24 September 2009 Edition

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RUC 'sick notes' at inquest challenged by victim's family

The first day of the inquest into the death of a man attacked by the RUC in 1997 opened in Belfast on Monday 21 September.
John Hemsworth, a US citizen who married and settled in Belfast was making his way home from St Galls GAA Club on the Falls Road in July 1997 when he was attacked by an RUC riot squad in Malcolmson Street and severely beaten. He suffered a broken jaw, head injuries and lacerations. He was left unconscious.
On New Years Eve of that same year John was admitted to hospital with severe head pains and died on January 1 1998 from a brain hemorrhage.  John had already initiated legal proceedings against the RUC for assault.
Relatives for Justice contacted Amnesty International and were directed to an independent pathologist who, in his professional opinion, attributed the cause of death to the RUC assault – essentially stating that a nerve in the brain had been damaged due to the injuries sustained and that this had a delayed reaction in triggering a hemorrhage.
After presenting this information to the British Attorney General the family won the right to have an inquest into John’s death. Fifteen witnesses, former members of the RUC and some serving members of the PSNI who were present that evening in the area, are to be called. Five have submitted ‘sick notes’ citing that they are unable to give evidence.
Coroner, Brian Sherrard, said that “sick notes were coming in thick and fast”. Lawyers for the family sought to ascertain the validity of the ‘sick notes’ but this was rejected by the Coroner.
John’s widow, Collette Hemsworth, asked:
“How satisfied is the Coroner as to the overall validity of these ‘sick notes’, what is the period of time that they cover, and can either the Coroner, or our legal team, seek a separate independent medical prognosis concerning the ability of these people to give evidence?
“We view the issuing of ‘sick notes’ as an attempt to thwart a proper examination of John’s death. This needs to stop and those members of the RUC and PSNI who were present the evening John was beaten must be accountable before the court otherwise it will become a farce.”

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