A handful of dust
BY LAURA FRIEL
The life of a northern nationalist isn't worth a handful of dust.
That's the truth that nationalists in the north hoped the Good
Friday Agreement might begin to address. But this week that hope
has been further dashed:
First by the Appeal Court quashing of the conviction of Garfield
Gilmour for the sectarian murder of three Catholic children, the
Quinns of Ballymoney. And then by the Chief Coroner's
announcement that there will be no inquest into the death of
Robert Hamill, a Portadown Catholic kicked to death by a loyalist
On 12 July 1998 the sectarian petrol bomb attack in which three
brothers, Richard (11), Mark (10) and Jason (9) were burnt alive
shocked the world. The killing of the three Quinn children, their
screams as they died in the inferno which had been their home,
was an ``appalling barbarity'', but barely two years after their
deaths the Six Counties' Chief Judge has chosen to compound
rather than condemn that barbarity.
Petrol bombing houses was regrettably common, said Judge Robert
Carswell, but only rarely were people injured and most caused
only minor damage. It would be difficult to be certain Gilmour
intended the attack to cause any more than ``a blaze which might
do some damage'' and intimidate the occupants into moving house.
The UVF gang, of which Garfield Gilmour was a part, drove to the
home of a Catholic family living in a Protestant area. Gilmour
saw the petrol bomb glistening in one of their hands. The bomb
contained an unusually large amount of petrol.
After the attack he chauffeured the gang around the estate for
ten minutes before returning with them to the Carnany estate to
watch the blaze. But according to Judge Carswell, the UVF gang
didn't really intend to do any harm. It was only a little
``There is not sufficient evidence to conclude that [Gilmour] was
aware that the petrol was contained in an unusually large bottle
which might be expected to cause a larger conflagration and
result in greater danger to the occupants,'' ruled Carswell.
This is the same judge who, while presiding over the video show
trials of the Casement Accused, accused a man with severe
learning disabilities, Patrick Kane, of deliberately appearing
less intelligent than he really was.
Carswell convicted Kane of murder on the grounds that he must
have had it in his mind that one of the possible outcomes was
that the two British soldiers would be killed. Gilmour, however,
confesses to murder but didn't know what was going on.
Meanwhile the decision by the Coroner's office to deny the Hamill
family an inquest into the death of Robert Hamill underscores the
inability of the Six-County state to deliver justice for
Sinn Féin Upper Bann Assembly member Dara O'Hagan slammed the
decision as a disgrace. The state has failed Robert Hamill and
his family since the night he was brutally murdered in April
1997, she said.
nouncing his decision, Chief Coroner John Leckey described the
circumstances surrounding Hamill's death as ``profoundly
disturbing'' and would in other circumstances ``undoubtable require
that an inquest be held''.
But in consideration of ``concerns for the safety of certain
witnesses''whose ``lives would be placed in danger if their
evidence were to be given at, or placed in documentary form
before an inquest'', the coroner found an inquest should not be
``This latest decision strengthens the case for a totally
independent inquiry,'' says O'Hagan, ``From the night Robert was
murdered, the actions and inaction of the RUC and justice system
has underlined the inherent sectarian system of justice in the
Six Counties. We cannot allow the cover up of Robert's murder to
The Hamill family will meet Bertie Ahern in Dublin on Thursday, 8
June, to again press their case for an independent public inquiry
into the killing.