Flanagan ‘blamed Hamill family for death’
Flanagan ‘blamed Hamill family for death’

The Robert Hamill inquiry has heard that former RUC/PSNI police chief Ronnie Flanagan claimed that the Portadown man may have been accidentally killed by his own family.

Mr Hamill, a Catholic civilian, died after being beaten by a loyalist mob in the presence of a PSNI police unit, who did not intervene and who are suspected of colluding or acquiescing in the murder.

The inquiry also heard last week that Flanagan claimed Robert Hamill’s sister Diane had an agenda to “discredit” the force.

Mr Flanagan, speaking in Belfast, denied a record from a British government official that he believed Mr Hamill actually died by the actions of his own relatives. The official, who was carrying out a review, cannot be named.

“I generally found the chief constable in a pretty defensive and critical mood,” the minute said.

“In particular, he commented that Hamill’s death could have been caused by his own family cradling his head in a way that led to oxygen starvation.”

Flanagan, who now lives in the United Arab Emirates, said the report were “disgraceful” and denied the statements.

PSNI Reserve Constable Robert Atkinson later faced conspiracy charges linked to the death of Mr Hamill after he was accused of tipping off one of the murder suspects.

Leading counsel for the Hamill family, Barra McGrory QC, later accused the former RUC chief of failing to step in and suspend an RUC member accused of conspiring in the killing.

“There’s an appalling lack of supervision,” he said.

“The disinterest of the senior ranks within the RUC in the investigation into Reserve Constable Atkinson led directly or indirectly to the failure to detect him,” he said.

Conspiracy charges were pressed but the case never went to trial.

Last week, the inquiry heard that unionist paramilitaries vowed to hunt down and “punish” a witness due to give evidence against Atkinson.

Further evidence was being heard yesterday at an inquiry into the death of the 25-year-old Catholic, who died in hospital of brain damage 12 days after being kicked unconscious by a loyalist mob in April 1997.

At the time Andrea McKee was preparing to give evidence at a trial against Mr Atkinson.

The threat said it would be her “one and only warning”.

“If you do appear in court you will be punished for your actions,” it read.

“At a time convenient to us your property will be attacked and destroyed, burned out.

“You yourself will be located and beaten for your actions.”

It was signed “on behalf of the LVF, Protecting the Protestants of Portadown for God and Ulster. No surrender”.

The inquiry heard that Ms McKee still appeared determined to give evidence, although she was later rejected by prosecutors for not being a credible witness. The charge against Mr Atkinson was withdrawn in 2004.

A PSNI detective also told the inquiry that the investigation into the murder had been hampered by the refusal of prominent Portadown lawyer Rosemary Nelson to cooperate. Ms Nelson represented the Hamill family at the time.

“Rosemary Nelson would not answer any of my calls and would not assist me in any way,” said Michael Irwin, the detective leading a team of officers probing the Hamill killing, told the inquiry.

“[Her assistance] didn’t happen and it did affect the investigation.”

Mrs Nelson was later killed in a 1999 car bomb attack outside her home in Lurgan, County Armagh. He murder is the subject of a separate inquiry into PSNI collusion.

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