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6 November 1997 Edition

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Conspiracy of silence in Hamill case

WITHIN THREE DAYS OF THE DEATH of Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill, beaten to death by loyalists, an anonymous caller to a local priest said one of the RUC officers who witnessed the attack was an acquaintance of one of those eventually charged with the murder.

The man, and two co-accused, have since had the murder charges against them dropped, prompting the Hamill family to pursue a private prosecution against the RUC and the people they suspect are guilty of the killng.

The charges against the three men were dropped when the DPP said that witness statements against the three were no longer available raising speculation that the RUC witnesses were no longer prepared to give evidence.

Family solicitor Rosemary Nelson told An Phoblacht that she hoped to get leading English barrister Michael Mansfield to handle any prosecution the family may take.

Robert Hamill, accompanied by three friends, was returning from a night out in Saint Patrick's Hall on 27 April this year when he was set upon by a gang of loyalists and severely beaten. Twelve days later he died without regaining consciousness.

On 11 May, as the six Portadown loyalists were due to appear in court charged with murder, a local priest received an anonymous phone call from someone who claimed one of the four RUC officers in the landrover that night was an acquantance of one of those charged with the murder.

The caller maintained the RUC patrol had been deployed in the Woodhouse Street area to protect people coming from St Patrick's Hall, but all four were sleeping when the attack began. The RUC awoke when two women with Robert Hamill ran to the landrover calling for help.

However the RUC refused to intervene and allowed the attack to go ahead. The RUC issued misleading statements in the hours after the attack claiming that their officers were outnumbered as rival gangs clashed. As the truth emerged they finally acknowledged, ten days after the incident, that Robert Hamill and his friends were assaulted by a loyalist mob.

An Phoblacht has subsequently learnt that the four RUC members in question have been on paid leave, said to be sick leave, since the incident.

At a press conference on Garvaghy Road on Tuesday 4 November, members of the Hamill family, including their mother Jessy, appealed for ``political and public support in pursuing a private prosecution against those involved including members of the RUC''.

Also present at the press conference were Fathers Joe McVeigh and Raymond Murray both of whom are involved in the defence of human rights in the North.

During what was an emotional press conference Diane Hamill said that her family had lost all faith in the RUC and judicial system which was why they had decided to take a private prosecution.

``We believe the other three will also be released'', stated Ms Hamill.

In their pursuit for justice the Hamills have raised 20,000 signatures on a petition which they hope to give to Direct Ruler Marjorie Mowlam when they meet her later this month.

In a statement Sinn Fein councillors John O'Dowd and Francie Murray, supporting calls for an independent inquiry said, ``given the circumstances and role of the RUC an independent inquiry into the murder is the only satisfactory and acceptable course of action''.

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An Phoblacht
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