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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Unresolved deaths: A question of collusion?
One of the major strands of the political package put to the party leaders in Northern Ireland involves investigating controversial deaths which have raised questions about the role of the security forces on both sides of the border.

Click on the names to read the case file:

  • Pat Finucane
  • Rosemary Nelson
  • Robert Hamill
  • Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan
  • Lord Justice Maurice and Lady Cecily Gibson
  • Billy Wright

    Subject to the package of proposals being accepted by the parties, the two governments will appoint an international judge to investigate these cases and allegations of collusion in each of them.

    The judge will make recommendations to the governments in each of the cases. If the judge recommends a public inquiry into a death, the governments say that they will implement that recommendation.

    A high-profile solicitor, Pat Finucane's killing by the UDA/UFF remains one of the most controversial of 30 years of violence.

    Pat Finucane
    The loyalist paramilitaries shot Mr Finucane 14 times as he sat eating a Sunday meal at home, wounding his wife in the process. The couple's three children witnessed the attack.

    In its statement claiming the killing, the UFF said that they had killed "Pat Finucane, the IRA officer". While Mr Finucane had represented IRA members, the family vehemently denied the allegation - and have been supported in this by the RUC.

    At the inquest, one RUC officer said that Mr Finucane was "just another law-abiding citizen going about his profession in a professional matter."

    One of the central charges is that a number of RUC officers had urged loyalist paramilitaries to target Mr Finucane - an allegation reported by some of his clients who had been questioned at the Castlereagh holding centre.

    In 1992, the army agent Brian Nelson told the BBC that the UDA had asked him to compile a dossier on Mr Finucane, something he insisted his handlers in the security forces knew.

    The head of the Metropolitan Police in London, Sir John Stevens, has been investigating the death and wider allegations of collusion for more than two years.

    At the heart of the investigation is the role of the British Army's "Force Research Unit" (FRU) which handled agents such as Nelson and gathered intelligence from loyalist paramilitaries.

    Secondly, the Stevens team has charged a former RUC Special Branch agent, William Stobie, in connection with the killing.

    Mr Stobie, a self-confessed former UDA quartermaster, admits having supplied the weapons. But he denies he knew the name of the target and insists that he alerted his handlers that a shooting was imminent.

    The Stevens report is expected on the desk of RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan later this year. He currently has the responsibility to decide whether or not the report is published.

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    Rosemary Nelson came to public prominence as a human rights lawyer representing Catholic residents of Portadown embroiled in the ongoing dispute over the Drumcree parade.

    Rosemary Nelson
    She died when a bomb placed under her car exploded shortly after she drove away from her home. The killing was claimed by the loyalist paramilitary splinter group, the Red Hand Defenders, which emerged in 1998.

    Mrs Nelson, a mother of three, had alleged that she had received death threats from members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

    Her family says that the threats came because of her willingness to speak publicly about alleged sectarianism among the security forces and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

    Her death came two weeks before she had been expected to meet a police watchdog about the alleged death threats.

    Param Cumaraswamy, the United Nations investigator to whom she had complained, said following the killing: "Though I feared that Rosemary's life was at stake, I really didn't expect this to happen to her."

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    Robert Hamill, a 25-year-old Catholic father of two in Portadown, died after being attacked by loyalists in the early hours of the morning.

    Robert Hamill
    Unable to find a taxi as they returned home, Mr Hamill and his friends decided to walk through the town centre because they could see Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in the area.

    Mr Hamill was set upon by a large group of loyalists and was beaten to the ground.

    Unconscious, he was rushed to hospital but died 12 days later. His partner was pregnant with their third child when he died.

    However, the controversy surrounding Mr Hamill's death comes from the fact that armed RUC officers were stationed in a Land Rover near to the scene but allegedly failed to intervene, even though witnesses say they were in a position to do so.

    The force denies this allegation, saying the officers were overwhelmed by the mob and forced to retreat. Six men were charged with murder - but the case against five collapsed and the sixth was later acquitted.

    In June 2000 the Greater Belfast Coroner John Leckey announced that he had decided not to hold an inquest because he feared for the lives of key witnesses.

    Many of the Hamill family's supporters have sought to draw parallels with the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London, saying that in both cases the police have failed to properly investigate because of their own prejudices against the victim.

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    RUC Chief Superintendant Harry Breen (pictured) was the highest-ranking member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to be killed by the IRA.

    Harry Breen
    Chief Supt Breen, who commanded most of south Armagh, and his driver Supt Buchanan left their Newry headquarters for a security situation meeting with Gardai in the Irish Republic border town of Dundalk.

    Later in the day, as they drove back across the border near Jonesborough, the IRA opened fire.

    Supt Buchanan, a father of two, died at the wheel of the unmarked car as he attempted to put it into reverse. Chief Supt Breen, who also had two children, was found dead on the roadside. The IRA took security documents from the car.

    Both men had been unarmed as they had left their weapons behind before leaving for Dundalk.

    To this date, some insist that the IRA could only have known where the men would be with the help of mole inside the Gardai.

    Both the RUC and the Garda Siochana have sought to squash speculation of collusion with the IRA, saying that nobody would have known the route the men would have taken and they must have been spotted in Dundalk by IRA members.

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    Judges in Northern Ireland have constant police protection - but the IRA found a chink in that security armour when they killed the second most important figure in the Belfast judiciary, Lord Justice Maurice Gibson, in 1987.

    Lord Justice Maurice Gibson
    The judge and his wife, Lady Cecily, were killed by a remote-controlled car bomb as they drove over the Irish Border back into Northern Ireland on 27 April 1987 after a holiday.

    As the judge's car reached the border, he stopped to shake hands with the Garda security escort who had completed their part of the assignment. The couple had only a short drive to meet the RUC escort to Belfast.

    Between the two points lay the bomb. The explosion threw the Gibson's vehicle across the road, killing the couple immediately.

    The investigation concluded that the IRA had somehow managed to work out the couple's plans becayse Lord Justice Gibson had booked the holiday in his own name.

    But some unionists alleged that the responsibility lay with an IRA mole within the Garda.

    Sir Maurice was in little doubt that he was an IRA target. In 1984 he acquitted three RUC men accused of the murder of three IRA members, saying that the dead had been brought to justice, "in this case the final court of justice".

    Lord Justice Gibson later denied that the comments were a de facto judicial approval for a "shoot to kill" policy.

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    Billy Wright emerged as the leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force in the mid 1990s and has been linked to many sectarian killings of Catholics.

    Billy Wright
    When he was jailed in April 1997, he was placed in a block housing republican INLA prisoners - and they decided to take revenge.

    Two days after Christmas, three prisoners, in a well-planned operation, apprehended Wright as he was being transferred to the visitors' block, shooting him at least three times.

    They then returned to their cells, handed the weapons to a priest and surrendered.

    One of the three said: "Billy Wright was executed ... for directing and waging a campaign of terror against the nationalist people from his prison cell."

    Speculation has surrounded how the prisoners could have achieved such a complicated assassination under the noses of the prison guards.

    A security camera that may have spotted the gunmen was out of operation while a watchtower was unmanned.

    The official report into the killing failed to establish how the guns got into the prison.

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  • Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

    Devolution crisis





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