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Stevens lifts the lid on security forces' tactics
The Stevens report documents the role of William Stobie, recruited as an agent by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in 1987. As is often the case, the recruitment took place in a prison setting. At the time Stobe had been under arrest for a revenge killing. He was released without charge and established himself as the quartermaster (storekeeper of armaments) of the West Belfast Brigade of the Ulster Defence Association, a vigilante Loyalist paramilitary body. In February 1989 a solicitor who took cases for Northern Ireland’s Catholic community, Patrick Finucane, was shot in front of his children in Belfast in February 1989. The weapon was supplied by Stobie.
Finucane was described as a person “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA” –Northern Ireland minister Douglas Hogg’s disgraceful statement to Parliament a few weeks before the murder. Stevens notes that “to the extent that they (Hogg’s statement) were based on information passed by the RUC, they were not justifiable and the inquiry concludes that the minister was compromised”. Stobie had informed his handlers that a murder was being planned, but this was not prevented. Stobe himself was shot dead in December 2001. Irish Minister Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said the Stobie’s killing could have been an attempt to hide the truth about the murder of Finucane.
The targeting of an “unsympathetic” solicitor sheds new light on the claims of intimidation by some other members of the legal profession. The late Sulayman Balal Zain-al-Abidin believed that the Police was seeking to carry out a character assassination against his solicitor – he was on his way to Arani & Co when he was taken ill and went to hospital instead, where he entered a coma and died.
Without better oversight, the fear is that in future counter-terrorism operations the security forces will continue their ‘gang on gang’ tactics. Instead of putting an end to terrorism, the network of agents and informers perpetuate it.
Stobie, and another agent highlighted in the Stevens Report, Brian Nelson, practically ran terrorist groups. A sectarian Protestant, Nelson was recruited by British military intelligence to work within the UDA, and ironically rose to become its ‘head of intelligence’. The Guardian recorded how he “would pass on the names and addresses of known IRA activists to the UDA, whose gunmen would promptly go out and execute the suspects” (17 April 2003). Stevens was twice prevented from arresting Nelson because of obstruction from his handlers in the Army’s intelligence unit, the Force Research Unit (FRU). On one occasion Stevens’ Incident Room was burned down. The Police Commissioner describes this as a “deliberate act of arson”.
Commenting on the revelations of the Stevens Report, The Guardian observed that it “tells a shameful story of state-sanctioned murder, collusion and obstruction more commonly associated with Southern American dictatorships than with western parliamentary democracies” (The Guardian, 18 April, 2003).