Yesterday (December 12) a report by Desmond de Silva QC into the murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane was made public. It concluded that there is “significant doubt as to whether Patrick Finucane would have been murdered by the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) in February 1989 had it not been for the different strands of involvement of elements of the state.” Mr de Silva “found there was no “overarching” British state conspiracy to murder Mr Finucane” in spite of the fact that “a series of positive actions by employees of the state actively furthered and facilitated his murder and that in the aftermath of the murder there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice”.
Well, call me pedantic, but if a “series of positive actions by employees of the state actively furthered and facilitated his murder”, together with the fact “that in the aftermath of the murder there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice” is not an “overarching” state conspiracy, you really have to wonder what is. Furthermore, the report states that “the security service assessed that 85 per cent of the UDA’s ‘intelligence’ originated from sources within the security forces”. In other words, the UDA, a terrorist organisation, obtained a vast amount of the information that helped it carry out its murderous campaigns – but there is “no ‘overarching’ British state conspiracy”? In one sense I suppose you have to agree with Mr de Silva. Indeed there is no conspiracy: this sort of behaviour by the British government is entirely normal. It’s the sort of thing it’s been doing for about a thousand years. That’s why it operates in secrecy most of the time, and that’s why vast amounts of its documents are kept locked away from the public gaze for many decades.
Geraldine Finucane, Patrick’s widow, was interviewed by the BBC today. Her quiet, dignified bearing is deeply impressive. She doesn’t think very highly of Mr de Silva’s handiwork, and believes it is a “sham”, a “whitewash” and a “confidence trick”, and that “Yet another British government has engineered a suppression of the truth behind the murder of my husband.” She is almost certainly right. She has always demanded a public inquiry. Although she doesn’t give me the impression of someone who truly believes this would result in real justice for the brutal murder of her husband, she’s absolutely right to continue fighting for a public inquiry on the grounds that it’s right to maintain the pressure on government to fully account for its actions.
In this morning’s BBC TV interview Mrs Finucane was asked about the point of view that if a public inquiry into her husband’s murder were acceded to it would “open the floodgates” of other similar calls for public inquiries – the questioner suggesting the cost would be too prohibitive. Mrs Finucane dodged the trap beautifully stressing that she was only calling for real justice for her husband. However, the question actually exposes the reality of the situation. Without doubt there must surely be many other cases which are equally deserving of public attention. Whenever our government imposes some new restriction on our ever-dwindling freedoms it routinely explains itself by saying that if people have nothing to hide, they need not fear anything. A similar response could have been used by Mrs Finucane (although she was right not to do so – better to leave that sort of thing to people like me). If the government has nothing to hide, it shouldn’t fear a public inquiry, should it? Nor should it fear any floodgates opening, surely? As for the cost – well, it’s only the equivalent of a couple of cruise missiles, or a day or two of illegally occupying someone else’s country.
These exceptionally rare glimpses into how our government routinely conducts itself are deeply precious. They are exceptional not because of the rarity of such conduct, but because of the rarity of such conduct being discovered and exposed into the dazzling light of day. The largely overlooked comment by de Silva that 85% of the information used by a known terrorist organisation was supplied to it by the British government is one such exceptionally rare glimpse into the routine workings of Britain’s so-called “security” services. It’s a rare piece of real news. It will, without doubt, soon disappear behind far more important issues, such as royal babies and unproven allegations about the sex lives of dead TV stars.