An investigation by the North's Police Ombudsman has added "weight" to allegations that Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were involved in an assault that led to the death of west Belfast man John Hemsworth.
Mr Hemsworth (39) was assaulted in the early hours of July 7th, 1997 in west Belfast. Later that year he became ill and was admitted to hospital. He died on New Year’s Day 1998.
Before his death, Mr Hemsworth alleged RUC officers had carried out the assault. Two subsequent police investigations were unable to establish if police officers were responsible.
The Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire however said today his investigators have uncovered evidence that placed Mr Hemsworth in the same location as police officers at the time of the assault.
The assault took place following a night of trouble in west Belfast. Springfield Road police station had come under repeated attack from petrol bombs and other missiles. The RUC had deployed the “Blue Section” of its operational support unit in an effort to disperse the crowds.
Mr Hemsworth had been making his way home following a night out. He later alleged that as he was walking along Malcolmson Street, a minor road off the Springfield Road, police assaulted him.
At an inquest in 2011 the coroner concluded "it was highly probable that one or more officers of the RUC Operational Support Unit Blue Section was responsible for the injuries to Mr Hemsworth, which were likely to have played a part in his death".
Dr Maguire said his investigation has “added weight to the conclusions of the coroner but have not identified the particular police officer/s involved”.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland deputy chief constable Drew Harris accepted the ombudsman's findings. "It is a matter of deep regret that individual culpability for the assault on Mr Hemsworth has not been identified and that police officers who may have committed offences have not been held to account," he said.