#Finucane: was Nelson a rogue or rogue agent?

The Attorney General is going to find it harder and harder to sell his no more inquiries, no more investigations proposal. Particularly so when the improvised methods of ‘investigation’ appear to have been little more than tactics for the British government to avoid decommissioning its own violent legacy.

Far from finally drawing a line around the issues connected to the murder of Pat Finucane, further research has now shown that the background given by de Silva on Brian Nelson and his work as an agent was very limited.  Nelson, the loyalist and FRU operative who provided a key link between the activities of the UDA/UFF and the tactics and strategies of the security forces, had, in reality, been permanently discharged from the British Army for being mentally unstable in 1970. Today’s Irish News (££) has a piece by Allison Morris on how new evidence uncovered by Ciarán MacAirt has expanded on the limited information provided by de Silva (Ciarán’s full piece with more detail is here).

Essentially this relates to Nelson’s army career and his involvement in the UDA in the early 1970s, neither of which are explored in any detail by de Silva. De Silva merely states that Nelson had been discharged on medical grounds in 1970. But Nelson’s own army records show that he was actually discharged for mental instability and he had spent significant amounts of his military career in military detention and had caused substantial amounts of damage to property and vehicles on his various postings.

Obviously, it would now be simple to scapegoat Nelson as a rogue rather than just a rogue agent. His army record shows he had major disciplinary issues and was classed as too emotionally unstable to ever return to active duty. Might that instability also mean that he failed to fulfil his role as an agent to protect life, but rather, he used it to channel intelligence and weapons to those who could use it to carry out killings etc? And so the logic follows, ‘collusion’ didn’t happen, but rather, an emotionally unstable agent misused his position, and surely the army or government can hardly been held to book for that?

Clearly, if the way in which Nelson was recruited, or volunteered, to act as an agent was more transparent then we would be told whether he was vetted after offering his services, or selected based on his known history. It is hard to believe that his army records weren’t examined. What is harder to believe (and much more damning from the point of view of his relationship with the security forces) is that they didn’t know the details of his role in the abduction, torture and attempted murder of Gerard Higgins in March 1973. Higgins was even abducted right in front of the gates of North Queen Street police station.

This is the only incident in his early UDA career on which de Silva provides any detail (nor are we informed as to whether Nelson was believed to have been previously involved in similar attacks). The detail given by de Silva, again, is extraordinarily limited (see 6.4 and 6.5 here) and carefully obscures the central role Nelson had in commissioning the attack. He had carried out surveillance of the victim (who was blind). He had recruited the others who helped carry out the attack (he was 25, they were much younger, at 17 and 18). He also supplied the vehicle and weapon that were used (both were his own, and the gun was was legally held despite his discharge for being mentally unstable). He also took the lead role in the torture and humiliation of the victim before driving him off to be killed (see here for more information). Before they could kill Higgins, though, Nelson and the two others were intercepted by the British Army and detained including being questioned for three hours by an MRF officer (Captain Pollen) before he was formally detained by the RUC. Oddly, attempted murder charges against Nelson were dropped and he was only prosecuted for assault, intimidation and firearms offences. Is it really possible that someone offering himself as an agent would not have had his background thoroughly checked (and his army record and court transcripts would have been easily located)?

Given that, again, comprehensive detail in an investigation has had to be uncovered by researchers like Ciarán suggests that the British government is still in breach of its obligations to carry out an effective investigation under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. What is more, it again provides a stark contrast between the reality of investigations into deaths during the conflict and the Attorney General’s fanciful belief that the odds were stacked against the state. Indeed, the persistent failures suggest that, far from being able to ‘critique’ the state, the inability to offer an effective remedy (across a wide range of cases) means that the British government is also in breach of Article 13.

Pat Finucane’s son, John, also states in the Irish News article that it is now imperative that Desmond de Silva identifies how much of this information was available to him when he wrote his report. That, of course, is only another in the ever-growing list of questions that need answered. Was Nelson selected based on his profile, or vetted and approved after offering his services? But ultimately the continuing inability to get to the real story behind Pat Finucane’s murder raises the biggest question of all, despite the Attorney General’s protestations: Can the British government be considered as having any bona fides in any form of truth process?

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