Sunday Life

Blowing the lid off a can of worms
Trial of Ken Barrett for murder of solicitor Pat Finucane begins tomorrow, and is set to shed new light on murky world of intelligence and counter-terrorism

Stephen Breen
12 September 2004

One of the most eagerly awaited trials in Northern Ireland's turbulent history is set to get under way in Belfast tomorrow.

West Belfast loyalist Ken Barrett (main picture) - an alleged Special Branch informer - is the second man to appear before a judge in relation to the 1989 killing of solicitor Pat Finucane.

UFF double agent, William Stobie, was charged and later acquitted of the killing. But, within days, in December 2001, he was gunned down by loyalist terrorists.

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has spent nearly 15 years investigating Mr Finucane's murder, along with other cases of alleged collusion between loyalists and the security forces.

The high-profile murder case beginning tomorrow, is expected to last well into 2005.

Barrett was arrested soon after he was secretly filmed by the BBC's Panorama, claiming to have been involved in the murder, at the solicitor's north Belfast home.

At a bail hearing, in September 2003, it was claimed that the Stevens team had also secretly bugged Barrett, after an undercover cop befriended him.

A Crown lawyer referred to lengthy conversations recorded in the covert operation while Barrett was living in England, after fleeing Belfast because of death threats.

He said an undercover officer - known to Barrett as 'Steve' - asked him about the Finucane murder, and he replied: "It wasn't the first occasion I done it. It was just that he got so much publicity, because he was a republican solicitor.

"He hadn't really got shot. He got ****ing massacred. He was hit 22 times. I have to be honest, I whacked a few people in the past. People say to me: 'How do you sleep?' I sleep fine."

The lawyer said Barrett had claimed the go-ahead for the shooting was given after Army agent Brian Nelson had passed on a photograph of Mr Finucane.

A lawyer for Barrett described recordings made by undercover police as "intrusive surveillance", and said the alleged admissions would be challenged at the trial.

He said it was a "sting" type operation, which Barrett had "only gone along with" in order to get money.

"The whole scenario is an extremely murky one, where these undercover officers were attempting to trap Barrett," said the defence barrister.

Barrett's trial gets under way as pressure mounts on the British Government to announce a date for a public inquiry into Mr Finucane's killing.

Canadian judge, Peter Cory, recommended a date for a public inquiry into the killing, but the Government has said it intends to make an announcement on the inquiry after the criminal trial is over.

The court case comes at a crucial time in Ulster's troubled peace process, with republicans set to raise the killing, and the subsequent trial, in their negotiations with the Government.

Although Mr Finucane's family have repeatedly called for a public inquiry, many observers believe Barrett's trial could also shed new light on the murky world of intelligence and counter-terrorism.

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