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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

O'Loan to criticise RUC over Nelson threats

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)


The RUC will be criticised by a forthcoming inquiry into the death threats made against Rosemary Nelson, the Catholic human rights lawyer murdered by loyalists in 1999.

The inquiry report by Nuala O'Loan, the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, is expected to be published next month. It will set the tone for a public inquiry into alleged security force collusion in Nelson's murder that will open next year.

O'Loan has upheld a complaint from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) that the RUC chief constable and other named officers failed properly to investigate the threats against Nelson, 40. She was killed by a booby-trap device placed under her car outside her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh on March 15 1999.

The lawyer had repeatedly claimed that RUC and Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) officers had abused her, and she said detectives had issued threats against her when interrogating IRA suspects who were her clients.

O'Loan's report is expected to accuse the police of a succession of errors, of failing to pass on information of threats to her life, and of failing to take her danger seriously. However, no disciplinary action or prosecution is expected against any officer.

The report, which runs to more than 50 pages, is also expected to criticise the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for failing to pass on letters containing threats against Nelson to the police, and to outline a number of specific threats. These include a loyalist pamphlet entitled The Man Without a Future, which was circulated in Mid Ulster in July 1998, less than a year before Nelson's death.

The pamphlet referred to "Lurgan solicitor and former bomber Rosemary Nelson", gave her address, and called her part of "a motley crew" putting into effect a plan to "destroy religious rights and freedom". Nelson had scars left from the removal of a facial birthmark, which loyalist propagandists wrongly claimed was an injury sustained when making a bomb.

A month earlier Nelson had received a handwritten note which said: "We have you in our sights you republican bastard, we will teach you a lesson RIP." When she was shopping in February 1999 a man told her that "if she didn't stop representing IRA scum she would be dead", according to CAJ.

The group passed on these threats to the Northern Ireland Office but the ombudsman has found no evidence that account was taken of their significance, or of the threatening and abusive comments by a member of the RIR. In fact the NIO failed, apparently through an oversight, to pass on one of the threats to the RUC. The police force found no specific threat against her and ruled she was not eligible for the Key Persons' Protection Scheme, though they did advise patrols to keep an eye on her home.

The report will make uncomfortable reading for former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan, currently head of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. He was made personally aware of the threats against Nelson by a delegation of American lawyers two weeks before her murder.

It is not the first time Flanagan and O'Loan have clashed. The ombudsman accused him of poor leadership in her report into the police investigation of the 1998 Omagh bombing. At the time Flanagan said he would commit suicide if her findings were true.

In January, she accused officers under Flanagan's command of collusion with a Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist working as an informer, and said the failings were systemic. The Operation Ballast report enraged the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers' Association, who said O'Loan should not have issued such damning findings when she did not have evidence to prosecute anybody.

In turn, O'Loan criticised retired officers for not co-operating fully with her investigators. She said she did not require the level of proof necessary to bring a prosecution to make a finding.

In this case the retired officers are likely to highlight the fact that Nelson had refused to co- operate with the police on many occasions and had refused protection from them.

At a US Congressional hearing she had stated publicly that she would not allow the RUC to make a security assessment of her home because she didn't trust them, and that she would not apply for a personal protection weapon.

April 29, 2007

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on April 29, 2007.