24 February 2006

I can't see why they would move Finucane goalposts

Belfast Telegraph

Justice Peter Cory tells Chris Thornton why he's upset with the handling of Pat Finucane's murder inquiry - and how a secret agent's drugs hunting past ended up delaying the probe into Rosemary Nelson's death

24 February 2006

You don't get to be a judge, never mind a Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, without understanding a little about fine distinctions.

So the Honourable Peter Cory sat earlier this week, patiently explaining why he disagrees with the Government about the murder of Pat Finucane, but can't say they are wrong.

Or why he has no regrets about investigating the case, but might not do it again if he had life to live over.

At issue is the Government's response to Justice Cory's recommendation - made over two years ago - that public inquiries should be held into possible collusion in the murders of Mr Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, LVF leader Billy Wright, Portadown man Robert Hamill and RUC Superintendents Bob Buchanan and Harry Breen.

Most are proceeding. The superintendents' inquiry is due to open shortly in the Republic, and three of the others have formally opened in Northern Ireland.

The thorny one remains the Finucane murder. Justice Cory knows more than most about this 1989 UDA murder, it being the most high profile of the six cases he spent a year and a half looking over.

The major reason for the delay - and for editing out, or redacting, sections of the Cory report - is the Government's contention that national security issues are at play in the Finucane case.

Justice Cory says that, based on what he knows, he disagrees. But back in Northern Ireland this week to deliver a lecture at Queen's, he was also careful to say that the Government has not filled him in on what their security concerns are.

"Personally do I agree with it? No," he said. "Do I find it frustrating? Yes. It must be doubly frustrating for the family. Is it a correct decision or not? I cannot tell you.

"It's just one of those difficult situations. Who's at fault? I don't know because I haven't got facts from the Government side as to why it would be necessary that this now involves matters of state security and as a result we're not going to do this.

"I do not know because I cannot get behind at this stage and see why is it a matter of state security.

"A government obviously knows far more about aspects of state security than I do," he said. "As I've said, I disagreed with their decision with regard to redaction and I may well have disagreed with their opinion with regard to state security.

"But I have to emphasise I'm not in the position of the Government to know what is necessary to protect state security, so I have a difficult position as far as answering because I haven't all the facts.

"You can't judge a situation until you have all the facts and you explore them and test them and decide what is right and true. I don't have all the facts on that aspect. On the surface, I disagree with the decision, that's all."

He added: "All I can say is that I differ with their opinion on the basis of what I saw. I'm not going to say over-cautious or any other danged expression.

"I differed with them on what I saw, whether it constituted a matter of state security or not."

The Finucane case has become a stalemate. To protect the unspecified national security concerns, the Government passed legislation that gives Ministers direct control over evidence.

The Finucane family has opposed an inquiry under these terms, but Secretary of State Peter Hain says it is this way or no way. So far he has been unable to find a judge who will take the inquiry on.

Justice Cory says the Government is trying to "change the goalposts". While he says he was "upset" at that decision, he does not have "a damn bit of regret".

"It was a job to be done and it's damn well done and it's finished. Do I regret it? No. It had to be done and perhaps shed some light on an unfortunate situation.

"I was asked to do it. I did it to the best of my ability. I made the recommendations I did. I stand behind those recommendations."

During his review of information about the Finucane murder, Justice Cory got unprecedented access to Cabinet papers referring to the killing. That revelation fed speculation that repercussions for the murder went all the way to Downing Street.

But Justice Cory says he does not remember "anything of tremendous significance in the Cabinet papers as compared to papers I got from other people".

He says it is "wonderful" that other inquiries are proceeding, adding that he is "responsible for a couple of months of delay" in the Rosemary Nelson case.

"What was happening was that I was asked to keep some very sensitive material secure," he said.

"My way of keeping it secure for a number of reasons was to take it personally to the Canadian High Commissioner and say 'take that in your security pouch back to Canada and file it with CSIS', our security agency. And that's what they did.

"Now then it came time when the (Nelson) commissioner wanted to see those papers. I'd given the opinion that they were sensitive but they didn't affect my decision.

"But of course he wants to explore the background. And it took me a while to get them back from CSIS.

"And it involves this: the agent who took them there, who stored them for CSIS has now retired.

"They don't want him pinpointed as an agent of CSIS or a CSIS person involved as he was with significant drug crime.

"So it had to be done carefully and slowly. So when you're looking at Rosemary Nelson, charge all three months of the delay with me. And I'm not a dang bit sorry."

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