No police officers or soldiers are to be charged after a major investigation into collusion with loyalist paramilitaries involved in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, it was revealed today.
Even though a marathon 14-year investigation by former Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens established rogue elements within the Northern Ireland security forces collaborated with terrorist killers, the prosecuting authorities have ruled there is insufficient evidence to press charges.
Mr Finucane (39) was shot dead at his home by loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Defence Association, in 1989. He was targeted for representing IRA members and republicans in the courts - but his family categorically denied he was linked to the organisation.
Victims groups and Sinn Fein politicians are condemning the decision as a scandal and a cover-up.
Finucane's son Michael, also a solicitor, said he was extremely disappointed and very perplexed by the outcome.
He said: "I think the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) has taken a very soft and very submissive approach to the manner in which prosecutions would be mounted."
Alex Maskey, a Sinn Féin member of the Northern Assembly who survived a UDA gun attack at his home in west Belfast in which a close friend was shot dead in May 1993, told the Irish Examiner: "This is an absolute scandal that no action is being taken.
"People are being told that while the State was involved in the murders of their loved ones, no prosecution will be taken.
"It shows the British Government is incapable of facing up to their own responsibilities in all of this."
Jane Winter, British Irish Watch Director, said: "As a result, victims of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries have today received no justice whatsoever."
The following is from the Guardian.
No officers to be charged over Finucane murder
No members of the security services will be charged following the long investigation into the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, prosecutors revealed today.
Senior officers in British military intelligence and the Royal Ulster Constabulary will escape prosecution, Northern Ireland's public prosecution service confirmed.
Finucane's murder by loyalist gunmen remains one of the most controversial of Northern Ireland's Troubles because of the allegations of collusion between loyalists and the security services.
Today's announcement effectively marks the end of attempts to prove in court that there was organised collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries over the killing in February 1989.
Finucane, a Catholic civil rights lawyer who frequently defended republican suspects, was targeted by gunmen from the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The 39-year-old solicitor, whose family denied had any links to the IRA, was shot 14 times in front of his wife and three children after two masked men burst into his north Belfast home.
The latest evidence considered by the prosecution services came out of the third inquiry by the former Metropolitan police commissioner Lord Stevens into alleged collusion during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That report, which came back in 2003, found that rogue elements within the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army intelligence helped loyalist paramilitaries to murder Catholics.
The main thrust of the report, which was known as Stevens III, was the role of the army's surveillance operations in Northern Ireland, in particular the secretive Force Research Unit (FRU). Nine former members of the unit, including its former head Brigadier Gordon Kerr, were questioned, as well as seven police officers and one civilian.
Today the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said that, critically, there was not enough evidence to bring prosecutions. In a statement, the PPS cited missing records, problems of time elapsing, the death of potential witnesses and the difficulties of ascertaining "the role and responsibilities that individuals played in specific events".
The statement added: "In addition, the prosecution had to take account of potential abuse of process arguments by the defence that any trial at this stage would be unfair."
The UDA men who were working for the intelligence services at the time included: Brian Nelson, who supplied information to FRU; Ken Barrett, who later admitted shooting Finucane; and William Stobie, an RUC informer and former UDA quartermaster.
Today's statement from the PPS said: "There was insufficient evidence to establish that any member of FRU had agreed with Brian Nelson (an agent run by FRU) or any other person that Patrick Finucane should be murdered or had knowledge at the relevant time that the murder was to take place."
Barrett is the only man who was convicted of Finucane's murder. Stobie, who admitted supplying the guns used in the killing, was charged with aiding and abetting the murder but walked free after the court case against him collapsed. A few weeks later, Stobie was shot dead by loyalists in December 2001, apparently because they feared he would give evidence against them over the killing.
The PPS said today that a Browning pistol given to the police by Stobie had later been reactivated and used by "an unknown person [or persons] and used in two more loyalist killings in 1991 and 1992". Sinn Féin reacted angrily to today's PPS announcement. One of the party's assembly members, Alex Maskey, who was also targeted by Nelson, said: "This is an absolute scandal that no action is being taken. People are being told that while the state was involved in the murders of their loved ones, no prosecution will be taken."
Barrett, a former special branch informer, was jailed for 22 years in 2004 for Finucane's murder. He was released in May last year under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, after a ruling by the sentences review commission, despite opposition by the Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain.
Barrett, who is now thought to be living in secret outside the province, has described his emotions after killing Finucane, saying: "I lost no sleep over it. All is fair in love and war. I have to be honest, I whacked a few people in the past."
Finucane's family, nationalist and republican politicians, human-rights activists, including international lawyers' groups, have long demanded a public inquiry into the murder.
Mr Finucane's widow Geraldine said she had been informed of today's announcement but declined to comment until she had read the full decision and consulted with lawyers.
Earlier this year, Johnny Adair, a former UDA terrorist currently living in the west of Scotland after being expelled from the province by the UDA at gunpoint, claimed British soldiers had been a key source of intelligence for loyalist paramilitaries in the past.