Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Ex-officer is labelled ‘a disgrace’ over tip-off allegations

An RUC officer accused of tipping off a Robert Hamill murder suspect is regarded as a “disgrace”, an inquiry has been told.

Robert Atkinson was one of four police officers in a Land Rover parked close to the scene of the fatal attack in April 1997.

He was investigated over claims he telephoned Alister Hanvey on the morning after the assault, warning him to burn his clothes.

The reserve constable who served nearly 30 years with the RUC, denied the allegations and charges of perverting the course of justice were dropped in 2004.

Mr Atkinson’s friend Michael McKee spent six months in jail after being convicted of making false statements about a telephone call to the Hanvey household at 8.37am on April 27, 1997.

Mr McKee’s wife Andrea, who pleaded guilty to the same offence, received a suspended sentence.

During yesterday’s sitting at the Interpoint Centre in Belfast, Charles Adair QC, counsel for a number of individual police officers, claimed former RUC colleagues considered Robert Atkinson a “disgrace”.

“You had a long career in the RUC and you served with some very fine men. You are a disgrace to the name of the RUC. Those who I represent regard you, if these allegations are true, as a disgrace to the name of the RUC,” he said.

Giving evidence from behind a screen he consistently denied doing anything wrong. He also denied seeing Alister Hanvey attack Mr Hamill.

“If I had seen him he would have been named as a perpetrator. I wasn’t concerned about trouble. I was out there to do my job and I did my job,” he said.

Mr Atkinson refuted a suggestion from the Hamill family barrister that the tip-off had been a bid to “rehabilitate” himself with local loyalists.

Barra McGrory QC said: “Your house was attacked in 1997. The last thing you wanted was to name people and become a witness against people accused of killing a Catholic.”

The barrister added: “If you had done what you were supposed to do you would have been a key prosecution witness in a murder investigation. I suggest you sought to rehabilitate yourself by tipping off Alister Hanvey to get rid of his clothing.”

To which Mr Atkinson replied: “I did nothing of the sort.”

Earlier yesterday Mr Atkinson’s wife Eleanor denied being part of a conspiracy to cover up the telephone call made from her home to that of Alister Hanvey on April 27, 1997.

Robert Hamill died on May 8, 1997, days after being beaten by a loyalist mob in the centre of Portadown. Murder charges against five men, including Alister Hanvey were dramatically dropped in 2001. Only one man, Marc Hobson who was convicted of affray, has been brought to justice.

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