A retired Canadian judge has unleashed a major controversy in the United Kingdom by going over the head of the British government to release findings of his inquiry into possible state collusion in four killings in Ireland.
Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Peter Cory telephoned the families of the four victims recently in frustration at Prime Minister Tony Blair's refusal to keep his commitment to release the findings of the 18-month inquiry.
Judge Cory informed the families that he had found sufficient evidence of state collusion in the killings to warrant a full public inquiry in each case — an extraordinary move that the British media are calling a humiliating, direct challenge to Mr. Blair.
"I have made noises that I considered appropriate at this time, and I suppose there may come a time when I make more noise," Judge Cory said yesterday, in his first full interview since delivering his report in October.
"There will come a time when, perhaps, I will say there has been a breach of their undertaking to me and — more importantly — to the families of the victims."
Judge Cory, who is known in Canadian legal circles as being forthright, ethical and consummately fair, said he sent an ultimatum to the government early this year.
"I said that in light of media reports that were increasing the concerns of the families, in the name of humanity, couldn't they simply make the bottom line public? I said that at this stage, I would have no alternative but to make it public if they didn't. And I did."
The 78-year-old judge is being widely hailed in Britain as a courageous figure who refused to stand by while the Blair government defied his inquiry's terms of reference by suppressing the report. Judge Cory was asked in 2002 to look into eight killings in which Irish security forces and the British security forces were accused of collusion. The findings on the Irish security forces have been released.
"I don't think the significance and magnitude of what he did has been sufficiently understood," said Michael Finucane, the son of one of the victims. "It was an absolutely astounding thing to do. The courage of that man, in the face of the British government trying to intimidate and shut him up, really staggers the imagination."
Mr. Finucane's father, Pat, was a lawyer who successfully represented many Irish Republican Army members. Three masked men shot him in front of his horrified family in 1987.
"My family has had many meetings over the years with British officials, including Prime Minister Blair," Mr. Finucane said. "Not one of them ever apologized. They just sat behind their desk, surrounded by grey-suited mandarins, and spun a political line, playing their bent and crooked games.
"It is particularly insensitive and upsetting that those of us most directly affected are still waiting for a scintilla of information. Judge Cory is the only person we had dealt with in 15 years who was absolutely straight and up front. . . . My family cannot thank him enough."
The Cory inquiry emerged out of peace negotiations in 2001 between the British and Irish governments and a broad spectrum of political parties. All sides agreed that the mild-mannered judge would delve into the eight cases, which were so controversial they stood in the way of a peace agreement.
Four of the killings were committed by the IRA and allegedly involved collusion by Irish security forces. Two of the victims were Northern Ireland Chief Justice Maurice Gibson and Lady Cecily Gibson, murdered in 1987. The other two — Royal Ulster Constabulary Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan — were killed in 1989.
The British Army and security forces were suspected of collusion in the other four cases. Besides Mr. Finucane, they involved:
Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, slain in the Maze prison in 1997. Many believe authorities could have prevented his death;
Rosemary Nelson, a lawyer killed in a bomb attack in 1999;
Robert Hamill, a Catholic father of two killed by a loyalist mob in Portadown in 1997.
"It was a dirty job, but I did it because I felt it would help the peace process," Judge Cory said.
The Irish government received Judge Cory's findings on the killings in which the Irish forces were accused of collusion at the same time the report to the British government was delivered. The Irish findings called for a full public inquiry into the Breen and Buchanan killings, which the Irish government agreed to. The British government refused to follow suit.
It based its refusal on the complexity of the cases and a fear that premature publicity could compromise continuing probes and trials.
Mr. Finucane said these are obvious stall tactics that have filled the families with fear the report is being edited and important documents are being destroyed before Mr. Blair fulfills his obligation to follow the Cory recommendations.
The affair is bound to heat up still more on March 1, when an Irish judge will review the British refusal to release the report.
JUDGE Peter Cory will deliver his eagerly awaited report on alleged security force collusion in six controversial murder cases, on Tuesday. But, the families of victims, and the public, will have to wait until December to read the reports - after they have been studied and censored by the British and Irish Governments.
Sunday Life has been reliably informed that Judge Cory's £1.6m collusion inquiry has uncovered important new information, which has never been made public before.
The retired Canadian judge was tasked with probing alleged British or Irish security force collusion, in six high-profile cases, including the murders of solicitors Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane, and LVF leader Billy Wright. Both governments have pledged to comply, if he recommends Bloody Sunday-style public inquires, into any of the killings. Judge Cory will present reports on four cases to the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, in London, on Tuesday.
Later, on the same day, he will travel to Dublin, where he will hand over two reports - examining alleged Garda collusion with the [P]IRA - to Irish premier Bertie Ahern. The governments will then have five weeks to consider the content of their respective reports.
An NIO source said each government had nominated their respective Attorney Generals to study the reports. Both men have the power to black out - or delete - detailed information from the reports, on security grounds. Individual names can also be removed, in order to protect the lives of those identified in the reports.
The Attorney Generals will also consider how publication of the reports could affect any ongoing court cases, or police investigations. But, it is understood the published reports will show where any alterations, or edited text, have been made. Judge Cory will return to London on November 10, to hear the Government's comments, and proof read the final reports, before they go to the printers. In early December, the reports will be placed before the respective parliaments in London and Dublin for approval, prior to publication later that month.
All six reports will be published on the same day. It is understood that the families directly affected by the reports, will be given advance notification before publication. And, the NIO is believed to favour the families receiving a copy of their respective report, prior to publication, in order to prepare for the media onslaught, which will inevitably follow the official publication of the Cory Report. But, the NIO source warned there was a possibility that the families would only receive an oral briefing, prior to publication.
Sources in Dublin said that, from the outset of his investigations last year, Judge Cory had laid down three conditions to the British and Irish authorities: That his reports must be made public. Both governments must give a commitment, in advance, to comply with his final recommendations. Full co-operation of both governments in all matters. It is understood Judge Cory believes the pre-conditions have been - or will be - fully honoured.
Sunday Life has been told each report will start with a clear-cut definition of what is meant by collusion, both active and passive. In other words, there could be collusion if state officials failed to act upon intelligence about a murder plot. The Dublin source said each of the six reports would contain detailed and precise reasons why a public inquiry had, or had not, been recommended. The source added Judge Cory believed that, where a public inquiry was recommended, it should take place quickly.
THE senior judge and his wife were killed by a 500lb IRA bomb near Killeen, on the main Newry to Dublin Road, in April 1987. The attack happened just after the Gibsons, who were returning from holiday, had left their Garda escort, to travel into Northern Ireland. Before the judge and his wife picked up their RUC escort, the IRA bomb exploded, killing them both. Some unionists have alleged that the responsibility lay with an IRA mole within the Garda.
THE LVF leader was shot dead by INLA gunmen inside the Maze prison, on December 27 1997.
Wright was shot as he sat in a prison van, in the forecourt of H-Block 6. Three INLA inmates were convicted of the murder, but there have been persistent allegations that the authorities colluded with the republican killers. Shortly after Wright's death, it emerged that a security camera, monitoring the murder area, had been defective for several weeks. A prison guard had also been stood down from his post, in a watchtower, minutes before the killers struck.
THE two senior RUC officers were ambushed by IRA gunmen, near the border village of Jonesboro, in south Armagh's 'bandit country', in March 1989. They had been returning from a meeting with senior Garda officers, in Dundalk.
At the time of the killings, unionist politicians demanded an investigation into how the IRA appeared to have had precise details of the two officers' movements.
Later, there were claims that the ambush was the result of a security leak within the Garda.
THE prominent Catholic solicitor, whose clients included leading republicans, was shot by the UFF in the hallway of his north Belfast home, in February 1989.
Allegations of state collusion came to the fore, when Brian Nelson , an Army spy inside the UDA, claimed to have told his handlers that loyalists were gathering information on Mr Finucane.
Earlier this year, UDA member, Ken Barrett , was charged with Mr Finucane's murder.
The killing has also been part of a 13-year long probe, by Sir John Stevens, into allegations of security force collusion with loyalists paramilitaries, during the Troubles.
Campaigners argue that the case for a public inquiry is overwhelming.
THE Lurgan solicitor was killed when a bomb exploded underneath her car, in March 1999.
The murder of the mother-of-three was claimed by the shadowy loyalist group, the Red Hand Defenders, but security sources believe it was the work of LVF and UFF terrorists.
Prior to her death, Mrs Nelson had complained that she had been assaulted and threatened by police.
To date, no one has been charged with Mrs Nelson's murder, despite a major inquiry, which was headed by the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk, Colin Port, before he stepped down earlier this year.
THE 25-year-old Catholic died in hospital, on May 8 1997 - 12 days after being attacked by loyalists in Portadown town centre. He had been returning home after an evening out.
Shortly after his death, it was alleged that police officers, sitting in a Land-Rover parked close to where the attack took place, failed to intervene to help him.
Six Portadown men were later charged with Robert Hamill's murder. However, all but one of the charges was dropped, after two witnesses withdrew their evidence.