Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Ms. Jane Winter
Director - British Irish Rights Watch

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British Irish RIGHTS WATCH is an independent non-governmental organisation that monitors the human rights dimension of the conflict and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

We welcome this opportunity to address the Commission concerning the investigation carried out by Judge Cory into whether there was collusion in six murders which took place in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and we thank this honourable Commission for their interest in this matter.

To deal first with the Northern Ireland cases, Belfast lawyer Patrick Finucane was murdered by the UDA in 1989. In 2003 Sir John Stevens, the most senior police officer in the UK, stated publicly that there is strong evidence of collusion with the loyalists who killed the lawyer by both RUC officers and British army intelligence.

Robert Hamill was a young Catholic man who was kicked to death by a loyalist mob in 1997 in the centre of Portadown despite the presence of armed RUC officers in a police landrover. The RUC later put out misleading press statements suggesting that Robert Hamill had been involved in a pitched battle between opposing factions and that RUC officers had been injured. Following an investigation by the Police Ombudsman, former police officers and others have stood trial for perverting the course of justice by alerting suspects and telling them how to dispose of evidence.

Dissident loyalist leader Billy Wright was murdered in the Maze prison in 1997. He was killed on his way to a visit, by republican INLA prisoners whom the prison authorities had housed in the same wing. They were able to smuggle weapons into the jail, and to cut through a wire fence completely undetected. A prison officer was called away from a crucial watch tower just at the time of the murder, and the murderers apparently had advance warning that Billy Wright was due to receive a visit that morning.

Lurgan lawyer Rosemary Nelson was blown up in a car bomb by the LVF in 1999. She was threatened by members of the security forces before she died. Representations were made to the government concerning her safety by the UN and by NGOs, but she was offered no protection. Five years after the murder, no-one has been brought to book, despite a costly police investigation overseen by officers from outside Northern Ireland. Some of those suspected of involvement in her murder were police agents, and one was a serving soldier.

These cases had received international attention, with governments, the United Nations, and others calling for public inquiries. However, it was not until 2001, when collusion became an issue during negotiations designed to save the Northern Ireland peace process, that any kind of progress was achieved. The Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, persuaded the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to call in an independent judge from outside the UK and Ireland to consider the issue of whether public inquiries were warranted into the six cases. The Weston Park Agreement referred to them as “a source of grave public concern”, and said that, “In the event that a Public Inquiry is recommended in any case, the relevant Government will implement that recommendation.” They also provided for consultation with the relevant Attorney General concerning any prosecutions arising out of the cases, and for “guidelines and facilities for ensuring that [sensitive] material is handled in a way which respects our own responsibilities in respect … national security and the privacy of individuals … including in respect to the right [to] life”

Judge Cory started work in July 2002 and he finished his work by 7th October 2003, when he delivered his reports to the two governments.

The two reports addressed to the Irish government concerned Lord Justice and Lady Gibson, and Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan. Lord Justice Gibson, who was a High Court judge, and his wife died when their car was blown up by the IRA in 1987 as they returned home from a holiday via the Dun Laoghaire ferry. Although the judge had booked the ferry in his own name, the timing and location of the explosion, which happened during the handover between the Garda and RUC escorts on the border, had given rise to allegations of collusion by a Garda officer. Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were RUC officers who were ambushed and shot by the IRA as they returned to Northern Ireland from a meeting in the Republic in 1989. Garda collusion was also suspected in their case.

On 18th December 2003, the Irish government published their two reports. Judge Cory had recommended a public inquiry in the case of Bob Buchanan and Harry Breen, and the Irish government announced that it would immediately establish such an inquiry. The Irish government asked Judge Cory to make some minor changes to his report before publication, which the judge agreed to make. These mainly involved the identification of certain persons.

The UK government has yet to publish the four reports addressed to them, despite many appeals from the families of the victims. We understand that, in contrast to the Irish government, they have asked the judge to make many changes to his reports, about many of which he is unhappy. They have also insisted that everyone who is criticised in the reports must be forewarned of that criticism, and are claiming that the Salmon Principles require them to do so. The Salmon Principles were developed in order to give the right of rebuttal to persons facing criticism by public inquiries, and have never before been applied to private enquiries of the type undertaken by Judge Cory, so far as we know. The UK government has also argued that it needs to make changes to the reports in order to protect the right to life and privacy of persons mentioned in the reports and on grounds of national security. However, Judge Cory has told us that he drafted the reports so as to avoid the need for such changes, and the Irish government does not appear to have needed to make them.

On 12th January 2004, Judge Cory took the unprecedented step of telling the four families concerned that he has indeed recommended public inquiries in all four UK cases, and he also confirmed this publicly.

On 14th January, the Finucane family lodged an action for judicial review in the High Court in Northern Ireland of the government’s failure to publish Judge Cory’s report. Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright’s families followed suit. On 20th January the Finucanes were given leave to proceed. The judge who heard the leave application set a strict timetable for the lodging of affidavits in the case set a date for the substantive hearing on Monday 1st March 2004.

In what can only be described as a dirty trick, after close of business on Friday 27th February 2004 the government invited the families to apply for a three-week adjournment in return for a vague promise that “it is expected that within a matter of weeks the arrangements for publication will be finalised”. When the families refused to do so, the government itself applied for an adjournment, which the judge granted. During the hearing of argument about whether the adjournment should be granted, Counsel for the government revealed for the first time that copies or extracts from the reports had been shown to the Police Service for Northern Ireland, the Ministry of Defence, and the Director of Public Prosecutions. All of these agencies have been alleged to have been involved in collusion in one or all of the four cases.

On 2nd March 2004 the Finucanes decided to make a fresh application for judicial review of the failure by the government to act on Judge Cory’s recommendation that there should be a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. Rosemary Nelson’s family has already followed suit. On 8th March both cases were given leave to proceed. The full hearing was set for 22nd April. On 11th March the government informed the four families that they would publish the reports at the end of March, together with their response. However, they gave no commitment to implement the judge’s recommendations for inquiries.

In his report into the Buchanan and Breen case, Judge Cory had this to say:
“2.167 This case, like that of Finucane, Hamill, Wright, Nelson and the Gibsons was specifically selected as one of those to be reviewed to determine if there was collusion and, if so, to direct a public inquiry. In light of this provision in the original agreement failure to hold such an inquiry as quickly as possible might be thought to be a denial of the original agreement, which appears to have been an important and integral part of the peace process. The failure to do so could be seen as a cynical breach of faith which could have unfortunate consequences for the Peace Accord.”

He also set out the parameters of any public inquiry held in response to his report. The families are concerned that they will not be consulted about the terms of reference or format of any public inquiries.

This honourable Commission is respectfully requested to urge the United Kingdom government to: disclose unexpurgated versions of Judge Cory’s reports to the families concerned; consult the families about the terms of reference and format of the public inquiries; and establish those public inquiries without further delay.