18 December 2008 Edition
The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry
Bomb-maker’s connections to Johnny Adair
BY LAURA FRIEL
THE life of solicitor Rosemary Nelson had been repeatedly threatened and surveillance had revealed a known loyalist bomb-maker, with links to Johnny Adair’s notorious ‘C’ Company, colluding with the LVF in Lurgan but no action was taken to protect the defence lawyer, the Rosemary Nelson Inquiry has heard.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder of Rosemary Nelson, two known loyalists were spotted acting suspiciously in a nearby nationalist area by a British soldier but he was told to take no action.
According to Special Branch, the type of bomb used in the attack could have only been made by a few known loyalists, including the loyalist already known to have had recent contact with the local LVF, but he was never charged.
Despite British Government restrictions placed on the inquiry ordered by Canadian Judge Cory, actions consistent with the allegation of collusion in the killing of Rosemary Nelson have begun to emerge.
Rosemary Nelson died in March 1999 when a loyalist bomb exploded as she drove the short distance from her home to where she worked as a solicitor in Lurgan. The killing shared many aspects of collusion surrounding the earlier murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane.
Both solicitors had been involved in legal challenges at odds with British policy. Both solicitors had been repeatedly threatened by Special Branch during interrogations of their clients.
Both killings had involved unusual crown force activity close to their homes just prior to the murders. Both killings were characterised by an apparent unwillingness by the RUC to properly investigate them.
Giving evidence to the inquiry last week, a Special Branch officer, identified only as ‘B511’, claimed the bomb that killed Rosemary Nelson had been constructed by a known loyalist bomb-maker with close connections to Johnny Adair and the Shankill UDA.
“We had a source of intelligence that started to report on the activities of the bomb-maker,” said the officer.
Asked if anyone else could have constructed the bomb that killed Rosemary Nelson, the Special Branch officer admitted that the ability of loyalists to construct car-bombs was limited but he claimed “historically, there were bomb-makers that could make such devices”.
B511 said that Special Branch believed they had identified the bomb maker as “one individual from the east Belfast area”.
“He had produced, I think, a variety of bombs at a certain point in the 1990s. The bomb-maker had links to what would be classified as C Company UDA in west Belfast. This grouping had also close links with the LVF. Its leader had close links to the LVF.”
The inquiry was told that the bomb-maker’s father and stepbrother were both members of Johnny Adair’s UDA gang. The mercury tilt switch used in the bombing is believed to have originated from the Shorts engineering factory located in east Belfast.
The Special Branch officer admitted that the RUC had been secretly watching the bomb-maker as he met with the LVF in Lurgan in the weeks before Rosemary Nelson’s murder.
B511 admitted being aware of the connection between the bomb maker and the LVF in Lurgan in February 1999.
The officer went on to claim that the bomb-maker had sold six under-car booby-trap devices to Johnny Adair’s gang. Despite Special Branch’s claims to the contrary, doubts about the ability of loyalists to manufacture such a device unaided remain.
The bombing, which blew the car doors open and completely wrecked the vehicle, was unlike any other known loyalist car-bombing. No other loyalist car-bombing carried out at the time resulted in a fatality. Conveniently, the bomb-maker alluded to by the Special Branch witness, and named by the media as Thomas ‘Tucker’ Ewing, died of a sudden illness earlier this year.
Meanwhile, a British soldier described how he spotted two known loyalists acting suspiciously but was told to do nothing, not even report the sighting to his superior officers.
Christopher Jopling, still a serving member of the British Army, told the inquiry he had been a member of an RIR patrol in Lurgan on the day of the killing. Within minutes of the bombing, his patrol was ordered to set up a roadblock on the North Circular Road in Lurgan, just a short distance from where Rosemary Nelson was killed.
Jopling said his job was to act as ‘spotter’, identifying known loyalists and republicans in the area. The British soldier claimed that the RIR failed to arrest two identified loyalists after they were stopped a short distance from Rosemary Nelson’s home shortly after her murder.
A car carrying two known loyalists had been stopped at the checkpoint.
“I remember this because they were believed to be loyalists and were in a staunchly republican area,” said Jopling, a member of the Royal Military Police.
“I spoke with both men, who said they were visiting the graveyard. I can’t remember the conversation now but I remember that the graveyard was in a Catholic area and therefore it would have been strange for them to have been there.
“I’m surprised that they and their vehicle were not searched at the time given their explanation.”
The British soldier said he had asked his patrol commander to alert his superiors back at the base to the fact that two known loyalists had been spotted in the area of the killings but he was told: “I probably won’t bother with that. You know, there is no need.”
The soldier admitted that the refusal by the patrol commander to pass on the information was unusual.
“He told me not to bother doing it. It appeared that he knew who these persons were but did not want to pass the information on. I thought his actions were strange.”
In a statement, Jopling claimed the patrol commander, identified only as ‘A620’, “would be more verbally aggressive to residents of Catholic estates than other RIR soldiers”.
He said A620 was always reluctant to pass details of loyalist sightings and would encourage officers in his patrol to do the same.
Refuting Jopling’s allegation, A620 said he had not refused to pass on details of the two loyalist suspects.
“No, I never said nothing about not radioing any sighting through and I never seen no individuals that has been named there. I was not slanted at all in any way,” he told the inquiry.