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RUC DESTROY TAPE OF MURDER CONFESSION; Stevens team to probe loss of evidence on Finucane killing.

Byline: GREG HARKIN

THE RUC is set to become embroiled in a terrorgate scandal - after a vital cassette containing a confession to the murder of lawyer Pat Finucane was DESTROYED.

Sunday People can reveal for the first time today the incident has become a crucial part of the murder investigation being led by Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

New details on how a top loyalist confessed to the killing can be published for the first time ever today.

The trigger man was chatting in a car to RUC officer Johnston Brown who was involved at the time in a secret operation to put Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair behind bars.

The date was October 3, 1991 - two and half years after Mr Finucane was shot dead at his home off the Antrim Road in north Belfast.

Constable Brown, another RUC officer and a UFF gunman were discussing the terror group when the paramilitary admitted being one of those involved in the murder of the prominent Belfast solicitor.

The entire conversation was taped. Brown explored the claims further - and the gunman made more startling admissions.

He later took a detailed note of what was said before passing the tape to RUC Special Branch.

But a week later he was ordered to engage the UFF gunman in conversation again.

The date was October 10, 1991, the day a loyalist had been shot dead by the IPLO on the Shankill.

This time Brown was ordered NOT to discuss the Pat Finucane murder.

Again the conversation was taped.

And it is this tape which some RUC Special Branch officers are now claiming was the ONLY interview carried out by Brown with the hitman.

Sunday People can reveal however that Brown - who is quitting the RUC - has given affadavits to the Stevens team giving details of BOTH conversations he conducted with the terror suspect.

In those he gives a full note of the confession which, it is alleged, some members of Special Branch wanted to suppress fearing any investigation into the lawyer's murder would expose police incompetence as well as a host of informers.

"This is very serious stuff now," said one senior security source.

"Brown is a principled police officer who would never cover up for anyone, simple as that.

"Stevens detectives wanted to know what happened and he has told them about both taped conversations, but more importantly the first one.

"This tape no longer exists. But Brown kept a complete note of what was said and he has given this to the Stevens Inquiry.

"The RUC will now be asked to explain why this particular tape has gone missing, especially when you consider every other tape made during Brown's inquiries into the UFF on the Shankill have been kept."

Brown, now 50, almost paid with his life for his efforts to shut down the Lower Shankill UFF.

It was his work which put Johnny Adair behind bars for directing terrorism.

And in October last year a blast incendiary bomb went off outside his home at Ballyrobert in Co Antrim.

Last week, in an interview with the 'Newtownabbey Times' he refused to discuss the Stevens case.

Sunday People has been told however that it was the decision to help Stevens which has led to his decision to quit the force.

"I had originally planned to work until I was 60," said Brown in the interview.

"But the situation has become untenable. I do feel forced out. I had hoped to contribute to the new police service.

"People think you're getting big money by taking early retirement under the Patten Report changes. But I am losing a lot of money by going now."

Stevens investigations are reaching a critical point.

William Stobie, the UDA quarter-master who supplied the weapons for the attack on Pat Finucane, could walk free in the three weeks time after the main witness against decided to withdraw his evidence.

Questions remain about the role of the security forces in the murder.

Members of the army's Force Research Unit supplied pictures and other information for the murder.

And Stobie's handlers apparently failed to act upon his warnings 90 minutes before the February 1989 attack.

Now terrorgate is set to rock the RUC - with Stevens wanting to know what happened to the crucial tape.

Detectives may also look at one other crucial aspect of the case.

A fake letter sent to the UFF during Brown's inquiries claiming the RUC man was working for IRA was intercepted by William Stobie and destroyed.

There are allegations the letter was the work of other members of the security forces.

CAPTION(S):

STOBIE: May soon walk free; SIR JOHN STEVENS: Investigation; MURDERED: Pat Finucane's family accused police of cover-up; BROWN: Feels forced to quit RUC
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2001
Words:788
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