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19 April 2001 Edition

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Hamill suspects released

BY FERN LANE

Almost four years after 25-year-old Robert Hamill was kicked to death by a loyalist mob in Portadown, a long hoped-for breakthrough looked uncertain last Wednesday, as the five men and two women who had been arrested in connection with the killing were released, without charge, on police bail.

The arrests had taken place on Tuesday on the orders of the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, who has taken over the investigation in the face of consistent calls for an independent public inquiry into the RUC's role in Robert's murder. Her handling of the case is being seen as a crucial test of her own willingness and the ability of her office to properly investigate the misconduct of the RUC. O'Loan took over the investigation shortly after her appointment and after discussions with the Hamill family. After the arrests on Tuesday she told a press conference that ``I have previously given a commitment to Mr Hamill's family, and to the public, that I will dedicate the necessary resources to ensure that all avenues are investigated in this case and we get to the truth. This morning's arrests are part of that process.''

Father of three Robert Hamill was attacked and killed on 27 April 1997 some 200 yards from Portadown RUC barracks and in full view of an RUC armoured Land Rover containing four fully armed officers. Immediately afterwards, the RUC issued a number of press releases in which they lied, claiming that there had been ``a clash between rival factions'' and that ``during hostilities'' they had themselves ``come under attack by a section of the crowd''. Three days later, on 30 April, they compounded this dishonesty by issuing another press release which said: ``A police Land Rover crew in Portadown town centre were alerted to a disturbance and immediately intervened to gain order and prevent assaults. The numbers involved, however, were such that these officers were unable to contain the situation and became themselves the subject of attack.''

Since then, Robert Hamill's family have campaigned for a proper and independent investigation into the killing and the refusal of the RUC to intervene to save his life. Six men were eventually charged with the killing but charges against five were dropped after a number of witnesses refused to testify. The sixth was ultimately acquitted.

Now it has emerged that one of those arrested last Tuesday was an RUC reservist, a revelation which begs the question of whether he was one of the officers in the Land Rover who observed the attack, despite the desperate pleadings of Robert's companions on the night, or if he was in fact a member of the 30-strong mob itself, a possibility that may further explain the RUC's refusal to intervene.
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