Rosemary Nelson inquiry to release findings today

A public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson in the North will today release its findings 12 years after she was killed in a loyalist bomb attack.

A public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson in the North will today release its findings 12 years after she was killed in a loyalist bomb attack.

The inquiry has examined claims that police made threats against the lawyer, plus allegations of security force collusion in her killing.

The 40-year-old mother of three died when a bomb exploded underneath her BMW car as she left her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh, on March 15, 1999.

Her legal practice dealt with mainly routine cases, but she had risen to prominence and earned dangerous enemies after taking-on a number of high profile clients, including suspected republicans.

Mrs Nelson's murder came within a year of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but it was an unstable period. As decades of violence gave-way to a new era of political negotiation, warring ideologies feared losing advantage.

The solicitor found herself representing clients whose cases placed her at the centre of some of the most controversial episodes of the period.

They included:

* Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, who in the 1990s was acquitted of the murder of a former soldier, while claims he killed two police officers also collapsed. He is currently charged over the murder of two soldiers shot dead by dissident republicans in Antrim in 2009.

* Catholic murder victim Robert Hamill was killed by a loyalist mob in Portadown, Co Armagh. Claims that police at the scene failed to protect him are the subject of a public inquiry.

* The nationalist Garvaghy Road residents' group was also represented by Mrs Nelson as it opposed Orange Order parades in the bitter Drumcree stand-off in Portadown.

As tensions grew, Mrs Nelson claimed that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers questioning her clients had made death threats against her.

The alleged misconduct matched that reported by Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane before he was shot dead by loyalists in 1989.

Human rights campaigners feared Mrs Nelson risked a similar fate and her case was highlighted by international groups, including the United Nations.

In September 1998 she addressed a hearing on the North in the United States Congress in Washington and detailed her allegations of police harassment.

Her murder was claimed by the loyalist Red Hand Defenders, but her death sparked immediate claims of a possible security force link.

Mrs Nelson's killing came as the North's political leaders were in Washington for St Patrick's day talks on the future of the peace process. Her assassination immediately became a major political issue and fuelled calls for police reform in the North.

In 2001 a review of the case by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory found sufficient "evidence of collusion by government agencies" to warrant a public inquiry.

The London-based British Irish Rights Watch group's Jane Winter, who had lobbied over the case, said: "In a sense, part of the tragedy surrounding Rosemary's death is that, by and large, she was an ordinary High Street lawyer, doing ordinary stuff across the community. She had a handful of high-profile cases.

"But she was being threatened more than any other lawyer that I had ever come across."

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