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DUBLIN — British police and army agents planted inside Northern Ireland’s major Protestant gang played a pivotal role in assassinating a Belfast attorney, a former U.N. war crimes investigator concluded in a damning report about one of the most divisive slayings of the entire four-decade conflict.
Desmond de Silva concluded in his approximately 800-page report last week that the 1989 killing of Pat Finucane probably would never have happened without key input from state agents within the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), the militant group that killed the 38-year-old Catholic lawyer in front of his wife and three children.
Mr. de Silva, a human rights lawyer appointed by the British government in October 2011 to produce the report, said members of the Northern Ireland police’s anti-terrorist Special Branch and the army’s Force Research Unit knew Finucane was a target, and even recommended him to UDA assassins as one because he specialized in defending Irish Republican Army suspects.
Both units since have been disbanded as part of wider security reforms and peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland.
Mr. de Silva wrote that police and army handlers of agents within the West Belfast UDA probably could have stopped the attack but instead “actively furthered and facilitated his murder” and mounted “a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron and leaders of Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority lauded Mr. de Silva’s findings as comprehensive and compelling, particularly his decision to publish hundreds of previously secret army and police reports, although in censored form blacking out all the names of officers and paramilitary contacts.
“When you read some of the specific cases in the report it is really shocking that this happened in our country,” Mr. Cameron told lawmakers as he summarized the report.
He repeated a public apology to the Finucane family which he had first given on the day he appointed Mr. de Silva last year.
‘Sham,’ ‘whitewash,’ ‘trick’
But Irish Catholic leaders and Finucane’s family dismissed the findings as old news and a cover-up of the full picture.
They were most critical of Mr. de Silva’s judgment that the British government of the day — led by Margaret Thatcher — had not ordered, or in any way encouraged, police and army anti-terrorist officials to collude with the UDA in targeting IRA members and supporters.
Catholic leaders and the family renewed calls for a public inquiry led by a judge that would compel former British government ministers and senior retired security officials to testify.
Mr. Cameron has ruled that out, citing the exceptional cost and glacial pace of similar probes in Northern Ireland.
“This report is a sham. This report is a whitewash. This report is a confidence trick dressed up as independent scrutiny,” said Geraldine Finucane, who was shot in the foot while trying to stop two UDA gunmen from firing 14 bullets into her husband in the dining room of their Belfast home on Feb. 12, 1989.
She has spent the past 23 years seeking full disclosure of the state collusion involved in the killing.
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