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16 December 1999 Edition

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Rosemary Nelson investigation scrutinised

BY LAURA FRIEL

     
The death of Rosemary Nelson further undermined the rule of law and underlined the government's failure to meet its obligation, under international standards, to ensure that lawyers could do their jobs without fear for their personal safety
International human rights groups have come together to urge the British government to establish a fully independent and impartial inquiry into the killing of Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson.

The call came as a detailed critique of the role of the RUC and the investigation currently being carried out by British police chief Colin Port was published by watchdog British Irish Rights Watch.

An earlier investigation into the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane carried out by the London-based BIRW uncovered crucial evidence and provided the impetus for the British government's decision to constitute the current Stevens' investigation.

Launching the report, Jane Winters of BIRW described Rosemary Nelson as ``in many ways a very ordinary lawyer with a few high profile cases which brought her into the public eye''.

Also attending the launch was Dr. Robbie McVeigh of the Rosemary Nelson Campaign and Ed Lynch, the national coordinator of the U.S.-based Lawyers' Alliance for Justice in Ireland. Lynch was also representing the American Bar Association, which has 300,000 lawyers on its books.

A joint statement said that ``the failure to carry out an independent inquiry into Patrick Finucane's killing and to find those responsible for his death, contributed to a deterioration in the rule of law''.

The statement continued: ``The death of Rosemary Nelson further undermined the rule of law and underlined the government's failure to meet its obligation, under international standards, to ensure that lawyers could do their jobs without fear for their personal safety.''

The report highlights the events leading to the murder of Rosemary Nelson and evaluates the current investigation into the killing.

A detailed presentation of RUC harassment and intimidation of Rosemary prior to her death provides a damning indictment not only of the RUC in initiating threats but also in the failure of the RUC and IPCC to investigate complaints registered by Rosemary at the time.

``The situation now is that Rosemary Nelson's complaints have never been properly investigated. If her complaints were well founded, and all the evidence suggests that they were, then no RUC officer has been disciplined, let alone dismissed.''

Significantly, the report details the British government and NIO's refusal to provide proper protection for Rosemary. Exposing the British government's claim that Rosemary Nelson never applied for protection under the Key Persons Protection Scheme, the report details meetings with top political and security personnel during which the issue was specifically raised.

The issue of security for members of the Garvaghy Residents Coalition and specifically Rosemary Nelson had been raised with Tony Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell and NIO official including the Director and Deputy Director of the Security Policy and Operations Division during a face to face meeting in July 1998.

On 20 November 1998, a meeting organised by NIO official Tony McCusker with the Coalition took place in the Drumcree Centre. The issue of security was raised again with Breandán Mac Cionnaith specifically detailing threats against Rosemary Nelson. A specific request was made again for Rosemary Nelson as well as members of the Coalition to be placed on the KPP scheme.

At the meeting Tony McCusker indicated that the two councillors, Breandán Mac Cionnaith and Joe Duffy would be included on the protection scheme but no one else. The NIO refused Rosemary's request for protection.

On the actual killing, the report raises doubts about the type of explosives used in the bomb planted underneath Rosemary's car. Shortly after the killing, security sources were quoted as saying that the device was almost certainly a mercury tilt switch detonator connected to Powergel, a commercial explosive. Yet a documentary made by the BBC suggested Powergel was not the explosive used.

According to the report, the detonator used has not been found and there is some mystery surrounding the precise details of the device used. BIRW questions the ability of the Red Hand Defenders, the loyalist grouping which claimed responsibility for the murder, to construct such a sophisticated device and points out that all other attacks by RHD had been fairly crude.

A similar controversy around the explosive used and the sophisticated nature of the devices in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 led to allegations of Crown Force collusion. In the Nelson investigation, to date, there has been no independent forensic examination and the family are now considering commissioning their own tests.

Questioning the status of the current investigation by British police chief Colin Port, the BIRW describes the initial involvement of the FBI and the appointment of British Chief Constable of Kent, David Philips as cosmetic. The day to day running of the investigation passed to Colin Port two weeks later.

The report questions both the remit of the investigation and its independent status. The BIRW describes the investigation as ``the least independent of the RUC of any external investigation to date.'' The report points out that Port was called in by RUC Chief Constable and ``ultimately he reports to the Chief Constable''.

Commenting Dr Robbie McVeigh said the Campaign was always clear that the current investigation led by Colin Port into Rosemary's death fell very far short of the family's demand for an independent investigation and inquiry:

``We have also been aware, however, of the concern of some interested individuals and organisations to let the current investigation do its best to deliver truth and justice for Rosemary. The British Irish Rights Watch report underlines serious questions about the investigation into Rosemary's murder.''
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