3 May 2007 Edition

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RUC failed Rosemary Nelson

BY LAURA FRIEL

RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan and other named officers did not properly investigate threats against murdered Lurgan lawyer Rosemary Nelson, according to a report by Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.
The report, due to be published next month, highlights a “succession of errors” by the RUC, including failure to pass on information about threats against the solicitor’s life and not taking the danger seriously.
The inquiry followed an official complaint by the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice. The 50-page report is believed to uphold the complaint. It also criticises the NIO for failing to pass letters containing threats against the solicitor on to the RUC.
This is not the first time O’Loan has levelled specific criticisms against former RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, now Britain’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. In a report by the Ombudsman into the Omagh bomb investigation, O’Loan accused Flanagan of poor leadership.
Earlier this year O’Loan ruled that officers under Flanagan’s command – he was also head of Special Branch – were guilty of collusion with a unionist killer.
Rosemary Nelson was killed when a booby-trap bomb exploded under her car as she drove away from home on 15 March 1999. The murder followed repeated death threats, reported to the RUC, RUC Chief Constable, NIO and the British Government.
Ronnie Flanagan was personally briefed on threats against Rosemary’s life by a delegation of American lawyers two weeks before her death. The NIO were given letters containing threats and detailed accounts of specific threats but failed to pass the information onto the RUC.
Prior to the killing, a number of human rights groups as well as United Nations Special investigator Param Cumaraswamy had also raised concerns about Rosemary Nelson’s safety.  Cumaraswamy had called for urgent action by the British Government.
Rosemary Nelson reported a series of threats against her life from RUC officers, including Special Branch, either made directly or during interrogations of some of her clients. A member of the British Army, an RIR soldier, also threatened her. Other threats came from unionist paramilitaries, including a loyalist pamphlet that was circulated less than a year before the murder.
Despite documented evidence and growing international concern, the RUC ruled that there was no specific threat against the lawyer’s life. The NIO refused to include Nelson on the Key Persons’ Protection Scheme.
An inquiry linked to Judge Cory’s probe into suspected crown force collusion in Nelson’s death is scheduled to open next year. Despite objections by Cory, the inquiry is restricted in line with the recently enacted Inquiries Act.

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