Veil of secrecy over Special Branch informer system lifted a chink as the Finucanes make their bid to the Supreme Court

The Guardian lead on the Walker report ( no relation), neatly coincides with the opening of the Finucane family’s bid to the Supreme Court to order a public inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder.  The “secret”  report by a former head of MI5  complied in 1980 – nine years before he was murdered –  was  “the blueprint for making RUC special branch a ‘force within a force’, according to the human rights legal group the Committee on the Administration for Justice (CAJ) which obtained it via an FoI. This is in itself an interesting move as it means the state did not finally block the move on the usual grounds of national security.

 According to the CAJ the PSNI  at first resisted disclosure as being “related to MI5”  but on appeal by the CAJ to the first- tier Information Tribunal the hearing was adjourned and the report was made available  in May this year, after a two year  process.

The agreement between the CAJ, a Belfast-based human rights organisation, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) specifies that a redacted copy of the report may be published at a forthcoming inquest or, at the latest, within three months. It will be given to the CAJ next week.

When will we see the Walker report itself? There are vital questions of context here. Why was it deemed necessary to inquire into Special Branch practice is the first place? Was the report  critical, prescriptive or neutral?  Is the CAJ’s  highly critical view of it justified? It should set off an important debate in which former RUC and security officials must take part.

From today’s Guardian

A secret MI5 report that resulted in Northern Ireland’s police covertly prioritising intelligence-gathering over fighting crime has been made public after almost 40 years.

The report resulted in detectives of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) – now the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – being ordered never to arrest a suspected terrorist without consulting the force’s intelligence-gathering section.

Detectives were also told that anyone who was arrested could be recruited as an agent rather than charged with a criminal offence.

As a consequence, a number of British agents are now known to have been involved in murders, bombings and shootings, while continuing to pass on information about their terrorist associates

he man who ran the Finucane investigation was an RUC CID detective called Alan Simpson, who described in his memoirs how he received a visit from Wilfred Monahan, an assistant chief constable, two days after the murder.

Simpson says he took Monaghan to the incident room, showed him a video of the murder scene, and then accompanied him back to his car.

“Before he opened the door of the vehicle he paused briefly, turned to me and said: ‘Alan, if I were you I would not get too deeply involved in this one.’ To say I was stunned and not a little confused would be an understatement

The author of the report, Patrick Walker, was a former colonial administrator in Uganda. He went on to become head of counter-terrorism at MI5 and served as the head of MI5 between 1987 and 1992. He was knighted in 1992.

The existence of his report remained secret until a copy of the RUC document that ordered its implementation was leaked to a journalist in 2001.

However, the report itself remained classified until the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ), a Belfast-based human rights organisation, obtained a copy under the Freedom of Information Act after bringing a case to an information tribunal.

An official inquiry into the murder of Finucane found evidence that Walker did not wish to see Nelson prosecuted, the inquiry report said, telling the attorney general that he was concerned that it would damage the morale of agents.

Daniel Holder, the deputy director of CAJ, said: “In our view the Walker report was the blueprint for making RUC special branch a ‘force within a force’. It radically altered the structures of the RUC, centralising enormous power within special branch which controlled everything from forensics to who was arrested and charged.

“Our concern has long been that the approach to informant-handling in the past was outside of the law and violated human rights. The system established by the Walker report not only fuelled and prolonged the conflict, but left a poisonous legacy that makes dealing with the past more difficult in the face of relentless attempts to conceal the impact of such practices ever since.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London