Widow loses appeal over public inquiry into solicitor murder

Posted By: February 23, 2017

David Young. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The widow of solicitor Pat Finucane has lost her challenge against the British government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into his murder by loyalist paramilitaries.

Geraldine Finucane, who witnessed the shooting, had appealed against a 2015 judicial ruling that the decision taken by then prime minister David Cameron in 2011 was lawful.

Court of Appeal judges in Belfast rejected her challenge yesterday.

Mr Finucane (38), who represented a number of high-profile republicans, was shot dead in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.

The killing, one of the most notorious of the Troubles, is shrouded in controversy amid allegations that the security forces colluded with the gunmen from the outlawed UDA.

In their ruling, the Court of Appeal judges acknowledged that a pledge to hold an inquiry had been made.

But they upheld the government’s right to balance public interest factors, such as costs, when, years later, it opted to commission a review of case papers by QC Sir Desmond de Silva rather than instigate a statutory probe.

Mr Finucane’s family have long campaigned for an independent inquiry and challenged that decision through a judicial review.

In his lengthy 2015 judicial review judgment, Mr Justice Stephens told Belfast High Court the then prime minister’s actions had been lawful and that a full-blown public inquiry would be costly, protracted and could not be confined to narrow issues surrounding the loyalist shooting nearly 30 years ago.

Lawyers for the Finucane family have repeatedly argued that the government made a commitment to hold an inquiry during peace process negotiations at Weston Park in 2001.

In a scathing report published in 2012 following his review, Sir Desmond detailed shocking levels of state involvement in the case.

That included spreading malicious propaganda suggesting Mr Finucane was sympathetic to the IRA, one or possibly more police officers proposing him as a target to loyalists and the mishandling of state agents inside the UDA who were involved in the murder.

While he found no evidence of an overarching conspiracy by the authorities to target the solicitor, Sir Desmond said the actions of a number of state employees had “furthered and facilitated’’ the shooting.

He also said there had been efforts to thwart the subsequent criminal investigation.

While he was prime minister, Mr Cameron apologised to the Finucane family in the House of Commons.

Delivering the appeal judgment, Lord Justice Gillen said the government had been transparent in its deliberations on whether the public interest would be served by holding a potentially lengthy inquiry.

“We conclude that not only was this reasoning transparent but, based on all the range of public interest factors under consideration, it was a lawful decision by the government, within its discretion, that it should not be held bound to maintain a policy of instituting a public inquiry in this instance,” he said.

The appeal court heard that detectives are currently investigating material unearthed by the De Silva probe.

Outside court, Mrs Finucane said she was disappointed but not angered by the judgment. She vowed her fight would go on.

Surrounded by family members, she said: “Obviously we are disappointed today that the court has not overturned the first result.

“At the same time there is definitely unfinished business, which the court highlighted today.

“This is a lengthy judgment that we will have to take into consideration.”

Mrs Finucane stressed that her family were not the only ones still pursuing justice for their loved ones in Northern Ireland.

“There are many of us who are seeking truth and justice in different ways,” she said.

Asked if she would consider an appeal to the UK Supreme Court, Mrs Finucane said: “We won’t make a decision on that today.

“We will be looking at it most seriously.”

Her son John said the family would also be considering a potential civil action.