Times Online


By Sean O’Neill
September 14, 2004

A police informer has admitted the 1989 murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane

A POLICE informer admitted yesterday that he killed a leading Belfast solicitor in one of the most controversial murders of the Northern Ireland Troubles, but is likely to be freed from jail within months.

Kenneth Barrett, 41, admitted murdering Pat Finucane in front of his wife and children 15 years ago and being a member of the loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF).

Finucane’s murder was carried out with the collusion of the security forces in the province, Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, concluded last year after a marathon inquiry.

Barrett, who had been living in hiding in England after being exposed as an informer, will be sentenced to life imprisonment at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

But under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, he can apply to the Sentence Review Commission and will be released if it is satisfied that he is no longer an active terrorist and poses no danger to the public. Barrett, who also pleaded guilty to a range of other terrorist offences, has spent more than 16 months in prison on remand and is unlikely to serve more than two years.

Finucane, 38, was a member of a staunchly republican Belfast family and a solicitor who listed many IRA men — including Bobby Sands, the hunger striker and MP — among his clients. Less than a month before he was shot dead, Douglas Hogg, then a junior Home Office Minister, told the House of Commons that there were a number of solicitors in Northern Ireland who were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”.

On the night of Sunday, February 12, 1989, a UFF hit squad drove to the Finucane family home in Belfast. The family’s relatives have alleged that police roadblocks which had been in place in the area just an hour before the shooting had been taken away shortly before the gunmen arrived.

The Ulster Defence Association — the parent organisation of the UFF — announced the following day that it had carried out “the execution of Pat Finucane the PIRA officer, not the solicitor”.

Barrett had been expected to deny the murder and argue in his defence that confessions he made about the killing had been obtained through entrapment. But when the charges of murdering Finucane and other terrorist offences were put to him, Barrett, standing with his hands behind his back, pleaded guilty.

Gordon Kerr, QC, for the prosecution, told the court — which sits without a jury — that Finucane had been in the kitchen of his home with his wife and three children when the two gunmen burst in. A post-mortem examination revealed that Finucane was shot six times in the head, three times in the neck and three in the body.

His wife, Geraldine, received an ankle wound. Forensic scientists concluded that a 9mm pistol and a .357 Magnum revolver were used in the shooting. The pistol had been stolen from an army barracks in 1987 with a number of other weapons. A hijacked Ford Sierra car used by the gunmen was found abandoned later the same evening close to the Shankill Road.

In 1991 Barrett contacted a Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch officer describing himself as the former military commander of the UFF in west Belfast and offered an account of the Finucane murder.

Mr Kerr said that Barrett had claimed that he and another gunman went into the house and said to the solicitor: “We are Provos — we are here for your car.”

Barrett said that Finucane replied: “You are not Provos — you are here to take me out.” The gunmen then shot Finucane in the body “to get him down”.

Mr Kerr continued with Barrett’s account: “He fell lying face up and I straddled over him and fired quite a number of shots into his head. I killed him so quickly that he still had a fork in his hand.”

Mr Kerr said that Barrett was treated as “an intelligence source” and not pursued over his involvement in the Finucane murder until after the third Stevens inquiry began in 1999. When he was arrested then, Barrett responded to questions with silence or by saying he knew nothing.

In June 2001 Barrett was secretly filmed talking to a reporter from the BBC’s Panorama programme and spoke of the Finucane murder being “initiated by police officers”.

Quoting from a transcript of the meeting, Mr Kerr said that Barrett had told the BBC man: “Everyone who went to Castlereagh (an RUC holding centre) was being told the same thing . . . encouraged to target Mr Finucane.”

Before the programme was broadcast, in June 2002, Barrett had been moved into a witness protection programme. But, Mr Kerr added, it was decided to “start covert operations that would implicate him in the murder and other serious terrorist offences”.

Two officers, posing as drug smugglers, befriended Barrett, who was given a job as their driver. In recorded conversations Barrett told the officers that the solicitor’s murder “wasn’t the first I’ve done” and that it had received so much publicity because “he was a republican solicitor”.

Mr Kerr said Barrett was again arrested and questioned in May last year but refused to answer any questions.

Loyalist terrorist sources have denied Barrett’s claim that he was one of the gunmen who shot Finucane. They allege that his role was limited to driving.

Sir John Stevens’s report concluded that Brian Nelson, a UDA intelligence officer and army agent, had supplied the gunmen with a photograph of Finucane and shown them where he lived.

William Stobie, another loyalist informer, is said to have told his Special Branch handlers that the killing of a senior IRA figure was imminent. Stobie was murdered by his former loyalist colleagues in December 2001.

Michael Finucane, the dead man’s son, said that Barrett’s guilty plea should clear the way for a public inquiry into his father’s murder. He said: “The only prosecution has now been held, so when can the public inquiry be held? That’s the only question the British Government has to answer.”

Mr Finucane said he was concerned less with the roles of the individuals who killed his father than with the system that allowed it to occur.

Peter Cory, a retired Canadian judge asked by the Government to look into the case, recommended a public inquiry after concluding that military and police intelligence had known of the plot to kill Finucane but failed to stop it.


February 1989 Patrick Finucane shot dead at his home in north Belfast by two gunmen from the loyalist Ulster Defence Association.

January 1992 Brian Nelson, a former UDA intelligence officer, is revealed as an Army agent who tipped off his handlers about a plan to murder Mr Finucane. The revelation adds to allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalists in Mr Finucane’s murder

June 1999 A former UDA quartermaster and self-confessed police informer, Billy Stobie, is charged over the case. He admits supplying the guns, but denies murder

November 2001 Stobie walks free after the main witness against him, a former journalist suffering from acute anxiety, refuses to testify

December 2001 Stobie shot dead by his former colleagues outside his home in north Belfast. Fearing he may be next, Barrett is spirited out of Northern Ireland by detectives under Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, investigating collusion

April 2002 A retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory, is appointed to investigate six of the Troubles’ most controversial murder cases, including that of Mr Finucane

April 2003 Brian Nelson dies of lung cancer under a false name in Wales. Days later, Sir John Stevens confirms collusion in murder of Mr Finucane

April 2004 Judge Cory also concludes there was collusion and recommends a public inquiry into the killing. The Government refuses, saying it cannot hold an inquiry while criminal proceedings are taking place

September 2004 Barrett pleads guilty, putting fresh pressure on Government to set up a tribunal

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