The British government has said it is carrying out “checks” the findings of a public inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson, which it is now feared will be withheld until after the May 5 election.
The inquiry team had already said it hoped to have its long awaited report into the allegations of Crown force collusion in the killing completed by the end of April.
Now British Secretary Owen Paterson has said government lawyers are ensuring the report’s contents do not compromise British national interests or individual rights.
Mrs Nelson, a 40-year-old mother-of-three, died after a bomb exploded under her car as she left her home in Lurgan, County Armagh, on March 15 1999.
The ‘Red Hand Defenders’, a little-known unionist paramilitary group with links to both the UDA and LVF, claimed the murder.
The lawyer acting for a Catholic residents’ group which opposed Orange Order marches in the Drumcree parade stand-off, as well as representing nationalists persecuted by the RUC (later PSNI) police.
She rose to public prominence when human rights groups raised concerns for her safety after she was repeatedly threatened by Crown force members and loyalists.
Sinn Fein Assembly member for Upper Bann John O’Dowd said it was his understanding that Paterson had requested that the Inquiry team retain the report until after the Assembly election.
“Given that the Assembly has no bearing on this report this appears to be yet another undue delay which is wholly unacceptable,” he said.
“Election or no election this report should be published at the end of April as was originally outlined and should not be delayed. The family of Ms Nelson should be allowed to see this report at the earliest date and it should then be released to the public.”
The LVF has this week been linked to the murder of a notorious drug dealer and his wife in Craigavon, County Armagh.
It is believed the gangland-style executions of Hugh and Jacqueline McGeough last Monday were the result of a ‘turf war’ dispute with drug-dealing former LVF paramilitaries.
The same gang is thought to have been responsible for the murder of the Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan 10 years ago.
The couple were shot in the head at their heavily fortified home in the Legahory Court area of Craigavon. Their bodies were found by their son Martin who called at the house concerned that his mother had not replied to his calls or texts. It is thought she was murdered only to prevent her from identifying the killers.