Rosemary Nelson

Edward C. Whyte (
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 08:22:23 +0100

Irish News 16/3-99

1.Killing must be probed by an independent body
2.Abuse and threats for defending civil rights
3. Profile of cases in media meant high risk


1.Killing must be probed by an independent body

At the end of last week, Rosemary Nelson contacted the Irish News with
an urgent and direct message. She said that the level of threat from
loyalist groups in her area was considerably more serious than had
generally been realised. Mrs Nelson wanted to brief a journalist from
the Irish News in more detail, and the necessary arrangements were made
swiftly. Her parting comment was that she strongly feared that someone
would be murdered in the near future. Yesterday, a matter of hours after
the publication of her views, her prediction came true.

Mrs Nelson herself was the victim of a carefully planned assassination
as she drove away from her Lurgan home.

It was particularly dreadful that the youngest of her three children,
who attended a primary school a few hundred yards away, heard the fatal
explosion. Her death was an appalling tragedy, which has enormous
ramifications across Northern Ireland and further afield.

It is clear that Mrs Nelson was acutely aware of the threats to her
life, which had been comprehensively documented over the years.
Representations had been made on her behalf at the highest level, and it
must be a matter for huge concern that she had not been placed on the
British government's key person protection scheme. Indeed, there were
strong indications last night that the level of security in presence at
her home was entirely inadequate.

Mrs Nelson's profile in both political and legal terms could hardly have
been higher. She was included on the official United Nations list of
lawyers at risk around the world, and, less than six months ago, made
the graphic submission we carry below to the US House of Representatives
international relations committee. A case against the RUC which she had
brought to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints was at an
advanced state of consideration.

Only last month, she represented the Garvaghy Road residents as part of
a delegation which met Tony Blair in Downing Street.

Mrs Nelson had been particularly outspoken in her support for the
residents, and, in this newspaper yesterday, said bluntly that the rule
of law did not seem to exist in Portadown. She had also been at the
forefront of the initiatives to win justice for the family of Robert
Hamill, who was beaten to death in a sectarian attack in Portadown, and
to secure a full independent inquiry into the murder of the human right
lawyer Pat Finucane in Belfast 10 years ago.

The parallels between Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane are particularly

Both had to face regular threats because they defended individuals in
important cases, and both were brutally murdered because they were
talented and effective solicitors. It is essential that the murderers
of the two lawyers do not achieve their objectives.
The legal profession must make its own response, but it can be expected
that, in tribute to Mrs Nelson, the campaigns on behalf of the Hamill
family and the Garvaghy Road residents will now be intensified.

As a matter of urgency, the report of the Independent Commission for
Police Complaints into Mrs Nelson's case, which has been completed,
needs to be made public. The circumstances surrounding her death are
alarming enough to merit a separate independent investigation by a
respected outside body. More than a decade after the murder of Pat
Finucane, a full and appropriate inquiry into the killing has still to
take place.

A delay of this kind in the aftermath of yesterday's atrocity cannot be

All the facts about the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson must
be made public as soon as possible.


2.Abuse and threats for defending civil rights

Last year Rosemary Nelson made a statement before the International
Operations and Human Rights subcommittee of the US House of
Representatives International Relations Committee Hearing on Human
Rights in Northern Ireland. The following is the full text of her
submission, made on September 29 1998

I HAVE been a solicitor in private practice in Northern Ireland for the
past twelve years. My practice includes a mixture of several areas of
law, including crime, matrimonial and personal injury cases. My clients
are drawn from both sides of the community.

For the last 10 years I have been representing suspects detained for
questioning about politically motivated offences.
All of these clients have been arrested under emergency laws and held in
specially designed holding centres. There are three such centres across
Northern Ireland.

Since I began to represent such clients and especially since I became
involved in a high profile murder case, I have begun to experience
difficulties with the RUC. These difficulties have involved RUC
officers questioning my professional integrity, making allegations that
I am a member of a paramilitary group and, at their most serious, making
threats against my personal safety, including death threats.

All of these remarks have been made to my clients in my absence because
lawyers in Northern Ireland are routinely excluded from interviews with
clients detained in the holding centres. This behaviour on the part of
RUC officers has worsened during the last two years and particularly
since I began to represent the residents of the Garvaghy Road, who have
objected to an Orange Order march passing through their area from
Drumcree Church.

Last year I was present on the Garvaghy Road when the parade was forced
through. I had been present on the road for a number of days because I
had instructions from my clients to apply for an emergency judicial
review of any decision allowing the parade to pass through the area.
When the police began to move into the area in force in the early hours
of July 5 I went to the police lines and identified myself as a lawyer
representing the residents. I asked to speak to the officer in charge.
At that point I was physically assaulted by a number of RUC officers and
subjected to sectarian verbal abuse.

I sustained bruising to my arm and shoulder. The officers responsible
were not wearing any identification numbers and when I asked for their
names I was told to "f*** off". I complained about the assault and abuse
but to date have obtained no satisfactory response from the RUC. Since
then my clients have reported an increasing number of incidents when I
have been abused by RUC officers, including several death threats
against myself and members of my family.

I have also received threatening telephone calls and letters. Although I
have tried to ignore these threats, inevitably I have had to take
account of the possible consequences for my family and for my staff. No
lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened to Patrick Finucane
nor dismiss it from their minds. The allegations of official collusion
in his murder are particularly disturbing and can only be resolved by an
independent inquiry into his murder, as has been recommended by the UN

I would be grateful if the Subcommittee could do all in its power to
bring about such an inquiry, by communicating to the United Kingdom
government its belief that an inquiry in this case would in fact be a
boost to the peace process, as it has been in the Bloody Sunday case. I
have also complained about these threats, again without any satisfactory
response. Although complaints
against the RUC are supervised by the Independent Commission for Police
Complaints, the complaints themselves are investigated by RUC officers.

Recently a senior police officer from England has been called in to
investigate my complaints in view of the RUC's apparent inability to
handle my complaints impartially. This English police officer is
interviewing witnesses himself and has decided not to rely on any
assistance from the RUC. I believe that one of the reasons that RUC
officers have been able to indulge in such systematic abuse against me
is that the conditions under which they interview clients detained under
emergency laws allow
them to operate without sufficient scrutiny.

My access to my clients can be deferred for periods of up to 48 hours. I
am never allowed to be present while my clients are interviewed.
Interviews are now subject to silent video recording but are not yet
being audio-recorded, although that is due to be introduced. The UN
Special Rapporteur has made a number of recommendations that would
remedy this situation,
which to date have not been implemented. I should be grateful if this
sub-committee would lend their support to what he proposes.

Another reason why RUC officers abuse me in this way is because they are
unable to distinguish me as a professional lawyer from the alleged
crimes and causes of my clients. This tendency to identify me with my
clients has led to accusations by RUC officers that I have personally
been involved in paramilitary activity, which I deeply and bitterly
resent. The Special Rapporteur has recommended that RUC officers be
sensitised to the important role played by defence lawyers in the
criminal justice system. To date this recommendation has not been

I should be grateful if this subcommittee would ask the UK government
what steps they intend to take to act on this recommendation. I, like
many others, was pleased to see the human rights provisions included in
the recently-signed
agreement. In particular I was pleased that the agreement looked to the
early removal of the emergency provisions legislation which has been in
place in some shape or form since the inception of the state.

The existence of this legislation has seriously undermined public
confidence in the rule of law and led to numerous miscarriages of
justice, some of which have involved my clients. I was therefore very
disappointed when, in the wake of the horrific Omagh bombing, new and
draconian legislation was introduced which further erodes suspects' due
process rights. For example, the legislation provides for the opinion of
a senior RUC officer that someone is a member of a proscribed
organisation to
be accepted as evidence by the courts. I and many of my colleagues fear
that if these laws are used they will lead to further miscarriages of

Although this legislation has already been passed I hope that the
subcommittee will express its concern to the British government that it
will not be used. I believe that my role as a lawyer in defending the
rights of my clients is vital. The test of a new society in
Northern Ireland will be the extent to which it can recognise and
respect that role, and enable me to discharge it without improper
interference. I look forward to that day.

I thank Chairman Smith and this honourable subcommittee for its
continuing interest in these important matters for the future of my

3.Profile of cases in media meant high risk
By Alan Erwin

ROSEMARY Nelson fearlessly carried out her work as a high-profile
solicitor despite continuous harassment and threats to her life. The
Lurgan woman, aged 40, built her professional reputation on representing
nationalists in a number of cases that attracted a high degree of media

In October 1997 she successfully defended Lurgan republican Colin Duffy
against charges of having murdered police constable Roland Graham and
Reserve Constable David Johnson in the town earlier that year. Mrs
Nelson had already managed to secure the same client's release the
previous September when his conviction for the murder of former UDR
soldier John Lyness was overturned on appeal.

The case turned on the discovery that the main eyewitness in Mr Duffy's
trial was a member of the UVF subsequently convicted for gun-running.
Mrs Nelson operated out of a large practice on William Street in the Co
Armagh town, and it was from
here that she provided legal advice to the Garvaghy Road Residents'
Coalition in nearby Portadown. She represented some 200 of its members
when they claimed compensation against the RUC for assault and wrongful
imprisonment in July 1997 when an Orange Order march was forced down the

When the residents sent a delegation to Downing Street earlier this year
Rosemary Nelson accompanied them.

Mrs Nelson also represented the family of Robert Hamill, the Catholic
kicked and beaten to death by a loyalist mob in Portadown town centre in
April 1997. Being involved with such controversial cases did not come
without cost to the solicitor.
In October 1997 she complained to UN special investigator on the
independence of judges and lawyers, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, of a
"systematic and concerted campaign of intimidation and abuse" by the

Speaking at the time, she said: "The worst threat is that I am going to
be killed. "They told one guy, 'You're going to die when you get out.
And tell Rosemary she's going to die too'." Then, in March last year she
again made allegations that she had been threatened by senior RUC
officers. The message was said to have been relayed by detectives to Mrs
Nelson through one of her arrested clients. At the time Mrs Nelson
claimed the police were drawing a comparison between her and the
Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

The latter's murder at the hands of the UFF has been shrouded in
allegations of collusion between security forces and the paramilitaries.
A Queen's University graduate, Rosemary Nelson was married to Paul, an
accountant, and the mother of
three children, an eight-year daughter and two boys aged 11 and 13.