With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement.
Following my statement to the House last November in relation to the murder of Mr Patrick Finucane, I have considered this case very carefully. I want to set out today how the Government intends to proceed.
Mr Speaker, the murder of Mr Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, in front of his family on the 12th February 1989 was a terrible crime. There have been long-standing allegations of security force collusion in his murder.
The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens was asked to investigate the murder in 1999. He published his overview report in 2003, concluding that there was “collusion”, that the murder “could have been prevented” and that the original investigation of the murder “should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers.”
When he was asked by the previous Government to consider the question of a public inquiry, Judge Cory found in 2004 “strong evidence that collusive acts were committed by the Army, the RUC, and the Security Service.”
Mr Speaker, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited the family to Downing Street yesterday so he could apologise to them in person and on behalf of the Government for state collusion in the murder of Patrick Finucane.
The Government accepts the clear conclusions of Lord Stevens and Judge Cory that there was collusion.
Mr Speaker, I want to reiterate the Government’s apology in the House today. The Government is deeply sorry for what happened.
Despite the clear conclusions of previous investigations and reports, there is still only limited information in the public domain.
That is why my Rt. Hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have committed to establishing a further process to ensure that the truth is revealed.
Accepting collusion is not sufficient in itself. The public now need to know the extent and nature of that collusion.
Mr Speaker, I have, therefore, asked the distinguished former United Nations War Crimes Prosecutor, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, to conduct an independent review to produce a full public account of any state involvement in the murder.
Sir Desmond is an internationally respected QC who will carry out his work completely independently of Government.
Sir Desmond has worked for the United Nations on major international issues in Serbia and Sierra Leone. In 2005, Kofi Annan appointed Sir Desmond to be Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In 2010, he was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to the independent fact finding mission to investigate the Israeli interception of a Gaza aid flotilla.
His track record in carrying out this work speaks for itself.
His Terms of Reference are to draw_ _”_from the extensive investigations that have already taken place, to produce a full public account of any involvement by the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Security Service or other UK Government body in the murder of Patrick Finucane. _
The review will have full access to the Stevens archive and all Government papers, including any Ministry of Defence, Security Service, Home Office, Cabinet Office or Northern Ireland Office files that Sir Desmond believes are relevant. The account will be provided to me by December 2012, for the purpose of its publication.”
I have agreed the Terms of Reference with Sir Desmond. I would stress that Sir Desmond is being given unrestricted access to these documents. He will be free to meet any individuals who can assist him in his task. It is, of course, open to Sir Desmond to invite or consider submissions as he sees fit.
The Review will have the full support and cooperation of all Government Departments and agencies in carrying out its work. I have spoken to the Chief Constable who has given his assurance that Sir Desmond will have the full cooperation of the PSNI.
This Government has demonstrated in the Bloody Sunday, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson cases that we will publish independent reports without delay. The same checking and publication arrangements will be put in place.
This has been an exceptionally long-running issue. The previous Government sought to resolve this issue after the 2004 commitment to hold an inquiry but was unable to reach an agreed way forward with the family.
Mr Speaker, I am disappointed that the family did not feel able to support the process my Rt. Hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I outlined to them yesterday.
I fully recognise that the family have pursued their long campaign to find out the truth with great determination.
We do not need a statutory inquiry to tell us that there was collusion. We accept that and my apology in the House today reflects this. The task now is to uncover the details of this murder.
The public should not be kept waiting for many more years for the truth to be revealed.
The Government has taken a bold step by asking an internationally respected figure to produce a full public account. Details in papers and statements that have been kept secret for decades will finally be exposed.
The House will be aware of the extensive investigations that have already taken place in this case. I am clear that we do not need to repeat all the work that Lord Stevens has already carried out for the truth to be revealed.
The investigations into the murder of Patrick Finucane have produced a huge amount of material. One man, Kenneth Barrett, was prosecuted and convicted of the murder in 2004.
Taken together the Stevens investigations took 9,256 witness statements. The Stevens documentary archive extends to over 1 million pages. 16,194 exhibits were seized. This was one of the largest police investigations in UK history.
Lord Stevens carried out a police investigation to bring forward evidence for prosecutions. A 19 page summary report was produced in 2003 but the Stevens investigation was not designed to provide a public account of what happened.
That is why Sir Desmond de Silva will now have full access to the Stevens files and all Government papers to ensure that the full facts are finally set out.
The House will not want to pre-empt the details of Sir Desmond’s report. When the report is published the Government will not hide from the truth, however difficult.
I strongly believe that this will be the quickest and most effective way of getting to the truth. Experience has shown that public inquiries into the events of the Troubles take many years and can be subject to prolonged litigation which delays the truth emerging.
As my Rt. Hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have made clear for some time, we do not believe that more costly and open-ended inquiries are the right way to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.
Mr Speaker, I am acutely conscious that the conflict in Northern Ireland saw over 3,500 people from all parts of the community killed and tens of thousands more injured. We should never forget the many terrible atrocities that took place.
Over 1,000 of those killed were members of the security forces. I want to be clear that the overwhelming majority of those who served in the security forces in Northern Ireland did so with outstanding courage, professionalism and even handedness in upholding democracy and the rule of law.
The whole House will agree that we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
Mr Speaker, the murder of Patrick Finucane has been one of the longest-running and most contentious issues in Northern Ireland’s recent history.
The appointment of an internationally respected and wholly independent figure to produce a full public account demonstrates the Government’s determination that the truth about this murder should be finally revealed.
The House will recognise the spirit of openness and frankness with which we are dealing with this difficult issue. I would encourage everyone to judge the process we have established by its results.
I commend this statement to the House.