22 years for Finucane's killer

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The Independent Online

Solicitor Pat Finucane's killer was jailed for minimum of 22 years at Belfast Crown Court today.

Ken Barrett, 41, a police informer, was told by Mr Justice Weir that he had been involved in a cruel, callous, cold and premeditated attack upon a defenceless man which had been carried out without compunction.

Barrett was part of the team which gunned down the Northern Ireland lawyer in front of his wife Geraldine and their three children at the family's north Belfast home in February 1989.

Mr Fincane's wife Geraldine was wounded in the shooting and is now pressing the British government to hold a full judicial inquiry into the assassination after investigations by the head of the Metropolitan Police Sir John Stevens confirmed collusion by the intelligence agencies and police.

Mr Justice Weir said: "I make it clear that this court has no means of assessing the correctness or otherwise of that allegation, nor has it any part of its function to do so.

"What is equally clear, however, is that, even if all or part of what you have alleged in that regard were known to be correct, it could in no way mitigate the seriousness of your own admitted actions in the despicable events of that evening."

Barrett has been held in an isolation cell at the top security Maghaberry prison near Lisburn, County Antrim, since May of last year when he was arrested in London and brought back to Belfast to face the murder charge.

But under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he will be seeking for early release and even though arrangements are being made to have him transferred to another jail in Britain it is understood Barrett believes he could be out again as early as next May.

Mr Justice Weir said that he was not unaware that certain provisions could apply to the sentence review commissioners for eligibility for release.

He said: "Such applications are entirely outside the control of the criminal courts and therefore my decisions on sentence in your case must be of necessity be made without reference to how, if at all, the provisions of the (Northern Ireland sentences) 1998 Act might affect your position.

Barrett stood to attention between two prison officers as he was sentenced showing no emotion.

The judge told him that the only reason Barrett had given in the papers for not shooting Mrs Finucane dead rather than in the foot was that he thought to have done so would have generated negative publicity for his organisation which was euphemistically known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

The judge told him: "I have no doubt that an object of this brutal crime was to intimidate and thereby deter other members of the legal profession from carrying out their duty to represent without fear or favour all those, including terrorists such as you, who come to them for professional advice and assistance.

"It is greatly to the credit of the profession that it has not allowed itself to be intimidated or deterred by this or other outrages carried out for the same purpose."

Barrett claimed Mr Finucane, 39, was a republican and IRA man – an allegation categorically rejected by his family. Sir John Stevens also insisted there was no evidence to connect the murdered solicitor with the Provisionals.

Mr Justice Weir said he regretted that he could find very little mitigating factors other than Barrett's plea of guilty very late in the day and for that he gave him some credit.

But he added: "I have searched in vain for any semblance of genuine remorse in your various accounts of your participation in this crime contained in the court papers and have found, on the contrary, only boastful expressions of self satisfaction."

Earlier the court heard that had Barrett pleaded not guilty the case would have lasted for several months during which time a number of issues would have been ventilated that may have served to a limited extent those who had a broader agenda.

Barrett's lawyer Arthur Harvey QC said there was insufficient evidence to enable the court to conclude that his client had fired the fatal shots.

He added: "There is a substantial body of evidence that other persons have confessed to police officers and journalists on different occasions that they fulfilled that role."

Mr Harvey said it was significant that Barrett had not been involved in any paramilitary organisation since the early 1990s and therefore posed no threat to society.

He added: "His actions are not just part of his past but also part of this community. He is also acutely aware that the authorities themselves appreciate that fact."

Asked by Mr Justice Weir if it was Barrett's case that he did not fire the shots Mr Harvey said: "He feels any statements made by him in this court in relation to these charges may and indeed will place him in further danger over and above that which he is already under, as testified by the arrangement made to bring him here to court."

He added: "I'm not going to indicate his role specifically for that of others."

The judge asked if Barrett had expressed any regret or remorse for his involvement in Mr Finucane's death.

Mr Harvey replied: "I believe my client has regretted and does regret his involvement in these offences."

He added that he had been given no instructions to express his client's remorse nor had he sought them.

The QC added: "His detachment from this organisation over 15 years is more eloquent testimony than any words."