2 October 1997 Edition
The most shameful sectarianism
Still serving - RUC men who watched as man was killed
Peadar Whelan visited the family of Robert Hamill in Portadown and found them still the victims of sectarian hatred
The attack, which lasted up to 20 minutes, was witnessed by the crew of an RUC jeep that was parked yards away from the incident and directly across the street. Those RUC members did not act to prevent this serious assault from happening.
In the days immediately after the incident the RUC issued statements that were completely at odds with accounts given by the other Catholics who were beaten and indeed as time went on the RUC contradicted their initial statements.
The RUC first said that rival gangs fought each other, resulting in a number of people being hospitalised. Then as they attempted to justify the inaction of their own members the RUC press office claimed that they were attacked and as they were outnumbered could do nothing to prevent the trouble escalating.
Eventually on 7 May, ten days after the incident, the RUC finally acknowledged that Robert Hamill and his friends were targeted and assaulted when they said in a statement that "it now appears clear that four people .... were set upon by a large crowd".
The truth is that RUC members witnessed a merciless attack being carried out on four outnumbered and defenceless Catholics by a gang of up to 20 loyalists and did nothing to stop the attack. Indeed after the assailants stopped beating Hamill and before an ambulance crew arrived to administer aid the RUC members still did nothing: they didn't come from their landrover to administer the most basic first aid. It seems that they didn't even call in reinforcements.
It is against this background that the Hamill family called for an independent inquiry into the attack that left Robert dead. So far those in authority in the Six Counties have turned a deaf ear to their plea and as is normal in these cases have left the RUC to investigate itself.
None of the RUC members who witnessed the attack on Robert Hamill have been suspended from duty despite their inaction. After the events on the Garvaghy Road in the past three years there is very little trust among Portadown Catholics for the RUC. Robert Hamill's murder, which the RUC failed to prevent, doesn't add to that distrust; it merely proves the point that the RUC is a Unionist police force for a Unionist state.
Speaking to members of Robert Hamill's family last week it is clear that here is a family which has no interest in politics, but which was thrust into the middle of the conflict here.
The shock and anguish of Robert's death has left them asking, "why us?"
However, it has been the brutality of events since 27 April that has hurt the family as much as anything. Their grieving has become the target of the sectarian bigotry that brought them their pain in the first place.
On numerous occasions the family left flowers at the spot where Robert was assaulted but within minutes the flowers were torn down.
"We left flowers right up until Robert's month's mind," Robert's sister Diane told An Phoblacht. "They were all pulled down. Then on 13 July we went up the town to get money at a cashpoint. I stood at the corner and my boyfriend went to the machine - he went on his own as he could run faster if anything happened - and he saw flowers. We thought some caring person must have left them so we went to read the message. It said 'for the Portadown Six heroes', a reference to the six loyalists charged with Robert's killing".
Added to this bigotry the RUC has targeted family members for harassment and it is the attitude of the RUC that seems to have shocked the family more than anything. "On a numbers of occasions the RUC have gone out of their way to harass one of our brothers. They followed him through the park once and drove into him with a jeep injuring his heel. Our 15 year old sister was in the park on another occasion when the RUC pulled up and they just stared at her, intimidating her".
On one occasion when loyalists were shouting abuse at the family, Diane called the RUC. Yet when one of their patrols came round they did nothing. In fact when Diane, who stood in the road to stop them driving away, told them who had been shouting the abuse and where they had gone, the RUC drove in the opposite direction.
Again when they were shopping in Portadown town centre, a loyalist called Diane Hamill's sister a "slag", and began jumping up and down, imitating the attack.
Despite RUC obstinacy, the Hamills are still convinced that the only way they will get to the truth of the matter and the justice they require is through an independent inquiry. They have solicited massive support for their demand through various groups and individuals including the British Irish Rights Watch and its director Jane Winter. They have also circulated a petition which has to date 18,000 signatories. The family intends presenting the petition to Direct Ruler Marjorie Mowlam at a forthcoming meeting.
* An Phoblacht is printing a copy of the petition and asking readers to support the family by getting the copies signed. This is a matter of justice and equal rights, therefore we urge as many people as possible to organise the signing of the petition. Completed petitions should be forwarded to An Phoblacht at our Belfast office 535 Falls Road, BT11 9AA, as soon as possible.
Robert Hamill and three friends were viciously assaulted by a mob in the early hours of Sunday 27 April in Portadown town centre. RUC officers were present in a landrover parked nearby. They failed to protect and administer first aid to innocent people. As a result Robert Hamill died twelve days later.
Until a truthful independent inquiry has been concluded, I agree the officers concerned should be suspended.