I am sort of kicking myself this morning for not asking just exactly who Sir Desmond de Silva was when it really mattered. I mean, we know he was the distinguished barrister who agreed to head a British government inquiry into the British Army’s Force Research Unit, and that he cleared the military of any involvement, via a FRU/UDA agent called Brian Nelson, in the UDA’s plans to assassinate Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
But just exactly who was Sir Desmond de Silva?
It is a relevant question because governments are not stupid. The choice of the person to lead an investigation invariably predetermines its outcome. Choose someone who has a track record as a trouble making, doubting Thomas and you can be pretty sure that his or her probe is going to be hard hitting. Pick a team player on the other hand and the odds are that everyone but the real culprits will get the blame.
So, which category was Sir Desmond de Silva in?
Sir Desmond de Silva died of heart problems in June 2018 and the obituary writers, freed of the usual restraints when writing about a member of the establishment, allowed themselves a little indiscretion.
There was, for instance, this little gem in the The Times obituary:
Forgive my scepticism but what odds would you give me for a wager on the possibility of someone who elicits immediate facial recognition on the part of the monarch, judging the soldiers of that same monarch guilty of conspiring to murder a solicitor who specialised in defending the same monarch’s sworn and violent enemies some of whom had, in fact, murdered her dearest uncle? Or was it cousin? I can never remember.
Perhaps I am being too hasty.
In September 2017, a year before his untimely death, Sir Desmond de Silva published his autobiography, ‘Madam, Where Are Your Mangoes?’ and the book’s launch was lavishly covered by Britain’s premier society magazine, Tatler.
The launch was held at the exclusive Carlton Club in London’s West End, where prospective members must be nominated and then elected, i.e. must be judged acceptable by their peers. Thanks to its links to the Tory Party, the club was bombed by the IRA in 1990, resulting, some months later, in the death from his injuries of Lord Kaberry, a prominent and popular member.
Amongst the club’s distinguished members is the former British prime minister, David Cameron whose government asked Sir Desmond de Silva to head the Finucane inquiry. So one Carlton Club member hired another to investigate one of the most controversial killings of the Troubles, of a solicitor, many of whose clients belonged to the organisation which bombed their exclusive club.
This is how Tatler magazine featured Sir Desmond de Silva’s book launch:
So, who attended his book launch? You can read the whole article and view the pics here, but this is the list of luminaries who came to celebrate the launch: Lord Fellowes, Marjorie Wallace and Lady Colin Campbell, Lady Emma Fellowes and Anne Hodson-Pressinger, Doreen, Marchioness of Londonderry and Sir Toby Clarke, Michael Cockerell and David Oldroyd-Bolt, Basia Briggs, Alexander Newley and Anne Dunhill, Lauren Goldstein-Crowe, Selina Blow, Viscountess and Viscount Bangor, Naim Attallah and Ramsay Attallah, Sir William Cash and Lord Magan, Lady Cash, Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia and Victoria de Silva.
Would the same illustrious crowd have been so eager to attend Sir Desmond de Silva’s book launch, one wonders, if he had found the Force Research Unit complicit in the murder of Pat Finucane?