Hamill inquiry struggles to reach truth
Hamill inquiry struggles to reach truth

The PSNI chief who led the investigation into the sectarian murder of Robert Hamill claimed the reason he did not record significant evidence in police files was because he was so concerned about the risk of collusion.

The inquiry into the 25-year-old’s death in Portadown heard audio-taped testimony yesterday from the late Detective Chief Superintendent Maynard McBurney.

Mr McBurney died three months ago before he could give evidence.

However, his taped interviews with lawyers for the tribunal, played at a hearing in Belfast, revealed he had broken with usual procedures in an effort to protect witnesses.

Mr Hamill, a Catholic father-of-three, died in hospital of brain damage after being kicked unconscious by a loyalist mob in April 1997.

The PSNI, sitting in a nearby Land Rover, failed to intervene. A subsequent police cover-up exonerated the PSNI and failed to secure any prosecutions.

Mr McBurney was absurdly in charge of both the PSNI inquiry as well as the inquiry into the PSNI. He denied there was a cover-up.

The late police chief said he instructed that no details about the investigation into the PSNI’s actions be recorded in the force records or its computer system.

Mr McBurney said he had been “ultra-careful” after it was reported that one member of the PSNI had called a key suspect and advised him to dispose of the clothes he was wearing during the attack.

“There’s no way that you could keep anything secret in a police station. I don’t care where you put it, in a safe or whatever,” he said.

Mr McBurney claimed he had ensured there were “sufficient” search teams who were given no advance briefing of what their duties would be on the day of the raid.

However, a search at the home of key suspect Allister Hanvey was in the end restricted to one room, retrieved only three items and failed to find any of the clothing he had been wearing on April 27 1997.

There was “considerable pressure working and living in the area,” he said.

Last week, counsel to the inquiry Ashley Underwood QC detailed shortcomings by the PSNI which included failing to “bolster the case” with identity parades and other evidence-gathering, relying instead on the statements of witnesses who would be unlikely to give evidence in court.

He also queried the judgment in the handling of a complaint against Robert Atkinson, who was advanced as a “witness of truth” before the courts, despite the fact a serious allegation of collusion was hanging over him.

Tracey Clarke, a key witness in the original murder trial, also gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday.

She essentially recanted her evidence which led to the arrests of the five men who were charged with murder and held for around six months.

She described herself as “a vindictive bitch” who had been abusing drink and drugs when she named her on/off boyfriend Allister Hanvey as one of those who punched and stamped on the 25-year-old’s head.

However, evidence from a psychiatrist who treated her shortly after the event revealed she had told the doctor that she “saw her boyfriend hitting Mr Hamill”.

Ms Clarke now denies seeing any of the attack and also denies that Mr Hanvey told her Robert Atkinson had advised him to burn potentially incriminating clothes.

However, the inquiry also saw transcripts from police interviews with Ms Clarke’s mother and stepfather that support her original version of events.

A subsequent meeting with a prosecution lawyer to assess her credibility as a witness also supported the statement she gave to police in May 1997.

The lawyer reported that Ms Clarke “stated she would rather die than give evidence”.

“She said she wouldn’t give evidence because she loved Allister Hanvey to whom she had been formerly engaged,” the lawyer said.

“She stated that it was hard to give evidence against the others because she knows them all.

“She and her family are all very worried about the possibility of attack by loyalist paramilitaries.”

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