`RUC informer killed Finucane'

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The Independent Online
THE SENSATIONAL revelation in a Belfast courtroom yesterday that a man charged with murdering the Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane was a Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch informer sent shockwaves through policing and political circles.

Allegations that the security forces were involved in the killing of the lawyer have persisted since his death in 1989. Yesterday's murder charge stemmed from an investigation launched by the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, John Stevens, who was called in by the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in April to reopen the case.

The man charged, 48-year-old William Alfred Stobie, said in a statement read out at Belfast magistrates' court: "At the time I was a police informer for Special Branch and on the night of the death of Pat Finucane I informed Special Branch on two occasions by telephone that a person was to be shot." He said he did not know the identity of the person targeted.

Mr Stobie's solicitor, Joe Rice, said: "My client has asked me to state that the murky web of deceit and lies spun around this murder does not emanate from him." He said Mr Stobie totally denied the charge of murder.

Sir Ronnie, who has staunchly defended his force against allegations of collusion in the Finucane murder, said yesterday that police records on the case had been, and would continue to be passed on to the inquiry team. "I think all of these issues will become clear in due course. When that becomes clear it will be seen it does not leave us vulnerable," he said.

The development could hardly have come at a worse time for the RUC, given that a review of future policing needs is being carried out by the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten. The force has recently been the target of a barrage of criticism centring on the shooting of Mr Finucane at his home in north Belfast in 1989 and the death in March of another solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, who was killed by a car bomb in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

Mr Stobie was said in court to have served in two locally recruited units of the Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Rangers.

His solicitor told the court: "He was a paid crown agent acting on behalf of the police from around 1987 to 1990. On at least two occasions he gave police information before this murder that clearly was not acted upon. He also gave police information after the murder about the murder weapon.

"He tells me that he believes that the police and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions are likely to have had access to this information for some time."

Mr Stobie was remanded in custody until 14 July.