By Anne Cadwallader
LURGAN, Co. Armagh — Thousands of people walked behind slain human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson’s coffin last Thursday in a display of solidarity with her grieving husband, Paul, and their three children.
The funeral was held amid calls for an independent inquiry into her death by human rights groups in the U.S. and Ireland, including Amnesty International, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, and the New Jersey-based Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland.
Although the FBI is involved, specifically for its expertise in forensic science, human rights groups are concerned that the RUC, whose members, it has been reported, had threatened Nelson, should not have control over the police inquiry into her death.
As Nelson’s coffin left her home, it passed the small indentation and scorch marks in the road, only 50 yards from her driveway, where the bomb had detonated on Monday, March 15. A smashed wall showed where the wrecked car had come to rest.
Another 50 yards away, the cortege passed the school where Nelson had been a governor, where her sister teaches and where her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, had been playing at lunchbreak when she heard the explosion that killed her mother.
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The murdered solicitor’s two sons — Christopher, 13, and Gavin, 11– gave moving tributes to their mother during the requiem Mass at St. Peter’s, Lurgan, speaking in voices shaking with emotion about their love for their mother.
Father Kieran McPartlan, in his homily, called for a full independent inquiry into the murder. Ireland’s president, Mary McAleese, who taught Nelson at Queens University, and David Andrews, the Irish minister for foreign affairs, attended the funeral.
A British lawyer, Michael Mansfield, who is due to represent the Hamill family of Portadown in their civil case against the RUC following the murder of Robert Hamill, was also at church and demanded a full, international, independent, judicial inquiry into the Nelson murder.
Before she died, Nelson had been repeatedly subjected to death threats from members of the RUC in Lurgan and Portadown. She had also been threatened by loyalists, angry at her legal representation of nationalist clients.
Despite appeals for calm, there were days of rioting in the nearby Kilwilkie area which spread to Portadown. Orangemen massed close to Catholic homes on the Garvaghy Road the night before Nelson’s funeral, banging Lambeg drums in what they said was a "St. Patrick’s Day drumming contest."
Some Orangemen and followers shouted abusive slogans about Rosemary Nelson. "No legs Nelson" was one comment, referring to the fact that the murdered solicitors legs had been blown off in Monday’s bombing of her car.
This antagonized local people, who clashed with RUC men. Petrol bombs were thrown at police lines, who responded with plastic bullets. As they tried to calm events, Garvaghy Road spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith and his fellow independent councilor, Joe Duffy, were batoned by police.
Assistant Chief Constable Tom Craig said one of his men had accidentally hit Mac Cionnaith on the head. Mac Cionnaith said he had been standing apart from the crowd alongside Duffy when RUC officers lashed out. He took avoiding action but he was hit.
Both were taken to hospital, with Mac Cionnaith bleeding from an injury caused to his eye after his glasses were smashed by a police baton. Duffy had facial injuries and a badly bruised arm. After loyalists were spotted nearby, both men left hospital and were treated by nursing staff in the Garvaghy community center.
Meanwhile, it’s been revealed that the RUC chief constable, Ronnie Flanagan, told a UN special investigation into alleged police intimidation of defense lawyers in 1997 that he could not guarantee the safety of Rosemary Nelson.
Flanagan was speaking after he saw a draft report of the UN inquiry, which quoted him saying that some defense lawyers were working to the "agenda" of the paramilitaries.
The quote was strikingly similar to another made by a British minister, only weeks in advance of Pat Finucane’s murder 10 years ago. Flanagan asked that the comment be excised from the report, possibly in an attempt to protect Nelson and other lawyers.