By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Irish government has called for an independent judicial public inquiry into the murder of Robert Hamill, a Catholic who died after a sectarian attack in his hometown of Portadown on April 27, 1997.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern described the case as a "matter of urgent public interest."
Hamill, 25, became the 3,557th victim of the Troubles when he was set upon by a loyalist mob of about 30 when walking home. A father of two, he died on May 8 in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast of severe heads injuries sustained in the assault.
Nationalists claim that RUC officers in a nearby Land Rover did not intervene to prevent the killing.
The taoiseach had been presented with a report from the Committee on the Administration of Justice that stated that "there are so many points of concern, any one of which might justify the establishment of a public inquiry, that we believe the case for an inquiry is irresistible."
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Members of the Hamill family, accompanied by their solicitor, Barra McGrory, and the director of the CAJ, Martin O’Brien, had briefed the taoiseach on recent developments in the case.
Belfast coroner Dr. John Leckey decided not to hold an inquest because of fears for the safety of witnesses.
"The taoiseach’s commitment is not lip service," McGrory said. "He takes this case personally. There is no legal reason why an inquiry should not be held, there is no criminal investigation and the inquest has now been canceled. The new evidence we have, and which the coroner has seen but cannot as yet reveal, is compelling."
The taoiseach said the government had followed the case closely over the last three years.
"Very serious and unanswered questions have been raised about the role of individual police officers at the time of the attack and the detailed reports we have received today add to our concerns in this regard," Ahern said after meeting the family.
"The issues of concern in this case must be satisfactorily addressed in a manner which will command the confidence of the community."
Hamill had been walking through the town with a cousin’s husband and two women relatives when the mob attacked them and beat both men unconscious.
One of the women threw herself on top of Hamill in an attempt to save him from the attack.
Six Portadown men were charged with his murder, but the charges against all but one were dropped when two witnesses, expected to testify, withdrew.
In March 1999, the sixth man was acquitted of murder but convicted of causing an affray.