The case of the murdered solicitor, Pat Finucane, came back to haunt the Government yet again yesterday when the European Court of Human Rights declared the official investigation into his death inadequate.
The court in Strasbourg ruled that Britain was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of the solicitor, who was shot dead by loyalists in Belfast in 1989. The circumstances of the murder gave rise to suspicions that the security forces had colluded with his killers.
The Government, which was ordered to pay his widow, Geraldine Finucane, €43,000 (£30,000) for costs and expenses, said: "The Government takes European Court decisions very seriously and will want to give careful consideration to this decision."
The development was the latest in a complex saga which has generated much legal and political concern. It was welcomed by the Finucane family and by groups such as Amnesty International. Campaigners said they would continue to press for a full public inquiry.
The judges unanimously upheld Mrs Finucane's complaint that there had been no effective investigation into the death. The court also disapproved of the fact that the investigation had been carried out by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, declaring: "It had been conducted by officers who were part of the police force suspected by the applicant of making death threats against her husband.
"There had therefore been a lack of independence, which raised serious doubts as to the thoroughness or effectiveness with which the possibility of collusion had been pursued."
It further said the inquest had not involved any inquiry into the allegations of collusion, and that Mrs Finucane had been refused permission to make a statement about threats to her husband.
The European judges noted that while the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, is currently carrying out an investigation, the Government had admitted that, taking place some 10 years after the event, it could not be regarded as having been carried out promptly and expeditiously.
Sir John has already declared, in an interim report, that he believes there was collusion in the Finucane killing and in other incidents. A Belfast loyalist was recently charged with murdering Finucane, while files on other individuals, including intelligence personnel, have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
A Canadian judge is meanwhile examining the case for a public inquiry, with all the indications that he will favour one. The Government is committed to accepting his recommendation, though recently there has been speculation that the authorities have been looking at the form such an inquiry could take. They are keen to avoid a repetition of the present inquiry into Bloody Sunday, which has gone on for years at a cost of many millions of pounds.
The court in Strasbourg did not recommend a fresh investigation into the affair, saying that it might not provide transparency and accountability. The judges commented that the lapse of time could inevitably render such an investigation unsatisfactory or inconclusive.
Michael Finucane, the son of the solicitor, said: "Now we have a judgment from the highest court in Europe that his right to life was violated. It is easy to see why the UK didn't want to investigate this murder - they were the instigators and facilitators of it."
Mitchel McLaughlin, the Sinn Fein chairman, said: "What is required now is a full independent judicial inquiry to establish exactly who authorised and planned this killing and where the chain of command leads to."Reuse content