15 May 1997 Edition

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Portadown killing puts RUC in the dock

The bottom line for the family of 25 year old father of two Robert Hamill is that their son and brother would be alive today had the RUC done what they are supposed to do.

Instead, an RUC patrol sat idly by and watched as a gang of up to thirty loyalists set about four Catholics and savagely beat them as they walked home from St Patrick's hall in Portadown town centre on Sunday 27 April. Robert Hamill, whose partner Caroline Maguire is expecting their third child in July, his friend Gregory Girvan and Girvan's wife Joanne and her sister Siobhan (both women are cousins of Mr Hamill) only decided to walk from the hall and past the notorious Market Street/Thomas Street junction because of an RUC presence there.

When they reached Thomas Street the loyalists attacked without warning. Both Mr Hamill and Girvan were knocked unconscious and fell to the ground. The women lay on them to protect them. And all the while the RUC sat watching. The gang were shouting ``die, you Fenian bastard, die'' as they jumped on Robert Hamill's head and still the RUC refused to act.

According to Siobhan Girvan the attack lasted ten minutes and only stopped when the gang realised they may have gone too far. It took an ambulance 20 minutes to arrive and it couldn't get into the street because of the loyalists still milling about. The RUC had yet to move. It was only after the four were removed to hospital that the RUC intervened. Robert Hamill was removed to hospital in Belfast and placed on a life support machine.

``If we'd been four dogs we'd have been taken to a vet quicker,'' sobbed Siobhan Girvan.

Robert Hamill died in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital on 8 May, 12 days after he was beaten, despite his family's hopes that he was making a recovery.

At a press conference in Drumcree Community Centre on the Garvaghy Road on Tuesday 13 May members of the Hamill family dismissed the RUC inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Robert Hamill and called for an independent inquiry.

His sister Diane said she was disgusted with the RUC's handling of the death. ``We want a separate inquiry,'' she said.

She focused on three areas of the RUC's reaction to the incident: the lack of any immediate RUC response, the disinformation issued by the RUC (they said in their initial statement that rival gangs had clashed resulting in two people being hospitalised); and the RUC failure to administer even the most basic first aid before the ambulance arrived.

``We want the RUC members involved to be suspended. The RUC, who are supposed to be impartial, let my brother die,'' Ms Hamill said.

The young woman was also critical of those politicians who tried to link Robert's death to that of RUC man Darren Bradshaw, killed in a Belfast bar on Friday night. She was also critical of her MP David Trimble who didn't bother to visit their home.

Sinn Féin's Bernadette O'Hagan said she fully supported the families call for a completely independent inquiry into the RUC's handling of the situation and called for calm, restraint and discipline from the nationalist community.

The Hamill family solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, has instructed counsel to initiate high court proceedings as the family are going to sue the RUC.

Nelson also said she will be seeking access to security cameras on shops that overlook the scene of the attack in her efforts to have the full facts of the incident made public as soon as possible.

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