'Now it's time for Tony Blair to fulfil the promise he made to me'

The firm view of Patrick Finucane's family and most of those involved in the campaign for an investigation into his death is that the truth will emerge from a judicial inquiry and not from a prosecution process.

That opinion has not changed in the 14 years since Geraldine Finucane and her three children saw the Catholic lawyer shot 14 times by loyalist paramilitaries in their north Belfast home. Yesterday Mrs Finucane, who was herself injured by one bullet, reiterated that belief.

"When I met Tony Blair in 2000 he told me that if he thought members of the security forces had been involved in killings of this nature he would call a public inquiry," she said. "The most senior police officer in the UK has now found that there was collusion in my husband's murder. It is now time for Tony Blair to fulfil his promise."

Her son, Michael, said: "What needs to be looked at is the extent to which it reached back into the Establishment. Those questions have not been answered in a public fashion and, until there is a tribunal of inquiry established, I don't believe they will be."

The same message was spelt out yesterday by the Irish government, which argued that the murder could not be considered in isolation and that a police investigation could not answer the questions surrounding the incident.

This view will not change in the light of the statement issued yesterday by Sir John Stevens, given that it simultaneously accused the intelligence world of crimes up to and including murder while leaving the vast bulk of his work unpublished.

One campaigner said last night: "This Stevens report was not a whitewash, but we are talking about public confidence, and the prosecution of a small number of intelligence people is never going to address those concerns."

The history of police investigations into collusion in general and the Finucane case in particular has not inspired confidence among the critics. In his first report into collusion, issued in 1990, Sir John declared that he had amassed a vast amount of information and intelligence which enabled him to say definitively thatcollusion was "neither wide-spread nor institutionalised."

Yesterday he acknowledged that he had uncovered collusion at a level "way beyond" his 1990 view, adding that his investigation was like "going into one room and seeing the contents, seeing another door at the other side of the room, opening that door and getting into a new environment."

The precedents in this affair are not promising for unearthing the truth. In one prosecution a murder case collapsed when the chief witness would not testify on health grounds.

In another, the trial of an Army agent, Brian Nelson, a dramatic last-minute deal was made in which charges against him were dropped and he pleaded guilty to lesser offences. He admitted 20 charges while 15 others, including two of murder, were dropped.

Crown counsel said it must be emphasised that the decision to accept Nelson's guilty pleas, and not to proceed with the other charges, had been based solely on an evaluation of the factors liable to affect the outcome of the case, and on the demands of justice.

The decision had been reached after a scrupulous assessment of the possible evidential difficulties and a rigorous examination of the interests of justice, he added.

The deal meant only one witness appeared in court. He was a senior military intelligence officer who, in giving evidence on Nelson's behalf, described him as a very courageous man who had saved many lives but who was "bound to make mistakes and undoubtedly he did". This officer is now himself the subject of a file sent to the DPP by Sir John Stevens.

As Sir John said yesterday, there have already been scores of prosecutions arising out of the matters he has investigated. Few argue, however, that these have in any way cleared up any of the murkiness of collusion.

A public inquiry is in any event on the cards since it is an open secret that a former Canadian judge asked to look into the case has already decided that an inquiry is warranted. He is expected to recommend this in the autumn, with the Government already committed to abiding by his decision.

The fact that prosecutions are meanwhile likely to result almost certainly means that any court cases will have to be disposed of before such an inquiry gets under way.

The next question is whether an inquiry would assume the dimensions of the Bloody Sunday Tribunal which has already been running for years, at huge cost, and has several years more to run. The Government would almost certainly be interested in a quicker inquiry, but it is difficult to imagine that some form of truncated investigation will retain public confidence.

The key figures

Patrick Finucane

Prominent lawyer who was murdered in 1989 by loyalists who justified the killing by accusing him of being a senior IRA commander. He was instead simply a successful solicitor who on occasions represented Republicans facing terrorist charges. Aided by his security force handlers, double-agent Brian Nelson provided to his loyalist colleagues the intelligence for his murder. William Stobie supplied the guns.

Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert was 19 when he was murdered in November 1987. The UDA was seeking to kill a Catholic in retaliation for the Poppy Day massacre, but instead shot the Protestant student. Unlike the Finucane family, Lambert's mother, Ivy, has been supportive of Sir John Stevens and opposes a public inquiry. It is still unclear, though, what role the security forces played.

Brian Nelson

A one-time soldier in the Black Watch, Nelson was recruited by the army's Ulster intelligence unit to infiltrate the Ulster Defence Association. Acted as the key fixer who encouraged the UDA to focus on leading Republicans identified by the army, rather than randomly selecting Catholic targets. Tried to flee Ulster soon after the first Stevens investigation began but was captured and was given a 10-year prison sentence for conspiracy to murder after a secret deal. Released in 1999. Died of a brain haemorrhage.

William Stobie

Former UDA quartermaster turned police informer, Stobie is the only man to have been charged in connection with the Finucane murder. He told Neil Mulholland, a journalist, that he had been asked to provide guns for the murder of Finucane but the prosecution collapsed as Mulholland failed to testify on grounds of ill health. Later shot dead by former paramilitary colleagues.

Ken Barrett

Self-confessed loyalist killer and prime suspect in Finucane case. Described by the RUC officer who recruited him as "the most frightening individual" he had ever met.

Gordon Kerr

British Brigadier, now military attache to Beijing. Previously commanded the army's shadowy Force Research Unit (FRU) that ran paramilitary double agents, including Brian Nelson. He is believed to be one of six members of the security forces who faces prosecution over FRU collusion with loyalist paramilitaries to murder nationalists.

Sir John Stevens

Now chief constable of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John has completed his third inquiry in 13 years into allegations of murderous links between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. He has a hard-won reputation for integrity.

Douglas Hogg

Hogg was a Home Office minister when he was briefed by officers that some solicitors were "unduly sympathetic" to the IRA. He repeated the allegation in the House of Commons in January, 1989, sparking nationalist outrage. Finucane was murdered three weeks later.

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