23 May 2006

Finucane killer released after 18 months in jail

Times Online

By David Sharrock, Ireland Correspondent
May 23, 2006

A loyalist terrorist convicted of murdering one of Belfast’s most high-profile Catholic solicitors was released from prison today after serving less than two years of his sentence.

Ken Barrett, a member of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, was given a life sentence in September 2004 and was told he would spend at least 22 years in jail for his role in the 1989 murder of Patrick Finucane.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMr Finucane, 39, was murdered during a Sunday lunch in front of his wife and children at their north Belfast home. He was shot 14 times and his wife Geraldine was also hit.

Patrick Finucane

Barrett’s release will fuel demands by the murdered solicitor’s family for a full independent inquiry which would examine claims of collusion between security agencies and loyalists.

Barrett was released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement - which allowed for the release of hundreds of killers as part of the peace process - after successfully applying to the Sentence Review Commission.

The Commission conducted a hearing in Maghaberry Prison, County Antrim, this month into Barrett’s application. Initially he was held in a prison in England where he had been living.

He was transferred to Maghaberry in February last year and was eligible for early release under the Agreement which allowed anyone convicted of a terrorist crime before its signing in 1989 to qualify for early release.

Barrett’s solicitor, Joe Rice, tonight said that his client was no longer in Northern Ireland. “His only reaction is one of immense relief.

"As far as he is concerned he has served his time. He wants to be allowed to get on with his life and be reunited with his family outside of Northern Ireland.” Mr Rice said he did not know where Barrett was and could only confirm he was no longer in the province.

The murder of Mr Finucane was one of the most controversial in the history of Northern Ireland because of the allegations of security force collusion. Among his clients were people accused of IRA activities and three of his brothers were provisional IRA members.

The Government’s efforts to avoid holding an inquiry on the Finucane family’s terms are under intense pressure after it called on judges around the world to snub any approach made to them to preside over a lesser probe.

The Finucanes believe the decision to hold an investigation under the terms of the controversial Inquiries Act will lead to a cover up and enable the Government to control what can be disclosed - in particular sensitive information about how its security agencies ran agents within paramilitary groups.

Lord Saville, the head of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry which is expected to have cost £200 million by the time its report is published next year, and Peter Cory, a retired Canadian judge who recommended the inquiry in the first place to the British and Irish governments, have both condemned the Act.

Last week United States politicians called on the Government to hold an independent inquiry into Mr Finucane’s murder.

Members of the House of Representatives passed legislation urging Tony Blair to widen its scope. The Republican congressman Chris Smith, from New Jersey, said the granting of a full public inquiry which was acceptable to the Finucane family could pave the way for republican acceptance of policing reforms in Northern Ireland.

"A key stumbling block to that greater acceptance of the police by the nationalist community has been the lack of resolution of charges of official collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane and others," he argued.

"If the population of Northern Ireland is to fully transfer its trust to the police, it must have confidence that the police and Government authorities will be held accountable."

Mr Finucane’s murder was one of the most controversial of the Troubles, coming three weeks after Douglas Hogg, a Conservative government minister, told Parliament that there were solicitors in Northern Ireland who were "known to be sympathetic to the cause of the IRA".

At his Belfast trial Barrett pleaded guilty after having earlier withdrawn a previous confession to the murder.

Mr Justice Weir told Barrett: "I have searched in vain for any semblance of genuine remorse in your various accounts of your participation in this crime contained in the court papers and have found, on the contrary, only boastful expressions of self satisfaction."

Alban Maginnis of the nationalist SDLP said: "Whatever Barrett’s role in the murder of Pat Finucane, it remains essential that the full truth behind the murder, the activities of the Forces Research Unit (FRU) and the approval for the FRU in and around government must be made public and acknowledged.

"The failure of Downing Street to honour its commitment to a public independent inquiry must be challenged, exposed and overturned. The family deserve and justice demands nothing less."

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