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7 March 2002 Edition

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Hamill cover-up exposed

BY LAURA FRIEL


New evidence emerged this week in relation to the sectarian killing of Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill. In the wake of a Craigavon court case, a file has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions alleging that an RUC reservist warned one of the attackers involved in the 1997 murder that he was under suspicion. The RUC officer also told the loyalist to destroy any forensic evidence by burning his clothes.

In 1997, charges against five men arrested in relation to the killing were dropped. At the time, the DPP cited insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction for murder. A sixth man, Paul Hobson, was convicted on the lesser charge of causing an affray in 1999.

The tip-off telephone call initially came to light after the RUC man's girlfriend was overheard boasting about it in a local sports club. An examination of the RUC officer's telephone account revealed that a call had been made from his home to the suspect on the morning of 27 April 1997.

A couple, who claimed they 'innocently' made the call from the RUC officer's home where they claimed they had been staying overnight, this week pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice during a hearing at Craigavon Magistrates Court.

The pair's claim initially appeared to have been confirmed when duty rosters at the barracks where the RUC officer was stationed showed that he was working at 8.37am, the time of the phone call. Further examination revealed that the documents had been deliberately tampered with.

Thirty-year-old Andrea McKee admitted giving false information in October 1997 when she claimed that her husband James McKee made the call. James McKee also pleaded guilty. The couple, now separated, were granted bail and will be sentenced at a later date.

Sometimes collusion is organised, directed and systematic, other times it is not. Exposure of the deadly work of the RUC Special Branch and the British Army's FRU has highlighted collusion as a state-sponsored counterinsurgency policy, but casual collusion is just as deadly and in some ways even more insidious.

Witnesses described how Robert and his companion Gregory Girvan, were knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked on the head by the loyalist mob. As Robert lay unconscious, loyalists chanted 'kill him, kill him' and 'die you Fenian bastard".

But when Robert Hamill was beaten to death as he walked home from a Catholic social club in the town, he died not only at the hands of the loyalist mob who had been waiting for a convenient 'taig', he also died at the hands of the armed RUC officers who sat inside a Land Rover a few yards away and failed to intervene.

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