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23 March 2005 Edition

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Fears over Nelson Inquiry

BY LAURA FRIEL

Rosemary-Nelson-Portrait.jpg

Rosemary Nelson

This week, the sixth anniversary of the killing of Rosemary Nelson was overshadowed by fears that the terms of reference set by the British Government were designed to obscure rather than expose the truth about the plot to kill the 40-year-old Lurgan solicitor. Rosemary Nelson, mother of three, died of her injuries after a booby trap bomb was attached to her car in 1999.

Speaking at a commemoration held at Belfast's Linen Hall Library, solicitor Pádraigín Drinan said that the inquiries current terms of reference would result in key information about the murder being withheld from the public. "This inquiry will come under the 1998 Police Act and that gives the Secretary of State the final say-so as to what information is released to the public," said Drinan.

"What we have is not a public inquiry but a private one that can conclude that everything is alright and the public will not have the chance to scrutinise that judgement. It makes a mockery of the term public inquiry."

The killing is widely perceived to be the result of British collusion and Rosemary's death bore remarkable similarities to that of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane ten years earlier. Despite concerted attempts by the British Government and its administrators to hide the truth, the pro-active involvement of a number of British state agencies in the murder of Pat Finucane is already a matter of public record.

As with Finucane, the killing of Rosemary Nelson followed a number of high profile court cases involving republican defendants. The killing was also preceded by repeated threats, including death threats against Nelson by the RUC. As with the Finucane case, unusual levels of crown forces activity in the vicinity were noticed shortly before the fatal attacks.

A reluctance to investigate the killing and attempts to curtail a full investigation has also been the hallmark of both killings. Both killings were subject to a scrutiny into British state collusion by Canadian Judge Peter Cory. Cory found sufficient evidence of collusion to warrant both killings to be the subject of public inquiries.

Following initial attempts to silence Cory, the British Government finally agreed to instigate an inquiry but many fear that the terms of reference will curtail full disclosure. The inquiry into the killing of Rosemary Nelson is scheduled to open on 19 April. The terms of reference require an examination of allegations against the NIO and the RUC in relation to events before and after the killing.

But crucially, they do not require an examination of allegations against the British Army. This is despite the fact that the British Army is known to have played a crucial role in the operation of collusion and one British soldier has already been identified as a suspect in the killing. Jane Winters of British Irish Rights Watch said that while her organisation welcomed the probe, they were concerned that the terms of reference made no reference to the potential role of British soldiers in Rosemary's death.

In addition, British military activity outside Rosemary Nelson's family home around the time of the killing was a key aspect of a subsequent multimillion-pound investigation. Meanwhile, the Belfast based Committee on the Administration of Justice has been denied access to files believed to verify that the RUC deliberately ignored threats against the solicitor's life.

High Court action by the CAJ in a bid to gain access to papers compiled by the Police Ombudsman's office failed after presiding Judge Brian Kerr ruled that the applicants could only gain access if they show that Nuala O'Loan's probe had been inadequate and had failed to involve the applicants and listen to their concerns.

Allegations that the British Government also refused protection have yet to be investigated. Members of the Gavaghy Road Residents Group seeking their lawyer's inclusion in the British Government's Key Persons Protection Scheme had raised the issue of Nelson's safety.

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