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Stevens 3 Report- A case for a public enquiry?
18th April 2003
The publication of the report from Britain’s most senior police officer, Sir John Stevens of the Metropolitan Police, confirming that there was collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces was widely described as ‘shocking’ and of enormous political importance. It is neither.
The proverbial dogs in the street have long been aware of such collusion and the political importance of the report is close to zero. The Irish government indicated how important it was regarded by saying that it would be ‘isolated’ from the rest of the peace process. The British contented themselves to pointing out that criminal proceedings will take their course and that many changes to policing and security have already taken place.
The nationalist parties, including Sinn Fein are under no pressure whatsoever to take any action over the report and limited themselves to calling for a public or judicial enquiry. Only a full enquiry would ‘get to the heart of British military policy in Ireland’ said Alex Maskey, Sinn Fein’s Lord Mayor of Belfast. This is, of course complete nonsense. An enquiry getting to the heart of the repressive apparatus of the British state? Even more pathetic was Gerry Kelly’s call for the dissolution of the Joint Support Group which apparently is the successor to the Force Research Unit that ran the British agents within the loyalist death squads. Calls for ineffectual action by the British state cover for the unwillingness and inability of the nationalist parties to take any action themselves.
So, only the stupidly naive could have been shocked, and a similar disposition would be required to believe, that something important politically is going to arise from the report.
The British have been under no pressure to admit to a policy of collusion and the British secretary of state was able to claim that he took the issue so seriously that he had tasked a retired Canadian judge, in another transparent time wasting exercise, to tell him whether it was serious enough for him to do anything more about it.
The unabashed bigotry of unionism was once more in evidence when Sam Foster, of the Policing Board which is supposed to guarantee against such things happening now, said that ‘The patience of the unionist community with this one-sided process is now completely and utterly exhausted.’ Sam is on the so-called moderate Trimble wing of unionism. The rabid wing in the Democratic Unionists, also on the Policing Board, signalled their approval of collusion by continuing to deny it ever took place.
The only genuine note struck during the last 24 hours has been by relatives of the victims who were shut out of the press conference releasing the Stevens report and who have condemned the report and called for a public enquiry. On the face of it they have a strong case.
The failures of the report are so many that it is difficult to register them all.
After 14 years the ‘major lines of enquiry are at an early stage.’
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has received no recommendations for prosecutions.
The DPP has received no files on Royal Ulster Constabulary Officers although these are going to be supplied at a ‘later stage’, so we are told. It is instructive that earlier Stevens enquiries into collusion led to arrests of the loyalists receiving police files but not the police who handed them over.
No one has been prosecuted for the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane despite admission that the police know who did it. Key witnesses are now dead.
The allegation of police threats to Finucane were not investigated on the grounds that no record or official complaint could be found.
Nothing is said about how far up the chain of command the collusion went and previous chief constables of the RUC and governmental politicians were not even interviewed.
No indication is given that the officers who briefed junior home office minister Douglas Hogg, who must have been senior, that ‘some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA’, thus providing political cover for the murder, will be prosecuted.
Nothing is said about the scope of collusion despite admission of repeated attempts to frustrate the enquiry by the police and ministry of defence. This included hiding documentary evidence, arson at the offices of the investigating team, refusal to pass over information and warning loyalist suspects of impending arrest. Again there is no indication that the officers involved in this obstruction will be prosecuted. The obstruction is described as ‘cultural in its nature and widespread within parts of the army and RUC’ yet there is no finding that collusion was institutionalised or formed a coherent policy.
The report cannot say how many people were the victims of this collusion nor how such collusion could have arisen.
Grave though these weaknesses may be they are but aspects of the problem. The fundamental problem is the view that something was going wrong in the British security forces and this something wrong was more or less of an administrative nature. The definition of collusion in the report is bazaar – ‘wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence and the extreme of agents being involved in murder.’ Apart from the last aspect the definition is simply untrue.
Michael Finucane, the son of the murdered solicitor, put it absolutely straight the day before the report was released. ‘This report is widely believed to be some sort of “systems analysis,” an examination of what went wrong … and how that can be prevented in the future. Nothing went wrong. The system worked perfectly. The policy in Northern Ireland was to harness the killing potential of loyalist paramilitaries, to increase that potential through additional resources in the shape of weapons and information and to direct those resources against selected targets so that the (British) government could be rid of its enemies.’
From such an approach no worthwhile conclusions can be drawn. A report that cannot determine who was killed, that cannot name the guilty nor assess the nature and extent of the problem will inevitably be incapable of advancing any solution. Most of the recommendations of the report have nothing to do with preventing collusion but of professionalising the people and organisations that organised the killing. The police are asked to police the police when it has been the police that have engaged in the killing.
Only one recommendation comes close to addressing the issue: ‘any conflict between the investigation of crime and the protection of agents should be managed through a decision-making process overseen by the regional assistant chief constable.’ Thus the report cannot even bring itself to put the rule of law above the requirements of the spooks that have engaged in widespread murder. These things are to be managed; entirely in keeping with the report itself, which is an exercise in managing the fall out from outside exposure of state murder.
The call for an independent enquiry is therefore understandable. It is however an exercise in illusion. There is no judicial power on earth that has either the interest or power to make the British state divulge its most important secrets or disgorge its killers. To believe that any judicial body could achieve such an outcome is to utterly misunderstand the realities of power.
Ronnie Flanagan, when head of the RUC, said that the only people who could tell the truth about the murder of Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill, kicked to death by a loyalist mob in front of an RUC patrol, was the RUC itself. He was right.
You can draw one of two conclusions from this. One – support the police and hope it will admit its dirty secrets and punish its wrong doers. Or Two – organise to demand the disbanding of the re-branded RUC.
One more confirmation that the present state cannot be reformed. It must be smashed. This is the main lesson to learn from Stevens 3.