British officers said to aid in killings

Report charges role in N. Ireland slayings

April 18, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Officers from British Army intelligence and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland helped Protestant guerrillas kill Roman Catholics in the late 1980s, a report by Britain's senior police official said yesterday.

Sir John Stevens, commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, said his 14-year investigation into the explosive allegations of official collusion had found that members of the army's covert Force Research Unit, which handled informants, and the police Special Branch espionage arm "were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes."

Speaking at a news conference in Belfast, Ireland, Stevens said, "My inquiries have highlighted collusion, the willful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder."

The report said that officers helped Protestant paramilitary fighters single out Catholics for attack, and that they failed to warn Catholics of intelligence they had that cast them in danger. Stevens said that innocent people died because of the pattern of collusion, and that "the Troubles," the three decades of sectarian violence that cost the lives of more than 3,600 people, had been prolonged as a result.

Stevens said the inquiry had taken so long in part because it was "willfully obstructed and misled from day one" by police and military intelligence officers intent on covering up critical evidence. The Belfast office set up by Stevens in 1989 was burned down by arsonists five months later, and in the years since, he said, a pattern of concealment and noncooperation had emerged.

The original investigation was set up to examine the 1989 murder of Patrick Finucane, 39, a Catholic civil rights lawyer who defended Irish Republican Army suspects. Finucane was shot and killed during a Sunday dinner at his Belfast home with his wife and three children. He was accused by the Ulster Defense Association, the Protestant guerrilla group that took responsibility for his murder, of being a member of the IRA.

The Finucane murder became a rallying cry for international human rights organizations and convinced Catholic politicians in Northern Ireland of widespread collusion between Protestant assassination squads and government security agents.

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