Pressure for a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane, a Catholic solicitor, grew yesterday after a former police informer admitted shooting him dead.
The killing has been at the centre of a 15-year inquiry into collusion between Protestant paramilitaries and the security forces in Northern Ireland.
Ken Barrett, 41, pleaded guilty in Belfast Crown Court to shooting Mr Finucane 14 times in front of his wife and their three children at their home in north Belfast in February 1989.
Barrett, who was a member of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association at the time, was working as an informant for the then Royal Ulster Constabulary's Special Branch.
Two of his former associates also allegedly involved in the shooting have since died. William Stobie, who provided weapons used in the killing, was shot dead by loyalists in December 2001. Brian Nelson - an agent of the Army's ultra-secret Force Research Unit - who helped provide information on Mr Finucane's whereabouts, died of lung cancer in Wales last April. Mr Nelson had warned his handlers that a shooting was about to take place, but nothing was done to prevent it.
Evidence against Barrett was first obtained in October 1991, when he met Detective Johnston "Jonty" Brown.
In a secretly taped meeting, the killer told Mr Brown he fired several shots into Mr Finucane's head. A statement from the retired policeman said: "He said: 'You never tire of doing this, Jonty'.
"He said he killed Mr Finucane so quickly that he still had a fork in his hand as he was lying on the floor."
The confessions were recorded by Mr Brown, but the tape went missing and was never recovered. Furthermore, because Barrett was an agent for the intelligence services, no arrest was made and prosecutors were never alerted to the confession, the court heard. Barrett again revealed his role in the crime in August 2001, telling a BBC Panorama team of police involvement in setting up loyalist hits.
A third inquiry into the murder by Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, secured a fresh confession from Barrett.
In a conversation with two undercover policemen, Barrett admitted "whacking" Mr Finucane - not, Barrett insisted, because he was a solicitor, but because he was a republican and an IRA man. He also admitted "whacking" other people, and added: "That was my way of life at the time."
Following yesterday's guilty plea, Michael Finucane, the son of the murdered solicitor, called on the Government to set up a public inquiry.
Mr Finucane said: "They said they would set out the way ahead at the conclusion of all prosecutions.
"The only prosecution has now been held, so when can the public inquiry be held? That's the only question the British Government has to answer."
He added: "The system makes it possible for these guys to kill with impunity. They get the means to do it, the resources and protection afterwards."
Inquiries are already due to take place into the murders of the Catholic solicitor Rosemary Nelson, the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, and Robert Hamill, a Catholic killed by a loyalist mob.
FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
* February 1989: Pat Finucane shot dead.
* September 1989: John Stevens beginsinvestigation into security force breaches.
* 1992: Brian Nelson, a UDA intelligence officer revealed as army agent who tipped off handlers about plan to kill Finucane, jailed for 10 years for conspiracy to murder.
* April 1999: John Stevensstarts investigation into Finucane murder.
* April 2002: Retired Canadian judge Peter Cory appointed to carry out inquiry into six murdersinvolving allegations of security force collusion.
* April 2003:Nelson dies of cancer. Six days later, Sir John Stevens confirms security force collusion in Finucane murder.
* May 2003: Loyalist Ken Barrett charged with murder of Finucane.
* April 2004: Coryrecommends public inquiry. Government refuses until proceedings against Barrett are completed.
* September 2004: Barrett pleads guilty.
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