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N. Irish police involved in Belfast lawyer's 1989 murder, says report

Today's report said Northern Irish police colluded in a loyalist paramilitary's murder of high-profile lawyer Patrick Finucane, though it did not find an 'overarching state conspiracy.'

By Correspondent / December 12, 2012

A woman walks past a mural to murdered lawyer Pat Finucane on the Fall's Road in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, today. A new report released today found 'shocking' collusion by British officials in Mr. Finucane's 1989 murder, but 'no overarching state conspiracy.'

Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

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Dublin, Ireland

Another murky episode from Northern Ireland's recent dark past has been partially exposed, thanks to a new report on the 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer Patrick Finucane that found "shocking" collusion by state officials in his death. But critics say that the British government has yet to fully shine a light onto its own involvement in the murder. 

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A report published today found that police and other officials "actively furthered and facilitated" Mr. Finucane's murder at the hands of paramilitary loyalists, who shot him in his home on Feb. 12, 1989, in front of his wife and two small children.

"My review of the evidence relating to Patrick Finucane's case has left me in no doubt that agents of the state were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder," wrote former UN war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond de Silva, who conducted the report.

But Mr. de Silva concluded that there was "no overarching state conspiracy" in Finucane's death.

A controversial case

Finucane had represented several high-profile IRA members, most notably hunger striker Bobby Sands, in cases against the British government in the 1980s. Though there was little doubt as to the identity of those directly involved in the murder – the loyalist paramilitary group Ulster Defense Association (UDA) claimed responsibility soon afterward, alleging that Finucane was a member of the IRA – there has long been suspicion that the government also had a role.

UDA member and police informant Ken Barrett was convicted of the murder in 2004. He confessed to police in a sting operation, having previously admitted the killing to BBC reporters. The reporters secretly recorded him saying that Finucane "would have been alive today if the peelers [police] hadn't interfered," as the UDA considered killing lawyers to be "off limits."

It later came to light that Mr. Barrett had confessed to police in 1991, but the tape of the interrogation disappeared. 

Finucane's murder continues to hang over Northern Ireland and has long been viewed by Irish nationalists and republicans as evidence not only of police and British Army infiltration into loyalist groups, but of their active direction of loyalist killing campaigns. The weapon used to kill Finucane had been stolen from the Army and was later discovered by police, who handed it back to the Army rather than keeping it as evidence, despite full knowledge that it was the murder weapon.

The killing of Finucane, along with others, such as that of lawyer Rosemary Nelson in 1999, also by loyalists, are totemic events for nationalists who say they demonstrate the Northern Irish state was openly hostile to them. A 2011 report into Ms. Nelson's murder found no evidence of collusion, but said police "legitimized her as a target" by assaulting her two years previously.

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