Belfast Telegraph

The three cases that propelled Rosemary Nelson into the spotlight

Murdered solicitor Rosemary Nelson rose to prominence because of her role in three legal battles.


In Northern Ireland the mid-1990s are remembered as the period in which the peace process emerged but it was also a time when tensions with Orange Order parades reached a new height.

Nationalist residents' groups sprang-up around Northern Ireland to oppose loyalist parades.

Unionists noted the prominent role of republicans in many of the groups and accused them of seeking to stir-up the issue. But nationalists branded parades through Catholic neighbourhoods by the exclusively Protestant marching groups as coat-trailing exercises.

The marching issue brought the political battles of the peace process to street level and tense stand-offs emerged over disputed parades. Orangemen used their numbers across Northern Ireland to block roads and cause major disruption. As parades were either forced through by police, or blocked from going ahead, rioting broke out in cities and towns, as long hot summers of violence became a regular feature of the calendar.

The sight of thousands of Orangemen gathered below Drumcree church became a dominant image, as a security force cordon prevented marchers from parading through the nationalist Garvaghy Road area on the edge of the predominantly Protestant Portadown.

Rosemary Nelson was legal adviser to the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition and as the Drumcree dispute sparked widespread violence and led to a string of murders, she became the target of loyalist hostility.

The coalition was led by former republican prisoner Breandan Mac Cionnaith. He was later elected as a councillor in the area and was a member of Sinn Fein. He left the party after its acceptance of the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland and is now a prominent figure in the breakaway republican group Eirigi, a staunch critic of Sinn Fein's political direction.

Robert Hamill

In 1997 Catholic man Robert Hamill, 25, was walking home after a night out in the mainly Protestant town of Portadown, Co Armagh. He was attacked by a loyalist mob at a notorious area in the centre of the town.

Armed police in a Land Rover, parked at the scene, were accused of failing to intervene and prevent the attack.

Mr Hamill was knocked unconscious and died in hospital 12 days later.

His murder, and the police failure to catch the killers, was compared with the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London over which officers were also heavily criticised.

Mrs Nelson represented the Hamill family, becoming their most vocal supporter and accused the police of failing to do their duty.

The solicitor lobbied hard for a public inquiry into the case. An inquiry was only granted in the years after Mrs Nelson's murder.

The Nelson and Hamill inquiries were held in the same building in Belfast city centre.

Colin Duffy

In 1990 the prominent republican, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, survived a murder attempt when gunmen opened fire on him and two other republicans as they walked home after reporting to a police station as part of bail conditions.

One of the three men, Sam Marshall, was killed in the attack. Security forces were accused of colluding in the shooting.

Colin Duffy was jailed for killing a former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier in Lurgan in 1993. But he was acquitted, under Mrs Nelson's representation, because a key police witness was later revealed to be a leading loyalist paramilitary.

Lindsay Robb was jailed in 1995 for gun running for the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force. His capture was embarrassing for the police and for the UVF's political wing because Robb was part of the Progressive Unionist Party's negotiating team in the years before the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

In June 1997 IRA gunmen shot dead two RUC officers in Lurgan. The murder of David Johnston and John Graham caused widespread shock and came just one month before the IRA declared a renewed ceasefire.

Colin Duffy was again arrested and was represented by Mrs Nelson but he was released when the case against him collapsed. Dissident republicans gunned down Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, at Antrim army barracks in March 2009. Colin Duffy is currently in custody charged over the killings.

Belfast Telegraph

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