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Thatcher cabinet pressed { April 18 2003 }

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British News
April 18, 2003

Thatcher Cabinet pressed on dirty war against IRA
By David Lister, Rosemary Bennett and Richard Ford

FRESH questions were raised last night about how much Margaret Thatcher’s Government knew of RUC collusion with loyalist hit-squads after the Stevens inquiry revealed that a junior Home Office Minister was briefed by police.

In his report into the role of the security forces in murders carried out by the UDA, Sir John Stevens singled out Douglas Hogg, a junior Home Office Minister in 1989, saying that he had been fed false information by the RUC.

Sir John said that Mr Hogg, who later joined the Cabinet as Agriculture Secretary, had been “compromised” after he relayed the incorrect information to Parliament. He said senior figures in the Army and Ministry of Defence may have been involved in a cover-up to thwart an investigation into collusion between the security forces and loyalist terrorists.

His findings provoked fresh calls for a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane, a Roman Catholic solicitor killed by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association in 1989.

Last night, Mr Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, said that when she met the Prime Minister in 2000 he had told her that if members of the security forces had been involved in killings of this nature he would call a public inquiry. “The most senior police officer in the UK has now found that there was collusion in my husband’s murder,” she said. “It is now time for Tony Blair to fulfil his promise.”

Sir John has now broadened his inquiry to include both serving and retired senior military and intelligence officers.

Delivering the interim findings of his third investigation, he also revealed that he was “investigating whether the concealment of documents and information was sanctioned” by the Army and MoD, and “if so at what levels of the organisations holding them”.

Hundreds of pages of documents were withheld from Sir John’s team until last November, some of which he had sought in two earlier inquiries stretching back to 1989.

Although Sir John held back from saying that collusion between military and police intelligence officers and loyalist terrorists had been institutionalised, his report presented a shocking picture of Britain’s “dirty war” against the Provisional IRA.

He said that informants “were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes”.

“The unlawful involvement of agents in murder implies that the security forces sanction killings,” Sir John said.

He said that records had not been kept, while a system of intelligence gathering developed that lacked accountability: “The co-ordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor. Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned.”

Although Sir John has examined 26 murders since 1989 in which collusion is alleged to have been involved, the murder of Mr Finucane, a lawyer whose clients included the hunger striker Bobby Sands, is by far the most high-profile.

MPs said yesterday they thought it unlikely that only a junior minister was in contact with the RUC at the time and suggested that one or more cabinet ministers must have also known what was going on. Mr Hogg is currently abroad and the Home Office declined to comment on any ministerial involvement.

Lord Hurd of Westwell, who was Home Secretary at the time, told The Times last night he had not been involved in any way. “Sir John Stevens has not contacted me during about this inquiry and I have not been involved in it,” he said.

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