By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST – As the trial of a Portadown man charged with murdering Catholic father-of-two Robert Hamill got underway on Monday, it was revealed British Prime Minister Tony Blair has written to his family over what he called the “sad and shocking murder”.
Paul Hobson, 21, of Deer Park, Portadown denies the murder charge. Charges made against five others in connection with the case were withdrawn in November, 1997.
Blair’s letter was in response to a direct appeal from Hamill’s sister, Diane, for the prime minister to initiate a full inquiry into the killing. She has drawn Blair’s attention to the family’s criticism of the RUC handling of the investigation.
Eyewitnesses claimed that armed RUC officers watched from a Land Rover and failed to intervene as Hamill was beaten by a loyalist mob in Portadown town center on April 27, 1997.
Release for Stone
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Milltown cemetery killer, Michael Stone, 42, has been given a definitive release date for the middle of next year. Stone killed three people at the funeral of the “Gibraltar Three” and later admitted to three other murders.
A relative of one of the murder victims last night expressed his fears that he could unwittingly come face to face with the killer when he is given temporary parole before the scheduled release date of July 22, 2000.
A Northern Ireland Office spokesman confirmed that relatives of Stone’s victims would not be given prior notice of when he is to be released on temporary leave or on day-release schemes prior to his full freedom.
“It’s inevitable Michael Stone will be released,” a male relative of one his victims said. But it is possible that I or another relative could bump into him while thinking he was still in jail.”
The news about Stone came on the day a controversy blew up over another infamous loyalist’s temporary release from prison. Christopher Sheals (32) was photographed posing outside Disneyland near Paris, even though he was not allowed to leave Ireland.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1995 for his role in the horrific murder of Margaret Wright in a loyalist band hall off the Shankill road. He originally was given a life sentence, but the term was reduced on appeal.
The Red Hand Commando gang who tortured Wright in 1994 before killing her targeted her because they thought she was a Catholic. Sheals is thought to have been given parole twice and on one occasion was allowed to leave Northern Ireland to visit the Republic.
Meanwhile, the Garvaghy Road Residents’ coalition has accused First Minister David Trimble of treating them with contempt. They said he refused to meet them while he had one with the leaders of the Orange protest.
Breandan Mac Cionnaith of the Coalition said Trimble had told them it would not be appropriate to meet them, yet he appeared to consider it appropriate to meet those who had been laying siege to the community for over seven months.
He was compelled by his office of first minister to “operate in a way conducive to promoting equality of treatment”, said Mac Cionnaith, and was not fulfilling his duties.