Category: Archive

Murder in Lurgan

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ann Cadwallader

PORTADOWN — Murdered human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson was being described this week as a fearless champion of justice and equality in Northern Ireland.

Nelson’s death followed reported many threats to her life from loyalist paramilitaries and, according to her own testimony, the RUC.

A loyalist group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for Nelson’s murder within hours of the killing. The investigation into Nelson’s death is now likely to involve both the FBI and British police.

Nelson was a few hundred yards from her Lurgan home Monday at lunchtime when a bomb exploded under her car, blowing her legs off and causing such grave abdominal injuries that she died within three hours.

She was a wife to Paul and the mother of three young children, two boys aged 13 and 11 and an 8-year-old daughter. The two boys were away on a skiing holiday when their mother was killed.

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Her death caused the deepest shock among her family and friends, and throughout a far wider public circle aware of her work on behalf of victims of miscarriages of justice.

Within hours, hundreds of people flocked to Lurgan RUC barracks and bouquets of flowers were placed at her office in the town. Graffiti appeared on walls in nationalist areas reading "Rosemary Nelson — the people’s voice — murdered by RUC/RIR."

Nelson was legal adviser to the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition. She represented Lurgan republican Colin Duffy. As well as Duffy and the Garvaghy Road residents, Nelson had represented the family of Robert Hamill, the Portadown Catholic man kicked to death by loyalists in May 1997.

Outside of these high-profile cases, Nelson also worked diligently for many other civil law clients, both Protestant and Catholic.

All those with whom she worked were paid tribute to her this week as a courageous defense solicitor who braved threats from both loyalists and members of the RUC to defend her clients, regardless of their religion or politics.

She had visited the U.S. on many occasions to speak out against human-rights abuses. She had also given evidence to last year’s special U.N. investigation into RUC intimidation of defense solicitors.

In the hours after her murder, Lurgan Sinn Féin councilor John O’Dowd accused the RUC of smirking and laughing at her death.

Comparisons were quickly being drawn between Nelson’s murder and the murder of another defense lawyer, Pat Finucane, 10 years ago in Belfast.

Nelson had been subjected to many years of threats, both anonymous letters and phone calls.

Add odds with RUC

She once said the RUC told her clients that she was a "terrorist,, and that made them terrorists too.

"Sometimes they say I’m a tout," she said. "They also ask if I’m a `good ride’ and say it’s well known that my clients are sleeping with me," she said. "It’s not just the odd occasion. I can honestly say that of people fighting scheduled (paramilitary-linked) charges, 100 percent of them are told this sort of dangerous, insulting rubbish.

"The worst threat is that I am going to be killed. They told one guy, `You’re going to die when you get out. And tell Rosemary she’s going to die too.’ Then there’s the usual abuse, like I’m a "f . . . g Fenian..

"When I speak to RUC officers on the phone, the hostility, the sheer hatred, comes down the line. They are polite to my face, exaggeratedly so. But behind my back, they say what they like. The fear is like an ache, nagging away at the back of your mind."

Nelson said she tried to protect her children from the fear, but that her husband, Paul, an accountant, "worries a lot." She took basic security precautions, like varying her route to and from work, but was reluctant to turn her home into a fortress.

"What the RUC don’t realize is that it doesn’t have any effect on me," she said. "It just makes me more determined to do my job honestly".


Meanwhile, the initial investigation into Nelson’s murder is focusing on the self-styled Red Hand Defenders, a group that has warned that there is "more to come."

However, preliminary suspicion is falling into a wider arc because the group is not thought to have the expertise the construct the kind of sophisticated car bomb that killed Nelson.

It is widely believed that loyalists opposed to the good Friday accord from within the UDA and/or UVF may have been involved. There has also been charges of RUC collusion.

The Red Hand Defenders have been linked to previous killings. RUC officer Frank O’Reilly died after a pipe bomb blast linked to the group last year. A Catholic man, Brian Service, was murdered by the group in a random shooting last October.

RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has already been in contact with FBI chief Louis Freeh and the RUC’s inquiry is to be supervised by David Philips, head of the Kent Constabulary in England.

Flanagan denied that his call for outside help was a tacit admission of his own force’s possible culpability in Nelson’s murder.

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