Amnesty backs calls for boycott of Finucane inquiry
The Rosemary Nelson Inquiry opened yesterday, the largest public probe yet initiated into any individual death of the conflict in the North of Ireland.
The human rights lawyer and married mother of three, died as a result of injuries she received when a bomb attached to her car exploded on March 15th, 1999.
Her clients were mainly victims of police or unionist harassment and violence. She rose to public prominence by representing Garvaghy Road residents who were trying to prevent a march by the Protestant Orange Order through their community.
Judge Peter Cory, who last year investigated allegations of collusion in her death, found that she had been the subject of escalating death threats from the RUC police since the mid-1990s.
No-one was charged over the murder, although a former British soldier and a known police informant have been implicated.
Her family had been campaigning for a public inquiry into the murder, and allegations of collusion, since her death.
The opening day of the inquiry was a largely symbolic event that ended with the adjournment of proceedings so that an investigative process can begin before public hearings are held next spring.
But the public session in Craigavon Civic Centre - not far from the scene of Mrs Nelson’s 1999 murder - saw the three-member inquiry panel give a detailed insight into the scale of their plans.
Before an audience that included Mrs Nelson’s close relatives, the inquiry chairman, retired British High Court judge Michael Morland, read an 18 page opening statement, saying: “Our task is to seek out the truth.”
He said Mrs Nelson’s murder was “one of thousands which were committed during the terrible years of sectarian violence”, but one that continued to attract “interest and concern both here and abroad”.
Mr Moreland was joined yesterday by his inquiry colleagues Valerie Strachan, former chair of Britain’s Board of Customs and Excise, and Anthony Burden, a former British police chief constable.
Mrs Nelson’s husband Paul, her mother Sheila, as well as the police and the NIO, are among the small number of individuals and organisations who will be given ‘full participant status’ and be legally represented at the inquiry.
The inquiry has the powers to force the surrender of documents to it and to compel witnesses to attend.
But with no ruling on anonymity for witnesses to the inquiry Sir Michael also addressed the issue of any criminal proceedings that may follow.
He did not call for an amnesty, but suggested that the inquiry would benefit from pledges from the Attorney General.
After the chairman’s opening statement the hearing was adjourned to allow its team to spend months preparing for the full public hearings when witnesses will be called.
A venue for those hearings has yet to be agreed, but Mr Moreland said it was hoped they would begin in the spring of next year.
After the opening session of the public inquiry had ended, friends and relatives spoke privately of it being a day of confused emotions.
Mr Nelson’s solicitor Barra McGrory said it had been a “long road” for the family.
“We will give every cooperation and we sincerely hope that it will succeed in its clear and stated intention to get to the truth,” he said.
Eunan Magee, Mrs Nelson’s brother said the family were “cautiously optimistic”.
AMNESTY CALLS FOR BOYCOTT OF FINUCANE INQUIRY
Geraldine Finucane, the widow of solicitor Pat Finucane, was present at the opening of the inquiry yesterday. The murder of her husband and the evidence of Crown force collusion has led to parallels being drawn with Mrs Nelson’s murder.
Amnesty International this [Wednesday] morning called on all judges in Britain to decline appointments to sit on any inquiry set up under the recently-enacted Inquiries Act - including the planned inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.
The campaigning organisation also called for the repeal of the act.
The Amnesty call came days after a similar request to judges from Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine who wrote individually to every senior judge in England, Scotland and Wales earlier this week.
Amnesty UK campaigns director Stephen Bowen said: “By holding an inquiry into the Finucane case under the Inquiries Act 2005, the UK Government is trying to eliminate independent scrutiny of its agents.”
He added: “Any judge sitting on such an inquiry would be presiding over a sham.”