Paterson grabs moral high ground

Owen Paterson found himself in the uncomfortable position in the Commons today of facing a number of politicians who have done his job, all telling him he is wrong and should think again.

Under discussion was the Government's decision to hold another review, rather than a full inquiry, into the murder of Pat Finucane.

Shaun Woodward and Paul Murphy both told him to reconsider breaking the previous government's promises under the Weston Park agreement.

Mr Paterson repeated several times that he had inherited a log jam from Labour and tried his best to steer a way forward.

He grabbed a bit of moral high ground by reminding Shaun Woodward that he - in contrast to his Labour predecessor - had met Geraldine Finucane. But that argument, plus his claim that the prime minister's apology constituted a "bold" initiative were undermined by Tuesday's image of Mr Finucane's widow leaving Number Ten, apparently almost speechless with anger.

Although the former security minister, Paul Goggins, urged Mr Paterson to "pause" before proceeding with the De Costa review, the secretary of state made it clear he is "cracking on".

Unionists may approve, but the decision has clearly enraged nationalists. With hindsight, should the Finucane family have taken the inquiry offered by Tony Blair, albeit with the reservation that they would walk away should ministers interfere?

The ascension to power of a Conservative party pledged to no more open-ended inquiries and the sharp focus on costs produced both by the Bloody Sunday precedent and the wider recession have combined to the family's disadvantage.

No doubt, the Finucanes will consider their legal options and perhaps resume their lobbying in Washington and elsewhere, but it is hard to see David Cameron performing a U-turn.

Owen Paterson made a lot of the million pages of documents the QC heading the review will now be able to wade through. But, of course, when it comes to pursuing the truth, it is not the quantity of information that counts but its quality.

Preparing a background article for the website, which you can read here, I watched again John Ware's 2002 Panorama special and was left in awe by his investigative skill - it was Ware who persuaded Pat Finucane's killer, Ken Barrett, to divulge all, two years before he was found guilty of the offence.

The downside of inquiries is that lawyers have a propensity to rack up millions in costs without breaking any of the new ground a gifted reporter like John Ware is able to expose.

The upside is that a judge-led inquiry has the power to compel key witnesses to give evidence. In his 2002 investigation, John Ware travelled all the way to China to catch up with the British Colonel at the helm of the army intelligence unit linked to the Finucane case. Once there he had the door shut in his face.

Nothing said today in the Commons provides confidence that the Government review will open the Colonel's door.

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