August 1999

Briefing Note on Ed Moloney

Ed Moloney is Former Northern Editor, The Irish Times and co-author of Paisley, an unauthorised biography of the Ulster Protestant leader. He is a past and current contributor to the Washington Post, Daily News, The Guardian, The Independent, BBC, RTE, CNN, & various British TV and radio stations.


On July 8, two days before starting my annual vacation, I was served with a court order under the UK Prevention of Terrorism Act demanding I hand over to the police notes made in 1989 of an interview(s) with one William Stobie, a quarter master in an illegal Protestant paramilitary group who had recently been charged with the Feb 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane. The order arose out of an article (attached) written by me and published in the Sunday Tribune on June 27th, 1999.


My lawyers have applied to have the order dismissed and a court hearing will be held on August 23rd. If I lose, as is likely, I will have the residue of seven days to hand over the notes otherwise I could suffer an unlimited fine and/or between six months and five years in jail. There are no shield laws in the UK and the effect of the court order, were I to obey it, would be to force me to give evidence against a source.


The issues are very simple. If I give up these notes I may as well quit as journalist. The betrayal of trust involved would mean that nobody could trust me from thereon not to pass on information to the police given to me in confidence. This move against me is an effective attempt to deprive me of my livelihood but it also has serious negative implications for journalists everywhere in Ireland. If this attempt to force me to cross the divide between reporting and evidence gathering for the police is successful then no journalist is safe.


In lengthy interviews with me nearly nine years ago, Stobie claimed to have been an agent working for the NI police, the RUC, who gave his handlers advance notice of the operation which led to Finucane's death. Finucane, a lawyer who specialised in defending members of the Irish Republican Army and who had a well-publicised history of conflict and friction with the police and army, was killed in controversial circumstances. In particular there have been well documented allegations of British Army collusion with his killers.


The court order against me was issued at the request of a team of Scotland Yard detectives headed by Dep. Commissioner John Stevens. They were drafted into Belfast to re-open the Finucane case following a report delivered in April to the Irish government by a London-based human rights group which made serious allegations of British Army collusion in the Finucane murder. The Irish government was not consulted nor has it given its approval to the move to appoint Stevens which was made unilaterally by the head of the RUC.


There have been a number of other reports into the Finucane killing, most notably by a United Nations rapporteur who called for a full judicial inquiry into the murder. Other civil liberties groups, such as the Lawyers for Human Rights in NY (contact Michael Posner/Tessa Robinson 212-845-5200) have made similar calls.


When Stevens was appointed the Finucane campaign was reaching a crescendo. This is at a time when a commission into the future of the RUC, headed by ex-Hong Kong governor Chris Patten and established under the terms of the NI Peace Agreement, is due to deliver its report.


Although Stevens was appointed on foot of the April 1999 collusion allegations he has moved against only two significant figures in the Finucane saga, both of whom have added to the allegations of state collusion, expanding the claims to embrace both the British Army and the RUC the two major security forces in NI. One is William Stobie who claims to have informed the RUC about the Finucane murder plans and who is a crucial potential witness in the collusion allegations. The other is me, the journalist who wrote Stobie's story.


If my lawyers fail to get this court order quashed and I am charged with contempt I will be prosecuted under the terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and will face a no-jury court. I will be the first journalist since the Northern Ireland Troubles began to be prosecuted in such a way. The prosecuting authority, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), is itself deeply implicated in the Stobie-Finucane affair. At one stage in his conflict with the RUC, Stobie was charged with weapons offences but when he threatened to reveal from the dock that he had tipped off the police about the Finucane murder and that they had done nothing, the DPP agreed to drop all charges against him.


The effect of indicting Stobie under British law is to make the Finucane affair sub judice. This silences the calls for an inquiry until after Stobie's trial and since that event is so far in the future the implications for the RUC of this affair cannot be considered in time by the Patten Commission. Stobie's arrest takes the Finucane murder off the agenda at a crucial point in the NI peace process. It also serves to discredit an important witness in the allegations of state force collusion in the killing.


Stobie is the second important Protestant paramilitary member involved in the Finucane killing who has been uncovered by the media as working for British intelligence agencies. The other was one Brian Nelson, who supplied the gunmen with the intelligence - photos, addresses etc - used in the Finucane operation. It is now known and admitted by the authorities that at the time of the Finucane murder Nelson worked secretly for British military intelligence. Nelson kept a diary detailing his dealings with his handlers at the time of Finucane's death. But no court order has been issued against him demanding he hand over this material to John Stevens!
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