Robert Hamill murder probe to be delayed
The Government is set to delay publication of an inquiry into how police handled the sectarian murder of Robert Hamill.
Secretary of State Owen Paterson said the public inquiry's report, which was expected to be released within weeks, had to be shelved following the recent decision to proceed with prosecutions against three people, including a former police officer, in connection with the case.
Mr Hamill, 25, was beaten to death by a loyalist mob in the predominantly Protestant town of Portadown, Co Armagh, in 1997 as he walked home after a night out with friends.
Controversy has focused on allegations that armed police at the scene failed to intervene to prevent the attack and that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) subsequently mishandled the investigation.
No one has been convicted of the murder of the father-of-three.
Mr Paterson said the man's family had agreed to the delay under the circumstances. He also announced, however, that lawyers from the Northern Ireland Office and the Police Service of Northern Ireland will begin legal checks on the report to ensure its contents do not pose a threat to an individual or to national security.
In a written ministerial statement released at Westminster, Mr Paterson said: "The House will be aware of the announcement made by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) on December 21, 2010.
"In that statement, the PPS confirmed that, following a review of all the available evidence including that given to the Hamill Tribunal, it concluded that the test for prosecution is met in respect of two persons for an offence of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and one person for an offence of doing an act with intent to pervert the course of justice.
"As I informed the House in my written statement of December 16, 2010, the Hamill Inquiry intends to complete its report by the end of February.
"It remains my intention to publish the report as soon as practicable, but in light of the legal proceedings against these three individuals, I have decided not to publish the inquiry's report until the legal proceedings have concluded; to do so would certainly jeopardise these individuals' right to a fair trial.
"I understand from the inquiry that it is also the family's wish that the legal proceedings are not prejudiced by the publication of the report. In the meantime, I am exploring ways of ensuring that the report is safely and securely stored between its completion and its publication.
"Once the legal proceedings have concluded and the inquiry's report is delivered to me, I am responsible for its publication. In anticipation of this, I have asked a small team of officials to commence the checking of the inquiry's report in relation to human rights and national security matters."
He said that under human rights legislation, he was obliged to carry out a review of the inquiry's report.
Mr Paterson added: "I have established a small team to assist me in carrying out this necessary exercise. The team will be formed of the Northern Ireland Office's principal legal adviser and an adviser from the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
"This team will be granted access to the report under strict terms of confidentiality and for the sole purpose of carrying out the necessary checks, and they will report directly to me alone."
Mr Paterson added: "I understand that the report will be made available for checking today."
The Secretary of State said he wanted to publish the report in its entirety but would discuss any redactions to the text with the inquiry chair.
"It is not possible to estimate how long the legal proceedings against the three individuals will take. I assure the House that once they have concluded, I intend to publish the report as soon as possible. Once a timetable for publication becomes clear, I will update the House accordingly."