
the full information in the public domain. Whether that point has arrived must
be open to debate.
I must take exception to some of the terms used by the hon.
Member for Hull, North. Perhaps he knows more than we do. He referred to Mr.
Nelson dying in suspicious circumstances. I do not know what those circumstances
were. I am not aware of any evidence about the death to demonstrate that the
circumstances were suspicious. Perhaps it is just the fact of the death that the
hon. Gentleman regards as suspicious.
Mr. McNamara : I should perhaps have used the word
"mysterious", because none of us knows how Mr. Nelson died, why or whether there
have been autopsies, and his family have not been properly informed.
Mr. Trimble : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has
clarified matters in that way. Whether the death is mysterious, I do not know,
because I do not know what information is available to the authorities in
Florida. There may be no mystery. The mystery may be simply that the hon.
Gentleman does not know the circumstances. He now describes the death as
"mysterious"; previously he described it as "suspicious". The fact that those
terms automatically occur to him in describing these matters indicates a certain
cast of mind and a certain basic attitude on his part. That is the criticism
that I was making of him: he appears to approach these matters from a particular
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Widgery inquiry as
"flawed" and doubts whether dirty tricks saved lives. However, successive Chief
Constables of the police in Northern Ireland, the General Officer Commanding and
others have said that, in the latter years of the IRA's campaign, the security
forces succeeded in foiling four out of five of the IRA's operations. Accounts
such as the book entitled "Fifty Dead Men Walking" also tend to verify that.
That book was written by a person who was a member of the Belfast brigade of the
IRA, who became an informer and subsequently published a book detailing his
activities and experiences. That account substantiates the security forces'
claim that they were able to foil four out of five of the IRA's operations. In
many cases, that was due to the information obtained by the use of agents, so in
response to the suggestion that those activities did not save lives - I am not
sure whether they justify the use of the phrase "dirty tricks" in any event - I
say that such evidence as we have clearly points the other way.
That brings me back to the basic point: if we are to defeat
terrorism, it will be necessary to obtain intelligence and to obtain it by
getting people to join illegal organisations or by turning members of illegal
organisations. That will inevitably involve criminality. Yes, there have to be
guidelines and accountability, and when the guidelines are breached, there must
be legal action; there was in the Nelson case. The hon. Gentleman referred to
the allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in the 1980s. There were criminal
proceedings. Several police officers were charged with murder and tried. The
judgments given by the courts can be read and examined in those matters too. The
evidence is that there is monitoring and that the authorities intend to ensure
that the law is adhered to in its essential fundamental points. Whether that is
always done perfectly, we do not yet know. In an ideal situation we should know
more. We have not reached that ideal situation.
I close by reflecting on the comments of the hon. Gentleman
when he said that finding out about killings was a necessary part of the healing
process of Northern Ireland. Yes, it is; but unfortunately the hon. Gentleman
qualified that phrase by saying "controversial killings". It would be good if we
had information about all killings and we bore it in mind that the vast majority
of the killings were carried out by terrorist organisations and the republican
movement. We should keep a degree of balance as we look at this difficult area.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara): Order. There
is much interest in this debate. The first Front-Bench speaker must be called
not later than 10.30. That may help those who are called to speak to gauge their
contribution and thus enable as many to get in as possible.
Patrick Mercer (Newark): I congratulate the hon.
Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate and making some
clear points. I do not agree with all of them, but I am none the less grateful
to him. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)
on his clear exposition of the case.
The purpose of my short speech is to ask people to
understand exactly what this campaign was about. This was not some James Bond
escapade. It was not glamorous. It involved phrases like "nutting squad". A
nutting squad is a squad of thugs that eventually shoots people through the
head, having first shot them in the ankles, the knees, the elbows and so on. It
is a form of torture culminating in execution. Another phrase is "romper rooms",
which were rooms where gangs of thugs, of all political stripes, beat, tortured
and occasionally quickly executed the lucky few. Their victims were criminals,
perhaps, and innocent people certainly, who were involved in this dirty war.
My own involvement started in the early 1970s as a platoon
commander with the Sherwood Foresters and culminated some 20-odd years later in
another capacity. As a fresh-faced individual out of university I did not really
understand what this was about. I can give a couple of quick illustrations. In
Dungiven in County Londonderry in the 1970s I was told to respond to a tout who
was on the run. I did not know what a tout was but our dogs eventually picked up
the blood trail and found a 14-year-old boy who was bleeding not because of the
beatings that he had received from the Provisional IRA, but because of the deep
gashes that he had inflicted on himself while crossing barbed-wire fences.
The following year in Crossmaglen I had the dubious
privilege of clearing a corpse of explosive that was left with its hands and
ankles bound with wire and naked feet - the ultimate indignity. I remember
watching a wife receive a telephone call to fetch her husband who had had an
accident. The accident involved 77 rounds of Armalite ammunition being pumped
through his body. Again, he was a tout. His wife was told to go and find the
body as a warning to the rest of the community about touting.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann made it clear that the
people who were asked to counter this style of war were policemen and soldiers.
The policemen could possibly have been expected to handle this in a slightly
different fashion. I fully endorse the right hon. Gentleman's comments about
police primacy. As a former practitioner in the field, I know that it was
difficult for soldiers to understand precisely what was required. I was told at
one stage to lift - to arrest - 32 terrorists in the West Belfast sector who
were on the run and who would be indicted once they had been captured. I could
not understand why those people had not fled from the Belfast area, but they had
stayed - I use the phrase carefully - within their ghettos. The fact that they
did not wish to leave the water in which they swam made it extraordinarily
difficult for either a born and bred policeman or someone like myself from the
mainland to penetrate those deeply violent, thug-like organisations where an
outsider, even an outsider from a different housing estate, stood no chance of
survival. That is why we used agents.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has made it clear that
those agents were not plaster saints. I do not have time to go into any more
detail than that. It was made very clear to us - visitors to that particularly
ugly campaign - that we acted at all times within the law, because not to do so
made us criminals and terrorists in our own right. That is why soldiers were
arrested by policemen, and policemen were arrested by soldiers, when they
overstepped the mark. It was not an easy line to understand, and I have no doubt
that it was stepped over from time to time. However, I draw right hon. and hon.
Members' attention to names such as Private Thane, Corporal Clegg, and Guardsmen
Fisher and Wright. I am deliberately not talking about policemen. They were
soldiers who were asked to be involved in that sort of campaign and who
overstepped the mark. They were all been prosecuted, and dealt with in what to
my mind is a thoroughly unsatisfactory fashion because they were being asked to
carry out duties where the line is blurred.
Someone must defend the people that defend our democracy.
Clearly, things have gone wrong. Policemen, soldiers and Ministers have got it
wrong; they must be accountable. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to bear in
mind that the peace process is not where it is today because of some benign
intent, some benign understanding by thugs and terrorists, some conversion, some
sudden ray of light falling into their lives revealing to them that they are
wrong and evil. The peace process is where it is today because the IRA and
Protestant paramilitary organisations have been shown that they will be
militarily defeated if they continue down the road on which they are travelling.
Let us be in no doubt about that. There has been a campaign, and a campaign is
about killing people if necessary and deterring people because it has to be
done. That is not the sort of campaign that we have just seen in Iraq; it is by
definition a dirty campaign.
In conclusion, let us remember those men and women who have
brought the campaign as far as it has come. As we hear the confused exposition
from the hon. Member for Hull, North, let us remember how many gallantry
decorations those organisations have won; how many lives those brave men and
women have saved; how much violence they have deterred. Let us pay tribute to
them, and hope that common sense will prevail and that public interest will
dictate that no prosecution takes place.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I rise to
speak on a very serious topic that has concentrated the minds of many people in
Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom for a considerable time.
Further to what the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)
alluded to, I preface my remarks by saying that I think that all the law-abiding
people in Northern Ireland would want to state that the law - upholding the law
and the rule of law - must be paramount. That issue should be at the forefront
of all our minds throughout any dirty tricks - any nasty, vicious, sectarian
campaign of murder such as that which we have had to endure in Northern Ireland
for the past 34 years.
The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) would have
done his cause a greater service had he outlined the context in which the
matters he wanted to address had occurred. As I said, the onset of a bloody
conflict some 34 years ago was at its height in the early period, from 1969 to
1973. In one year, more than 400 people were murdered; in the House recently,
comparisons have been drawn between the extent of violence then and now. The
violence has got worse since the Belfast agreement was signed, but it bears no
comparison whatever - even though it is worse now than in 1998 - with what it
was in the early 1970s. The violence was virtually endemic between 1969 and 1973
and much of what the hon. Member for Hull, North has raised today had its
origins and genesis in that time. The context in which we are talking about any
activities that were either across the line or utterly reprehensible must be
stated: it was at a time of endemic violence and continuous murder on a daily,
if not hourly, basis on some occasions.
The hon. Gentleman alluded to the series of inquiries that
have taken place; since that time there have been no comparable investigations
and no comparable inquiries in the Irish Republic into the allegations of
collusion between the Garda Siochana and/or the Irish army and the Provisional
IRA that I am aware of, and I live closer to the border than most hon. Members
Despite that, we have the call by the hon. Gentleman -
Mr. Trimble : I am sorry to intrude on the hon.
Gentleman, but I want to point out to him that of course he intended to say that
there is evidence that some members of the Garda and some members of the Irish
army had colluded. He was not of course suggesting that the organisations
themselves had done so.
Mr. Campbell : No, I was not indeed. I was coming to
the point about the numbers of people involved - allegedly - in Northern
There have indeed been allegations for many years regarding
a number of people in the Irish Republic and their alleged collusion with the
Provisional IRA. In fact, as I understand it, Judge Cory is investigating at
least one of those allegations, but the outcome of his investigations remains to
Those who have acted in a manner in which they should not
have acted, those who have overstepped the mark and those who have engaged in
acts - legal acts and acts whereby innocent people have died - lead us into a
very serious moral dilemma. I have no difficulty in admitting that; it is a
moral dilemma. We have heard hon. Members say whether we have a balancing act
whereby in a dirty, vicious war agents are used, and some lives are saved and
others taken. How do we, in a modern, civilised society, balance that loss
against the gain? We must accept the context in which that is happening, and
accept that those who engaged in the brutal, vicious, sectarian war in the first
place are inevitably responsible for any agents that have to be recruited to get
their war to cease.
I close by saying that the commendable bravery and courage
of 99 per cent. of the police officers, the Army officers, and all those who
have been in the front line against terrorism for 34 years must be taken into
account when considering the alleged collusion or activities of an insignificant
number of people who, for whatever reason, have broken the law. On this day, in
these premises, when we recognise the courage and bravery of those who have
received the highest award for bravery that the nation can offer, we would do
well to recognise the courage and bravery of the many tens of thousands of
officers who have stood in the front line in Northern Ireland and across the
United Kingdom against terrorism.
David Burnside (South Antrim): I congratulate the
hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate on Stevens,
and on his long and distinguished career, the past two years of which I have
observed in the House. Over the past 30 years, the hon. Gentleman has called for
many inquiries. He will correct me if I am wrong in saying that he has never
called for any inquiry into the activities of the Provisional IRA and their
criminal and terrorist campaign against the state of Northern Ireland and the
innocent people of Northern Ireland - Protestant and Catholic - over the past 30
Mr. McNamara : I would have called for an inquiry
into the actions of terrorists, who by their own actions condemn themselves. I
have always supported the police and the security services in bringing them to
justice, and I would always do so.
David Burnside : I am learning today, because my view
of the hon. Gentleman's activities over the past 30 years is that they have
involved serious concentration on undermining the security forces in Northern
The Stevens inquiry has been taking place for a long time. I
believe that it has been running for 14 years, which means - someone will no
doubt correct me if I am wrong - that it started under the Thatcher and Major
Governments. Fourteen years is probably far too long. I would appreciate it if
the Minister could give us some guidance on how long it will take and how wide
the terms of reference of the Stevens report will be. We read in the press, and
in direct quotes from Sir John Stevens, that he will be investigating Stakeknife
- so be it. However, may we know what the terms of reference of the report will
I, and many others in Northern Ireland, see in the findings
of the Stevens report - the public findings, not the full report - many opinions
and conclusions that are apparently not based on evidence. We have not yet seen
the full report, and we want to know how long the inquiry will last.
There should be inquiries, internal inquiries, into
theactivities of the security services - the Army and the police - if wrongs
have been carried out and members of those forces have gone beyond the law and
guidelines in the fight against terrorism. However, there is only one balance in
Northern Ireland, and that is the balance of inquiries against the security
services. Some £150 million has been allocated to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, and
I predict that its conclusion will please neither those who called the inquiry
nor the Parachute Regiment. The report will be inconclusive and a total waste of
money. There has been no inquiry into the authorisation by Martin McGuinness,
second-in-command of the Provisional IRA, of 24 murders of policemen, members of
the RUC and the Army in 1972, and I doubt that there will be one.
We should try to draw a line under the past 34 years. Many
Members have proposed looking at other conflicts around the world to see how we
can achieve a balance. I would like an inquiry into the activities of the
Provisional IRA and the foundation and activities of Fianna Fail, which forms
the present Government in the Irish Republic and helped to found and finance the
Provisional IRA. I would like an inquiry into Bloody Friday and the deaths of
all the members of the RUC. I will not get one, and the law-abiding people will
not get one. That is not the current balance, which is to undermine the security
forces, Army and police.
If the Stevens inquiry continues to investigate Stakeknife,
as it appears that it will, so be it. However, if the security services cannot
handle and use informers and intelligence in the war against terrorism,
terrorism will win. We are on dangerous ground in allowing the undermining of
the intelligence services - both special branch and the police, and the Army
intelligence agencies and units that have operated out of Lisburn for the past
30 years. We need guidelines and accountability, but we need intelligence that
includes the use of informers. It concerns me that the balance is tipped one
Let us draw a line in the sand and have a truth commission.
However, the problem with a truth commission is that everyone has to tell the
truth. I look forward to having Martin McGuinness tell the truth about his
activities in the past 34 years. I would also like to hear Gerry Adams,
Stakeknife and Johnny Adair. Let them all come to a truth commission to explain
why they did what they did and say, "We now believe it was wrong and
unjustified. Let's bring it to an end." That is what the law-abiding people of
Northern Ireland want, not another biased, pro-republican, pro-nationalist
inquiry, which is the only thing that the hon. Member for Hull, North has
campaigned for in this House for the past 30 years.
It is time to draw a line in the sand on the past 34 years
and have some truth. We will not get it through what the hon. Gentleman has
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I,
too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the
debate. However, I must say, with regret, that in many respects it has been an
unsatisfactory exercise. I say that because almost every hon. Member who has
contributed has done so from one particular perspective, and it is a matter of
substantial regret that no one has been prepared to look at the totality of the
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) rightly
spoke about the need for intelligence as part of what the hon. Member for Newark
(Patrick Mercer) referred to as a dirty war. No one disputes that, but that is
not the only issue open for discussion. There is also the conduct of the Sir
John Stevens inquiry and the manner in which it has been obstructed. I would
have much more respect for the views of the hon. Member for Hull, North and the
right hon. Member for Upper Bann if they looked at the totality of the
situation. They demean their case by failing to do so. The issues are massive
and the decision to investigate may not please everyone, but the basic position
is that once the decision has been taken, it cannot be acceptable for
obstruction by anyone to go unremarked.
This is an unsatisfactory forum. With the exception of the
hon. Member for Hull, North, no hon. Member has had adequate time to develop
their argument. The one person whom we really want to hear from on such
occasions, and who is given 10 minutes at the end, is the Minister. Therefore,
exceptionally, I do not intend to make any further contribution. I shall leave
the rest of the time available to me to the Minister, in the hope that she might
take more interventions and have a fuller debate during her speech than we have
been able to have so far.
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): I endorse the
congratulations to the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing
the debate. I was rather taken with the self-sacrifice of the hon. Member for
Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) of what might have been considered to be
his own time. I shall try to match that.
Meanwhile, I was as impressed as ever by the speech by my
hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). It is a matter of fact that
Sir John Stevens presented his latest report to the Chief Constable of the
Police Service of Northern Ireland on 17 April. As the hon. Member for Hull,
North reminded us, we have now had three Stevens inquiries. The first was set up
under Lord Brooke when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1989
and the third following a request from the then Chief Constable of the Royal
Ulster Constabulary, Sir Ronnie Flanagan. Therefore, it is a saga that has
already lasted for some 14 years.
The events that prompted those three inquiries are the
murder of solicitor Patrick Finucane in February 1989 and the allegations that
members of the security forces colluded with so-called loyalist paramilitaries
in his murder, and the murders of a number of other Roman Catholics. In recent
days we have also read claims that in some of those cases members of the Army's
force research unit directed loyalists towards certain targets in order to
protect the identity and life of the agent known as Stakeknife. I am sure that
hon. Members will forgive me if I say that I most emphatically do not wish to go
down that road.
There are, however, two matters on which I wish to comment.
The first relates to whether there should now be a public inquiry into the
Finucane murder. The second is whether past or serving members of the armed
forces should face criminal prosecutions for their part in certain
The Conservative party does not believe that a public
inquiry is warranted. As I have said, there have been three Stevens inquiries
over 14 years. The Finucane murder is also the subject of an investigation by
the retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory. We are told that his inquiry has now
been completed and that the contents are in a secure location in Canada. What
purpose would another inquiry serve? After the excesses of the Saville inquiry,
which has already cost over £100 million and could end up costing double that,
do we really want to create yet another haemorrhage of legal expenses - a
lawyers' orgy? If three inquiries by the most senior police officer in the
country and a distinguished retired judge cannot establish the truth, how can we
be confident that a public inquiry would yield any better results? Therefore, we
believe that the latest Stevens report and the Cory report when published should
represent closure on this matter.
On the subject of prosecutions, our view is clear. It would
be wholly wrong to put on trial past or serving members of the security forces -
the Army or the RUC - for their part in the fight against terrorism at a time
when more than 440 terrorists have benefited from the early release scheme
established by the Belfast agreement; nor, however, do we believe that members
of the security forces should benefit from arrangements of the type put in place
for terrorists. That would introduce the concept of equivalence between the
legitimate forces of the Crown and illegal terrorist organisations. That is
morally repugnant to us and would rightly be resisted by the armed forces and
members of the police.
What do we believe should happen? As a result of the latest
Stevens inquiry, a number of case files are currently with the Director of
Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. He will obviously make an assessment in
the normal way as to whether in each case there is a less than 50 per cent.
chance of a successful prosecution. Yet there is another consideration. The DPP
is ultimately responsible to the Attorney-General, who exercises a
superintending role over him. It is for the Attorney-General to decide whether a
prosecution would be in the public interest. Moreover, under the Shawcross
convention, the Attorney-General has a duty to consult colleagues although he
cannot take instruction from them. It is our hope that in these cases common
sense will prevail and the public interest will dictate that prosecutions do not
take place, as occurred in 1988 when Lord Mayhew of Twysden declined to
prosecute following the Stalker/Sampson inquiries.
As other hon. Members have said, we are dealing here with
very murky events. They should not, however, obscure the huge debt of gratitude
that we all owe to the armed forces and the RUC. For over 30 years the
overwhelming majority of their members carried out their duties with skill,
great bravery and even-handed professionalism. They are deserving of our praise
and our thanks. It would be a scandalous travesty if the actions of the few were
used to tarnish the achievements and honour of the many.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane
Kennedy) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)
for securing the debate. It is a serious matter and one that I know is of
concern to all hon. Members here this morning, including some who have not had
an opportunity to speak, so I have listened with a great deal of interest to
what has been said. There can be no mistaking the anxieties that have been
expressed and the disquiet that lies behind many of the questions raised. I hope
that I will be able to respond to those questions and address the concerns. I am
grateful for the extended opportunity that the hon. Member for Orkney and
Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) has given me by being so generous with his time. I am
grateful, too, to the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) for being so
It is right and proper that I commence my response by
returning to the reasons for Sir John Stevens's third report. He begins the
second chapter of his summary by outlining the events that he investigated. It
is fitting that we remember that Patrick Finucane was murdered in front of his
wife and three children in his home on Sunday 12 February 1989. He was 39 years
old and he worked as a solicitor in Belfast. Sir John Stevens says in his report
that Patrick Finucane was shot 14 times by two masked gunmen, who entered his
house in the early evening.
I begin by saying unequivocally that the murder of Patrick
Finucane was a tragedy and a crime. It was a tragedy not only for his family,
whose grief is still palpable, but for the legal profession and the wider
community in Northern Ireland. There can also be no doubt that it was a crime,
and as a Government we have clear views on crime and those who perpetrate it.
The Government take Patrick Finucane's death very seriously, as do the police.
Indeed, Sir John Stevens concludes that Patrick Finucane's murder, and that of
the young man Brian Lambert, could have been prevented. That is a matter of
If I may do so without embarrassing my hon. Friend the
Member for Hull, North, I shall respond to some of the comments that he made. A
number of contributors to the debate have paid tribute to the work of the
Mr. Carmichael : I listened with interest to what the
Minister said about Sir John Stevens's remarks about the murder of Patrick
Finucane. She will be aware that he goes on to say in paragraph 4.6:
"I also believe that the RUC investigation of Patrick
Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his
That has palpably not been the case. Does the Minister have
any comment to make on that?
Jane Kennedy : Indeed: I shall come to that shortly.
If I do not, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will draw my attention to it again
later. Before I get into the detail, I want to respond to some of the comments
made about the work of the security forces and the tributes paid to them, but in
doing so, I shall make clear the context.
I do not share the views of hon. Members who have denigrated
the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North. I pay tribute to the role
that he has played and the tenacity with which he has followed the events, and
spoken for and pressed Governments on human rights in Northern Ireland and
elsewhere. Indeed, he serves on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It is worth
considering comments that he made in a debate on 11 July 2002 on a report of the
Intelligence and Security Committee, again in the context of grave criticisms
about allegations of intelligence agencies overstepping the grey line that the
hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) described. I will comment on his remarks
in a moment. My hon. Friend said:
"I have made grave criticisms . . . however, I want to
pay tribute to the many men and women in the security forces and intelligence
agencies who have not behaved in the way I have described, but have acted with
great bravery and dedication. They put their lives on the line because they
believed that their work would allow others to live in safety. I pay tribute to
them: the nation owes them a great deal." - [Official Report
I associate myself entirely with those comments. People who
continue to do such important work deserve our support.
In their fight against terrorism, the security forces use a
variety of techniques, including the use of covert human intelligence sources,
which is the phrase that we now use for the term "agent". We have always
required the public authorities to act within established guidelines when using
those sources. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ensured that the
guidelines set out by Parliament were compatible with the European convention on
human rights. That Act has improved the structures for the management of
informants and has ensured far greater accountability than there may have been
in the past. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North made a very
serious allegation to which I must respond: he alleged that Governments have
sanctioned murder. Sir John Stevens does not conclude that successive
Governments have sanctioned murder. The report voices many concerns and I accept
that its findings must be acknowledged, but the allegation that Governments have
sanctioned murder is not one of its findings. It is important that I state that
for the record.
We are grateful for Sir John Stevens's efforts in conducting
his investigation, just as we are grateful to the former Chief Constable, Sir
Ronnie Flanagan, for asking Sir John to investigate. The police response - the
Stevens inquiry - has been the largest investigation of its kind in the United
Kingdom, and its findings are invaluable to us. Its effort to achieve
prosecutions is admirable: we must remember that this third investigation,
conducted by Sir John Stevens, has been a criminal investigation, and one that
Sir John Stevens's recommendations for the future are vital,
but there could be no one better than Hugh Orde to ensure that the report's
recommendations are brought to bear on the reform of the Police Service of
Northern Ireland. We must remember Hugh Orde's familiarity with the detail of
the Stevens investigation and his knowledge of the circumstances surrounding
Patrick Finucane's death. His track record so far is of a Chief Constable who
knows what he wants from a police force and how to achieve the best.
The Government's response is that those who are culpable in
the affair must face justice. In the first instance, we look to the police
investigation and to the criminal process, which must take priority. The
investigation is continuing, as I said, and Sir John Stevens has made it clear
that lines of inquiry are still being pursued and investigations are still being
made. Files have been, and continue to be, sent to the Director of Public
Prosecutions, which we welcome. Let no one be mistaken about the role of the
DPP: he acts with total impartiality and integrity. He will consider all the
allegations passed to him by the Stevens team, and he will apply the
prosecutions test to those allegations without distinction. Whether or not he
decides to prosecute in each case, he will be acting without fear or favour.
We hear the concerns of the relatives and others who are
calling for a public inquiry - a call that was repeated by my hon. Friend the
Member for Hull, North this morning. That is why we appointed Judge Cory. He has
the task of recommending what, if any, further action needs to be taken in this
case and others. Judge Cory is on schedule to complete his work, and to report
to both the British and Irish Governments on his six cases by autumn this year.
However, let me make it clear that because of the priority given to the criminal
justice process we are obliged by law to ensure that prosecutions are not
prejudiced and that the criminal justice process is not damaged. We would have
to ensure that no public inquiry cut across judicial proceedings.
Mr. Gregory Campbell : On the issue of Judge Cory and
his investigations, the Minister will be aware of the information, which is in
the public domain, that he indicated displeasure at the Stevens inquiry's
outcome being in the public domain and said that that could jeopardise his own
report. Has Judge Cory been in touch with Her Majesty's Government about his
report and its connection with the Stevens revelations?
Jane Kennedy : Judge Cory is in regular touch with
the British and Irish Governments about the work that he is undertaking. From
time to time, he has expressed various anxieties and made representations to the
Irish Government and to us. He continues in that dialogue but is content to
continue with his work. We expect to receive his findings in the autumn of this
I have broadly set out the Government's position, but I
shall try to reply to other issues that hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend
the Member for Hull, North raised the question of a public inquiry, and I shall
add one further comment to that. It remains the case that the possibility of
holding a judicial inquiry into the Patrick Finucane case has not been ruled
out. As I said, however, the criminal justice process must take its course. An
inquiry now could undermine the prosecution process and damage the possibility
of successful prosecutions. We look to Justice Peter Cory, who may make
recommendations for further action. If he does, we will stand by our commitment
to implement his recommendations.
On the Stevens report, it is important to remember that this
is a criminal investigation. Sir John Stevens's report is to the Chief
Constable, and it was our judgment when the summary was published that it was
not for us to make a statement to the House. I note the comments that were made
about the suitability of this forum for debating the process, but we have had an
opportunity to explore some serious issues. I know that the matter will be
returned to on future occasions. Indeed, Hugh Orde has said that it is one of
his major concerns. He has committed himself to reporting on the implementation
of his recommendations to the Policing Board at its meeting in early July, with
an interim report to the board next month. He told the board last week that a
good deal of the work envisaged by Sir John Stevens, and contained in his
recommendations, was already in progress.
Hon. Members also made comments about Stakeknife. They will
not be surprised to learn that I will not comment on intelligence matters. I
will not confirm whether press speculation about the identity and actions of
Stakeknife is accurate - regardless of how that name is spelt. I will not
comment on Stakeknife's whereabouts, nor will I comment on media speculation
about any arrangements for his safety. That is a blanket refusal to respond.
Mr. McNamara rose
Jane Kennedy : Before my hon. Friend intervenes -
this may pre-empt his intervention - I will say this: it is for Sir John Stevens
to decide whether he wishes to interview Stakeknife. The Government fully
support him in his investigation, and we will do everything in our power to
Mr. McNamara : I take it that no impediments will be
put before Sir John Stevens if he seeks to interrogate Stakeknife, if that agent
Jane Kennedy : My hon. Friend can be reassured on
David Burnside : Does the Minister understand the
concerns of those who are currently serving in Northern Ireland in both the
intelligence services that are linked to the Army and the police special branch
about the problem that they will face in future in handling informers in their
traditional way? Does she understand that informers are now very nervous about
co-operating with the security services, and that if intelligence gathering in
Northern Ireland is weakened, that will put us on very dangerous ground?
Jane Kennedy : The hon. Gentleman makes a serious
The hon. Gentleman also asked earlier about the terms of
reference of Sir John Stevens in his ongoing inquiries. He spells those out in
the opening paragraphs of the published summary of his report.
Finally, I turn to the comments of the hon. - and gallant -
Member for Newark. I am grateful to him for enlightening us with examples of his
experiences when he served in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman and my hon.
Friend the Member for Hull, North commented on police primacy. I reassure hon.
Members that in my dealings as Minister with responsibility for security with
the armed forces and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, I have been
consistently reassured that police primacy remains at the heart of the armed
services' objectives in their work in Northern Ireland by all those who are
engaged in that enormous task.
The hon. Member for Newark also described how those to whom
we paid tribute earlier who do that difficult work are constantly trying to
judge where the line is drawn. I am sure that he would be the first to
acknowledge that those who are engaged in this work are deeply concerned when
that line is crossed. They are bitterly disappointed when it is crossed
accidentally, but because of the nature of the work that will occasionally
happen, as he described. When it is crossed deliberately, the anger that is felt
among the brave men and women who undertake this work is very real and deep. It
is right and proper that those who cross that line deliberately are held
accountable: when that line is crossed, serious consequences sometimes follow.
The security forces and all those who are engaged in this
work are properly accountable. The framework within which they operate, as
defined by the RIPA regulations, is now comprehensive. It is clear that we need
to continue developing and constantly reviewing the way in which we conduct this
work. I assure hon. Members that we will continue to do that, and that we will
also continue to make the necessary effort to ensure that justice is done, in
that case and in others. We uphold the law and the criminal justice system so,
in the case of the murder of Patrick Finucane, we look first to the prosecution
and conviction of those involved in that crime.