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Ex-RUC man may be charged over Hamill murder

By Sam Lister

The Public Prosecution Service has given in to pressure from the Robert Hamill Inquiry and agreed to reconsider its decision not to prosecute a retired RUC officer.

Robert Atkinson was one of four RUC officers accused of standing by as Mr Hamill was assaulted by a loyalist mob in Portadown in April 1997.

Atkinson was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by giving false information to fellow police officers following the death of the 25-year-old in Portadown, Co Armagh, in April 1997.

The case against him was later dropped on the recommendation of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

However, following the publication of an interim report by the Robert Hamill Inquiry yesterday calling for the decision to be reviewed urgently, the PPS said it would reconsider the decision as to prosecution made in respect of Atkinson.

It said it had inquired, through the office of the Attorney General, whether there is further information which the inquiry can provide which will help inform that review.

The interim report, published yesterday, states: “We recommend that the DPP should reconsider the decision whether or not to prosecute Robert Atkinson for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

“We have considered the factors which were taken into account by those who advised the director that the prosecution should not proceed and what was in our view the appropriate context in which those factors should be seen in order to give them the weight appropriate to them.

“We have also considered factors which appear not to have been taken into account by those advising the director and the weight we think should be attached to them.”

Mr Hamill, a Catholic father-of-three, suffered severe head injuries in the assault and died 11 days later without regaining consciousness.

The inquiry has heard claims that armed police officers at the scene failed to intervene during the prolonged attack and that as a result Mr Hamill suffered fatal injuries.

It was keen to stress that its recommendation was made “solely” on the inquiry’s concerns about the need to take into account all matters available and did not mean any conclusion about what might happen after any reconsideration.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said: “The inquiry panel is conscious of the desire for public inquiries to produce their reports with due expediency.

“The panel was therefore anxious that this important recommendation should be delivered to the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity.

“The inquiry has published its interim report at the invitation of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

“Although it is impossible at this stage for the inquiry to provide any firm date for the delivery of its final report, it hopes to complete it within the next 12 months,” said the spokeswoman

The inquiry was set up to investigate the Royal Ulster Constabulary role in the death of Robert Hamill.

It is being led by Sir Edwin Jowitt, a retired Justice for the High Court.

Background

Mr Hamill’s murder drew comparisons with the way the Met dealt with Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993. The Hamill Inquiry opened in January last year and immediately heard claims that the RUC had evidence an officer protected one of the killers.

The inquiry was told that, within two weeks of the murder, police were aware of claims that Mr Atkinson warned one of the killers to dispose of clothes worn in the attack and updated him on the investigation.

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