State failure over murdered lawyer Rosemary Nelson

Steven McCaffery,Pa
Monday 23 May 2011 18:16 BST

A public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson in Northern Ireland will today release its findings 12 years after she was killed in a loyalist bomb attack.

The state failed to protect high-profile solicitor Rosemary Nelson before her murder by loyalists in Northern Ireland but did not collude in her killing, a major public inquiry has found.

The hard-hitting report found no evidence of a direct role in the car bomb attack 12 years ago, but it said it could not rule out the possibility of involvement by a rogue element of the security forces.

The inquiry, which cost £46.5 million, concluded that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers publicly abused and assaulted the solicitor, and it believed police intelligence on the 40-year-old mother of three had leaked out.

Before her death on March 15 1999, the lawyer, who worked on a number of controversial cases including those of suspected republican terrorists, had alleged police intimidation.

Those claims gained international attention and the report found police had made "abusive and threatening remarks" about the solicitor.

The public inquiry found that the state "failed to take reasonable and proportionate steps to safeguard the life of Rosemary Nelson".

Current chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Matt Baggott apologised for police failings.

"The inquiry has produced a lengthy and critical report which I respect, and that we now need to study carefully," he said.

"It has found that Rosemary Nelson was not given the attention, impartial treatment or protection that was her right and the responsibility of policing to provide.

"Where there are inadequacies and failings identified, I apologise to her family and friends, and on behalf of the police service, I am sorry."

Secretary of State Owen Paterson presented the report to the House of Commons and noted its finding that there was "no evidence of any act by or within any of the state agencies ... which directly facilitated" the killing.

Mr Paterson said: "I am profoundly sorry that omissions by the state rendered Rosemary Nelson more at risk and more vulnerable. It is also deeply regrettable that despite a very thorough police investigation no-one has been charged for this terrible crime."

But the Labour Party at Westminster, plus the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein in Belfast, accused Mr Paterson of playing down the more serious aspects of the report findings.

The 700 word report included two and a half pages of conclusions which list its key findings.

In said it believed that RUC intelligence on Mrs Nelson had leaked out and, whether the information was correct or not, it had "increased the danger to Rosemary Nelson's life".

The report authors also believed the claims made by Mrs Nelson before her death, that policemen had threatened her during interviews with her clients. They added: "This became publicly known and would have had the subsequent effect of legitimising her as a target in the eyes of loyalist terrorists."

The report also concluded:

:: Mrs Nelson's involvement in high profile cases involving nationalist and republican clients made her "an obvious trophy target".

:: RUC management "failed to intervene" to prevent officers "uttering abuse and threats to defence solicitors, including Mrs Nelson".

:: The RUC failed to pay attention to Mrs Nelson's home and office addresses as promised.

:: There was a "corporate failure by the RUC" to warn Mrs Nelson of her vulnerability

:: The Northern Ireland Office did not press the police on Mrs Nelson's case.

The report said: "The combined effect of these omissions by the RUC and the NIO was that the state failed to take responsible and proportionate steps to safeguard the life of Rosemary Nelson."

Eunan Magee, Mrs Nelson's brother, said the evidence against the RUC, NIO and police Special Branch had been damning.

He said there had been explicit evidence the solicitor had been assaulted and abused by the police in public. He also highlighted there had been evidence of leaked intelligence and that the State had failed to take steps to safeguard her.

Fighting back tears, he said that his sister had been vindicated by the report.

"This is not a closed book and hopefully charges will be brought against people who are guilty," he said.

"She was a mother of three children, a decent human being who had lost her life in pursuit of doing her job.

"No one in the security services has been held accountable. Why after so many years the people who wronged Rosemary have walked away with impunity?"

He was critical of Mr Paterson's comments on direct state collusion in the murder.

"We believe the Secretary of State has seen fit to gloss over any findings in the report which he thought were particularly damning."

On the question of collusion, Mr Magee added: "If it sounds like a duck and it walks like a duck, well, the chances are."

Mr Baggott was pressed on whether he believed the collective failings identified in the report amounted to collusion.

While he acknowledged that some people defined collusion in different ways, he insisted the probe had cleared police of colluding with loyalists over the murder.

"The report was very clear it did not find evidence of collusion," he said.

The chief constable said it was also telling that the report team had not made any recommendations; something he said proved that the modern day PSNI had made great progress.

"This is a day of reflection but I am mindful that the public inquiry itself has not made any recommendations, which I think is testament to the huge amount of change that has gone on in policing in the last decade," he said.

But he said it was right to say sorry for the mistakes that had been made.

"I have often spoken in my time as chief constable of the immense courage, dedication and sacrifice of so many police officers over the years, a legacy that has provided the foundation of today's relative stability and optimism and kept countless people safe.

"That said, it is also only right and proper that I acknowledge when policing has fallen short of legitimate expectations and responsibilities. If not, we would neither justify the confidence all communities have in us today nor prove our genuine willingness to learn."

He said any future possibility to bring the killers to justice would be pursued.

"Rosemary Nelson was murdered in a brutal manner and it remains a matter of deep regret that no-one has yet been prosecuted for this horrific crime," he said.

"Please be assured that if there is any possibility, whatsoever, of bringing those responsible for her murder to justice, we will not hesitate to act.

"With the renewed focus and impetus that the inquiry has provided, I appeal to anyone with information to contact the police."

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