'Omissions' put solicitor more at risk, inquiry finds

Tue, May 24, 2011, 01:00

STATE "OMISSIONS" meant that prominent Co Armagh solicitor Rosemary Nelson was more at risk from the loyalist paramilitaries who eventually murdered her.

An inquiry established to examine allegations of collusion by state agents in the killing in 1999 has concluded that no one act by the RUC, the British army or the Northern Ireland Office (NIO)facilitated the murder.

However, the inquiry team found that some RUC members "publicly abused and assaulted Rosemary Nelson . . . having the effect of legitimising her as a target".

The inquiry, which took six years and cost £46.5 million (€53.3 million), also concluded there was "some leakage of intelligence which we believe found its way outside the RUC".

The 505-page report, released in Belfast yesterday, said that such leaks "increased the danger to Rosemary Nelson's life".

The 40-year-old mother of three died after a loyalist booby trap device exploded under her car as she left her home in Lurgan on March 15th, 1999.

The inquiry members said: "We cannot exclude the possibility of a rogue member or members of the RUC or army in some way assisting the murderers to target Rosemary Nelson."

Detailing a series of findings, the report cites "omissions" by state agencies, and concludes that the RUC "negligently failed to intervene to prevent their officers from uttering abuse and threats to defence solicitors, including Rosemary Nelson".

It also cites failures to provide special attention for Nelson, failing to analyse or evaluate intelligence relevant to her, and failing also to warn her of her vulnerability or offer her security advice.

The Northern Ireland Office was also at fault, the inquiry team finds, by failing to press the RUC for "full replies to their questions" concerning Nelson's security.

The report said the office should also have "proactively questioned" the RUC as to what factors were considered in producing a threat assessment.

The Northern Ireland Office further failed Nelson by dealing "in a mechanistic way" with correspondence from non-governmental organisations raising concerns about her safety.

"The combined effect of these omissions by the RUC and NIO was that the state failed to take reasonable and proportionate steps to safeguard the life of Rosemary Nelson," the team concluded.

"If Rosemary Nelson had been given advice about her safety and offered security measures, then assuming that she had accepted such advice and security measures, the risk to her life and her vulnerability would have been reduced."

The inquiry members found no evidence of any deliberate attempt by any of the organs of the state corporately to obstruct the investigation of the murder.

They also found that RUC special branch officers "were over-possessive about their intelligence" and "unjustifiably resentful and defensive about any inquiry which they interpreted as treating them as potential suspects".

Special branch further "omitted to disclose all items of relevant intelligence, on one occasion supported by the security service, due to incorrect judgment or error".

Turning to the quality of the murder investigation, the inquiry was "exhaustive, energetic and enterprising" and was carried out "with due diligence".

The inquiry is critical of the then RUC chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan, claiming he had missed an opportunity by rejecting suggestions that Nelson be offered crime prevention advice.

"He considered it sufficient that 'because of her high profile, police attention' should be 'paid to her home and business'. This was, in our view, a missed opportunity," the inquiry found.

The authors wrote that they found no evidence of any hostility towards Nelson by the chief constable, "although he undoubtedly felt irritated by the NGOs who were campaigning on her behalf".

The authors said that a decision to offer Nelson personal security advice did not need the approval of Sir Ronnie, and they recorded their appreciation that the police were under severe pressure at the time of the murder.

"Sir Ronnie Flanagan had enormous issues on his plate, including the Patten commission with its far-reaching implications for policing in Northern Ireland and, in August and September, the aftermath of the Omagh bomb."

The report also found "there was a high level of awareness of Rosemary Nelson at senior level at RUC headquarters.

"Furthermore, by February 1999, Sir Ronnie Flanagan and his officers were aware that prominent republicans were under threat from newly formed loyalist groups whose terrorist resolve had been galvanised by events at Drumcree in the proceeding months.

"Against this background, the risk to Rosemary Nelson's life should have been evident."

The report contains no recommendations, and is restricted to its findings and to its beliefs about the course of events leading to Nelson's murder.

No one act by the RUC or Northern Ireland Office facilitated the murder of Rosemary Nelson

The inquiry could not exclude the possibility of rogue RUC members or British soldiers assisting the loyalist killers

RUC officers publicly abused and assaulted Rosemary Nelson thus "legitimising her as a target"

There was a leakage of intelligence outside the RUC which increased the danger to Nelson's life

The Northern Ireland Office dealt in a "mechanistic way" with correspondence raising concerns about Nelson's safety