Inqest put on hold as witnesses seek anonymity

An inquiry into the death of a Catholic man battered to death by a loyalist mob in Northern Ireland was today delayed after police witnesses were given the go-ahead to seek anonymity.

An inquiry into the death of a Catholic man battered to death by a loyalist mob in Northern Ireland was today delayed after police witnesses were given the go-ahead to seek anonymity.

A judicial review is to be launched into the decision to name Royal Ulster Constabulary officers during the Robert Hamill Inquiry’s public hearings.

The 25-year-old Portadown man was set upon by a loyalist mob in the main street of his home town in 1997 while RUC officers on the scene allegedly failed to intervene.

Mr Hamill’s death is to be the subject of a public inquiry chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Edwin Jowitt.

A statement from the inquiry team said: “It is inevitable that the judicial review proceedings will delay the start of the inquiry’s public hearings that were scheduled to start on September 5, 2006.”

The team will examine whether the officers did enough to save the victim and if the subsequent investigation was satisfactory.

Officer L and others took their case for anonymity before the Hamill panel to the High Court in Belfast today. The full judicial review was set for August 31, 2006.

Earlier this month the inquiry team had ruled that all officers bar one be identified.

Lawyers for the former policemen at the judicial review are expected to produce evidence showing all serving and former officers were at risk from paramilitaries and that risk would be enhanced if they were named.

Mr Hamill’s murder was one of four in Northern Ireland investigated by Canadian judge Peter Cory.

These included the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in his home by Ulster Defence Association gunmen in 1989.

One man, Ken Barrett, has been convicted of the murder and since released but there are allegations of security force collusion.

An investigation by Sir John Stephens from the Metropolitan Police in London found a series of flaws in the security force investigation.

Judge Cory also reviewed the death of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, who died when a bomb under her car exploded.

Her death in March 1999 was claimed by the loyalist splinter group the Red Hand Defenders. There were allegations of security force involvement because she represented the nationalist Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition, then engaged in a bitter dispute with Orangemen about a parade at Drumcree in Portadown.

The shooting dead of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in prison in the Maze in December 1997 by three republican INLA gunmen was also examined by Mr Cory. Wright’s father David has questioned how assassins were able to access the prison yard while the notorious loyalist was waiting for a visit.

All inquiries bar Mr Finucane’s have been opened.

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