(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune)
The North's legal authorities were forced nine years ago to abandon the trial on arms charges of a UDA quarter-master when he threatened to publicly reveal that he had twice informed the RUC of Loyalist plans to assassinate the Belfast criminal lawyer Pat Finucane.
Billy Stobie (48), a former soldier in the Ulster Defence Regiment was arrested by members of the English police team led by John Stevens and appeared in court last week charged with the Finucane murder. Stobie revealed in court that he had been working as an agent for the RUC Special Branch at the time of the Finucane killing in February 1989.
The principal evidence against him has come from a British official in the Northern Ireland Office. Neil Mulholland a press office in the NIO's information department has given the Stevens team a 28 page statement implicating Stobie as the man who supplied the weapons used to kill Finucane. Mulholland has agreed to give testimony against Stobie when the case comes to trial.
Mulholland learned of Stobie's role while working as a reporter for a Belfast newspaper in 1990. It is understood that at that time he gave the RUC the same information now in the hands of the Stevens team but the RUC chose to take no action.
This reporter has also been fully aware of the Billy Stobie story since late 1990 but under the terms of an agreement with the former Special Branch informer agreed never to publish the details without his permission. Last week, from his interrogation room in Gough RUC barracks, Armagh, Stobie gave the Sunday Tribune written permission to tell the full story.
Stobie's allegations are:
- He twice told his Special Branch handlers of the UDA's plans. The first time was at least five days before Finucane's killing. The second occasion was on the evening of the killing on February 12th 1989 just after he saw the gunmen set off to kill the Belfast lawyer.
- Although he never knew the identity of the UDA's target he maintains that he gave the RUC enough information and in sufficient time to save Finucane's life.
- When he complained to his Special Branch handlers about their inaction they replied that "he (Finucane) was just an IRA man".
- After the killing the RUC made no attempt to seize the murder weapons even though Stobie gave the Special Branch detailed information about how the UDA killers planned to dispose of the guns.
- The Special Branch conducted a campaign to scare him into silence over the Finucane killing. He claims that weapons under his control were sabotaged by the RUC so as to draw UDA suspicion on to him. He also claims that guns were planted in his flat and he was framed on arms charges.
- At his trial he instructed his lawyers to tell the North's Director of Public Prosecutions that if they continued proceedings against him he would publicly reveal that he had given the Special Branch warnings about Finucane before the killing. Three and a half months later the Crown prosector announced that no evidence would be offered against Stobie and a verdict of 'not guilty' was entered against him.
Neither the DPP's office nor the NIO would make any comment, saying the case was sub judice. Mulholland failed to return phone calls.
Frightened informer claimed RUC forced his silence