Conspiracy to Kill

Article excerpt

THE STEVENS REPORT, which is published tomorrow, is an exhaustive account of the collusion between British security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries which resulted in the assassination, or attempted murder, of a number of nationalists, some of whom had no connection with terrorism. It was an extraordinary and shocking episode in the British governance of Northern Ireland. When Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, first embarked on his enquiry in the wake of the killing of the civil rights lawyer, Pat Finucane, he and his team thought it would be a routine investigation. In fact the enquiry took nearly 14 years. It might have been concluded more swiftly if his investigations had not been impeded from the beginning by the forces he was investigating. The report will not be made public in full, but it is expected to say that Sir John's original conclusion, in 1990, that collusion between a specialist branch of Army intelligence and the Loyalist paramilitaries was "neither widespread nor institutionalised", can no longer stand. It is also expected to conclude that there was a longstanding policy on the part of army intelligence of feeding information to Loyalist terrorists concerning the whereabouts and identities of suspected IRA members, which resulted in death without trial for many of them. Of course, this policy must be put in the context of the time, when there was still an active IRA campaign of violence. It must also be placed in the context of the present, more hopeful situation in Northern Ireland.

Nothing, however, can justify or excuse the conduct that the report documents. Sir John's recommendations for improving the accountability of police and army will doubtless be followed up, but matters cannot be left there. The people who are identified in the report as having formulated or implemented this policy should be brought to account for the consequences, even though Brian Nelson, the UDA intelligence officer most closely implicated in the operation, is now dead. This has been a real scandal; it must be treated as such.

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