By Jack Holland
The attorney general of Northern Ireland and England Lord Williams has ordered that an inquest be held into the death of an American citizen who, it is claimed, died as a result of injuries received at the hands of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
John Hemsworth, 40, who was born New Jersey, died of a massive stroke within months of allegedly being beaten about the head by the RUC in the wake of street disturbances in Belfast in the summer of 1997.
An independent forensic examination carried out by Derrick Pounder, professor of forensic medicine at Dundee University, in Scotland, in August 1999 had concluded that "the trauma [i.e., the alleged assault] was the sole direct underlying cause of the death."
Hemsworth’s family have been campaigning for more than two years to have an investigation opened into the circumstances surrounding the incident, which took place on the night of July 7, 1997.
"I’m very pleased," said Michael Hemsworth, the father of the dead man. "At last I’ll have some answers. I didn’t want to feel that John had died unnecessarily and no one gave a damn."
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In the meantime, the Belfast coroner, John Lecky, has appointed a neuropathologist to review the case. An RUC chief inspector has also been asked to investigate the allegations of assault.
According to John Hemsworth’s own statement, given to his lawyer not long after the incident, he was on his way home after a night out when a police Land Rover drove into the street pursuing a gang of youths.
"They got out," the statement says. "They were in front of me. One turned and came toward me. I said, ‘I’m just going home, I’m an American citizen.’ At that he hit me in the face with his truncheon. I fell to the ground. He called me a Fenian bastard. Another one was shouting, ‘Move, move, you Fenian bastard.’ He kicked me on the left side of the jaw. I started to get up. Another one hit me on the back with a truncheon."
A group of U.S. congressmen, including Peter King, Ben Gilman and Chris Smith, became interested in the Hemsworth case and raised it with British officials in Washington in late 1999.
A spokesman for Gilman said: "We welcome the inquiry and we look forward to hearing its final conclusions."
According to sources, it is only the second time that the attorney general has ordered such an inquiry.
The story was originally reported in the Irish Echo last October.