Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Paul Mageean
Legal Officer - Committee on the Administration of Justice

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COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE

Statement of Paul Mageean

Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)

14th March 2000

Thank you for the invitation to testify today. The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is
an independent human rights organisation which draws its membership from across the different
communities in Northern Ireland. CAJ works on behalf of people from all sections of the community
and takes no position on the constitutional status in Northern Ireland. In 1998, CAJ was awarded the
prestigious Council of Europe human rights prize by the 41 member states of the Council of Europe
in recognition of its efforts to place human rights at the heart of the peace process. One of the
reasons for the success of our work on the peace process has been the continued involvement of
the United States. In this context we would like to thank the honourable members of this
Commission for this opportunity to raise these important issues and in particular the Co-Chairman
Chris Smith for his work in this area.


On 29th September 1998 I testified before the International Operations and Human Rights
Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee Hearing on Human Rights in
Northern Ireland. I was accompanied by Rosemary Nelson who also testified before the
Subcommittee. She spoke of the harassment and abuse she had suffered at the hands of members
of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). She also told the Subcommittee about the threats that she
had received and the problems with the investigation of those threats. The members of this
Commission will of course be aware that within six months of testifying before the Subcommittee
Rosemary was murdered. The anniversary of her death is tomorrow.

My testimony will attempt to inform the Commission of what has happened in relation to the
investigation into the death of Rosemary Nelson and into the threats issued against her. I will also try
to indicate ways in which the United States government can assist in ensuring that the investigation
into Rosemary's murder is carried out in an independent and effective fashion.


On 10th August 1998 we wrote to the Minister of Security at the Northern Ireland Office, Adam
Ingram MP. We drew two documents to his attention which we enclosed with the letter. The first was
a note which had been posted to Rosemary Nelson which read "[W]e have you in our 'sights' you
republican bastard we will teach you a lesson R.I.P." The second was a one page pamphlet entitled
"The Man Without a Future" which related to Brendan McKenna, leader of the Garvaghy Road
Residents Coalition. However, it also referred, in very derogatory terms, to him having received
advice from Rosemary Nelson and also gave her address and telephone details.


We said in our letter that we considered these documents to be very definite threats against
Rosemary Nelson and told Mr Ingram that we considered it incumbent on the government to
investigate these matters and also to provide the necessary protection for Rosemary.


On 24th September 1998, Mr Ingram's office replied to our letter. His response stated that
"[O]bviously the documents enclosed must be of concern to Ms Nelson and the others mentioned.
The Minister has asked me to say that he hopes that those who produced them can be brought to
justice for their threatening behaviour." The letter continued that the threats had been passed
immediately to the Chief Constable for investigation and that the police would assess the security
risk against Ms Nelson. The letter also mentioned that Rosemary could apply for the Key Persons
Protection Scheme for security to be fitted at her home at public expense. Rosemary did not do this
as it would have entailed RUC officers carrying out security checks on her home. It was of course
officers from this force who she believed were issuing threats against her.


Shortly after Rosemary's murder, we were contacted by RUC officers from the murder investigation
team who were seeking originals of the documents we had sent to Mr Ingram seven months earlier.
They said the originals could be important because the police might be able to obtain forensic or
fingerprint evidence from them. We told the police that we did not have access to the originals of
these documents. We were however very concerned that the police were only seeking access to the
originals of these documents after Rosemary was murdered when they had been alerted to the
threats in August 1998, some seven months before her death. Surely it would have been a basic
investigative step to seek the originals of the documents when they received them rather than wait
until after the target of the threats was murdered.


On 3rd June 1999 we wrote to the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, asking him a
series of questions in relation to these matters. CAJ requests that a copy of this letter be read into
the record. The Chief Constable acknowledged our letter on 11th June and we wrote a reminder on
30th July. He did not respond. We met with the Chief Constable on 4th October when this issue was
raised amongst others. He undertook at that meeting to respond to our concerns in writing. After
having written several reminders, CAJ wrote again on 9th March 2000 telling him that we were to
testify to this Commission and urging him to respond before today. In his response, of today's date,
the Chief Constable said in relation to our inquiries about Rosemary Nelson:

"In connection with your letter of 3 June 1999 specifically relating to the murder of Mrs Nelson, I
explained to you at our meeting that the RUC itself had no intelligence prior to Mrs Nelson's
death to indicate a threat of the dreadful atrocity which was to be carried out. In relation to the
documents to which you refer, as these remain a matter of ongoing investigation, neither I nor Mr
Port believe that it is appropriate to discuss the details you raise while the investigation is current.
You should be aware, however, that in relation to the threatening note received by Mrs Nelson,
nothing of potential forensic value was lost in the period between the sending of the document
and its subsequent forensic examination. At this stage, nothing has been disclosed in the
examination which has assisted Mr Port's enquiry".


In CAJ's view this response does not address our key concern, namely the apparent inaction of the
police between August 1998 (when they were informed of the death threats) and Ms Nelson's
subsequent murder in March 1999. It was only after Ms Nelson's death that the police showed
evident signs of the threats being taken seriously.


Answers to the concerns about police inaction in the face of the threats against Rosemary have also
been sought by way of parliamentary questions in Westminster. I would request that copies of the
question and answer be placed on the record.


We would be grateful if this Commission could write to the United Kingdom government asking why
the RUC did not act in relation to seeking originals of these threats until after Rosemary Nelson was
killed.


We believe that the police and the government have not answered our questions in this regard
because they are unable to provide an adequate answer. We believe the police failed to carry out
an adequate assessment of the risk against Rosemary Nelson. We believe their failures in relation
to that assessment are emblematic of their failure to investigate the ongoing threats against
Rosemary by their own members.


In an interview in today's Irish News newspaper the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of
Judges and Lawyers states that he asked the government to provide protection for Mrs. Nelson. He
challenges the government to provide information on what it did. He says "You tell us. You knew
about it. What did you do?" I would request that the full text of this article be read into the record.


The Commission will of course be aware that the government appointed Independent Commission
for Police Complaints in Northern Ireland (ICPC) stated that they were not satisfied with the RUC
investigation of complaints that Rosemary herself made in relation to threats and abuse. Amongst
the issues of concern the ICPC identified were "observable general hostiity, evasiveness and
disinterest on the part of the police officers involved in this investigation," assertions made by the
investigating officer which constituted "judgements on the moral character of Mrs Nelson" and a
view that the volume of correspondence received from international groups on behalf of Mrs Nelson
as having more to do with propaganda against the RUC than establishing the truth. I would be
grateful if the Statement issued by the ICPC be placed on the record.


Subsequent to indications that the ICPC were unhappy with the RUC investigation a senior English
police officer, Commander Niall Mulvihill was tasked with reviewing the initial investigation. He
expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the investigation. However, in a leaked commentary on
the Mulvihill review, the Chairperson of the ICPC, Paul Donnelly, described the Mulvihill report as
containing "assertions, conclusions and recommendations that rely heavily on impression and
belief, as opposed to systematically testable evidence." I would be grateful if a copy of the
commentary prepared by Mr Donnelly be placed on the record.


After the publication of the ICPC statement the supervising member of the ICPC, herself a female
lawyer, was threatened necessitating her to move house. In addition she became the subject of a
whispering campaign by police officers and members of the policing establishment which
questioned her impartiality and ability. This campaign was described in an article which appeared
in the Irish Times written by Gerry Moriarty, a copy of which I would ask be placed on the record.


The honourable members of the Commission will be aware that the criminal investigation into
Rosemary Nelson's murder is now being headed by Mr Colin Port, the Deputy Chief Constable of
Norfolk Constabulary. Up until 9th March no arrests have been made in the investigation and no-one
has been charged. On 9th March it was reported that two people were arrested in connection with
the murder. One of those individuals has now been released. It has been reported that the other
individual who is still being detained was a serving soldier at the time of Rosemary's murder. Mr
Port however remains confident that he can catch those responsible. He has indicated that he is
looking carefully at possible collusion in the murder. He has also indicated that to date the collusion
inquiries have not yielded any results. We remain concerned that Mr Port continues to conduct his
investigation from Lurgan RUC station where some of those officers involved in threatening
Rosemary were based. In addition there have been a series of leaks, reportedly from the Port
investigation team, which appear to have damaged the investigation. We are concerned that the
continuing involvement of RUC officers in the investigation team is undermining confidence in the
independence of the investigation. This is particularly relevant when, according to press reports,
crucial witnesses are refusing to co-operate with the Port investigation.


In addition however it is apparent that the criminal investigation, even if successfully concluded, will
not result in a full examination of the circumstances surrounding the murder of Rosemary Nelson.
For instance, it will not examine the alleged inaction of the RUC following receipt of the threats
issued against Rosemary. Unless hard evidence is obtained to link members of the army or police
to the murder, we will not have an opportunity to hear the reasons given for the heavy security force
presence in the area prior to the murder. For these reasons, we are committed to a full public
inquiry into the murder along with a number of other domestic and international NGOs including
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. If in
another democratic state, a lawyer had been subject to regular threats from police officers, if the
United Nations had drawn its concerns about the safety of the lawyer to the attention of the
government, and if subsequently the lawyer in question had been killed, we are convinced that a full
inquiry would be established. We can see no reason for the United Kingdom government not taking
this step now.


We believe the failure to establish such an inquiry is a violation of the United Kingdom's
international obligation to make available effective remedies for the violation of human rights. This
right is guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights in addition to the 1990
Copenhagan Document. We would respectfully request that this Commission, requests the United
States administration to raise these issues through the human dimension mechanisms of the
OSCE, and to expresses its view that the United Kingdom should establish a full public inquiry. In
addition we believe it would be helpful if the OSCE were to send a fact-finding mission to Northern
Ireland to examine the general situation of defence lawyers and in particular to examine the
circumstances surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.


Rosemary Nelson was a member of the Executive Committee of CAJ. She dedicated her
professional life to obtaining justice for others. We will do all we can to obtain justice for her.