The North’s police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s investigation accused the RUC of an inadequate assessment of the risk facing the lawyer, and subsequent actions.
Abusive leaflets containing Ms Nelson’s personal details and an anonymous letter warning she was to be targeted — which were passed to the Northern Ireland Office months before she was killed by loyalists in March 1999 — were also never requested by police, the probe found.
The ombudsman’s inquiry was carried out following complaints by the Belfast-based human rights group the Committee on the Administration of Justice over how police dealt with the loyalist threats.
Presenting her findings yesterday, Ms O’Loan said police should have made more strenuous efforts to establish a clear picture of the level of risk to Ms Nelson.
Ms Nelson, 40, was killed when a booby trap bomb exploded under the family’s BMW car outside her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
The Red Hand Defenders, a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association and Loyalist Volunteer Force, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
She was a human rights lawyer who represented hundreds of Catholics and nationalists, including the Garvaghy Road residents involved in Portadown’s Drumcree marching dispute which was at its height when the threats were issued.
With fears for her safety stretching back years before she was murdered, 20 incidents of concern had been outlined between October 1996 and September 1998.
These included seven separate death threats, two of which were allegedly made by RUC officers, and the receipt of a bullet through the post.
In its complaint that former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan and other officers failed to properly investigate the threats, the Committee on the Administration of Justice referred to a leaflet circulated in Portadown in 1998, dangerously abusing the solicitor and giving out her address and telephone number.
An anonymous letter received by Ms Nelson in June 1998, warning “We have you in our sights... RIP”, was also raised.
In her assessment, Ms O’Loan said she believes the RUC did not deal with either the letter or the leaflet properly.
Ms Nelson’s brother admitted he was stunned by the report’s findings.
DUP MP and Policing Board representative Jeffrey Donaldson launched a scathing attack on Ms O’Loan, accusing her of political bias.
Sinn Féin Policing Board member Daithi McKay focused on the police failings uncovered by the ombudsman.
Urging the Government to lift all restrictions on the public inquiry, he said: “There is a widely held belief that British state agents were directly involved in Rosemary Nelson’s murder.”
ROSEMARY NELSON came to prominence as a legal representative for many high-profile names from the nationalist and republican communities.
Ms Nelson lived and worked in Lurgan, CoArmagh, dealing largely with routine legal cases which passed through the office she ran.
However, three prominent cases ensured that she was not just an ordinary provincial solicitor: providing legal advice for the Catholic residents of Portadown, objecting to the Drumcree parade; defending Lurgan republican Colin Duffy; representing Robert Hamill’s family.
Only weeks before her death, Ms Nelson had helped to lead demands for an inquiry into alleged collusion between security forces and Protestant paramilitaries which led to killing of nationalist lawyer Pat Finucane.
Days before her murder, she was preparing 200 nationalist compensation claims against the RUC over Drumcree.