9 August 2007 Edition
Hamill Tribunal : Yet more delay
No RUC anonymity in Hamill inquiry
BY LAURA FRIEL
There will be no anonymity for former RUC officers called to testify before the inquiry into the murder of Portadown man Robert Hamill. Last week the British House of Lords upheld the decision by inquiry chairman Edwin Jowitt that officers should attend the hearing unscreened.
Robert Hamill (25) was beaten to death and a second man seriously injured, by a sectarian mob in 1997. Armed RUC officers at the scene at the time of the killing, despite being alerted before and during the mob attack, refused to intervene. In the immediate aftermath the RUC officers made no attempt to arrest loyalists involved in the attack.
The assailants displayed remarkable confidence in the RUC’s lack of response and made no attempt to hide their identity or make a speedy getaway. It later emerged that one member of the mob had been tipped off by the RUC and advised to destroy any forensic evidence that might link him to the crime.
The case became one of six considered by Canadian Judge Peter Cory who recommended an independent public inquiry. Cory later put on record criticism of the British government’s delay in implementing his recommendation and his opposition to restrictions imposed by the Inquires Act.
A total of 20 former RUC officers had claimed that their lives would be put at risk if identified, but the British Law Lords agreed that the Hamill inquiry team had used the correct criteria for determining whether the former officers would be at risk.
The hearing has already endured a year long delay and may suffer further delay despite a special fast track regime laid down by the North’s Chief Judge Carswell who promised outstanding matters would be dealt with in days and not weeks.
However the decision by Carswell and the other British Law Lords to refer a separate legal dispute back to Belfast High Court appears at odds with this reassurance.
It means yet more delay for the tribunal because it cant start until this issue is decided. We are going right back to square one to decide whether the tribunal has been irrational or not, said Jane Winter of the British/Irish Rights Watch.
Speaking after the British House of Lords ruling, Robert Hamill's sister Diane said the family were determined that the RUC officers should appear unscreened.
They need to stand up and answer questions and not hide themselves. This is an integral part of the process. People need to stand up and answer for their actions or lack of action, said Diane Hamill.
Local Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd called for complete transparency during the inquiry. The delay is a result of former members of the RUC who cannot throw off the culture of concealment and cover up, said O'Dowd.
Meanwhile a bid by six serving and former prison wardens to remove any possibility of criminal or civil liability arising out of the inquiry into the killing of LVF leader Billy Wright, who was shot dead while in prison has been thwarted. Judge Cory also recommended an inquiry into Wright's death.
Belfast High Court refused a request by prison wardens to challenge the terms of reference as a means of deterring further action in the event of any culpability being exposed during the inquiry. Judge Weatherup said he was not satisfied that the applicants for the judicial review had established an arguable case.