Former minister 'ignorant of Army collusion'
Saturday, 19 April 2003
Another former government minister declared yesterday that he had "no idea" that British intelligence agents had colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.
Sir Brian Mawhinney, who was a Northern Ireland minister in the Tory administration at the time of the murder of the Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989, condemned the actions of the British Army's undercover Force Research Unit in the late 1980s.
But he said that he had personally not been aware of any collusion in illegal actions by the intelligence services highlighted on Thursday in a damning report by Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The comments by the MP for North West Cambridgeshire echoed similar claims by Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, another former Northern Ireland minister under the Tory administration.
Sir Brianjoined David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, in calling for a private parliamentary investigation rather than a public inquiry into the Stevens revelations. "This is a highly professional report by a very respected policeman about the wholly unacceptable behaviour by a small minority of security force people," Sir Brian told BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday.
"Of course senior ministers like me got to see intelligence reports but I had no idea this sort of behaviour was going on. Frankly, no minister that I know of in any party would have stood for it for an instant if they had known," he said.
He admitted that he knew of the existence of the Army's Force Research Unit: "I had heard of it. I had no detailed knowledge of it or its activities. This didn't fall to me, I wasn't the Secretary of State."
Sir Brian claimed that Lord King of Bridgwater, who was secretary of state from 1985-89, was aware of the FRU's activities. Lord King was unavailable for comment yesterday.
The MP for North West Cambridgeshire said he was "not convinced" of the need for a public inquiry, adding that it would shed more heat than light. He pointed out that the Bloody Sunday inquiry had cost £200m.
Lord Brooke said on Thursday night he had "not remotely" been aware of the collusion, even though he was personally briefed by the FRU less than six months after Mr Finucane was murdered.
Mr Trimble rejected calls for a full judicial investigation but said the all-party Parliamentary Intelligence Committee, which sits in private, could examine what happened.
Alex Atwood, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and an SDLP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is suspended, said there was no question that a public inquiry should be conducted. It was important to check if "people higher up" in the security services or Tory government had approved or known of the illegal actions of the FRU, he said.