UN man’s regret at Nelson murder
UN man’s regret at Nelson murder

A leading human rights expert from the United Nations has expressed deep regret that he had been unable to save the life of Lurgan lawyer Rosemary Nelson.

Former UN special rapporteur Dr Param Cumaraswamy was giving evidence yesterday at the public inquiry into the events surrounding the murder of the mother-of-three, who was killed when a bomb exploded under her car in March 1999.

Nelson’s murder is widely believed to have been an act of collusion between members of the PSNI (formerly RUC) police and unionist paramilitaries.

In 1997 Dr Cumaraswamy visited Ireland to investigate allegations that up to 30 lawyers had been threatened or harassed by the RUC.

One of the most high-profile cases involved a series of threats against the human rights lawyer, who represented nationalist residents on Portadown’s Garvaghy Road and was involved in a number of other high-profile cases.

Dr Cumaraswamy was so concerned that he wrote to the British government calling on it to ensure her safety.

In 1998 the special rapporteur concluded that a number of RUC officers had been involved in “activities which constitute intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” with lawyers.

Recalling how he met Mrs Nelson for the last time in Washington DC, six months before she was killed, he said: “I felt that Rosemary Nelson was troubled by her safety and I noted that her case always reminded me of Pat Finucane’s situation.”

Expressing regret that more had not been done to protect Mrs Nelson’s life, Dr Cumaraswamy said: “Her murder caused me a great deal of concern.

“It was the greatest regret of my nine years as a special rapporteur that I couldn’t save her in the plight that she was in.

“So much was done by all concerned but we couldn’t save her.”


Earlier this month, a senior lawyer told the Rosemary Nelson inquiry about battles with the RUC over intimidation of lawyers -- including the time a client said detectives warned he would end up like Pat Finucane.

Barra McGrory told the inquiry into Rosemary Nelson’s murder that defence lawyers were subject to “deliberate and systematic intimidation” by the RUC.

“We realised that the RUC’s behaviour indicated a deep and maligned mindset of hostility towards defence lawyers,” he said in his statement to the inquiry.

Barra McGrory, who also represents Rosemary Nelson’s widower Paul in the inquiry, went to the witness box to describe how solicitors began reporting allegations of intimidation by the RUC in the years just prior to Rosemary Nelson’s murder in 1999.

Rosemary Nelson had been particularly concerned about threats, he told the inquiry.

“In the conversations I had with her in the prison and on the phone, the subject came up every time. She was concerned that Pat Finucane’s murder wasn’t receiving enough attention,” he added.

Pat Finucane had been murdered by the UDA in 1989. Rosemary Nelson was killed ten years later by a bomb that went off in her car as she drove away from her home in Lurgan.

The inquiry saw statements from clients she had submitted to the Law Society, describing intimidation through clients. One client said in his statement that arresting members of the RUC told him that Rosemary Nelson wouldn’t get him off this time because she would be dead soon. He made the statement a year before she was murdered.

Barra McGrory said several clients had told him of threats against him made by RUC detectives interviewing them. On one occasion, he said he parked at a petrol station when he went to see a client in the RUC’s Castlereagh holding centre. He said that client was later told that if Barra McGrory parked there again, he could wind up like Pat Finucane.

Prior to mid-1990s, “we hadn’t made such a big issue of it,” he told the inquiry. “Perhaps in hindsight we should have done so”.

He said that many defence solicitors previously hadn’t given much thought to the situation because they were “case hardened and used to it”.

Barra McGrory said that it was only when the UN and other non-governmental organisations began asking about the intimidation that “we realised how badly we were treated and how dangerous this was”.

Barra McGrory said lawyers made few official complaints because “we had no faith in the complaints system”. He said that because there was no independent evidence it was a case of one person’s word against another’s and “police would always believe another policeman when they said there had been no threat”.

He said the intimidation stopped abruptly when sound recording of suspect interviews was introduced.

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