Challenge brought to High Court by Pat Finucane's widow against decision not to hold public inquiry

Only a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane will uncover the full extent of a state-operated policy of “extrajudicial executions”, the High Court heard today.

Counsel for the solicitor’s widow described him as the victim of a scheme where loyalist paramilitaries were infiltrated, resourced and manipulated to target those identified for assassination.

Geraldine Finucane is challenging Secretary of State Brandon Lewis’s decision not to establish a public inquiry into events surrounding his killing in February 1989, claiming it breached her human rights.

Fiona Doherty QC argued during the hearing on Wednesday (15 June): “The available evidence suggests that employees of the state, responsible for law enforcement, devised and operated a policy of extrajudicial executions.

“In other words, a policy of murder by proxy whereby the state itself engaged in terrorism through the agency of loyalist paramilitaries.”

The murder of Mr Finucane is among the most notorious of the Troubles era in Northern Ireland.

UDA gunmen burst into his north Belfast home and shot him 14 times in front of his wife - who was injured by a ricocheting bullet - and their three children.

His family have campaigned ever since for a public inquiry to establish the full scale of security force collusion in the killing.

In February 2019 the UK’s Supreme Court held that previous probes failed to meet the standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, Mrs Finucane has mounted further legal battles against the British Government’s response to that ruling.

In November 2020 the Secretary of State announced there would not be a public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other police review processes to run their course.

Pat Finucane's widow Geraldine Finucane at a previous court hearing. Credit: Pacemaker

He was ordered to pay £7,500 damages to Mrs Finucane for the excessive delay in reaching his position.

The current challenge centres on the legality of his decision to await the outcome of reviews by the PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch and the Police Ombudsman.

Ms Doherty argued that the LIB has now finished its work, while the Ombudsman’s process will not be completed until at least 2025.

She told Mr Justice Scoffield that the Secretary of State’s decision was irrational and unlawful.

Referring to the level of collusion the solicitor’s murder, the barrister contended that it was hard to imagine a more serious allegation against a liberal democracy founded on the rule of law.

“Patrick Finucane was a victim of this policy, he was identified by state agents as suitable for assassination and duly shot dead in front of his family in a particularly brutal fashion,” she said.

“The army, the police and the security services have been implicated to varying degrees in the events surrounding his death, in the operation of the policy that led to it, and in attempts to prevent the truth about it emerging.

“Questions remain as to the identities and culpability of those who authorised the policy, allowed it to happen, and what level they operated at.

“Questions also remain about the extent to which the policy was known and authorised by government.”

Despite former British Prime Minister David Cameron apologising for the “shocking” levels of collusion in the case, the court heard no members of the security forces has ever been held accountable for the killing or subsequent attempted cover-up.

Mrs Finucane was described as a “veteran” of court proceedings due to her ongoing fight to expose what happened to her husband and those responsible.

Counsel insisted: “Had the clear guidance of the Supreme Court been followed, on what’s known about the facts of the case and of the law, the only option open to the Secretary of State was a public inquiry.”

Urging the judge to quash Mr Lewis’ decision and order him to set up such a tribunal, she added: “This court shouldn’t allow matters to get to the stage where the state effectively gets what it wants by running down the clock on this investigation.

“In other words, the passage of time and the loss of evidence makes any investigation pointless.”

The case continues.