Sections of the security forces in Northern Ireland saw themselves as above the law and conducted a one-sided dirty war in which solicitors representing republicans were apparently seen as legitimate targets, according to a series of damning reports published yesterday.
They paint a picture of agents allowed to set up murders and loyalists given army intelligence which may have been used to kill nationalists.
The investigation by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory into four of the most controversial killings of the 30-year Troubles makes disturbing reading, even with 10 pages blanked out by the government, which had already caused fury by delaying publication of the reports for nearly six months. But yesterday four full public inquiries into the murders were ordered.
Judge Cory said the army, MI5 and police special branch knew of the plot to assassinate the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane - who was shot 14 times as he ate dinner with his family - but they failed to warn him or do anything to prevent it. One of the murder weapons, an army pistol sold by a drunk soldier to loyalist paramilitaries, may have been hidden later by an agent.
The judge said documents showed death threats by loyalist groups like the UDA, who shot Mr Finucane, were often disregarded, in contrast to IRA activity. Special branch may have failed to take any steps to stop planned attacks it knew about.
The security services regarded human rights solicitors like Mr Finucane and Rosemary Nelson - whose death in a car bomb eight years later also showed signs of collusion, Judge Cory said - who defended prominent republicans as close "associates" of the IRA. This failure to make a distinction between "law-abiding" solicitors and their clients went right to the top of the police and included the former chief constable, Ronnie Flanagan.