16 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Concern at new inquiry

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Serious concerns have been expressed about the British government’s inquiry into the murder of Co Armagh solicitor Rosemary Nelson, scheduled to open in Craigavon Civic Centre on Tuesday morning.
Mrs Nelson acted for a range of high-profile clients, including the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition. She was killed outside her Lurgan home after a loyalist booby-trap bomb exploded under her car on March 15, 1999.
The murder followed years of official intimidation against Mrs Nelson, emanating from the RUC and British forces. Her killing subsequently increased widespread complaints of collusion.
Daily Ireland has learned that the inquiry has not yet contacted several of Mrs Nelson’s personal friends and prominent human-rights activists in whom she confided information about threats and intimidation.
Belfast solicitor Pádraigín Drinan, one of Mrs Nelson’s closest professional colleagues, yesterday claimed that the British government’s decision to establish an inquiry under the terms of the Police Act 1998 could present major obstacles to the search for truth.
Section 44 of the Police Act permits the secretary of state to establish an inquiry “into any matter connected with policing”.
It also vests the secretary of state with power to restrict the public nature of the inquiry — and its outcome — “so far as appears to him consistent with the public interest”.
The inquiry’s terms of reference were announced earlier this year but have recently been amended to include reference to the role of the British army and other state agencies.
This inclusion came about after pressure from a number of human-rights organisations and non-governmental organisations.
However, Ms Drinan has argued that there is still a range of concerns linked with the overarching framework of the inquiry.
“What needs to be looked at is the actual powers of the inquiry, which are set out in section 44 of the Police Act — which immediately restricts and limits the powers to investigate only those matters ‘connected with policing’,” Ms Drinan said.
“Accordingly, in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter that the British government has changed the terms of reference to include the army and other state agencies. They can only investigate any matter connected with policing.
“Therefore, if it is alleged that there was collusion between the RIR and loyalists, how is that connected with policing?
“If it is alleged that someone in the NIO refused Rosemary protection prior to her death, how is that connected with policing?
“Apart from that, if indications are given that the hearings will be in public, how can that be assured when the secretary of state, a party to the proceedings, can direct that the hearings be in private? It is the secretary of state who has the power under legislation, not the inquiry,” Ms Drinan said.
She said the legal representatives of Mrs Nelson’s family were restricted from even questioning witnesses
Ms Drinan asked: “What sort of inquiry is it when you aren’t allowed to ask questions? [Judge Peter] Cory got it right.
“How can someone party to the proceedings, in this case the secretary of state, be the person who has overall legislative control of the inquiry?”

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