25 March 1999 Edition
A PRELUDE TO MURDER
By Laura Friel
The Pat Finucane centre's report graphically illustrates the imperative of a fully independent international inquiry into Rosemary Nelson's killing.
Details of the intense crown force activity prior to the murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson were published by the Pat Finucane Centre last week. Taken together witness statements present a chilling picture of the prelude to murder. The report takes us through the initial surprise of local people who couldn't understand why their quiet area had become the sudden focus of an unprecedented crown force presence in the weeks and days before the killing to the shocking realisation of the car bomb attack. It follows intense crown force activity prior to the murder to the outrageous indifference of the RUC and British army in the immediate aftermath. It contrasts the sorrow of local people following the death of Rosemary Nelson with the jubilation of RUC and RIR patrols. It graphically illustrates the imperative of a fully independent international inquiry.
A number of witnesses bear testimony to unusual crown force activity in the area surrounding the Nelson family home in the weeks prior to the killing. One witness describes a helicopter landing in the field behind Rosemary's house on three consecutive Saturday mornings before March 15. There is a direct view of Rosemary's house from the field. The neighbour describes the helicopter as coming ``early in the morning...from 8am onwards...hovering overhead and then landing in Jim McCann's field''.
Helicopters were also landing in the field at night. A neighbour had been ``so concerned about it.. I worried about it'' that she had visited Rosemary at home. A witness tells of a strong searchlight sweeping the field. ``I got frightened because this was unusual,'' the witness says. Another describes a low flying helicopter appearing to take photographs. Rosemary Nelson was sufficiently concerned to mention the unusual level of crown force activity to a client. She told a friend she suspected troops were ``dug in'' in the field near her home.
Troop activity on the ground suggests crown force personnel were regularly being ferried by helicopter in and out of the field behind Rosemary's house. One witness observed 8-10 soldiers and one RUC member entering the field at a gate near Mile House. No vehicles were present and their was no incident to account for this level of activity in the area at the time.
The day and night before the bombing were also marked with unusual crown force activity. On Sunday March 14, massgoers remarked on the early presence of a military helicopter above the north Lurgan area. One witness said ``it was directly above the Ashgrove area where I live close to Rosemary's house.'' Helicopter activity is more usually confined to the Kilwilkie estate. The constant drone of a helicopter continued to disturb the otherwise peaceful Sunday morning, afternoon and into the evening.
A helicopter remained overhead throughout the hours of darkness on March 14 continuing into the early hours of Monday morning. The last confirmation of it's presence is 2.30am. Although some people were under the impression that the helicopter was ``up all night'', the next precise confirmation is at 6am Monday March 15 when a mother feeding her baby noticed a helicopter overhead. Intense helicopter activity overhead was matched by unusual crown force activity on the ground.
It may be difficult for people living outside the nationalist communities of the North to understand why those communities identify intense crown force activity as a prelude to murderous attack, but numerous killings in nationalist areas have been flagged up by unusual crown force activity prior to the attack.
Late on Sunday afternoon a convoy of RUC Land Rovers were seen heading towards Lurgan by a woman being held at a checkpoint on the Annesborough Road near an industrial estate. The route of the convoy, a back road from the motorway into the nationalist area of north Lurgan, is also the most likely escape route of the loyalists who planted the bomb under Rosemary's car. Further along this road the witness encountered a number of British army vehicles parked half way between the Mile House and the Ashgrove area where the Nelson home is.
On the morning of Monday March 15 a number of people reported a ``peculiar incident'' at the railway crossing when the gates were closed to allow the 10am train to pass. A member of an RIR patrol lifted an object ``from behind the control box'' and either handed it to another member of the patrol of placed it in another soldier's rucksack. A civilian was informed by the patrol that it was a ``suspect device'' but the area was not cleared and the device was handled by the patrol with total disregard even for their own safety.
Four other witnesses were struck by the fact that RUC officers inside Lurgan RUC barracks at 10.05am and an hour later on mobile patrol on the Old Portadown Road were wearing boiler suits. This is unusual because boiler suits are only worn in riot situations or in response to serious incidents. This mobile patrol was one of the first on the scene at the bombing. ``There may be a perfectly innocent explanation,'' says the report,'' but it does appear strange that officers were waiting beside their vehicles inside Lurgan RUC barracks in apparent readiness for a serious incident over two hours before the bomb exploded.''
The bomb exploded under Rosemary Nelson's car on Monday March 15 at approximately 12.40pm. People in the immediate area responded, within minutes a nurse arrived and offered assistance. Rosemary's husband and sister also arrived at the scene quickly. The RUC took their time. A witness described the first RUC vehicle, a Ford Mondeo, arriving.
``They had no siren on and they arrived on the scene very slowly. I had expected the police to arrive with sirens blaring and with some haste. They seemed to arrive almost nonchalantly. Two of the policemen got out and walked, without any haste, towards Rosemary's car.'' A third RUC officer stayed by the vehicle and reached for the radio.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, numerous accounts refer to individual members of the crown forces in the area ``sniggering'', ``smirking'' and even laughing. Soldiers were described by one witness as ``grinning from ear to ear.'' Another witness spoke of a group of RUC officers at the scene of the explosion who ``every now and then burst into laughter''. The group was standing in close proximity to relatives and neighbours of the dying woman.
A couple, friends of Rosemary Nelson, were comforting each other in grief and shock when a RIR landrover passed slowly. One of the soldiers in the back shouted ``go and cut her fucking out of it'' at the couple. Another witness describes two Scottish soldiers laughing loudly as news of Rosemary's death was confirmed. Members of an RIR patrol shouted derogatory comments as they passed the Kilwilkie estate on the evening of the killing. An RIR corporal (no.7005) `joked' about Rosemary being ``stopped for drunk driving and that the blood sample was positive, she was legless.'' A reference to the injuries she sustained in the bomb attack.
It may be difficult for people living outside the nationalist communities of the North to understand why those communities identify intense crown force activity as a prelude to murderous attack. Crown force activity could be interpreted as a response to a ``tip off'', an attempt to thwart an imminent loyalist attack. Except experience teaches that they are never thwarted. Numerous killings in nationalist areas have been flagged up by unusual crown force activity prior to the attack.
Bernadette McAliskey actually tripped over a British soldier ``dug in'' outside her home just hours before a loyalist death squad gunned her down. The Finucane family reported unusual activity outside their home prior to Pat's murder. Intense crown force activity in Cappagh was followed by a murderous loyalist attack on Boyle's bar, the list is as endless. Yet this aside, events in Lurgan speak for themselves.
Ask this one small question. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing was the attitude of the RUC and RIR that of a force who had just failed in an operation to protect Rosemary Nelson? ``Jovial'', ``triumphant'', laughing and joking. Witness testimony provides the answer.
Nelson remembered in London
By Fern Lane
My father was from Portadown and I lived for five years on the Garvaghy Road. I still have family there but when I was growing up on the Garvaghy Road there was nobody like Rosemary Nelson
Actor Adrian Dunbar
Two hundred people gathered at the Church of Notre Dame de France in central London on Saturday 15 May at a service to commemorate and celebrate the life of Rosemary Nelson, who was murdered exactly two months ago.
Amongst those attending were Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan, Diane Hamill, Jeremy Hardy, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and members of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, all of whom added their voices to the growing pressure for an independent inquiry to answer allegations that the RUC colluded with loyalists to carry out the murder.
Jeremy Hardy told those present that a prime imperative for an an independent inquiry was that certain witnesses have said they will not talk to the RUC. The fact that the RUC carried out the initial investigation was, he said, farcical.
``She was a campaigning lawyer, which was a rare thing. I remember her being fun, very warm and brutally honest. Her abiding concern was human rights; she believed that sectarianism was a form of racism,'' he said.
Diane Hamill paid her own personal tribute to Rosemary, saying:
``From the moment I met Rosemary she became a source of strength for my family. She was more than a solicitor. She was a friend who we could call at any time of the day or night.''
The actor Adrian Dunbar, himself from the Garvaghy Road, read the now famous extract from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney:
``History says don't hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea change on the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.''
Dunbar said: ``My father was from Portadown and I lived for five years on the Garvaghy Road. I still have family there but when I was growing up on the Garvaghy Road there was nobody like Rosemary Nelson.''
Pauline Campbell of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition told the mourners: ``Rosemary was a courageous woman. She was always approachable and had a kind smile. She was first and foremost a person who fought for other people's rights.''
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn commented that he had ``thought that the days of assassinations in Northern Ireland were over and that we had moved on. I could not believe that she had died.''
Dara O'Hagan reiterated the calls for a full and independent investigation into Rosemary's murder, saying that if there was any collusion or involvement by the security forces it must be exposed:
``I never met a more loyal and trusted friend,'' she said. ``The manner of Rosemary's death was horrific and violent - serious questions need to be asked and answered.''